/ Language: English / Genre:antique

Riverworld Short Stories

Philip Farmer


Riverworld © 1979 by Philip José Farmer

Portions of Riverworld appeared in Worlds of Tomorrow, January 1966, and in the Philip José Farmer collection Down In the Black Gang, Signet Books, October 1971.

Riverworld War © 1980 by Philip José Farmer

First published in Riverworld war: the suppressed fiction of Philip Jose Farmer., June 1980, The Ellis Press, ISBN 0-933180-13-6.

Crossing the Dark River © 1992 by Philip José Farmer

First published in Tales of Riverworld, August 1992, Questar / Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-36269-7.

A Hole In Hell © 1992 by Dane Helstrom (aka Philip José Farmer)

First published in Tales of Riverworld, August 1992, Questar / Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-36269-7.

Up the Bright River © 1993 by Philip José Farmer

First published in Quest to Riverworld, August 1993, Questar / Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-36270-0.

Coda © 1993 by Philip José Farmer

First published in Quest to Riverworld, August 1993, Questar / Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-36270-0.

CONTENTS

RIVERWORLD

Foreword

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

RIVERWORLD WAR

Foreword

i

ii

iii

iv

v

CROSSING THE DARK RIVER

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Author’s Note

A HOLE IN HELL

UP THE BRIGHT RIVER

1

2

3

4

5

CODA

RIVERWORLD

Foreword

The first of the Riverworld series was actually written in 1952. This was a 150,000-word novel originally titled Owe for the Flesh. It was written in one month so I could enter it in an international fantasy-science-fiction-award contest. It won, but because of circumstances I won’t go into here, it was never published and I got only a fraction of the money due me. It was then not conceived as a series; the manuscript was a complete book in which the mystery of the Riverplanet was solved. After the distressing events connected with the contest were finished, I had ownership of the book. There wasn’t at that time a market for very long s-f novels by someone who’d only sold a few magazine stories. I put the ms. in the proverbial trunk and forgot about it for some years.

In 1964 I took it out, dusted it off, and changed the title to Owe for a River. It went out to a couple of publishers, one of whom rejected it on the grounds it was just “an adventure” story. This wasn’t at all true. Also, curiously, the publisher making this comment had published my The Green Odyssey, which was far more an “adventure” novel than Owe for a River.

Fred Pohl was at that time editor of Galaxy magazine and its sister s-f magazines. I sent the ms. to him, and he returned it to me with some very perceptive comments. It was, he said, too big a concept to confine even within such a long novel. He proposed that I write a series of novelettes for him. These could later be put into book form, if I wished. By then I’d done enough thinking about the Riverworld concept to know that he was right. A planet on which most of humanity living from 1,000,000 B.C. to the early twenty-first century had been resurrected along a ten-million- or perhaps twenty-million-mile-long river was too big a world to put into one volume. And it had too many characters I’d like to write about.

So I wrote Day of the Great Shout, a novelette which appeared in Pohl’s Worlds of Tomorrow in the January 1965 issue. Thirteen years had elapsed since the original story. In that, the action had started twenty years after the day on which thirty-five billion people from many different times and places on Earth had been raised from the dead in some mysterious but scientific manner. “Day” began even before the general resurrection with the hero, Sir Richard Francis Burton, accidentally (or was it accidentally?) awakening in the pre-resurrection chamber, though only briefly.

Day was later somewhat expanded and presented as Chapters 1-18 of the novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, 1971.

Its sequel, The Suicide Express, appearing in the same magazine in March 1966, was expanded to make chapters 19-30 of To Your Scattered Bodies Go.

I wrote the novelette Riverworld shortly after The Suicide Express, but it appeared in Worlds of Tomorrow in January of the same year. I wasn’t satisfied with it then, and I expanded it slightly for appearance in a collection of some of my shorter works in Down in the Black Gang. Still, I hadn’t done what I should have done. The story seemed to me more an outline than a full-fleshed tale.

So, this time, Riverworld has been expanded from 12,000 to 33,750 words. I think I’ll be satisfied with this version.

When the fourth volume of the Riverworld series, The Magic Labyrinth, comes out, the mysteries set forth in the first three will be solved, and the series will have a definite conclusion. But, as I said in the foreword to the third, The Dark Design, I do plan on writing a fifth and even sixth book dealing with matters which I didn’t have space for in the first four volumes. These are what I call the “mainstream” books of the series. The fifth and sixth will be in the “sidestream” or “tributary” tales.

Tom Mix will be in these, but the story at hand, Riverworld, won’t be included. All of the tales in the fifth will be previously unpublished, brand new.

Chapter 1

Tom Mix had fled on Earth from furious wives, maddened bulls, and desperate creditors. He’d fled on foot, on horse, and in cars. But this was the first time, on his native planet or on the Riverworld, that he had fled in a boat.

It sailed down-River and downwind swiftly, rounding a bend with the pursuer about fifty yards behind. Both craft, the large chaser and the small chased, were bamboo catamarans. They were well-built vessels, though there wasn’t a metal nail in them: double-hulled, fore-and-aft rigged and flourishing spinnakers. The sails were made of bamboo fibre.

The sun had two hours to go before setting. People were grouped by the great mushroom-shaped stones lining the banks. It would be some time before the grailstones would roar and spout blue electricity, energy which would be converted in the cylinders on top of the stones into matter. That is, into the evening meal and also, liquor, tobacco, marijuana, and dreamgum. But they had nothing else to do at this time except to lounge around, talk, and hope something exciting might happen.

They would soon be gratified.

The bend which Mix’s boat had rounded revealed that the mile-wide River behind him had suddenly become a three-mile wide lake ahead. There were hundreds of boats there, all filled with fishers who’d set their cylinders on the stones and then put out to augment their regular diet with fish. So many were the craft that Mix suddenly found that there was even less room to manoeuvre than in the narrower stretch of water behind him.

Tom Mix was at the tiller. Ahead of him on the deck were two other refugees, Bithniah and Yeshua. Both were Hebrew, tied together by blood and religion though separated by twelve hundred years and sixty generations. That made much difference. In some ways Bithniah was less a stranger to Mix than she was to Yeshua; in some ways, Yeshua was closer to Mix than to the woman.

All three, at the moment, shared bruises and contusions given by the same man, Kramer. He wasn’t in the boat following their wake, but his men were. If they captured the three, they’d return them to “The Hammer,” as Kramer had been called on Earth and was here. If they couldn’t take the refugees alive, they’d kill them.

Mix glanced behind him. Every bit of sail on the two-masted catamaran was up. It was slowly gaining on the smaller craft. Mix’s boat should have been able to keep its lead, its crew was far lighter, but, during the escape, three spears had gone through the sail. The holes were small, but their effect had accumulated during the chase. In about fifteen minutes the prow of the chaser could be touching the stern of his craft. However, Kramer’s men wouldn’t try to board from the bow of their boat. They’d come up alongside, throw bone grappling hooks, draw the vessels together, and then swarm over the side.

Ten warriors against three, one a woman, one a man who would run away but who refused on principle to fight, and one a man who’d been in many duels and mass combats but wouldn’t last long against such numbers.

People in a fishing boat shouted angrily at him as he took the catamaran too near them. Mix grinned and swept from his head his ten-gallon white hat, made of woven straw fibres painted with a rare pigment. He saluted them with the hat and then donned it. He wore a long white cloak made of towels fastened together with magnetic tabs, a white towel fastened around his waist, and high-heeled cowboy boots of white River-serpent leather. The latter were, in this situation, both an affectation and a handicap. But now that fighting was close, he needed bare feet to get a better grip on the slippery deck.

He called to Yeshua to take over the tiller. His face rigid, unresponsive to Mix’s grin, Yeshua hastened to him. He was five feet ten inches tall, exactly Mix’s height, but considered tall among the people of his time and place on Earth. His hair was black but with an undercoating which shone reddish in the sun. It was cut just below the nape of the neck. His body was thin but wiry, covered only by a black loincloth; his chest was matted with curly black hair. The face was long and thin, ascetic, that of a beardless scholarly-looking Jewish youth. His eyes were large and dark brown with flecks of green, inherited, he’d said, from Gentile ancestors. The people of his native land, Galilee, were much mixed since it had been both a trade route and a road for invaders for several thousand years.

Yeshua could have been Mix’s twin, a double who’d not been eating or sleeping as well as his counterpart. There were slight differences between them. Yeshua’s nose was a trifle longer, his lips a little thinner, and Mix had no greenish flecks in his eyes nor red underpigment in his hair. The resemblance was still so great that it took people some time to distinguish between them—as long as they didn’t speak.

It was this that had caused Mix to nickname Yeshua as “Handsome.”

Now Mix grinned again. He said, “Okay, Handsome. You handle her while I get rid of these.”

He sat down and took off his boots, then rose and crossed the deck to drop them and his cloak into a bag hanging from a shroud. When he took over the tiller, he grinned a third time.

“Don’t look so grim. We’re going to have some fun.”

Yeshua spoke in a deep baritone in a heavily accented English.

“Why don’t we go ashore? We’re far past Kramer’s territory now. We can claim sanctuary.”

“Claiming’s one thing,” Mix drawled in a baritone almost as deep. “Getting’s another.”

“You mean that these people’ll be too scared of Kramer to let us take refuge with them?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I’d just as soon not have to find out. Anyway, if we beach, so will they, and they’ll skewer us before the locals can interfere.”

“We could run for the hills.”

“No. We’ll give them a hard time before we take a chance on that. Get back there, help Bithniah with the ropes.”

Yeshua and the woman handled the sail while Mix began zigzagging the boat. Glances over his shoulder showed that the pursuer was following his wake. It could have continued on a straight line in the middle of the River, and so gotten ahead of Mix’s craft. But its captain was afraid that one of the zigs or zags would turn out to be a straight line the end of which would terminate at the bank.

Mix gave an order to slacken the sail a little. Bithniah protested.

“They’ll catch us sooner!”

Mix said, “They think they will. Do as I say. The crew never argues with the master, and I’m the captain.”

He smiled and told her what he hoped to do. She shrugged, indicating that if they were going to be boarded, it might as well be sooner as later. It also hinted that she’d known all along that he was a little mad and this was now doubly confirmed.

Yeshua, however, said, “I won’t spill blood.”

“I know I can’t count on you in a fight,” Mix said. “But if you help handle the boat, you’re indirectly contributing to bloodshed. Put that in your philosophical pipe and smoke it.”

Surprisingly, Yeshua grinned. Or perhaps his reaction wasn’t so unexpected. He delighted in Mix’s Americanisms, and he also liked to discuss subtleties in ethics. But he was going to be too busy to engage in an argument just now.

Mix looked back again. The fox—the chaser was the fox and he was the rabbit—was now almost on his tail. There was a gap of twenty feet between them, and two men at the bows of the double hull were poised, ready to hurl their spears. However, the rapid rise and fall of the decks beneath them would make an accurate cast very difficult.

Mix shouted to his crew—some crew!—and swung the tiller hard over. The prow had been pointed at an angle to the righthand bank of the River. Now it turned away suddenly, the boat leaning, the boom of the sail swinging swiftly. Mix ducked as it sang past his head. Bithniah and Yeshua clung to ropes to keep from being shot off the deck. The righthand hull lifted up, clearing the water for a few seconds.

For a moment, Mix thought the boat was going to capsize. Then it righted, and Bithniah and Yeshua were paying out the ropes. Behind him he heard shouting, but he didn’t look back. Ahead was more shouting as the crews of two small one-masted fishing boats voiced their anger and fear.

Mix’s vessel ran between the two boats in a lane only thirty feet wide. That closed quickly as the two converged. Their steersmen were trying to turn them away, but they had been headed inward on a collision path. Normally, they would have straightened this out, but now the stranger was between them, and its prow was angling toward the boat on the port.

Mix could see the twisted faces of the men and women on this vessel. They were anguished lest his prow crash into their starboard side near their bow. Slowly, it seemed too slowly, the prow of that boat turned. Then its boom began swinging as it was caught in the dead zone.

A woman’s voice rose above the others, shrilling an almost unintelligible English at him. A man threw a spear at him, a useless and foolish action but one which would vent some of his anger. The weapon soared within a foot of Mix’s head and splashed into the water on the starboard.

Mix glanced back. The pursuer had fallen into the trap. Now, if only he could keep from being caught in his own.

His vessel slid by the boat to port, and the end of its boom almost struck the shrouds of the mast tied to the starboard edge of the deck. And then his boat was by.

Behind him, the shouting and screaming increased. The crash of wood striking wood made him smile. He looked swiftly back. The big catamaran had smashed bows first into the side of the fishing boat on his right. It had turned the much smaller single-hulled bamboo vessel around at right angles to its former course. The crew of both boats had been knocked to the deck, including the steersmen. Three of Kramer’s men had gone over the side and were struggling in the water. Count them out. That left seven to deal with.

Chapter 2

The rabbit became a fox; the attacked, the attacker. His craft turned as swiftly as Mix dared take it and began beating against the wind toward the two that had collided. This took some time, but Kramer’s vessel was in no shape to counter-manoeuvre. Both it and the fishing boat had stove-in hulls and were settling down slowly. Water was pouring in through the hulls. The captain of the catamaran was gesturing, his mouth open, his voice drowned by all those on his boat and the others, plus the yelling from the many other crafts. His men must have heard him, though, or interpreted his furious signs. They picked themselves up, got their weapons, and started toward the vessel they’d run into. Mix didn’t understand why they were going to board it. That would be deserting a sinking ship for another, jumping from the boiling kettle into the fire. Perhaps it was just a reflex, a mindless reaction. They were angry, and they meant to take it out on the nearest available persons.

If so, they were frustrated. The two men and two women on the fisher leaped overboard and began swimming. Another boat sailed toward them to pick them up. Its sail slid down as it neared the swimmers, and men leaned over its side to extend helping hands. Two of Kramer’s men, having gotten on the smaller vessel, ran to the other side and heaved spears at the people in the water.

“They must be out of their mind,” Mix muttered. “They’ll have this whole area at their throats.”

That was agreeable to him. He could leave the pursuers to the mercy of the locals. But he didn’t intend to. He had a debt to pay. Unlike most debts, this would be a pleasure to discharge.

He told Yeshua to take over the tiller, and he got a war boomerang from the weapons box on the deck. It was two feet long, fashioned by sharp flint from a piece of heavy white oak. One of its ends turned at an angle of 30 degrees. A formidable weapon in the hand of a skilled thrower, it could break a man’s arm even if hurled from five hundred feet away.

The weapons box contained three chert-headed axes, four more boomerangs, several oak spear shafts with flint tips, and two leather slings and two bags of sling-stones. Mix braced himself by the box, waited until his boat had drawn up alongside the enemy’s on the portside, and he threw the boomerang. The up-and-down movement of the deck made calculation difficult. But the boomerang flew toward its target, the sun flashing off its whirling pale surface, and it struck a man in the neck. Despite the noise of voices, Mix faintly heard the crack as the neck broke. The man fell sidewise on the deck; the boomerang slid against the railing.

The dead man’s comrades yelled and turned toward Mix.

The captain recalled the four men aboard the sinking fisher. They threw clubs and spears, and Mix and his crew dropped flat onto the deck. Some of the missiles bounced off the wood or stuck quivering in it. The nearest, a spear with a fire-hardened wooden point, landed a few inches from Yeshua’s ear and slid off into the water.

Mix jumped up, braced himself, and when the starboard side of the craft rolled downward, hurled a spear. It fell short of its mark, the chest of a man, but it pierced his foot. He screamed and yanked the point loose from the deck, but he didn’t have courage enough to withdraw it from his foot. He hobbled around the deck, shrilling his pain, until two men got him down and yanked the shaft out. The head was dislodged from the shaft and remained half-sticking out from the top of his foot.

Meanwhile, the second fisher, the one which Mix’s boat had almost struck, had come alongside the sinking fisher. Three men leaped onto it and began securing ropes to lash the two boats together. Several rowboats and three canoes came up to the fisher, and their occupants climbed aboard it. Evidently, the locals were angry about the attack and intended to take immediate measures. Mix thought they would have been smarter to have waited until the big catamaran sank and then speared the crew members as they swam. On the other hand, by attacking Kramer’s men, they were getting deeply involved. This could be the start of war. In which case, the refugees would be welcomed here.

However, a catamaran, because of its two hulls, didn’t sink easily. It might even be able to get away, if not back to its homeport, at least out of this area. The locals didn’t want this to happen.

The enemy captain, seeing what was coming, had ordered his men to attack. Leading them, he boarded the sinking fisher, crossed it, and hurled himself at the nearest man on the fisher. A woman whirled a sling above her head, loosed one end, and the stone smashed into the captain’s solar plexus. He fell on his back, unconscious or dead.

Another of Kramer’s warriors fell with a spear sticking through his arm. His comrade stumbled over him and received the point of a spear with the full weight of its wielder behind it.

The woman who’d slung the stone staggered backward with a spear sticking out of her chest and toppled into the water.

Then both sides closed, and there was a mêlée.

Yeshua brought the catamaran up alongside the portside of Kramer’s while Bithniah and Mix let the sail down and then threw grappling hooks onto the railing. While Bithniah and Yeshua sweated to tie the two boats together, Tom Mix used his sling. He had practised on land and water for hundreds of hours with this weapon, and so he worked smoothly with great speed and finesse. He had to wait until an enemy was separated from the crowd to prevent accidentally hitting a local. Three times he struck his target. One stone caught a man in the side of his neck. Another hit the base of a spine. The third smashed a kneecap, and the writhing man was caught and held down by some locals while a flint knife slashed his jugular.

Mix threw a spear which plunged deep into a man’s thigh. Then, gripping a heavy axe, he leaped onto the catamaran and his axe rose and fell twice on the backs of heads.

The two enemy survivors tried to dive overboard. Only one made it. Mix picked up the boomerang from the deck, lifted it to throw at the bobbing head, then lowered it. Boomerangs were too hard to come by to waste on someone who was no longer dangerous.

Suddenly, except for the groaning of the wounded and the weeping of a woman, there was silence. Even the onlookers, now coming swiftly toward the scene of the battle, were voiceless. The battlers looked pale and spent. The fire was gone from them.

Mix liked to be dressed for the occasion, and this was one of victory. He returned to his boat, winked at Yeshua and Bithniah, and put on his boots and cloak. His ten-gallon hat had remained on his head throughout. He returned to the fisher, removed his hat with a flourish, grinned, and spoke.

“Tom Mix, Esquire, at your service, ladies and gentlemen. My heartfelt thanks for your help, and my apologies for any inconvenience our presence caused you.”

The captain of the rescue boat said, “Bare bones o’ God, I scarce comprehend your speech. Yet it seems to be somewhat English.”

Mix put his hat back on and rolled his eyes as if asking for help from above.

“Still in the seventeenth century! Well, at least I can understand your lingo a little bit.”

He spoke more slowly and carefully. “What’s your handle, amigo?”

“Handle? Amigo?”

“Your name, friend. And who’s your boss? I’d like to offer myself as a mercenary. I need him, and I think he’s going to need me.”

“John Wickel Stafford is the lord-mayor of New Albion,” a woman said. She and others were looking strangely at him and Yeshua.

He grinned and said, “No, he’s not my twin brother, or any sort of brother to me, aside from the kinship that comes from being human. And you know how thin that is. He was born about one thousand eight hundred and eighty years before me. In Palestine. Which is a hell of a long way off from my native Pennsylvania. It’s only a trick of fate he resembles me so. A lucky one for him, otherwise he might not’ve slipped the noose Kramer’d tied around his neck.”

Apparently, some of his audience understood some of what he’d said. The trouble was not so much vocabulary, though there were some significant differences, as with the intonation and the pronunciation. Theirs somewhat resembled the speech of some Australians he’d met. God knew what they thought his was like.

“Any of you know Esperanto?” he said.

The captain said, “We’ve heard of that tongue, sir. It is being taught by some of that new sect, the Church of the Second Chance, or so I understand. So far, though, none has come into this area.”

“Too bad. So we’ll make do with what we have. My friends and I have had a tough time the last couple of days. We’re tired and hungry. I’d like permission to stay in your spread for a few days before we go on down the River. Or maybe join up with you. Do you think your boss, uh, lord-mayor, would object?”

“Far from it, sir,” the woman said. uHe welcomes good fighting men and women in the hope they’ll stay. And he rewards them well. But tell us, those men, Kramer’s they must be, why were they so hot for your blood? They chased you here, yet they knew they were forbidden to come here under pain of death.”

“That’s a long story, ma’am,” Mix said.

He smiled. His smile was very attractive, and he knew it. The woman was pretty, a short blonde with a buxom figure, and possibly she was unattached at the moment or thinking of being so. Certainly, there was nothing shy about her.

“You evidently are acquainted with Kramer the Hammer, Kramer the Burner. These two, Bithniah and Yeshua, were prisoners of his, ripe for the stake because they were heretics, according to his lights, and that’s what counts in his land. Also they were Jewish, which made it worse. I got them loose, along with a bunch of others. We three were the only ones made it to a boat. The rest you know.”

The captain decided he might as well introduce himself.

“I am Robert Nickard. This woman is Angela Doverton. Be not deceived by her immodest manner, Master Mix. She talks boldly and without regard to her sex, unmindful of her place. She is my wife, though there is neither giving nor taking of marriage in heaven or hell.”

Angela smiled and winked at Mix. Fortunately, the eye was turned away from Nickard.

“As for this business of heretics, New Albion does not care—officially, anyway—what the religion of a man or woman be. Or indeed if he be an atheist, though how any could be after having been resurrected from the dead, I cannot understand. We welcome all as citizens, so they be hard-working and dutiful, clean and comparatively sober. We even accept Jews.”

“That must be quite a change from when you were alive,” Mix said.

Quickly, before Nickard could comment on that, he said, “Where do we report, sir?”

Nickard gave him directions. Mix told his crew to return to their craft. They untied the ropes, retrieved the grappling hooks, hoisted sail, and departed down-River. Not, however, before Mix saw Angela Doverton slip him another wink. He had already decided to steer clear of her, desirable though she was. He didn’t believe in making love to another man’s mate. On the other hand, if she were to leave Nickard, which seemed likely, then…no, she seemed like a troublemaker. Still…

Behind him the business of getting the two damaged boats in to shore before they sank had begun. The lone survivor of the Kramer force had been pulled out of the water and was being taken, bound, to the shore. Mix wondered what would happen to him, not that he cared.

The woman Bithniah steered the catamaran while Yeshua took care of the ropes. Tom Mix stood in the prow, one hand on a shroud to support himself, his long white cloak flapping. He must seem a strange and dramatic figure to the locals. At least, he hoped so. Wherever he was, if he found drama lacking, he drummed up some.

Chapter 3

As almost everywhere in the never-ending valley, both sides of the River were bordered with plains. These were usually from a mile to a mile and half wide. They were as unbumpy as the floor of a house but sloped gently toward the foothills. A shortbladed grass that no amount of trampling could kill covered them. Here and there were some trees.

Beyond the plains, the hills started out as mounds twenty feet high and sixty feet broad. As they neared the mountains, they became broader and higher and finally converged. The hills were thick with forest. Eighty out of every hundred were usually the indestructible “irontrees,” deep-rooted monsters the bark of which resisted fire and shrugged off the edge of even steel axes—though very few of these existed in this metal-poor world. Beneath the trees grew long-bladed grass and bamboo—some only two feet high, some over a hundred. Unlike every other area he’d been in, this lacked ash and yew trees and so the bow and arrow were seldom seen. Most of the bows were made from the mouth of a huge fish, but apparently the people here had not caught many of these. Even the bamboo here wasn’t suitable for use as bows.

Beyond the hills, the mountains soared. The lower parts were rugged with small canyons and fissures and little plateaus. At the five-thousand-foot height, the mountains became unbroken cliffs, smooth as glass. Then they climbed straight up for another five thousand feet or leaned outward near the top. They were unclimbable. If a man wished to get to the valley on the other side of them, he’d have to follow The River, and that might take him years. The Rivervalley was a world-snake, winding down from the headwaters at the North Pole and around the South Pole and back up the other hemisphere to the mouth at the North Pole.

Or so it was said. Nobody had yet proved it.

In this area, unlike some he’d been in, huge vines encircled the trees and even some of the bamboo stands. From the vines grew perennial flowers of many sizes, shapes, and exhibiting every shade of the spectrum.

For ten thousand miles the Rivervalley would be a silent, frozen explosion of colour. Then, just as abruptly as it had started, the trees would resume their unadorned ascetic green.

But this stretch of The River trumpeted a flourish of hue.

A mile from the scene of the battle, Mix ordered that Bithniah steer toward the lefthand bank. Presently, Yeshua lowered the sail, and the catamaran slid its nose up onto a slope of the bank. The three got off, and many hands among the crowd grabbed the hulls and pulled it entirely on land. Men and women surrounded the newcomers and asked many questions. Mix started to answer one from a good-looking woman when he was interrupted by soldiers. These wore fish-leather bone-reinforced helmets and cuirasses, modelled after those used in the time of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. They carried small round shields of leather-covered oak and long stone-tipped or wooden-ended spears or heavy war-axes or big clubs. Thick fish-leather boots protected their legs to just above the knees.

Their ensign, Alfred Regius Swinford, heard Mix’s report halfway through. Mix interrupted himself then, saying, “We’re hungry. Couldn’t we wait until we charge our buckets?”

He gestured at the nearest mushroom-shaped stone, six feet high and several feet broad. The bottoms of the grey cylinders of the bystanders were inserted in the depressions on its top.

“Buckets?” the ensign said. “We name them copias, stranger. Short for cornucopia. Give me your copias. We’ll charge them for you, and you can fill your bellies after Lord Stafford’s talked to you. I’ll see that they’re properly identified.”

Mix shrugged. He was in no position to argue, though, like everybody else, he was uneasy if his “holy bucket” was out of his sight. The three walked among the soldiers across the plain toward a hill. They went past many one-room bamboo huts. On top of the hill was a larger circular wall of logs. They went through the gateway into a huge yard. The Council House, their destination, was a long triangular log building in the centre of the stockade. There were many observation towers and a broad walkway behind the outer walls. The sharp-pointed logs towered above this, but windows and slits for defenders to throw spears or pour out burning fish oil on attackers were plentiful. There were also wooden cranes which could be swung over the walls to dump nets full of large rocks.

Mix saw ten large wooden tanks filled with water and sheds which he supposed held stores of dried fish and acorn bread and weapons.

Out of one of the sheds, though, came men carrying baskets of earth. These would be digging a secret underground tunnel to the outside for escape or for a rear attack on the enemy. It wasn’t much of a secret if they allowed strangers to see evidence of it. He felt chilled momentarily. Perhaps no stranger who knew of the tunnel would be allowed to leave.

Mix said nothing. He might as well play dumb, though he doubted that the ensign would think he was that unobservant. No. He should try something, however weak.

“Digging a well,” he said. “That’s a good idea. If you’re besieged, you needn’t worry about water.”

“Exactly,” Swinford said. “We should have dug it a long time ago. But then we were shorthanded for a while.”

Mix didn’t think that he’d fooled the ensign, but at least he’d tried. By then the sun had reached the peaks of the western mountain range. A moment later it sank, and the valley thundered with the eruption of the copiastones along the banks. Dinner was ready.

Stafford and his council were sitting at a round table of pine on a platform at the far end of the hall. Between this and the entrance was a long rectangular table with many bamboo chairs around it. Trap doors in the ceiling were open to let in the light, but this was fading fast. Pine torches impregnated with fish oil had already been lit and set in brackets on the walls or in stands on the dirt floor. The smoke rose toward the high blackened beams and rafters, and the stench of fish heavied the air. Underlying it was another stink—unwashed human bodies. Mix thought that there might have been an excuse for this uncleanliness in seventeenth-century England, but there was none here. The River was within comfortable walking distance. However, he knew that old habits clung hard, despite which they were changing slowly. With the constant passage of people who came from cultures which did bathe frequently, a sense of cleanliness and the shame associated with uncleanliness were spreading. In ten or fifteen years these Englishmen would be soaping regularly in The River. Well, most of them would be, anyway. There were always persons in every culture who would think that water was for drinking only.

Actually, aside from the offensiveness of body odour and the aesthetics of a clean body, there was no reason why they should wash frequently. There were no diseases of the body on the Riverworld. Plenty of diseases of the mind, though.

The ensign halted below the platform and reported to Stafford. The others at the table, twenty in all, stared at the newcomers. Many smoked copia-supplied cigarettes or cigars, unknown to them in their time on Earth when pipes only were used.

Stafford rose from the table to greet his guests courteously. He was a tall man, six feet two inches, broad-shouldered, long-armed, slimly built. His face was long and narrow, his eyebrows very thick and tangled, his eyes grey, his nose long and pointed, his lips thin, his chin out-thrusting and deeply cleft. His brownish hair hung to just below his shoulders and was curled at the ends.

In a pleasant voice thick with a Northern burr—he was a native of Carlisle, near the Scottish border—he asked them to sit at the table. He offered them their choice of wine, whiskey, or liqueur. Mix, knowing that the supply was limited, took the offer as a good sign. Stafford would not be so generous with expensive commodities to those he thought were hostiles. Mix sniffed, smiled at the scent of excellent bourbon, and sipped. He would have liked to pour it down, but this would have meant that his hosts would have to offer him another immediately.

Stafford asked Tom Mix to make his own report. This involved a long tale, during which fires were lit in the two great hearths on each side of the central part of the hall. Mix noticed that some of those bringing in the wood were short, very swarthy Mongolianish men and women. These, he supposed, were from the other side of The River, which was occupied by Huns. From what he’d heard, these had been born about the time Attila had invaded Europe, the fifth century A.D. Whether they were slaves or refugees from across The River, he could not know.

Stafford and the others listened to Mix with only a few comments while they drank. Presently, their copias were brought in, and all ate. Tom was pleasantly surprised by this evening’s offering of his bucket. It was Mexican: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, a bean salad, and the liquor was tequila with a slice of lemon and some salt. It made him feel more at home, especially when the tobacco turned out to be some slim-twisted dark cigars.

Stafford didn’t seem to like the liquor he got. He smelled it, then looked around. Mix interpreted his expression correctly. He said, “Would you like to trade?”

The lord-mayor said, “What is it you have?”

This made for an extended explanation. Stafford had lived when North America was first being colonised by the English, but he knew very little of it. Also, in his time, Mexico was an area conquered by the Spanish, and he had almost no data on it. But after listening to Mix’s lengthy exposition, he handed his cup to Mix.

Tom sniffed at it and said, “Well, I don’t know what it is, but I ain’t afraid of it. Here, try the tequila.”

Stafford followed the recommended procedure: the drink at once succeeded by the salt and the lemon.

“Zounds! It feels as if fire were leaping from my ears!”

He sighed and said, “Most strange. But most pleasant and exhilarating. What about yours?”

Mix sipped. “Ah! I don’t know what the hell brand it is! But it tastes great, though it’s a little gross. Whatever its origin, it’s wine—of a sort. Maybe it’s what the ancient Babylonians used to push. Maybe it’s Egyptian, maybe it’s Malayan or early Japanese saki, rice wine. Did the Aztecs have wine? I don’t know, but it’s powerful stuff, and it’s rank yet appealing.

“Tequila is a distilled spirit gotten from the heart-sap of the century or agave plant. Well, here’s to international brotherhood, no discrimination against foreign alcohol, and your good health.”

“Hear, hear!”

Having finished his supply from the copia, Stafford ordered a keg of lichen liquor in. This was composed of alcohol distilled from the green-blue lichen that grew on the mountain cliffs and then cut with water, the flavour provided by powdered dried leaves from the tree-vines. After quaffing half a cupful, Stafford said, “I don’t know why Kramer’s men were so eager to kill you that they dared trespass on my waters.”

Speaking carefully and slowly, so that they could understand him easier, Mix began his story. Now and then Stafford nodded to an officer to give Mix another drink. Mix was aware that this generosity was not just based on hospitality. If Stafford got his guest drunk enough, he might, if he were a spy, say something he shouldn’t. Mix, however, was a long way from having enough to make him loose-tongued. Moreover, he had nothing to hide. Well, not much.

“How far do you want me to go back in my story?”

Stafford laughed, and his slowly reddening eyes looked merry.

“For the present, omit your Earthy life. And condense it previously to your first meeting with Kramer.”

“Well, ever since All Souls’ Day”—one of the names for the day on which Earthpeople had first been raised from the dead—“I’ve been wandering down The River. Though I was born in 1880 A.D. in America and died in 1940, I wasn’t resurrected among people of my own time and place. I found myself in an area occupied by fifteenth-century Poles. Across The River were some sort of American Indian pygmies. Until then I hadn’t known that such existed, though the Cherokee Indians have legends of them. I know that because I’m part Cherokee myself.”

That was a lie, one which a movie studio had originated to glamorise him. But he’d said it so often that he half believed it. It couldn’t hurt to spread it on a little.

Stafford belched, and said, “I thought when I first saw you that you had some redskin blood in you.”

“My grandfather was a chief of the Cherokees,” Mix said. He hoped that his English, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Irish ancestors would forgive him.

“Anyway, I didn’t hang around the Poles very long. I wanted to get to some place where I could understand the language. I shook the dust off my feet and took off like a stripe-assed ape.”

Stafford laughed and said, “What droll imagery!”

“It didn’t take me long to find out there weren’t any horses on this world, or any animals except man, earthworms, and fish. So I built me a boat. And I started looking for folks of my own time, hoping I’d run into people I’d known. Or people who’d heard of me. I had some fame during my lifetime; millions knew about me. But I won’t go into that now.

“I figured out that if people were strung along The River according to when they’d been born, though there were many exceptions, me being one, the twentieth-century people ought to be near the River’s mouth. That, as I found out, wasn’t necessarily so. Anyway, I had about ten men and women with me, and we sailed with the wind and the current for, let’s see, close to five years. Now and then we’d stop to rest or to work on land.”

“Work?”

“As mercenaries. We picked up extra cigarettes, booze, good food. In return, we helped out people that needed helping real bad and had a good cause. Most of the men were veterans of wars on Earth and so were some of the women. I’m a graduate of Virginia Military Institute…”

Another movie prevarication.

“Virginia I’ve heard about,” Stafford said. “But…”

Tom Mix had to pause in his narrative to ask just how much Stafford knew of history since his death. The Englishman replied that he’d gotten some information from a wandering Albanian who’d died in 1901 and a Persian who’d died in 1897. At least, he supposed they had those dates right. Both had been Moslems, which made it difficult to correlate their calendar with the Christian. Also, neither had known much about world history. One had mentioned that the American colonies had gained their independence after a war. He hadn’t known whether or not to believe the man. It was so absurd.

“Canada remained loyal,” Mix said. “I see I have a lot to tell you. Anyway, I fought in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine Insurrection, and the Boer War. I’ll explain what these were later.”

Mix had fought in none of these, but what the hell. Anyway, he would have if he’d had a chance to do so. He’d deserted the US cavalry in his second hitch because he wanted to get to the front lines and the damned brass had kept him home.

“A couple of times we were captured by slavers when we landed at some seemingly friendly place. We escaped, but the time came when I was the only one left of the original group. The rest were either killed or quit because they were tired of travelling. My lovely little Egyptian, a daughter of a Pharaoh…well, she was killed, too.”

Actually, Miriam was the child of a Cairo shopkeeper and was born sometime in the eighteenth century. But he was a cowboy, and cowboys always embellished the truth a little. Maybe more than a little. Anyway, figuratively, she was a daughter of the Pharaohs. And what counted in this world, as in the last one, was not facts but what people believed were the facts.

He said, “Maybe I’ll run into her again someday. The others, too. They could’ve just as well been re-resurrected down-River as up-River.”

He paused, then said, “It’s funny. Among the millions, maybe billions of faces I’ve seen while sailing along, I’ve not seen one I knew on Earth.”

Stafford said, “I met a philosopher who calculated that there could be at least thirty-five billion people along The River.”

Mix nodded.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. But you’d think that in five years just one…well, it’s bound to happen someday. So, I built this last boat about five thousand miles back, a year ago. My new crew and I did pretty well until we put in at a small rocky island for a meal. We hadn’t used our buckets for some time because we’d heard the people were mighty ornery in that area. But we were tired of eating fish and bamboo shoots and acorn bread from our stores. And we were out of cigarettes and the last booze we’d had had been long gone. We were aching for the good things of life. So, we took a chance on going ashore, and we lost. We were brought before the local high muckymuck, Kramer himself, a fat ugly guy from fifteenth-century Germany.

“Like a lot of nuts, and begging your pardon if there’s any like him among you, he hadn’t accepted the fact that this world isn’t near what he thought the afterlife was going to be. He was a bigshot on Earth, a priest, an inquisitor. He’d burned a hell of a lot of men, women, and children after torturing them for the greater glory of God.”

Yeshua, sitting near Mix, muttered something. Mix fell silent for a moment. He was not sure that he had not gone too far.

Although he had seen no signs of such, it was possible that Stafford and his people might just be as lunatic in their way as Kramer was in his. During their Terrestrial existence, most of the seventeenth-centurians had had a rock-fast conviction in their religious beliefs. Finding themselves here in the strange place neither heaven nor hell, they had suffered a great shock. Some of them had not yet recovered.

There were those adaptable enough to cast aside their former religion and seek the truth. But too many, like Kramer, had rationalised their environment. Kramer, for instance, maintained that this world was a purgatory. He had been shaken to find that not only Christians but all heathens were here. He had insisted that the teaching of the Church had been misunderstood on Earth. They had been deliberately perverted in their presentation by Satan-inspired priests. But he clearly saw The Truth now.

However, those who did not see the truth as he did must be shown it. Kramer’s method of revelation, as on Earth, was the wheel and the fire.

When Mix had been told this, he had not argued with Kramer’s theory. On the contrary, he was enthusiastic—outwardly—in offering his services. He did not fear death, because he knew that he would be resurrected twenty-four hours later elsewhere along The River. But he did not want to be stretched on the wheel and then burned.

He waited for his chance to escape.

One evening a group had been seized by Kramer as they stepped off a boat. Mix pitied the captives, for he had witnessed Kramer’s means of changing a man’s mind. Yet there was nothing he could do for them. If they were stupid enough to refuse to pretend that they agreed with Kramer, they must suffer.

“But this man Yeshua bothered me,” Mix said. “In the first place, he looked too much like me. Having to see him burn would be like seeing myself in the flames. Moreover, he didn’t get a chance to say yes or no. Kramer asked him if he was Jewish. Yeshua said he had been on Earth, but he now had no religion.

“Kramer said he would have given Yeshua a chance to become a convert, that is, believe as Kramer did. This was a lie, but Kramer is a mealy-mouthed slob who has to find justification for every rotten thing he does. He said that he gave Christians and all heathens a chance to escape the fire—except Jews. They were the ones who’d crucified Jesus, and they should all pay. Besides, a Jew couldn’t be trusted. He’d lie to save his own skin.

“The whole boatload was condemned because they were all Jews. Kramer asked where they’d been headed, and Yeshua said they were looking for a place where nobody had ever heard of a Jew. Kramer said there wasn’t any such place; God would find them out no matter where they went. Yeshua lost his temper and called Kramer a hypocrite and an anti-Christ. Kramer got madder than hell and told Yeshua he wasn’t going to die as quickly as the others.

“About then, I almost got thrown into prison with them. Kramer had noticed how much we looked alike. He asked me if I’d lied to him when I told him I wasn’t a Jew. How come I looked like a Jew if I wasn’t? Of course, this was the first time he thought of me looking like a Jew, which I don’t. If I was darker, I could pass for one of my Cherokee ancestors.

“So I grinned at him, although the sweat was pouring out of me so fast it was trickling down my legs, and I said that he had it backwards. Yeshua looked like a Gentile, that’s why he resembled me. I used one of his own remarks to help me; I reminded him he’d said Jewish women were notoriously adulterous. So maybe Yeshua was half-Gentile and didn’t know it.

“Kramer gave one of those sickening belly laughs of his; he drools until the spit runs down his chin when he’s laughing. And he said I was right. But I knew my days were numbered. He’d get to thinking about my looks later, and he’d decide that I was lying. To hell with that, I thought, I’m getting out tonight.

“But I couldn’t get Yeshua out of my mind. I decided that I wasn’t just going to run like a cur with its tail between its legs. I was going to make Kramer so sick with my memory his pig’s belly would ache like a boil every time he thought of me. That night, just as it began to rain, I killed the two guards with my axe and opened the stockade gates. But somebody was awake and gave the alarm. We ran for my boat, had to fight our way to it, and only Yeshua, Bithniah and I got away. Kramer must have given orders that the men who went after us had better not return without our heads. They weren’t about to give up.”

Stafford said, “God was good enough to give us eternal youth in this beautiful world. We are free from want, hunger, hard labour, and disease. Or should be. Yet men like Kramer want to turn this Garden of Eden into hell. Why? I do not know. One of these days, he’ll be marching on us, as he has on the people to the north of his original area. If you would like to help us fight him, welcome!”

“I hate the murdering devil!” Mix said. “I could tell you things…never mind, you must know them.”

“To my everlasting shame,” Stafford replied. “I must confess that I witnessed many cruelties and injustices on Earth, and I not only did not protest, I encouraged them. I thought that law and order and religion, to be maintained, needed torture and persecution. Yet I was often sickened. So when I found myself in a new world, I determined to start anew. What had been right and necessary on Earth did not have to be so here.”

“You’re an extraordinary man,” Mix said. “Most people have continued to think exactly what they thought on Earth. But I think the Riverworld is slowly changing a lot of them.”

Chapter 4

The food from the copias had been put on wooden plates. Mix, glancing at Yeshua, saw that he had not eaten his meat. Bithniah, catching Mix’s look, laughed.

“Even though his mind has renounced the faith of his fathers, his stomach clings to the laws of Moses.”

Stafford, not understanding her heavily accented English, asked Mix to translate. Mix told him what she’d said.

Stafford said, “But isn’t she Hebrew, too?”

Mix said that she was. Bithniah understood their exchange. She spoke more slowly.

“Yes, I am a Hebrew. But I have abandoned my religion, though, to tell the truth, I was never what you would call devout. Of course, I didn’t voice any doubts on Earth. I would’ve been killed or at least sent into exile. But when we were roaming the desert, I ate anything, clean or unclean, that would fill my belly. I made sure, though, that no one saw me. I suspect others were doing the same. Many, however, would rather starve than put an unclean thing in their mouths, and some did starve. The fools!”

She picked up a piece of ham on her plate and, grinning, offered it to Yeshua. He turned his head away with an expression of disgust.

Mix said, “For Christ’s sake, Yeshua. I’ve told you time and again that I’ll trade my steak for your ham. I don’t like to see you go hungry.”

“I can’t be sure that the cow was slaughtered or prepared correctly,” Yeshua said.

“There’s no kosher involved. The buckets must somehow convert energy into matter. The power that the bucketstones give off is transformed by a mechanism in the false bottom of the bucket. The transformer is programmed, since there’s a different meal every day.

“The scientist that explained all that to me said, though he admitted he was guessing, that there are matrices in the buckets that contain models for certain kinds of matter. They put together the atoms and molecules formed from the energy to make steaks, cigars, what have you. So, there’s no slaughter, kosher or unkosher.”

“But there must have been an original cow that was killed,” Yeshua said. “The beef which was the model for the matrix came from a beast which, presumably, lived and died on Earth. But was it slaughtered in the correct manner?”

“Maybe it was,” Mix said. “But the meat I just ate isn’t from the cow. It’s a reproduction, just matter converted into energy. Properly speaking, it was made by a machine. It has no direct connection with the meat of the beast. If what that scientist said was true, some kind of recording was made of the atomic structure of the piece of beef. I’ve explained what recordings and atoms are to you. Anyway, the meat in our buckets is untouched by human hands. Or nonhuman, for that matter.

“So, how can it be unclean?”

“That is a question which would occupy rabbis for many centuries,” Yeshua said. “And I suppose that even after that long a time they would still disagree. No. The safest way is not to eat it.”

“Then be a vegetarian!” Mix said, throwing his hands up. “And go hungry!”

“Still,” Yeshua said, “there was a man in my time, one who was considered very wise and who, it was said, talked to God, who did not mind if his disciples sat down with dirty hands at the table if there was no water to wash them or there were mitigating circumstances. He was rebuked by the Pharisees for this, but he knew that the laws of God were made for man and not man for the laws.

“That made good sense then and it makes good sense now. Perhaps I am being overstrict, Pharasaical, more devoted to the letter than to the spirit of the law. Actually, I should pay no attention to the law regarding what is ritually clean and what unclean. I no longer believe in the law.

“But even if I should decide to eat meat, I could not put the flesh of swine in my mouth if I knew what it was. I would vomit it. My stomach has no mind, but it knows what is fit for it. It is a Hebrew stomach, and it is descended from hundreds of generations of such stomachs. The tablets of Moses lie as heavy as a mountain in it.”

“Which doesn’t keep Bithniah from eating pork and bacon,” Mix said.

“Ah! That woman! She is the reincarnation of some abominable pagan!”

“You don’t even believe in reincarnation,” Bithniah said, and she laughed.

Stafford had understood part of the conversation. He said, eagerly, “Then you, Master Yeshua, lived in the time of Our Lord! Did you know him?”

“As much as I know of any man,” Yeshua said.

Everybody at the table began plying him with many questions. Stafford ordered more lichen-liquor brought in.

How long had he known Jesus?

Since his birth.

Was it true that Herod massacred the innocents?

No. Herod wouldn’t have had the authority if he had wished to do so. He would have been removed by the Romans and perhaps executed. Moreover, such a deed would have caused a violent revolution. No. That tale, which he had never heard until he came to The Riverworld, was not true. It must be a folk story which had originated after Jesus was dead. Probably, though, it was based on an earlier tale about Isaac.

Then that meant that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary did not flee to Egypt?

They didn’t. Why should they?

What about the angel who appeared to Mary and announced that she would give birth though she was a virgin?

How could that be when Jesus had older brothers and sisters, all fathered by Joseph and borne by Mary? Anyway, Mary, whom he knew well, had never said anything about an angel.

Mix, observing that the redness of some faces was not wholly caused by the liquor, leaned close to Yeshua.

“Careful,” he whispered. “These guys may have decided that their religion was false, but they still don’t like to hear denied what they were taught all their life was true. And a lot of them are like Kramer. They believe, even if they won’t say it, that they’re in a kind of purgatory. They’re still going to Heaven. This is just a way station.”

Yeshua shrugged and said, “Let them kill me. I will rise again elsewhere in a place neither worse nor better than this.”

One of the councillors, Nicholas Hyde, began banging his stone mug on the table.

“I don’t believe you, Jew!” he bellowed. “If you are a Jew! You are lying! What are you doing, trying to create dissension among us with these diabolical lies? Or perhaps you are the devil?

Stafford put his hand on Hyde’s arm. “Restrain yourself, dear sir. Your accusations make no sense. Just the other day I heard you say that God was nowhere on The River. If He isn’t here, then Satan is also absent. Or is it easier to believe in Old Nick than in the Creator? This man is here as our guest, and as long as he is such, we will treat him courteously.”

He turned to Yeshua. “Pray continue.”

The questions were many and swift. Finally, Stafford said, “It’s getting late. Our guests have gone through much today, and we have much work tomorrow. I’ll allow one more.”

He looked at a tall distinguished-looking youth who’d been introduced as William Grey.

“Milord, care you to put it?”

Grey stood up somewhat unsteadily.

“Thank you, my lord-mayor. Now, Master Yeshua, were you present when Christ was crucified? And did you see him when he had risen? Or talk to someone reliable who had seen him, perhaps on the road to Emmaus?”

“That is more than one question,” Stafford said. “But I’ll allow it.”

Yeshua was silent for a moment. When he spoke, he did so even more slowly.

“Yes, I was present when he was crucified and when he died. As for events after that, I will testify only to one thing. That is, he did not rise from the dead on Earth. I have no doubt that he rose here, though.”

A clamour burst out, Hyde’s voice rising above the others and demanding that the lying Jew be thrown out.

Stafford stood up, banging a gavel on the table, and cried, “Please, silence, gentlemen! There will be no more questions.”

He gave orders to a Sergeant Channing to conduct the three to their quarters. Then he said, “Master Mix, I will speak with you three in the morning. God gives you a pleasant sleep.”

Mix, Yeshua, and Bithniah followed the sergeant, who held a torch, though it was not needed. The night sky, blazing with giant star clusters and luminous gasclouds, cast a brighter light than Earth’s full moon. The River sparkled. Mix asked the soldier if they could bathe before retiring. Channing said that they could do so if they hurried. The three walked into the water with their kilt-towels on. When with people who bathed nude, Mix did so also. When with the more modest, he observed their proprieties.

Using soap provided by the copias, they washed the grime and sweat off. Mix watched Bithniah. She was short and dark, full-bosomed, narrow-waisted, and shapely-legged. Her hips, however, were too broad for his tastes, though he was willing to overlook this imperfection. Especially now, when he was full of liquor. She had long, thick, glossy blue-black hair and a pretty face, if you liked long noses, which he did. His fourth wife, Vicky Forde, had had one, and he’d loved her more than any other woman. Bithniah’s eyes were huge and dark, and even during the flight they had given Mix some curious glances. He told himself that Yeshua had better watch her closely. She radiated the heat of a female alleycat in mating season.

Yeshua now, he was something different. The only resemblance he had to Mix was physical. He was quiet and withdrawn, except for that one outburst against Kramer, and he seemed to be always thinking of something far away. Despite his silence, he gave the impression of great authority—rather, of a man who had once had it but was now deliberately suppressing it.

Channing said, “You’re clean enough. Come on out.”

“You know,” Mix said to Yeshua, “shortly before I came to Kramer’s territory, something puzzling happened to me. A little dark man rushed at me crying out in a foreign tongue. He tried to embrace me; he was weeping and moaning, and he kept repeating a name over and over. I had a hell of a time convincing him he’d made a mistake. Maybe I didn’t. He tried to get me to take him along, but I didn’t want anything to do with him. He made me nervous, the way he kept on staring at me.

“I forgot about him until just now. I’ll bet he thought I was you. Come to think of it, he did say your name quite a few times.”

Yeshua came out of his absorption. “Did he say what his name was?”

“I don’t know. He tried four or five different languages on me, including English, and I couldn’t understand him m any of them. But he did repeat a word more than once. Mattithayah. Mean anything to you?”

Yeshua did not reply. He shivered and draped a long towel over his shoulders. Mix knew that something inside Yeshua was chilling him. The heat of the daytime, which reached an estimated 80 F. at high noon (there were no thermometers), faded away slowly. The high humidity of the valley (in this area, anyway) retained the heat until the invariable rains fell a few hours after midnight. Then the temperature dropped swiftly to an estimated 65 F. and stayed there until dawn.

Channing led them to their residences. These were two small square one-room bamboo huts, the roofs thatched with the huge leaves of the irontree. Inside each was a table, several chairs, and a low bed, all of bamboo. There were also wooden towel racks and a rack for spears and other weapons. A baked-clay nightjar stood in one corner. The floor was a slightly raised bamboo platform. Real class. Most huts had bare earth floors.

Yeshua and Bithniah went into one hut; Mix, into the other. Channing started to say good night, but Mix asked him if he minded talking a little while. To bribe the sergeant, he gave him a cigar from his grail. At one time on Earth Mix had smoked, but he had given up the habit to preserve his image as a “cleancut” hero for his vast audiences of young movie-goers. Here, he alternated between long stretches of indulgences or abstinences. For the past year, he had laid off tobacco. But he thought it might make the sergeant chummier if he smoked with him. He lit up a cigarette, coughed, and became dizzy for a moment. The tobacco certainly tasted good, though.

Micah Shepstone Channing was a short, muscular, and heavy-boned redhead. He’d been born in 1621 in the village of Havant, Hampshire, where he became a parchment maker. When the civil war broke out, he’d joined the forces against Charles I. Badly wounded at the battle of Naseby, he returned home, resumed his trade, married, had eight children of whom four survived to adulthood, and died of a fever in 1687.

Mix asked him a number of questions. Though his interest was mainly to establish a friendly feeling, he was curious about the man. He liked people in general.

He then went on to other matters, the personalities of the important men of New Albion, the setup of the government, and the relations with neighbouring states, especially Kramer’s Deusvolens, which the Albions pronounced as Doocevolenz.

During the English Civil War, Stafford had served under the Earl of Manchester. But, losing a hand from an infected wound, he went to live in Sussex and became a beekeeper. In time he became quite prosperous and branched out from honey to general merchandising. Later, he specialised in naval provisions. In 1679 he died during a storm off Dover. He was, Channing said, a good man, a born leader, quite tolerant, and had from the first been instrumental in establishing this state.

“Twas he who suggested that we do away with titles of nobility or royalty and elect our leaders. He’s now serving his second term as lord-mayor.”

“Are women allowed to vote?” Mix said.

“They weren’t at first, but last year they insisted they get their rights, and after some agitation, they got them. There’s no holding them,” Channing said, looking somewhat sour. “They can pick up any time they want and leave, since there’s little property involved and no children to take care of and blessed little housework or cooking to do. They’ve become mighty independent.”

Anglia, on the south border of New Albion, had a similar system of government, but its elected chief was titled the sheriff. Ormondia, to the north, was inhabited chiefly by those royalists who’d been faithful to Charles I and Charles II during the troubles. They were ruled by James Butler, first Duke of Ormonde, lord-lieutenant of Ireland under Charles I and Charles II, and chancellor of Oxford University.

“It’s milord and your grace in Ormondia,” Channing said. “Ye’d think that England had been transplanted from old Earth to The River. Despite which, the titles are mainly honorary, ye might say, since all but the duke are elected, and their council has in it more men born poor but honest and deserving than nobles. What’s more, when their women found out ours was getting the vote, they set up a howl and there was nothing His Grace could do but swallow the bitter pill and smile like he was enjoying it.”

Though relations between the two tiny states had never been cordial, they were united against Kramer. The main trouble was that their joint military staffs didn’t get along too well. The duke didn’t like the idea of having to consult the lord-mayor or deferring to him in any way.

“Far as that goes, I don’t like it either,” Channing said. “There should be one supreme general during a war. This is a case where two heads be not better than one.”

The Huns across The River had caused much trouble in the early years, but for some time now they’d been friendly. Actually, only about one-fourth of them were Huns, according to Channing. They’d fought among themselves for so long they’d killed off each other. These had been replaced by-people from other places along The River. They spoke a Hunnish pidgin with words from other languages making up a fourth of the vocabulary. The state directly across from New Albion was at the moment ruled by a Sikh, Govind Singh, a very strong military leader.

“As I said,” Channing said, “for three hundred miles along here on this side the people resurrected were mainly British of the 1600’s. But there’s some ten-mile stretches where they aren’t. Thirty miles down are some thirteenth-century Cipangese, fierce little slant-eyed yellow bastards. And there’s Doocevolenz, which is fourteenth-century and half-German and half-Spanish.”

Mix thanked him for the information and then said that he had to turn in. Channing bade him a good night.

Chapter 5

Mix fell asleep at once. Sometime during the night he dreamed that he was making love to Victoria Forde, his fourth wife, the one woman whom he still loved. Drums and blarings from many fish-bone horns woke him up. He opened his eyes. It was still dark, but its paleness indicated that the sun would soon come up over the mountains. He could see through the open window the greying sky and fast-fading stars and gas clouds.

He closed his eyes and drew the edge of the double blanket-length towels over his head. Oh, for a little more sleep! But a lifetime of discipline as a cowboy, a movie actor, and a circus star on Earth, and as a mercenary on this world, got him out of bed. Shivering in the cold, he put on a towel-kilt and splashed icy water from a shallow fired-clay basin onto his face. Then he removed the kilt to wash his loins. His dream—Vicky had been as good in bed as the real Vicky.

He ran his hand over his jaw and cheeks. It was a habit he’d never overcome despite the fact that he did not have to shave and never would. All men had been resurrected permanently beardless. Tom didn’t know why. Maybe whoever had done it didn’t like facial hair. If so, they had no distaste for pubic or armpit hairs. But they had also made sure that hair didn’t grow in the ears and nose hairs only grew to a certain length.

The unknowns responsible for the Riverworld had also made certain adjustments in the faces and bodies of some. Women who’d had huge breasts on Earth had wakened from death here to find that their mammaries had been reduced in size. Women with very small breasts had been given “normal”-sized breasts. And no woman had sagging breasts.

Not all were delighted. By no means. There were those who’d liked what they had had. And of course there had been societies in which huge dangling breasts were much admired and others in which the size and shape of the female breast meant nothing at all in terms of beauty or sex. They were just there to provide milk for the babies.

Men with very small penises on Earth here had penises which would not cause ridicule or shame. Mix had never heard any complaints about this. But a man who’d secretly yearned on Earth to be a woman had once, while drunk, poured his grievances into Mix’s ear. Why couldn’t the mysterious beings who’d corrected so many physical faults have given him a female body?

“Why didn’t you tell them what you wanted?” Mix had said and he’d laughed. Of course, the man couldn’t have informed the Whoevers. He’d died, and then awakened on the banks of The River, and in between he’d been dead.

The man had hit Tom in the eye then and given him a black whopper. Tom had had to knock him out to prevent further injury to himself.

Other deficiencies or deviations from the “normal” had also been corrected. Tom had once met a very handsome, perhaps too handsome Englishman—eighteenth century—who’d been a nobleman. From the groin upward, he’d been perfect, but his legs had been only a foot and a half long. Now he stood six feet two inches high. No complaints from him. But his grotesqueness on Earth had seemingly twisted his character. Though now a beautiful man in body, he was still embittered, savagely cynical, insulting, and, though he was a great “lover,” hated women.

Tom had had a run-in with him, too, and broken the limey’s nose. After they’d recovered from their injuries, they became friends. Strangely, now that the Englishman’s handsomeness was ruined by the flat and askew nose, he’d become a better person. Much of his hatefulness had disappeared.

It was often hard to figure out human beings.

While Tom had been drying himself, he’d been thinking about what the Whoevers had done in the physical area to people. Now he wrapped himself in a cloak made of long towels held together with magnetic tabs inside the cloth, and he picked up a roll of toilet paper. This, too, had been provided by the copias, though there were societies who didn’t use it for the intended purpose. He left the hut and walked toward the nearest latrine. This was a ditch over which was a long bamboo hut. It had two entrances. On the horizontal plank above each, a crude figure of a man, full-face, had been incised. The women’s crapper was about twenty yards distant from it, and over its entrances crude profiles of women had been cut into the wood.

If the custom of daily bathing was not yet widespread in this area, other sanitation was enforced. Sergeant Channing had informed Mix that no one was allowed to crap just anywhere he or she pleased. (He did not use the word “crap,” however, since this had been unknown in the seventeenth century.) Unless there were mitigating circumstances, a person caught defecating outside the public toilets was exiled—after his or her face had been rubbed in the excrement.

Urinating in public was lawful under certain situations, but the urinator must take care to be unobserved if the opposite sex was present.

“But it’s a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance,” Channing had said, quoting Shakespeare without knowing it. (He’d never heard of the Bard of Avon.) “In the wild lawless time just after the resurrection, people became rather shameless. There was little modesty then, and people, if you’ll pardon the phrase, just didn’t give a shit. Haw, haw!”

At regular intervals, the latrine deposits were hauled up to the mountains and dropped into a deep and appropriately named canyon.

“But some day it’s going to be so high that the wind’ll bring the stink down to us. I don’t know what we’ll do then. Throw it into The River and let the fish eat it, I suppose. That’s what those disgusting Huns across The River do.”

“Well,” Mix had drawled, “that seems to me the sensible way to do it. The turds don’t last long. The fish clean them up right away, almost before the stuff hits the water.”

“Yes, but then we catch the fish and eat them!”

“It don’t affect their taste any,” Mix had said. “Listen, you said you lived on a farm for a couple of years, didn’t you? Well, then you know that chickens and hogs eat cow and horse flop if they get a chance, and they often do. That didn’t affect their taste when they were on the table, did it?”

Channing had grimaced. “It don’t seem the same. Anyway, hogs and chickens eat cow manure, and there’s a big difference between that and human ordure.”

Mix had said, “I wouldn’t really know. I never ate either.”

He paused. “Say, I got an idea. You know the big earthworms eat human stuff. Why don’t you people drag them out of the ground and throw them into the shit pit? They’d get rid of the crap, and the worms’d be as happy as an Irishman with a free bottle of whiskey.”

Channing had been amazed. “That’s a splendid idea! I wonder why none of us thought of it?”

He’d then complimented Mix on his intelligence. Mix hadn’t told him that he’d been through many areas in which his “new” idea was a long-standing practice.

These places, like this one, had been lacking in sulphur. Otherwise, they would have processed nitrate crystals from the excrement and mixed it with charcoal and sulphur to make gunpowder. The explosive was then put into bamboo cases to be used as bombs or warheads for rockets.

Mix went into the latrine shed and sat down on one of the twelve holes. During the short time he was there, he picked up some gossip, mostly about the affair one of the councilmen was having with a major’s woman. He also heard a dirty joke he’d never heard before, and he’d thought he’d heard them all on Earth. After washing his hands in a trough connected to a nearby stream, he hastened back to his hut. He picked up his grail and walked forty yards to Yeshua’s hut. He’d intended to knock on the door and invite the couple to go with him to the nearest charging stone. But he halted a few paces from the door.

Yeshua and Bithniah were arguing loudly in heavily accented English of the seventeenth century. Mix wondered why they weren’t using Hebrew. Later, he would find out that English was the only language they had in common, though they could carry on a very limited conversation in sixteenth-century Andalusian Spanish and fourteenth-century High German. Though Bithniah’s native tongue was Hebrew, it was at least twelve hundred years older than Yeshua’s. Its grammar was, from Yeshua’s viewpoint, archaic, and its vocabulary was loaded with Egyptian loanwords and Hebrew items which had dropped out of the speech long before he was born.

Moreover, though born in Palestine of devout Jewish parents, Yeshua’s native tongue was Aramaic. He knew Hebrew mainly as a liturgical tool, though he could read the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, with some difficulty.

As it was, Mix had some difficulty in understanding half of what they said. Not only did their Hebrew and Aramaic pronunciations distort their words, they had learned their English in an area occupied by seventeenth-century Yorkshire people, and that accent further bent their speech. But Mix could fill in what he didn’t grasp. Usually.

“I’ll not go with you to live in the mountains!” Bithniah was shouting. “I don’t want to be alone! I hate being alone! I have to have many people around me! I don’t want to sit on top of a rock with no one but a walking tomb to talk to! I won’t go! I won’t go!”

“You’re exaggerating, as usual,” Yeshua said loudly but much more quietly than Bithniah. “In the first place, you will have to go down to the nearest foothill copiastone three times a day. And you may go down to the bank and talk whenever you feel like it. Also, I don’t plan to live up there all the time. Now and then I’ll go down to work, probably as a carpenter, but I don’t…”

Mix couldn’t understand the rest of what the man said even though he spoke almost as loudly as before. He had no trouble comprehending most of Bithniah’s words, however.

“I don’t know why I stay with you! Certainly it’s not because no one else wants me! I’ve had plenty of offers, let me tell you! And I’ve been tempted, very tempted, to accept some!

“I do know why you want me around! It’s certainly not because you’re in love with my intelligence or my body! If it were, you’d delight in them, you’d be talking to me more and have me on my back far more than you do!

“The only reason you stick with me is that you know that I knew Aharon and Mosheh, and I was with the tribes when we left Egypt and when we invaded Canaan! Your only interest in me is to drain me of all I know about your great and holy hero, Mosheh!”

Mix’s ears figuratively stood up. Well, well! Here was a man who’d known Christ, or at least claimed to, living with a woman who’d known Aaron and Moses, or at least claimed to. One or both of them, however, could be liars. There were so many along The River. He ought to know. It took one to recognise one, though his lies were mainly just harmless prevarications.

Bithniah screamed, “Let me tell you, Yeshua, Mosheh was a louse! He was always preaching against adultery and against lying with heathen women, but I happen to know what he practised! Why, he even married one, a Kushi from Midian! And he tried to keep his son from being circumcised!”

“I’ve heard all that many times before,” Yeshua said.

“But you don’t really believe I’m telling the truth, do you? You can’t accept that what you believed so devoutly all your life is a bunch of lies! Why should I lie? What would I gain by that?”

“You like to torture me, woman.”

“Oh, I don’t have to lie to do that. There are plenty of other ways! Anyway, it’s true that Mosheh not only had many wives, he would take other men’s women if he got a chance! I should know; I was one of them. But he was a real man, a bull! Not like you! You can only become a real man when you’ve taken dreamgum and are out of your mind! What kind of a man is that, I ask you?”

“Peace, woman,” Yeshua said softly.

“Then don’t call me a liar!”

“I have never done that.”

“You don’t have to! I can see in your eyes, hear in your voice, that you don’t believe me!”

“No. Though there are times—most of the time, in fact—when I wish I’d never heard your tales. But great is the truth, no matter how much it hurts.”

He continued in Hebrew or Aramaic. The tone of his voice indicated that he was quoting something.

“Stick to English!” Bithniah screamed. “I got so disgusted with the so-called holy men always quoting moral proverbs, and all the time their own sins stank like a sick camel! You sound like them! And you even claim to have been a holy man! Perchance you were! But I think that your devoutness ruined you! I wouldn’t know, though! You’ve never actually told me much about your life! I found out more about you when you were talking to the councilmen than you’ve ever told me!”

Yeshua’s voice, which had been getting lower, suddenly became so soft that Mix couldn’t make out a word of it. He glanced at the eastern mountains. A few minutes more, and the sun would clear the peaks. Then the stones would give up their thundering, blazing energy. If they didn’t hurry, they’d have to go breakfastless. That is, unless they ate dried fish and acorn bread, the thought of which made him slightly nauseated.

He knocked loudly on the door. The two within fell silent. Bithniah swung the door open violently, but she managed to smile at him as if nothing had occurred.

“Yes, I know. We’ll be with you at once.”

“Not I,” Yeshua said. “I don’t feel hungry now.”

“That’s right!” Bithniah said loudly. “Try to make me feel guilty, blame your upset stomach on me. Well, I’m hungry, and I’m going to eat, and you can sit here and sulk for all I care!”

“No matter what you say, I am going to live in the mountains.”

“Go ahead! You must have something to hide! Who’s after you? Who are you that you’re so afraid of meeting people? Well, I have nothing to hide!”

Bithniah picked up her copia by the handle and stormed out. Mix walked along with her and tried to make pleasant conversation. But she was too angry to cooperate. As it was, they had just come into sight of the nearest mushroom-shaped rock, located between two hills, when blue flames soared up from the top and a roar like a colossal lion’s came to them. Bithniah stopped and burst into her native language. Obviously she was cursing. Mix contented himself with one short word.

After she’d quieted down, she said, “Got a smoke?”

“In my hut. But you’ll have to pay me back later. I usually trade my cigarettes for liquor.”

“Cigarettes? That’s your word for pipekins?”

He nodded, and they returned to his hut. Yeshua was not in sight. Mix purposely left his door open. He trusted neither Bithniah nor himself.

Bithniah glanced at the door.

“You must think me a fool. Right next door to Yeshua!”

Mix grinned.

“You never lived in Hollywood!”

He gave her a cigarette. She used the lighter that the copia had furnished; a thin metallic box which extended a whitely glowing wire when pressed on the side.

“You must have overheard us,” she said. “Both of us were shouting our fool heads off. He’s a very difficult man. Sometimes he frightens me, and I don’t scare easily. There’s something very deep—and very different, almost alien, maybe unhuman, about him. Not that he isn’t very kind or doesn’t understand people. He does, too much so.

“But he seems so aloof most of the time. Sometimes, he laughs very much, and he makes me laugh, for he has a wonderful sense of humour. Other times, though, he delivers harsh judgements, so harsh they hurt me because I know that I’m included in the indictment. Now, I don’t have any illusions about men or women. I know what they are and what to expect. But I accept this. People are people, although they often pretend to be better than they are. But expect the worst, I say, and you now and then get a pleasant surprise because you don’t get the worst.”

“That’s pretty much my attitude,” Mix said. “Even horses aren’t predictable, and men are much more complicated. So you can’t always tell what a horse or a man’s going to do or what’s driving him. One thing you can bet on. You’re Number One to yourself, but to the other guy, Number One is himself or herself. If somebody acts like you’re Number One, and she’s sacrificing herself for you, she’s just fooling herself.”

“You sound as if you’d had some trouble with your wife.”

“Wives. That, by the way, is one of the things I like about this world. You don’t have to go through any courts or pay any alimony when you split up. You just pick up your bucket, towels, and weapons, and take off. No property settlements, no in-laws, no kids to worry about.”

“I bore twelve children,” she said. “All but six died before they were two years old. Thank God, I don’t have to go through that here.”

“Whoever sterilised us knew what he was doing,” Mix said. “If we could have kids, this valley’d be jammed tight as a pig-trough at feeding time.”

He moved close to her and grinned.

“Anyway, we men still have our guns, even if they’re loaded with blanks.”

“You can stop where you are,” she said, although she was still smiling. “Even if I leave Yeshua, I may not want you. You look too much like him.”

“I might show you the difference,” he said.

But he moved away from her and picked up a piece of dried fish from his leather bag. Between bites, he asked her about Mosheh.

“Would you get angry or beat me if I told you the truth?” she said.

“No, why should I?”

“Because I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about my Earthly life. The first time I told about it, that was less than a year after the Day of the Great Shout, I was badly beaten and thrown into The River. The people who did it were outraged, though I don’t know why they should have been. They knew that their religion was false. They had to know that the moment they rose from the dead on this world. But I was lucky not to have been tortured and then burned alive.”

“I’d like to hear the real story of the exodus,” he said. “It won’t bother me that it’s not what I learned in Sunday school.”

“You promise not to tell anybody else?”

“Cross my heart and hope to fall off Tony.”

Chapter 6

She looked blank.

“Is that an oath?”

“As good as any.”

She was, she said, born in the land of Goshen, which was in the land of Mizraim, that is, Egypt. Her tribe was that of Levi, and it had come with other tribes of Eber into Mizraim some four hundred years before.

Famine in their own land had driven them there. Besides, Yoseph—in English, Joseph—had invited them to come. He was the vizier of the Pharaoh of Egypt and so was able to get the tribes into the land of plenty just east of the great delta of the Nile.

Mix said, “You mean, the story of Joseph is true? He was sold into slavery by his brothers, and he did become the Pharaoh’s righthand man?”

Bithniah smiled and said, “You must remember that all that happened four hundred years before I was born. It may or may not have been true, but that was the story I was told.”

“It’s hard for me to believe that a Pharaoh would make a nomadic Hebrew his chief minister. Why wouldn’t he choose an Egyptian, a civilised man who’d know all the complicated problems of administering a great nation?”

“I don’t know. But the Pharaoh of lower Egypt then, when my ancestors came into Egypt, was not an Egyptian. He was a foreigner, one of those invaders from the deserts whom the English call the shepherd-kings. They spoke a language much like Hebrew, or so I was told. He would have regarded Joseph as more or less a cousin. One of a kindred people, anyway, and more to be trusted than a native Egyptian. Still, I don’t know if the story is true, since I did not see Joseph with my own eyes, of course. But while my people were in Goshen, the people of upper Egypt conquered the shepherd-kings and set up one of their own as Pharaoh of all Egypt.”

That, said, Bithniah, was when the lot of the sons of Eber and of Jacob began to worsen. They had entered Mizraim as free men, working under contract, but then they became slaves, in effect if not officially.

“Still, it was not so bad until the great Raamses became Pharaoh. He was a mighty warrior and a builder efforts and cities, and the Hebrews were among the many people set to build these.”

“Was this Raamses the first or the second?” Mix said.

“I don’t know. The Pharaoh before him was named Seti.”

“He would have been Raamses II,” Mix said. “So he was the Pharaoh of the Oppression! And was the man who succeeded him named Merneptah?”

“You pronounce his name strangely, but, yes, it was.”

“The Pharaoh of the exodus.”

“Yes, the going-forth. We were able to escape our bondage because Mizraim was in turmoil then. The people of the seas, as the English call them, and as they were called in my time, invaded. They were, I hear, beaten back, but during the time of troubles we took the opportunity to flee Mizraim.”

“Moses, I mean Mosheh, didn’t go to the Pharaoh and demand that his people be allowed to go free?”

“He wouldn’t have dared. He would have been tortured and then executed. And many of us would have been slain as an example.”

“You’ve heard of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians by God because of Moses’ requests? The Nile turning to blood, the plague of frogs, the slaying of the firstborn male children of all the Egyptians and the marking with blood of the doorposts of the Hebrews so that their sons might be spared?”

She laughed and said, “Not until I came to this world. There was a plague raging throughout the land, but it killed Hebrew as well as Egyptian. My two brothers and a sister died of it, and I was sick with it, but I survived.”

Mix questioned her about the religion of the tribes. She said that there was a mixture of religions in the tribes. Her mother had worshipped, among others, El, the chief god that the Hebrews had brought with them when they had entered the land of Goshen. Her father had favoured the gods of Egypt, especially Ra. But he had participated in offering sacrifices to El, though these were few. He couldn’t afford to pay for many.

She had known Mosheh since she was very young. He was a wild kid (her own words), half-Hebrew, half-Mizraimite. The mixture was nothing unusual. The women slaves were often raped by their masters or gave themselves willingly to get more food and creature comforts. Or sometimes just because they liked to have sexual intercourse. There was even some doubt about whether or not one of her sisters had a Hebrew or an Egyptian father.

There was also some doubt about the identity of Mosheh’s father.

“When Mosheh was ten years old he was adopted by an Egyptian priest who’d lost his two sons to a plague. Why would the priest have adopted Mosheh instead of an Egyptian boy unless the priest was Mosheh’s father? Mosheh’s mother had worked for the priest for a while.”

When Mosheh was fifteen, he had returned to the Hebrews and was once again a slave. The story was that his fosterfather had been executed because he was secretly practising the forbidden religion of Aton, founded by the accursed Pharaoh Akhenaton. But Bithniah suspected that it was because Mosheh was suspected by his father of lying with one of his concubines.

“Didn’t he have to flee to Midian later on when he killed an Egyptian overseer of slaves? He is supposed to have murdered the man when he caught him maltreating a Hebrew slave.”

Bithniah laughed.

“The truth is probably that the Egyptian caught him with his wife, and Mosheh was forced to kill him to keep from being killed. But he did escape to Midian. Or so he said when he returned some years later under a false name.”

“Moses must have been horny as hell,” Mix said.

“The kid grows up to be a goat.”

On returning with his Midianite wife, Mosheh announced that the sons of Eber had been adopted by a god. This god was Yahweh. The announcement came as a surprise to the Hebrews, most of whom had never heard of Yahweh until then. But Yahweh had spoken from a burning bush to Mosheh, and Mosheh had been charged to lead his people from bondage. He was inspiring and spoke with great authority, he seemed truly to burn as brightly with the light of Yahweh as the burning bush he described.

“What about the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh and his soldiers when they pursued you Hebrews?”

“Those Hebrews who lived long after we did and wrote those books I’ve been told about were liars. Or perchance they weren’t liars but just believed tales that had been told for many centuries.”

“What about the golden calf?”

“You mean the statue of the god that Mosheh’s brother Aharon made while Mosheh was on the mountain talking to Yahweh? It was a calf, the Mizraimite god Hapi as a calf. But it wasn’t made of gold. It was made of clay. Where would we get gold in that desert?”

“I thought you slaves carried off a lot of loot when you left?”

“We were lucky to have our clothes and our weapons. We left in a hurry, and we didn’t want to be burdened down any more than we could help, if the soldiers came after us. Fortunately, the garrisons were undermanned at that time. Many soldiers had been called to the coast to fight against the people of the sea.”

“Moses did make the tablets of stone?”

“Yes. But there weren’t ten commandments on them. And they were in Egyptian sign-writing. I couldn’t read them; three-fourths of us couldn’t. Anyway, there wasn’t room on the tablets to write out ten commandments in Egyptian signs. And the writing didn’t last long. The paint was poor, and the hot winds and the sand soon flaked the paint off.”

Chapter 7

Mix wanted to keep on questioning her, but a soldier knocked on the doorpost. He said that Stafford wanted to see the three at once. Mix called Yeshua out of his hut, and they followed the soldier to the council hall. Nobody said a word all the way.

Stafford said good morning and asked them if they intended to stay in New Albion.

The three said that they would like to be citizens.

Stafford said, “Very well. But you have to realise that a citizen owes the state certain duties in return for its protection. I’ll enumerate these later. Now, what position in the army or navy are you particularly fitted for? If any?”

Mix had already told him what his skills were, but he repeated them. The lord-mayor told him that he would have to start as a private, though his experience qualified him to be a commissioned officer.

“I apologise for this, but it is our policy to start all newcomers at the bottom of the ranks. This prevents unhappiness and jealousy among those who’ve been here for a long time. However, since you have stone weapons of your own, and these are scarce in this area, I can assign you to the axeman squad. Axemen are treated as elite, as something special. After a few months, you may be promoted to sergeant if you do well, and I’m sure you will.”

“That suits me fine,” Tom said. “But I can also make boomerangs and instruct your people in throwing them.”

Stafford said “Hmm!” and drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment.

“Since that’ll make you a specialist, you deserve to be sergeant immediately. But when you’re with the axe squad, you’ll still have to take orders from the corporals and sergeants. Let’s see. It’s an awkward situation. But… I can make you a nonactive sergeant when you’re in the squad and an active sergeant when you’re in the capacity of boomerang instructor.”

“That’s a new one on me,” Mix said grinning. “Okay.”

“What?” Stafford said.

“Okay means ‘all right.’ It’s agreeable with me.”

“Oh! Very well. Now, Yeshua, what would you like to do?”

Yeshua said that he had been a carpenter on Earth and had also done considerable work in this field here. In addition, he had learned how to flake stone. Moreover, he had a small supply of flint and chert. The boat they’d fled in happened to have a leather bag full of unworked stone brought down from a distant area.

“Good!” Stafford said. “You can start by working with Mr Mix. You can help him make boomerangs.”

“I’m sorry,” Yeshua said. “I can’t do that.”

Stafford’s eyes widened. “Why not?”

“I am under a vow not to shed the blood of any human being nor to take part in any activity which results in the shedding of blood.”

“But what about when you were running away? Didn’t you fight then?”

“No, I did not.”

“You mean that if you’d been captured you would not have defended yourself? You’d have just stood there and allowed yourself to be slain?”

“I would.”

Stafford drummed his fingers again while his skin became slowly red. Then he said, “I know little of this Church of the Second Chance, but I have heard some reports that its members refuse to fight. Are you one of them?”

Yeshua shook his head.

“No. My vow is a private one.”

“There isn’t any such thing,” Stafford said. “Once you’ve told others of your vow, it becomes a public thing. What you mean is that you made this vow to your god.”

“I don’t believe in gods or a God,” Yeshua said in a low but firm voice. “Once I did believe, and I believed very strongly. In fact, it was more than a belief. It was knowledge. I knew. But I was wrong.

“Now I believe only in myself. Not because I know myself. No man really knows anything, including himself, or perhaps I should say that no man knows much. But I do know this. That I can make a vow to myself which I will keep.”

Stafford gripped the edge of his desk as if he were testing its reality.

“If you don’t believe in God, then why make such a vow? What do you care if you shed blood while defending yourself? It would only be natural. And where there is no God, there is no sin. A man may do what he wants to do, no matter how he harms others, and it is right because all things are right or all things are wrong if there is no Upper Law. Human laws do not matter.”

“The vow is the only true thing in the world.”

Bithniah laughed and said, “He’s crazy! You won’t get any sense out of him! I think that he refuses to kill to keep from being killed because he wants to be killed! He would like to die, but he doesn’t have guts enough to commit suicide! Besides, what good would it do! He’d only be resurrected some other place!”

“Which,” Stafford said, “makes your vow meaningless. You can’t really kill anybody here. You can put out a person’s breath, and he will become a corpse. But twenty-four hours later, he will be a new body, a whole body, though he had been cut into a thousand pieces.”

Yeshua shrugged. “That doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyway. I have made my vow, and I will not break it.”

“Crazy!” Bithniah said.

“You’re not intending to start a new religion, are you?” Mix said.

Yeshua looked at Mix as if he were stupid.

“I just said that I don’t believe in God.”

Stafford sighed. “I don’t have time to dispute theology or philosophy with you. This issue is easily disposed of, however. You can leave our state at once, and I mean this very minute. Or you can stay here but as an undercitizen. There are ten such living in New Albion now. They, like you, won’t fight, though for different reasons from yours. But they have their duties, their work, just like all citizens. They do not, however, get any of the bonuses given to citizens every three months by the state, the extra cigarettes, liquor, and food. They are required to contribute a certain amount from their copias to the state treasury. And they must work extra shifts as latrine-cleaners. Also, in case of war, they will be kept in a stockade until the war is over. This is so they will not get in the way of the military. Another reason for this is that we can’t be sure of their loyalty.”

“I agree to this,” Yeshua said. “I will build you fishing boats and houses and anything else that is required as long as they are not directly connected with the making of war.”

“That isn’t always easy to discern,” Stafford said. “But, never mind, we can use you.”

After they were dismissed and had gone outside, Bithniah stopped Yeshua.

Glaring, she said, “Goodbye, Yeshua. I’m leaving you. I can’t endure your insanity any longer.”

Yeshua looked even sadder. “I won’t argue with you. It will be best if we do separate. I was making you unhappy, and it is not good to thrust one’s unhappiness upon another.”

“No, you’re wrong about that,” she said. Tears trickled down her cheeks. “I don’t mind sharing unhappiness if I can help relieve it, if I can do something about it. But I can’t help you. I tried, and I failed, though I don’t blame myself for failing.”

Yeshua walked away.

Bithniah said, “Tom, there goes the unhappiest man in the world. I wish I knew why he is so sad and lonely.”

Mix glanced at his near-double, walking swiftly away as if he had some place to go, and said, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

And he wondered again what strange meeting of genes had resulted in two men, born about one thousand and eighty years apart in lands five thousand miles apart, of totally different ancestry, looking like twins. How many such coincidences had happened during man’s existence on Earth?

Bithniah left to report to a woman’s labour force. Mix looked up a Captain Hawkins and transmitted Stafford’s orders to him. He spent an hour in close-order drill with his company and the rest of the morning practising mock-fighting with axe and shield and some spear-throwing. That afternoon, he showed some craftsmen how to make boomerangs. In a few days he would be giving instruction in the art of throwing the boomerang.

Several hours before dusk, he was dismissed. After bathing in The River, he returned to his hut. Bithniah was in hers, but Yeshua had left.

“He went up into the mountains,” she said. “He said something about purifying himself and meditating.”

Mix said, “He can do what he wants with his free time. Well, Bithniah, what about moving in with me? I like you, and I think you like me.”

“I’d be tempted if you didn’t look so much like Yeshua,” she said, smiling.

“I may be his spitting image, but I’m not a gloomy cuss. We’d have fun, and I don’t need dreamgum to make love.”

“You’d still remind me of him,” she said. Suddenly she began weeping, and she ran into her hut.

Mix shrugged and went to the nearest stone to put his copia upon it.

Chapter 8

While eating the goodies provided by his copia, holy bucket, miracle pail, grail, or whatever, he struck up a conversation with a pretty but lonely-looking blonde. She was Delores Rambaut, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1945. She’d been living in the state across The River until this very afternoon. Her hutmate had driven her crazy with his unreasonable jealousy, and so, after putting up with him for a long time, she’d fled out of the hut, but he was likely to try to kill her.

“How was it living with all those Huns?” he said.

She looked surprised.

“Huns? Those people aren’t Huns. They’re what we call Scythians. At least, I think they are. They’re mostly a fairly tall white-skinned people, Caucasians. They were great horsemen on Earth, you know, and they conquered a wide territory in southern Russia. In the seventh century B.C., if I remember right what I read about them.”

“The people here call them Huns,” he said. “Maybe it’s just an insulting term and has no relation to their race or nationality. Or whatever. Anyway, I’m glad you’re here. I don’t have a mate, and I’m lonely.”

She laughed and said, “You’re kind of rushing it, aren’t you? Tom Mix, heh? You couldn’t be…?”

“The one and only,” he said. “And just as horseless as the ancient Scythians are now.”

“I should have known. I saw enough pictures of you when I was a child. My father was a great admirer of yours. He had a lot of newspaper clippings about you, an autographed photo, and even a movie poster. Tom Mix in Arabia. He said it was the greatest movie you ever made. In fact, he said it was one of the best movies he ever saw.”

“I kind of liked it myself,” he said smiling.

“Yes. It was rather sad, though. Oh, I don’t mean the movie. I mean about all your movies. You made…how many?”

“Two hundred and sixty—I think.”

“Wow! That many? Anyway, my father said, oh, it was years later, when he was a very old man, that all of them had disappeared. The studios didn’t have any, and the few still existing were privately owned and fading fast.”

Tom winced, and he said, “Sic transit gloria mundi. However, I made a hell of a lot of money and enjoyed blowing it. So, what the hell!”

Delores had been born five years after he’d rammed his car into a barricade near Florence on the highway between Tucson and Phoenix. He’d been travelling as advance agent for a circus and was carrying a metal suitcase full of money with which to pay bills. As usual, he was driving fast, ninety miles an hour at the time. He’d seen the warning on a barrier that the highway was being repaired. But, also as usual, he’d paid no attention to the sign. One moment, the road was clear. The next…there was no way he could avoid the crashing into the barricade.

“My father said you died instantly. The suitcase was behind you, and it snapped your neck.”

Tom winced again.

“I always was lucky.”

“He said the suitcase flew open, and there were thousand-dollar bills flying all over the place. It was a money shower. The workmen didn’t pay any attention to you at first. They were running around like chickens with a fox loose in the henhouse, catching the money, stuffing it in their pockets and under their shirts. But they didn’t know who you were until later. You got a big funeral, and you were buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.”

“I had class,” he said. “Even if I did die almost broke. Was Victoria Forde, my fourth wife, at the funeral?”

“I don’t know. Well, what do you know? I’m eating and talking with a famous movie star!”

Tom had felt hurt that the workers had been more interested in scooping up the money that was whirling like green snowflakes than in finding out whether he was dead or not. But he quickly smiled to himself. If he’d been in their skins, he might have done the same thing. The sight of a thousand-dollar bill blown by the wind was very tempting—to those who didn’t earn in ten years what he’d made in a week. He couldn’t really blame the slobs.

“They put up a monument at the site of the accident,” she said. “My father stopped off to see it when he took us on a vacation trip through the Southwest. I hope knowing that makes you feel better.”

“I wish the locals knew what a big shot I was on Earth,” he said. “Maybe they’d give me a rank higher than sergeant. But they hadn’t heard of movies until they came here, of course, and they can’t even visualise them.”

After two hours, Delores decided that they’d known each other long enough so that he was no longer rushing it. She accepted his invitation to move into his hut. They had just reached its door when Channing appeared. He’d been sent to summon Mix at once to the lord-mayor.

Stafford was waiting for him in the Council Hall.

“Master Mix, you know so much about Kramer and have such an excellent military background that I’m attaching you to my staff. Don’t waste time thanking me.

“My spies in Kramer’s land tell me he’s getting ready for a big attack. His military and naval forces are completely mobilised, and only a small force is left for defence. But they don’t know where the invasion will be. Kramer hasn’t told even his staff, as yet. He knows we have spies there, just as he has his spies here.”

“I hope you still don’t suspect that I might be one of his men,” Mix said.

Stafford smiled slightly.

“No. My spies have reported that your story is true. You’re not a spy unless you’re part of a diabolically clever plot to sacrifice a good boat and some fighting men to convince me you’re what you claim to be. I doubt it, for Kramer is not the man to let go of Jewish prisoners for any reason whatsoever.”

Stafford, Mix learned, had been impressed by the showing of Mix in the fight on The River and by the reports of Mix’s superiors. Also, Mix’s Earthly military experiences had given Stafford some thought. Tom felt a little guilty then, but it quickly passed. Moreover, Mix knew the topography and the defences of Deusvolens well. And he had said the night before that the only way to defeat Kramer was to beat him to the punch.

“A curious turn of phrase but clear in its meaning,” Stafford had said.

“From what I’ve heard,” Mix said, “Kramer’s method of expansion is to leapfrog one state and conquer the one beyond it. After he consolidates his conquest, he squeezes the bypassed area between his two armies. That’s fine, but it wouldn’t work if the other states would unite against Kramer. They know he’s going to gobble them all up eventually. Despite which, they’re so damned suspicious they don’t trust each other. Maybe they got good reason, I don’t know. Also, as I understand it, no one state’s willing to submit itself to another’s general. I guess you know about that.

“I think that if we could deliver one crippling blow, and somehow capture or kill Kramer and his Spanish sidekick, Don Esteban de Falla, we would weaken Deusvolens considerably. Then the other states would come galloping in like Comanches so they could really crush Deusvolens and grab all the loot that’s for the grabbing.

“So, my idea is to make a night raid, by boat, of course, a massive one that would catch Kramer with his pants down. We’d burn his fleet and burst in on Kramer and de Falla and cut their throats. Knock off the heads of the state, and the body surrenders. His people would fall apart.”

“I’ve sent assassins after him, and they’ve failed,” Stafford said. “I could try again. If we make enough diversion, they might succeed this time. However, I don’t see how we could carry this off. Sailing up-River is slow work, and we couldn’t reach Kramer’s land while it’s still dark if we left at dusk. We’d be observed by his spies long before we got there, most probably when we amassed our boats. Kramer would be ready for us. That would be fatal for us. We have to have surprise.”

“Yeah,” Mix said. “But you’re forgetting the Huns across The River. Oh, by the way, I just found out they’re not really Huns, they’re ancient Scythians.”

“I know that,” Stafford said. “They were mistakenly called Huns in the old days because of their savagery and our ignorance. The terminology doesn’t matter. Stick to the relevant points.”

“Sorry. Well, so far, Kramer has been working on this side of The River only. He’s not bothered the Huns. But they aren’t dumb, according to what I’ve just heard.”

“Ah, yes, from the woman, Delores Rambaut,” Stafford said.

Tom Mix tried to repress his surprise. “You’ve got spies spying on your own people.”

“Not officially. I don’t have to appoint people to spy on their own countrymen. There are enough volunteers to come running to me with accounts of everything that goes on here. They’re gossips, and they’re nuisances. Occasionally, though, they tell me something important.”

“Well, what I meant when I said the Huns weren’t dumb was that they know that Kramer’s going to attack them when he has enough states on this side of The River under his belt. They must know he’ll move against them then so he can consolidate this whole area. They know it’ll be some years from now, but they know it’s coming. So, they might be receptive to some ideas I’ve been hatching. Here’s what we could do.”

They talked for another hour. At the end, Stafford said that he’d do what he could to develop Mix’s plan. It was a desperate one, in his opinion, chiefly because of the very little time left to carry it out. It meant staying up all night and working hard. Every minute that passed gave Kramer’s spies just that much more opportunity to find out what was happening. But it had to be done. He didn’t intend to sit passively and wait for Kramer to attack. It was better to take a chance than to let Kramer call the shots. Stafford was beginning to pick up some of Mix’s twentieth-century Americanisms.

Chapter 9

Intelligence reported that Kramer was not using his entire force. Though he theoretically had available enough soldiers and sailors to overwhelm both New Albion and Ormondia, in fact he was afraid to withdraw many from his subject states. His garrisons there were composed of a minority of men from Deusvolens and a majority of collaborators in the occupied states. They kept the people terrorised and had built earth and wooden walls on the borders and stationed troops in forts along these. The copias of most citizens were stored in well-guarded places and only passed out during charging times. Anyone who wished to flee either had to steal his copia or kill himself and rise somewhere else on The River with a new copia. The former was almost impossible to do, and the latter course was taken only by the bravest or most desperate.

Nevertheless, if Kramer weakened the garrisons too much, he would have a dozen revolutions at once.

From what Stafford’s spies said, Kramer had quietly taken two out of every ten of his soldiers and sailors in the subject states and brought them to Deusvolens and Felipia, the state adjoining his north border. His fleet was stationed along the banks of The River in a long line. But the soldiers and the boats might be amassed at any time during the night. What night was, of course, unknown.

“Kramer’s spies know that you and Yeshua and Bithniah are here,” Stafford said to Mix. “You think that he’ll attack New Albion just to get you three back. I don’t believe it. Why should you three be so important to him?”

“Others have escaped him,” Mix said, “but never in such a public manner. The news has gotten around, he knows it, and he feels humiliated. Also, he’s afraid that others might get the same idea. However, I think that he’s been planning to extend his conquests, and we’ve just stimulated him to act sooner than he’d intended.

“What he’ll do, he’ll bypass Freedom and Ormondia and attack us. If he takes New Albion, he’ll then start his squeeze play.”

Messengers had been sent to Ormondia, and the duke and his council had met Stafford and his council at the border. Half the night had been spent in trying to get the duke to agree to join in a surprise attack. The rest of the night and all morning had been taken up in arguing about who the supreme general should be. Finally, Stafford had agreed that Ormonde should be in command. He didn’t like to do so, since he thought the duke wasn’t as capable as himself. Also, the New Albionians would not be happy about serving under him. But Stafford needed the Ormondians.

Not stopping for even a short nap, Stafford then crossed The River to confer with the rulers of the two “Hunnish” states. Their spies had informed them that Kramer was planning another invasion. They hadn’t been much concerned about it, since Kramer had never attacked across The River. Stafford finally convinced them that Kramer would get to them eventually. They bargained, however, for the majority of the loot. Stafford and the duke’s agent, Robert Abercrombie, reluctantly agreed to this.

The rest of the day was taken up in making plans for the disposition of the Hunnish boats. There was much trouble about this. Hartashershes and Dherwishawyash, the rulers, argued about who would take precedence in the attack. Mix suggested to Stafford that he suggest to them that the boats carrying the rulers should sail side by side. The two could then land at the same time. From then on it would be every man for himself.

“But all of this may go awry,” he said to Mix. “Who knows what Kramer’s spies have found out? There may even be some in my own staffer among the Huns. If not, the watchers in the hills will have observed us.”

Soldiers in New Albion and Ormondia were scouring the hills, searching for spies. These would be hiding, unable to light signal fires or beat on their relay drums. Some would have slipped through the hunters to carry their information on foot or by boat. That, however, would take time.

Meanwhile, envoys from New Albion had gone to three of the states south of its border. They would attempt to get these to furnish personnel and craft in the attack.

Tom had, by the end of the night, been commissioned a captain. He was supposed to don the leather, bone-reinforced casque and cuirass of the Albionian soldier, but he’d insisted that he keep his cowboy hat. Stafford was too weary to oppose him.

Two days and nights passed. During this time, Mix managed to get some sleep. In the afternoon of the third day, he decided that he’d like to get away from all the bustle and noise. There was so much going on that he could find no quiet place to sleep. He’d go up into the hills and find a silent spot to snooze, if that was possible. There were still search parties there.

First, though, he stopped at Bithniah’s to see how she was doing. She was, he found, now living with a man whose mate had been killed during the River-fight. She seemed fairly happy with him. No, she hadn’t seen “the crazy monk,” Yeshua. Mix told her he’d seen him at a distance now and then. Yeshua had been cutting down some pine trees with a flint axe, but Mix didn’t know for what purpose.

On the way to the hills, he ran into Delores. She was on a work party which was hauling logs of the giant bamboo down to the banks. These were being set up to reinforce the wooden walls lining the waterside of New Albion’s border. She looked tired and dirty and not at all happy. It wasn’t just the hard labour that made her glare at Mix, however. Not once had they had time or the energy to make love.

Tom grinned at her and called, “Don’t worry, dear! We’ll get together after this is all over! And I’ll make you the happiest woman alive!”

Delores told him what he could do with his hat.

Tom laughed and said, “You’ll get over that.”

She didn’t reply. She bent her back to the rope attached to the log and strained with the other women to get it up over the crest of the hill.

“It’ll be all downhill from now on,” he said.

“Not for you it won’t,” she called back.

He laughed again, but, when he turned away, he frowned. It wasn’t his fault that she’d been drafted into a work party. And he regretted as much as she, maybe more, that they hadn’t had a honeymoon.

The next hill was busy and loud with the ring of stone axes chopping at the huge bamboo plants, the grunting of the choppers, and the shouted orders of the foremen and forewomen. Presently, he was on a still higher hill, only to discover that it, too, was far from conducive to sleep. He continued, knowing that when he got to the mountain itself, he would run into no human beings there. He was getting tired and impatient, though.

He stopped near the top of the last hill to sit down and catch his breath. Here the great irontrees grew closely together, and among them were the tall grasses. He could see no one, but he could hear the axes and the voices faintly. Maybe he should just lie down here. The grass was not soft, and it was itchy, but he was so fatigued that he wouldn’t mind that. He’d spread out his cloak and put his hat over his face and pass out quickly into a much-deserved sleep. There were no insects to crawl over him or sting him, no pestiferous ants, flies, or mosquitoes. Nor would any loud bird cries disturb him.

He rose and removed his white cloak and placed it on the grass. The sun’s hot rays came down between two irontrees on him; the long grass made a wall around him. Ah!

Stafford might be looking for him right now. If so, it was just too bad.

He stretched out, then decided he’d take his military boots off. His feet were hot and sweating. He sat up and slid one boot from his right foot and started to remove the woven-grass sock. He stopped. Had he heard a rustle in the grass not made by the wind?

His weapons lay by him, a chert tomahawk and a flint knife and a boomerang, all in straps in his belt. He took all three out, laying the boomerang on the cloak, and he held the tomahawk in his right hand and the knife in his left.

The rustling had stopped, but after a minute it resumed. He rose cautiously and looked over the top of the grass. There, twenty feet away, toward the mountain, the grass was bending down, then springing up. For a while he couldn’t see the passerby. Either he was shorter than the tall blades or he was bending over.

Then he saw a head rise above the green. It was a man’s, dark-skinned, black-haired, and Spanish-featured. That wasn’t significant, since there were plenty like him in the area, good citizens all, some of them refugees from Deusvolens and Felipia. The stealthiness of the man, however, indicated that he wasn’t behaving like one who belonged here.

He could be a spy who’d eluded the search parties.

The man had been looking toward the mountain, presenting his profile to the watcher. Mix ducked down before the stranger turned his head toward him. He crouched, listening. The rustling had stopped. After a while, it started again. Was the man aware that somebody else was here and so was trying to locate him?

He got down on his knees and put his ear to the ground. Like most valleydwellers, the fellow was probably barefooted or wore sandals. But he might step on a twig, though there weren’t too many of those from the bushes. Or he might stumble.

After a minute of intent listening, Mix got up. Now he couldn’t even hear the noise of the man’s passage. Nor was there any movement of the grass caused by anything except the breeze. Yes! There was! The fellow had resumed walking. The back of his head was moving away from Mix.

He quickly strapped on his belt, fastened his cloak around his neck, and put the boot back on. With his white hat held by the brim in his teeth, the knife in one hand, the tomahawk in the other, he went after the stranger. He did so slowly, however, raising his head now and then above the grass. Inevitably, the followed and the follower looked at each other at the same time.

The man dropped at once. Now that he’d been discovered, Mix saw no reason to duck down. He watched the grass as it waved, betraying the crawler beneath as water disturbed by a swimmer close to the surface. He breasted the grass, striding swiftly toward the telltale passage but ready to disappear himself if the green wake ceased.

Suddenly, the dark man’s head popped up. Surprisingly, he placed a finger on his lips. Mix stopped. What in hell was he doing? Then the man pointed beyond Mix. For a second, Mix refused to look. It seemed too much like a trick, but what could the man gain by it? He was too far away to get any advantage by charging when Mix was looking behind him.

Trick or not, Mix had too much curiosity. He turned to look over the territory. And there was the grass moving as if an invisible snake were crawling over it.

He considered the situation quickly. Was that other person an ally of the dark man and sneaking up on himself? No. If he were, the dark man wouldn’t be pointing him out. What had happened was that the dark man was an Albionian who had detected a spy. He’d been trailing him when Mix had mistaken him for a spy.

Mix had no time then to think about how he might have killed one of his own people. He dropped down and began approaching the place where the third person was—had been, rather, since by the time he got there the unknown would probably be some place else. Every twelve feet or so he rose to check on the unknown’s progress. Now the ripples were moving toward the mountain, away from both himself and the dark man. The latter, as indicated by the moving grass, was crawling directly toward where Mix had been.

Tired of the silent and slow play, sure that a sudden and violent action would flush out the quarry, Mix whooped. And he ran through the grass as swiftly as it would allow him.

The afternoon was certainly full of surprises. Two heads shot up where he had expected one. One was blond, and the other was a redhead. The woman had been in front of the man as they had crawled and crouched and risen briefly like human periscopes, though he hadn’t actually seen them coming up to observe.

Mix stopped. If he’d made a mistake about the identity of the first person, could he be doing the same with these two?

He shouted to them, telling them who he was and what he was doing here. The dark man then called out, saying that he was Raimondo de la Reina, a citizen of New Albion. The redhead and the blonde then identified themselves: Eric Simons and Guindilla Tashent, also citizens of the same state.

Mix wanted to laugh at this comedy of errors, but he still wasn’t sure. Simons and Tashent might be lying so that the others would let down their guard.

Tom stayed where he was. He said, “What were you two doing here?”

“For God’s sake,” the man said, “we were making love! But please do not bruit this about. My woman is very jealous, and Guindilla’s man would not be very pleased if heard about this, either!”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Mix called.

He turned toward de la Reina, who was walking toward him. “What about you, pard? There isn’t any reason to say anything about this, is there? Especially since it makes all of us look like fools?”

There was another problem. The two lovers were probably shirking their duties. This could be a serious, a court-martial business, if the authorities learned about it. Mix had no intention of reporting it, but the Spaniard might feel that it must be brought to the attention of the authorities. If he insisted, then Mix couldn’t argue with him. Not too strongly, anyway.

He, Simons, and Tashent hadn’t moved. De la Reina was ploughing through the grass toward him, probably to talk the situation over with him. Or perhaps he thought that the pair wasn’t to be trusted. Which made sense, Mix thought. They could be spies who’d invented this tale when found out. Or, more likely, prepared it in case they were discovered.

But Mix didn’t really think this was so.

Presently, the Spaniard was a few feet from him. Now Mix could clearly see his features, long and narrow, aquiline, a very aristocratic Hispanic face. He was as tall as Mix. Through the bending grass Mix glimpsed a green towel-kilt, a leather belt holding two flint knives, and a tomahawk. One hand was behind his back; the other was empty.

Mix wouldn’t allow anybody to get near him who hid one hand. He said, “Stop there, amigo!”

De la Reina did so. He smiled but at the same time looked puzzled.

“What’s the matter, friend?”

He spoke seventeenth-century English with a heavy foreign accent, and it was possible that he had trouble understanding Mix’s twentieth-century American pronunciation. He was given the benefit of the doubt, though not very much.

Tom spoke slowly. “Your hand. The one behind your back. Bring it out. Slowly.”

He chanced to look at the others. They were moving toward him, though slowly. They looked scared.

The Spaniard said, “Of course, friend.”

And de la Reina was leaping toward him, shouting, the hand now revealed, clutching a flint blade. There were only a few inches showing, but there was enough to slash a jugular vein or a throat. If the Spaniard had been smarter, he could have concealed the entire weapon in his hand and let the hand swing naturally. But he had been afraid to do that.

Tom Mix swung the tomahawk. Its edge cracked against de la Reina’s temple. He dropped. The blade fell from his grip.

Tom called to the two. “Stop where you are!”

They looked at each other uneasily, but they halted.

“Hold your hands up,” he said. “High above your heads!”

The hands went up as high as they could go. Simons, the redhead, said, “What happened?”

“Get over under that irontree!”

The two started to walk toward the indicated place. An abandoned hut stood under it, but the grass around it had been recently cut. It had grown back to a height of a foot, enabling Mix to see if they carried weapons or not.

He bent down and examined the Spaniard. The fellow was still breathing, though harshly. He might or might not recover, and if he did, he might never have all his wits about him. It would be far better for him if he died, since he was bound to be tortured. That was the fate of all spies in this area who failed to kill themselves when facing inevitable capture. This one would be stretched over a wooden wheel until the ropes on his wrists and ankles pulled his joints apart. If he wouldn’t give any worthwhile information or he was thought to be lying, he’d be suspended naked over a low fire and slowly seared.

During his turnings on the spit, he might have one eye or both poked out or an ear sliced off. Should he still refuse to talk, he’d be taken down and cooled off with water. Then his fingernails and toenails might be pulled out or tiny cuts made in his genitals. A hot flint tip might be thrust up his anus. One finger at a time might be severed and the stump immediately thereafter cauterised with a hot rock.

The list of possible tortures was long and didn’t bear thinking about by any sensitive imaginative person.

Mix hadn’t seen the Albionians put any spies to the question. But he had witnessed some inquisitions while Kramer’s prisoner, and so he knew too well the horrors awaiting the Spaniard.

What could this poor devil tell that was worth hearing? Nothing, Mix was sure.

He straightened up to check on Simons and Tashent. They were under the branches of the tree now, standing near the hut.

He stooped and slashed the man’s jugular vein. Having made sure that he was dead and having collected the valuable weapons, he walked toward the tree. The fellow would be resurrected in a whole body somewhere along The River far from here. Maybe someday Mix would run into him again, and he could tell him about his act of mercy.

Halfway toward the tree, he halted. From above, somewhere on the mountain, the wild skirling of a bamboo syrinx floated down.

Who could be up there wasting time when everybody was supposed to be working hard? Another pair of lovers, one of whom was entertaining the other with music between the couplings? Or was the skirling some sort of signal by a spy? Not very likely but he had to consider all possibilities.

The blonde and the redhead still had their hands up. Both were naked. The woman certainly had a beautiful body, and her thick pubic hair was just the red-gold that especially excited him. She reminded him of a starlet he’d run around with just after his divorce from Vicky.

“Turn around,” he said.

Simons said, “Why?” But he obeyed.

“Okay,” Mix said. “You can put your hands down now.”

He didn’t tell them that he’d once been stabbed by a naked prisoner who’d gripped a knife between the cheeks of his buttocks until he was close to his captor.

“Now, what happened?”

Events had been much as he’d thought. The two had sneaked off from a work-party to make love in the grass. While lying in the grass between bouts, getting ready to light up cigarettes, they’d heard the spy walking nearby. Picking up their weapons, they’d started to trail him. They were sure that the stranger was up to no good.

Then they’d seen Mix following de la Reina and were just about to join him when the Spaniard had seen them. He’d been a quick thinker in trying to deceive Mix into believing that they were the spies.

“He might’ve succeeded if he hadn’t tried to kill me at once instead of waiting for a better time,” Tom said. “Well, you two get back to your duty.”

Guindilla said, “You aren’t going to tell anybody about this, are you?”

Tom said, grinning, “Maybe, maybe not. Why?”

“If you keep quiet about this, I could make it worth your while.”

Eric Simons snarled, “Guin! You wouldn’t, would you?”

She shrugged, causing intriguing ripples.

“What could it hurt? It’d be just this once. You know what’ll happen if he turns us in. We’ll be put on acorn bread and water for a week, publicly humiliated, and…well, you know how Robert is. He’ll beat me, and he’ll try to kill you.”

“We could just run off,” Simons said.

He looked very nasty. “Or would you like to tumble this man, you slut!”

Tom laughed again, and said, “If you got caught while deserting, you’d be executed. Don’t worry. I’m not a blackmailer, a lecherous hard-hearted Rudolf Rassendale.”

They looked blank. “Rassendale?” Simons said.

“Never mind. You wouldn’t know. You two get going. I’m not telling anybody the whole truth. I’ll just say I was alone when I discovered the Spaniard. But tell me, who’s playing the syrinx up there?”

They said they had no idea. As they walked away into the grass to retrieve their weapons and clothes, they quarrelled loudly. Mix didn’t think their passion for each other would survive this incident.

When their wrangling voices faded out, Tom turned to the mountain. Should he go back to the plain and report that he’d killed a spy? Go up the mountain to check out the syrinx player? Or do what he had come here for, that is, sleep?

Curiosity won out. It always did with him.

Telling himself he should have been a cat, one who’d already used up one of his nine lives, he began climbing. There were fissures along the face of the mountain, ledges, little plateaus, and steep narrow paths. Only a mountain goat or a very determined or crazy person would use these to get up the cliff, however. A sensible man would look up it and perhaps admire it, but he’d stay below and loaf or sleep or roll a pretty woman in the grass. Best of all, he’d do all three, not to mention pouring down some good bourbon or whatever his copia gave him in the way of booze.

Sweating despite the shade, he pulled himself over the edge of one of the small plateaus. A building that was more of an enclosed leanto than a hut was in the middle of the tablerock. Beyond it was a small cascade, one of the many waterfalls that presumably originated from unseen snows on top of the mountains. The cascades were another mystery of this planet, which had no seasons and thus should rotate at an unvarying 90 degrees to the ecliptic. If the snows had no thawing period, where did the water come from?

Yeshua was by the waterfall. He was naked and blowing on the pan’s pipe and dancing as wildly as one of the goat-footed worshippers of The Great God. Around and around he spun. He leaped high, he skipped, he bent forward and backward, he kicked, he bent his legs, he pirouetted, he swayed. His eyes were closed, and he came perilously close to the edge of the plateau.

Like David dancing after the return of the ark of God, Mix thought. But Yeshua was doing this for an invisible audience. And he certainly had nothing to celebrate.

Mix was embarrassed. He felt like a window-peeper. He almost decided to retreat and leave Yeshua to whatever was possessing him. But the thought of the difficulty of the climb and the time he had taken made him change his mind.

He called. Yeshua stopped dancing and staggered backward as if an arrow had struck him. Mix walked up to him and saw that he was weeping.

Yeshua turned, kneeled and splashed the icy water from a pool by the side of the cataract, then turned to face Mix. His tears had stopped, but his eyes were wide and wild.

“I was not dancing because I was happy or filled with the glory of God,” he said. “On Earth, in the desert by the Dead Sea, I used to dance. No one around but myself and The Father. I was a harp, and His fingers plucked the strings of ecstasy. I was a flute, and He sounded through my body the songs of Heaven.

“But no more. Now I dance because, if I do not, I would scream my anguish until my throat caught fire, and I would leap over the cliff and fall to a longed-for death. What use in that? In this world, a man cannot commit suicide. Not permanently. A few hours later, he must face himself and the world again. Fortunately, he does not have to face his god again. There is none left to face.”

Mix felt even more embarrassed and awkward.

“Things can’t be that bad,” he said. “Maybe this world didn’t turn out to be what you thought it was going to be. So what? You can’t blame yourself for being wrong. Who could possibly have guessed the truth about the unguessable? Anyway, this world has many good things that Earth didn’t have. Enjoy them. It’s true it’s not always a picnic here, but when was it on Earth? At least, you don’t have to worry about growing old, there are plenty of good-looking women, you don’t have to sit up nights wondering where your next meal is coming from or how you’re going to pay your taxes or alimony. Hell, even if there aren’t any horses or cars or movies here, I’ll take this world anytime! You lose one thing; you gain another.”

“You don’t understand, my friend,” Yeshua said. “Only a man like myself, a man who has seen through the veil that the matter of this physical universe presents, seen the reality beyond, felt the flooding of The Light within…”

He stopped, stared upward, clenched his fists, and uttered a long ululating cry. Mix had heard only one cry like that—in Africa, when a Boer soldier had fallen over a cliff. No, he hadn’t really heard any Boer soldier. Once more, he was mixing fantasy with reality. “Mix” was a good name for him.

“Maybe I better go,” Mix said. “I know when there’s nothing to be done. I’m sorry that—”

“I don’t want to be alone!” Yeshua said. “I am a human being; I need to talk and to listen, to see smiles and hear laughter, and know love! But I cannot forgive myself for being…what I was!”

Mix wondered what he was talking about. He turned and started to walk to the edge of the plateau. Yeshua came after him.

“If only I had stayed there with the Sons of Zadok, the Sons of Light! But no! J thought that the world of men and women needed me! The rocks of the desert unrolled before me like a scroll, and I read therein that which must come to pass, and soon, because God was showing me what would be. I left my brothers in their caves and their cells and went to the cities because my brothers and sisters and the little children there must know, so that they would have a chance to save themselves.”

“I got to get going,” Mix said. “I feel sorry for whatever’s riding you, but I can’t help you unless I know what it is. And I doubt that I’d be much help then.”

“You’ve been sent to help me! It’s no coincidence that you look so much like me and that our paths crossed.”

“I’m no brain doctor,” Mix said. “Forget it. I can’t straighten you out.”

Abruptly, Yeshua dropped the hand held out to Mix, and he spoke softly.

“What am I saying? Will I never learn? Of course you haven’t been sent. There’s Nobody to send you. It’s just chance.”

“I’ll see you later.”

He began climbing down. Once he looked upward, and he saw Yeshua’s face, his own face, staring down at him. He felt angry then, as if he should have stayed and at least given some encouragement to the man. He could have listened until Yeshua talked himself into feeling better.

By the time he had reached the hills and started walking back, he had a different attitude. He doubted that he could really aid the poor devil.

Yeshua must be half cracked. Certainly he was half baked. And that was a peculiar thing about this world and the resurrection. Everybody else had not only been awakened from the dead with the body of a twenty-five-year-old—except, of course, for those who had died on Earth before that age—but all who had suffered a mental illness on Earth had been restored mentally whole.

However, as time passed, and the problems of the new world pressed in, many began to sicken again in their minds. There wasn’t much schizophrenia; but he understood from talking to a twentieth-centurian that at least three-quarters of schizophrenia had been proved to be due to a physical imbalance and was primarily genetic in origin.

Nevertheless, five years of life in the Rivervalley had produced a number of insane people, though not in the relative proportions known on Earth. And the resurrection had not been successful in converting the majority of the so-called sane to a new viewpoint, a different attitude, one that phased in with reality.

Whatever reality was.

As on Earth, most of humanity was often irrational, though rationalising, and was impervious to logic it didn’t like. Mix had always known the world was half mad and behaved accordingly, usually to his benefit.

Or so he had thought then. Now, since he had time sometimes to contemplate the Terrestrial past, he saw that he had been as half-mad as most people. He hoped he’d learned his lessons, but there were plenty of times when he doubted it. Anyway, except for a few deeds, he’d been able to forgive himself for his sins.

But Yeshua, miserable fellow, could not forgive himself for whatever he had been or had done on Earth.

Chapter 10

After telling Stafford about de la Reina, he went to his hut, and he drank the last of his whiskey, four ounces.

Whoever would have thought that there’d be a dead ringer for Tom Mix, and an ancient Jew at that, for Christ’s sake? It was too bad Yeshua hadn’t been born at the same time as he had. Yeshua could have made good money as his stand-in.

Despite the noise still swirling around the hut, he managed to sleep well. The rest didn’t last long, though. Two hours later, Channing woke him up. Torn told him to shove off. Channing continued to shake his shoulder, then gave up on that method of wakening, and emptied a skin-bucket full of water on his face. Sputtering, swearing, striking out with his fists, Mix came up off the bed. The sergeant ran out of the hut laughing.

The council lasted an hour, and he went back to the hut for some more shut-eye. He was roused momentarily when the copiastones thundered. Fortunately, he’d promised some cigarettes to a man if he’d place Mix’s copia for him so he wouldn’t go supperless.

Sometime later, Delores came in, set down their copias, and then tried to wake him up for their first, and possibly last, love-making. He told her to go away, but she did something that very few men could ignore. Afterward, they ate and then smoked a couple of cigarettes. Since he might not come out of the invasion alive, one coffin nail wouldn’t hurt him. Anyway, Delores didn’t like smoking alone after being plumbed.

The cigarette, however, made him cough, and he felt dizzy. He swore off again though the tobacco certainly had tasted delicious. A moment later, having forgotten his resolve, he lit up another.

A corporal came after him then. Tom kissed Delores. She cried and said that she was sure she’d never ever see him again.

“I appreciate your sentiments,” Tom said. “But they aren’t exactly comforting.”

The fleets of Anglia and New Cornwall, a neighbouring state which had decided at the last minute to join the invasion, were approaching the New Albion shores. Tom, dressed in his ten-gallon hat, cloak, vest, kilt, and Wellington boots, got onto the flagship. It was the biggest man-of-war in New Albion, three-masted, carrying ten catapults. Behind it came the other largest boats, four men-of-war. After it trailed twenty frigates, as the two-masters were called, though they looked little like the frigates of Earth. After them came forty cruisers, single-masted warcanoes, hollowed out of giant bamboo logs.

The night-sky blazed down on a River in which the traffic of tacking vessels was thick. There were a few unavoidable collisions, but little damage resulted, though they caused a lot of shouting and cursing. The danger increased as the Hunnish, or Scythian, fleets put out. Bull’s-eye lanterns burning fish oil signalled everywhere. An observer in the hills would have been reminded of the dance of fireflies on Earth. But if there were any spies left, they didn’t light signal fires or beat drums. They were lying low, still hiding from the search parties. All the male soldiers left behind were manning the forts and other important posts. Armed women were beating the hills now.

The miles dropped by slowly. Then the Ormondian fleet sailed out to join them, the duke’s flagship in the van. More signals were rayed out.

Just north of Ormondia was the determinedly neutral state of Jacobea. Stafford and Ormonde had debated inviting it to be an ally, but had finally decided against it. There was little chance of its joining, and even if it had, its security couldn’t be trusted. Now, as the fleet ventured into Jacobean waters, the cries of sentinels came to it. Its crews saw torchlights flare up, and they heard the booming of the hollow-log and fish-skin drums. The Jacobeans, fearing an invasion, poured out of their huts, their weapons in hand, and began falling into formation.

Up in the hills, signal fires began building up. These were tended by Kramer’s spies, which Jacobea allowed to operate unmolested.

However, the clouds were forming in the skies. Fifteen minutes later, they emptied their contents, drowning out the fires. If Stafford’s planning went as hoped for, there would be no relay of warning signals to Kramer.

The signal-man on the duke’s boat flashed a message to the Jacobeans. It identified the fleets and said that they intended no harm. They were sailing against Kramer, and if Jacobea cared to join them, they’d be welcome.

“They won’t do it, of course,” Stafford said. He laughed. “But it’ll throw them into a frenzy. They won’t know what to do, and they’ll end up doing nothing. If they follow us into battle, and we lose, God forbid, then Kramer will take his vengeance on them. If we win by God’s good will, then they will be in our bad graces, and we might invade them. ’Twould only be justice if we did, and it would serve the scurvy curs right. But we have no desire to bring more sorrow and bloodshed upon this land. They won’t know that, though.”

“In other words,” Mix said, “they won’t know whether to shit or go blind.”

“What? Oh! I see what you mean. It’s a powerful phrase but most distasteful. Just like the excrement you referred to.”

Grimacing, he turned away.

Whatever changes the Riverworld had made in Stafford, one had not been a tolerance for obscene language. He no longer believed in the god of the Old and New Testament, though he still used His name, but he reacted as strongly here as on Earth to “dirty” words. Half a Nonconformist still lived within him. Which must give him daily pain, Mix thought, since the ex-royalists and the ex-peasants in this area were not averse to earthy speech.

The boats passed the state just below Deusvolens as the fog rose up from The River and rolled down from the hills on schedule. From then on, the men in the crow’s nests above the grey clouds directed the sailing by pulling on ropes. The men handling these on the decks told the steersmen which way to turn the tiller and when to expect the great booms to swing over. It was dangerous navigation, and twice Mix heard the crash of boats colliding.

After what seemed an endless time, the signal was given that Deusvolens had been sighted. At least, they hoped that it was their destination. Sailing so blindly, with the plains as well as The River concealed in fog, they could not be sure.

Shortly before the sky was due to turn pale under the greater blaze of the rising sun, the capital “city” of Fides was sighted. One of the watchmen came down to report.

“There be great lights all over the place. Something’s stirring, my lord-mayor.”

A moment later there was a cry from aloft.

“Boats! Many boats! They’re heading straight for us! Beware, milord!”

Stafford revealed that he could curse as well as any when under great pressure.

“God’s wounds! It’s Kramer’s fleet! The goddamned swine! He’s setting out on his own invasion! What damnable timing! May he rot in the devil’s ass forever!”

Ahead of them came the clamour of war, men shouting, the blowing of flutes, beating of drums, then, faintly, the sound of great vessels in the vanguard ramming into each other, screams as men fell into the water or were speared, knifed, clubbed, or axed.

Stafford ordered that his craft ignore the Kramerian fleet, if possible, and head for Fides. He also commanded that signals be sent by his watchman to the other Albionian boats.

“Let the duke and the Cornishmen and the Huns take care of the enemy on the water!” he said. “We’ll storm ashore as planned!”

As the sun cleared the mountains on their left, it disclosed a high earth and rock rampart on top of which was a wall of upright logs extending as far as the eye could see. At its base the fog was a woollen covering, but this would soon be burned away by the sun. There were thousands of helmeted heads behind the wall and above them the heads of thousands of spears. The huge alarm-drums were still booming, the echoes rolling back from the mountain behind it.

Amidst the deafening bruit, the flagship, Invincible, pulled up alongside the main gate, just past the end of the piers, and loosed, one by one, great stones from its catapults. These smashed in the main gates. Other boats, in Indian file, came up and loosed their boulders. Some struck too high, some too low. Nevertheless, five other huge holes were breached in the wooden walls and a few defenders smashed.

Instead of turning around to use the catapults on the other sides, a manoeuvre that would have taken much time, the boats sailed along the banks. They had to tack some to keep from grounding and so being rammed by those behind them. When the flagship had gone far enough to give room for its followers to stop, its sails were dropped, and its bow turned toward shore. Anchors, large stones tied to ropes, dropped into the shallows. At once, the small boats were launched, and since there was no room in them for all those aboard, many soldiers leaped into the water.

They swarmed ashore under a hail of spears, clubs, slingstones, and axes onto the strip of land between the bases of the ramparts and the edge of the banks. They ran toward the smashed gateway, many carrying tall ladders.

Mix was among those in the lead. He saw men fall in front and on both sides of him, but he escaped being struck. After a minute, he was forced to slow his pace. The gateway was still a half mile away; he’d be too tired to fight at once if he ran full speed. The strategy of Stafford and the Council didn’t seem so good now. They were losing too many men trying to amass at the breaches for a massive assault. Still, if the plans had gone as hoped, they might have worked quite well. The other fleets were to sail along the walls and throw the big rocks at intervals above and below where Stafford’s vessels were. Thus, fifty different breaches could have been stormed and the Deusvolentians would have had to spread out their forces to deal with these.

If only Kramer’s fleet hadn’t decided to set out just before the big attack came. If only…that was the motto of generals, not to mention the poor devils of soldiers who had to pay for the if-only’s.

As he ran he glanced now and then toward The River. The fog was almost gone now. He could see…

The deafening thunder of the copiastones erupting almost made his heart stop. He’d completely forgotten about them. They were inside the earth walls, set within log wells. At least the enemy wasn’t going to have time to eat breakfast.

He looked to his right again. Out in The River were at least fifty vessels grappled in pairs, the crews of each trying to board the other. Many others were still manoeuvring, trying to run alongside the foe so that they could release missiles: fish-oil firebombs, stones, spears hurled by atlatls, clubs, stones tied to wooden shafts. It was too bad that there hadn’t been time to make boomerangs and train men how to use them. They would have been very effective.

He couldn’t determine how the battle on the water was going. Two ships were on fire. Whether they were enemy or friend, he didn’t know. He saw a big warcanoe sink, a hole in its bottom made by a boulder cast by a catapult. A frigate was riding over the stern of a large catamaran. It was too early to say on whom Victory was smiling. She was a treacherous bitch, anyway. Just as you thought you couldn’t lose, she slipped in something that resulted in you running like hell to get away from the defeated-suddenly-become-conquerors.

Now the attackers had joined in front of the gateway or before the other breaches. He had to catch his breath, and so did most of the others. However, men who’d landed from boats that had stopped close to these were already storming up the rampart and going through the holes in the walls. Trying to, anyway. Many dead or wounded lay on the slopes and in the entrances. Above them the Kramerians cast spears or hurled stones or poured burning fish oil from leather buckets into down-tilted stone troughs.

Tom cast his spear and had the satisfaction of seeing it plunge into one of the faces above the pointed ends of the log wall. He pulled his heavy axe from his belt and ran on.

Only so many defenders could get on the walkways behind the walls, and many of these had been struck by spears or large, unworked stones attached to wooden shafts.

On the ground behind the walls would be massed many soldiers, far outnumbering the invaders. At first, they’d crowded across the gateway, but now, as the first wave of Albionians crumbled, the Deusvolentians retreated. They were waiting for the next wave to come through. Then they would spread out, surround them, and close in.

A major shouted for the next charge to begin. Mix was glad that he couldn’t be in that. Not unless those ahead of him were so successful that everybody got in.

Stafford, standing near Mix, shouted at the major to hold the attack. Two frigates were coming in. They’d be able to throw their catapults over the anchored ships and over the walls and into the men beyond them. The major couldn’t hear him in the din. If he had, he wouldn’t have been able to stop. Those behind forced him through the gate. Mix glimpsed him getting a spear in the chest, then he toppled forward out of sight.

Presently, Tom was being forced ahead by those axemen behind him. He fell once over a body, was kicked hard several times, struggled up, and began climbing up the steep slope of earth. Then he was through the gateway, walking over bodies, slipping, catching himself, and he was in a mêlée.

He fought as well as he could in the press, but he had no sooner engaged a spearman than he was whirled away, and he was fighting somebody else, a short dark man with a leather shield and a spear. Mix battened the man’s shield aside with his axe and knocked the spear downward. He brought the axe upward, striking the man on the chin. The fellow reeled back, but something hit Mix’s wrist, and he dropped his axe.

Quickly, Tom pulled out his tomahawk with his left hand and leaped on the man, knocking him down. Astride him, he brought the weapon down, splitting the skull between the eyes. He rose, panting. An Albionian staggered back and fell against him, flattening him. He writhed out from under and got to his feet. He wiped the blood from his eyes, not knowing if it was his or the soldier’s who’d fallen over him. Certainly, he hadn’t been aware of any head wound.

Panting, he glared around. The battle was going against the invaders. At least a fourth were casualties, and another fourth would soon be. Now was the time for a strategic withdrawal. But between him and the gateway were at least one hundred men, facing inward, their spears thrust out, waiting. The invaders were trapped.

Beyond them, at the other breaches, the fight was still going on. There were, however, so many Kramerians between him and the entrances that he couldn’t make out the details.

Stafford, bloody, his helmet knocked off, his eyes wide, gripped his arm.

“We’ll have to form men for a charge back through the gateway!”

That was a good idea, but how were they to do it?

Suddenly, by that unexplained but undeniable telepathy that exists among soldiers in combat, all the Albionians came to the same decision. They turned and fled toward those blocking the exit. They were speared in the back as they ran, hurled forward by clubs and axes from behind, or knocked over by weapons from the sides. Stafford tried to marshal them for a disciplined attack. He must have known that it was too late, though he tried valiantly nevertheless. He was bowled over by two men, rose, and fell again. He lay on his back, his mouth open, one eye staring up at the sky. The other was pierced by a spearhead.

Slowly, pulled by the weight of the shaft, his head turned, and his one eye was looking straight at Mix.

Something struck Tom in the back of the head and his knees loosened. He was vaguely aware that he was falling, but he had no idea who he was or where he was, and he had no time to try to figure it all out.

Chapter 11

Tom Mix awoke, and he was sorry that he had.

He was lying on his back, a throbbing pain in the back of his head and a twisting in his stomach. The face looking down was blurry and doubled, wavering in and out. It was long and thin and hatchety, dark, black-eyed, a grim smile showing rows of white teeth in which the two front lower were missing.

Tom groaned. The face belonged to de Falla, Kramer’s ramrod. The teeth had been knocked out by Tom himself while making his escape from this very place, Fides. He didn’t think he’d be doing a repeat performance.

The Spaniard spoke in excellent only slightly accented English.

“Welcome to Deusvolens.”

Mix forced a smile.

“I don’t suppose I bought a return ticket?”

De Falla said, “What?”

Mix said, “Never mind. So what kind of cards are you planning to deal me?”

“Whatever they are, you’ll accept them,” de Falla said.

“You’re in the driver’s seat.”

He sat up and leaned on one arm. His vision wasn’t any better, and the movement made him want to throw up. Unfortunately, his last meal had long been digested. He suffered from the dry heaves, which made the pain in the back of his head even worse.

De Falla looked amused. No doubt, he was.

“Now, my friend, the shoe, as you English say, is on the other foot. Though you don’t have any footwear.”

He was right. Mix had been stripped of everything. He looked around and saw his hat on a man nearby and beyond that someone wearing his boots. Four men, actually. He must have had a concussion, no slight one. Well, he’d had worse injuries and survived to be better than ever. The chances for living long, though, didn’t seem good.

There were bodies everywhere on the ground, none of which was moving or making a sound. He supposed that all but the lightly wounded had been put out of their pain. Not for the sake of mercy but for economy. There was no use wasting food on them.

Someone had pulled the spear out of Stafford’s eye.

De Falla said, “There’s still a battle on The River. But there’s no doubt who’ll win now.”

Tom didn’t ask him who had the upper hand. He wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.

The Spaniard gestured to two soldiers. They lifted Mix between them and started to march him across the plain, detouring around corpses. When his legs gave way, they dragged him, but de Falla came running. He told them to get a stretcher. Mix didn’t need to ask why he was being so well treated, relatively speaking. He was a special prisoner to be saved for special reasons. He was so sick and weak that, at the moment, he didn’t even care about the reasons.

They carried him to where the huts began and down a street and out past the huts to a compound. This was very large, though it held only a few prisoners. The log gate was swung open, and he was taken to an enclosure of upright logs set into the ground. Within this was a small hut. He was in a compound within a compound.

The two soldiers set him down inside the hut and checked on the amount of water in a baked-clay pot, his drinking supply. The nightjar was looked into, and one of the soldiers bellowed out a name. A short, thin worried-looking man ran up and got chewed out for not emptying it. Mix thought that he must indeed be special if such details were being taken care of.

Apparently, the previous occupant had not been so highly regarded. The stench was appalling even though the lid was on the thunder mug.

Seven days passed. Mix became better, his strength waxed, though it did not reach its fullness. Occasionally, he was troubled with recurrences of double vision. His only exercise was walking around the hut, around and around. He ate three times a day but not well. He had identified his copia which had been taken off the flagship by his captives, but he was allowed only half the food it gave and none of the cigarettes or liquor. His guards took these for themselves. Though he had smoked only two cigarettes in the past two years, he now yearned fiercely for more.

Daytime wasn’t so bad, but late at night he suffered from the cold and the dampness. Most of all he suffered from not being able to talk to anybody. Unlike most of the guards he’d encountered during a dozen periods of incarceration, these refused to say a single word to him. They even seemed to be reserved with their grunts.

On the morning of the eighth day, Kramer and his victorious forces returned. From what he could overhear of the guards’ conversation, New Albion, Ormondia, and Anglia had been conquered. There would be plenty of loot and women for all, including those who had not participated in the invasion.

Tom thought Kramer was celebrating too soon. He still had New Cornwall and the Huns to deal with. But he supposed that the defeat of their navies had made them pull in their necks for a while.

The other prisoners, about fifty, were hustled from their repair work on the ramparts back into the compound. Sounds of jubilation came from the area around the main gateway, drums beating, flutes shrilling, cheering. Kramer came through first—even at this distance Mix recognised the fat body and the piggish features—on a big chair carried by four men. The crowds shouted their greeting and tried to swarm around him but were pushed back by his bodyguard. After him came his staff and then the first of the returned soldiers, all grinning widely.

The chair was deposited in front of Kramer’s “palace,” a huge log structure on top of a low hill. De Falla came to greet him then, and both made speeches. Mix was too far away to hear what they said.

Some naked prisoners were marched in at spear point and double-stepped to the compound. Among the dirty, bruised, bloodied bunch was Yeshua. He sat down at once with his back to the wall, and his head sank as if he were completely dejected. Tom yelled at him until a man asked him whom he wanted. The man went across the compound and spoke to Yeshua. At first, Tom thought that Yeshua was going to ignore him. He looked at Tom for a moment and then let his head hang again. But after a while he rose, somewhat unsteadily, and walked slowly to the circular enclosure. He looked through the spaces between the logs, his eyes dull. He had been beaten about the face and body.

“Where’s Bithniah?” Tom said.

Yeshua looked down again. He said, hollowly, “She was being raped by many men the last I saw of her. She must have died while they were doing it. She’d stopped screaming by the time I was taken to the boat.”

Mix gestured at some female prisoners.

“What about them?”

“Kramer said he wanted some alive…to burn.”

Mix grunted, and said, “I was afraid that was why they didn’t kill me. Kramer’s going to get a special revenge out of me.”

He didn’t add, though he was thinking it, that Yeshua would also be in the “privileged” class. Yeshua must know it, anyway.

He said, “If we start a ruckus, we might force them to kill some of us. If we’re lucky, we’ll be among the late unlamented.”

Yeshua raised his head. His eyes were wild and staring.

“If only a man did not have to live again! If he could be dust forever, his sadness and his agonies dissolved into the soil, eaten by the worms as his flesh is eaten! But no, there’s no escape! He is forced to live again! And again! And again! God will permit him no release!”

“God?” Tom said.

“It’s just a manner of speech. Old habits die hard.”

“It’s tough just now,” Tom said, “but in between the bad times it’s not so bad. Hell, I’m sure that someday all this fighting will stop. Most of it, anyway. It’s a time of troubles now. We’re still getting straightened out; too many people are behaving like they did on Earth. But the setup’s different here. You can’t hold a man down. You can’t tie him to his job and his house because he carries his own food supply with him and it doesn’t take long to build a house. You can enslave him for a while, but he’ll either escape or kill himself or make his captors kill him, and he’s alive again and free and has another chance for the good life.

“Look here! We can make those buggers kill us now so we don’t have to go through all the pain Kramer’s figuring to give us. The guards aren’t here now. Pull back the bar on the gate and let me out. As you can see, I can’t reach through to do it myself. Once I’m out, I’ll organise the others, and we’ll go out fighting.”

Yeshua hesitated, then gripped the big knob at the end of the massive bolt and, straining hard, withdrew it. Mix pushed the heavy gate open and left his prison within a prison.

Though there were no guards within the compound, there were many on the platforms outside the walls and in the towers. These saw Mix leave, but they did not object, which, Tom thought, meant that they knew he had to be released from it soon, anyway. He was just saving them the trouble of opening the gate.

It wouldn’t be long before the prisoners would be herded out of the compound.

He called to the others, about sixty, to gather around him.

“Listen, you poor bastards! Kramer’s got you marked for torture! He’s going to put on a big show, a Roman circus! We’re all going to wish soon we were never born, though I guess you know that! So I say we should cheat them! And save ourselves all that pain! Here’s what I think we should do!”

His plan seemed wild to them, though mainly because it was unheard of. But it offered escape of a sort which once would not have been regarded as such. It was better than just sitting there like sick sheep waiting to be slain. Their tired eyes took on some life; their exhausted and abused bodies lost their shrunken appearance, swelling up with hope.

Only Yeshua demurred.

“I cannot take a human life.”

Tom said, in an exasperated tone, “You won’t be doing that! Not in the sense we knew on Earth! You’ll be giving your man his life! And saving him from torture!”

A man said, “He doesn’t have to take anybody’s life. He can volunteer to be one of those that’ll die.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Tom said. “How about it, Yeshua?”

“No. That would make me a collaborator in murder, hence, a murderer, even if the one murdered was myself. Besides, that would be suicide, and I cannot kill myself. That, too, would be a sin, against…”

He bit his lower lip.

“Look!” Tom said. “We don’t have time to argue. The guards are getting mighty curious now. First thing you know, they’ll be storming in here.”

“That is what you want,” Yeshua said.

Angrily, Tom cried out, “I don’t know what you did or where you were when you were on Earth, but whatever it was or whoever you were, you really haven’t changed! I’ve heard you say you’ve lost your religion, yet you act like you haven’t lost a shred of it! You don’t believe in God anymore, yet you were just about to spout off about not going against God! Are you crazy, man?”

“I think I’ve been crazy all my life,” Yeshua said. “But there are some things I will not do. They are against my principles, even though I no longer believe in The Principle.”

By then the captain of the guards was shouting at the prisoners, demanding to know what they were up to.

“Forget the mad Jew,” a woman said. “Let’s get this over with before they get here.”

“Line up then,” Mix said.

All except Yeshua got into one of two lines in which each person faced another. That was just as well since they were, without him, even-numbered. Opposite Mix was a woman, a brunette whom he vaguely remembered seeing in New Albion. She was pale and trembling but game enough.

He lifted the chamberpot by its rim and said, “You call it.”

He swung the brown pot up, loosed it, and watched it turn over and over. Sixty-two pairs of eyes were fastened upon it.

“Open end!” The woman called out loudly but shakily.

The container, turning, fell. It landed on its bottom and cracked in two.

“Don’t hesitate!” Tom shouted. “We don’t have much time, and you might lose your nerve!”

The woman closed her eyes as Tom stepped up to her and gripped her throat. For a few seconds she held her arms out at right angles to her body. She was attempting to put up no resistance, to make the job easier for him and quicker for her. The will to live was, however, too strong for her. She grabbed his wrists and tried to break his grip. Her eyes opened wide as if she were pleading with him. He squeezed her throat more tightly. She writhed and kicked, driving her knee up between his legs. He bent away though not swiftly enough to avoid getting the knee in the belly.

“Hell, this ain’t going to work!” he said.

He released her. Her face was blue by then, and she was gasping. He hit her in the chin, and she dropped onto the ground. Before she could regain consciousness, he was choking her again. It only took a few seconds to still her breath. Wanting to make sure, he held on a little longer.

“You’re the lucky one, sister,” he said, and he rose.

The people in his line, which had won the toss or lost it, depending upon the viewpoint, were having the same trouble he’d had. Though the other line had agreed beforehand not to fight against their stranglers, most of them had been unable to keep their promise. Some had torn loose and were slugging it out with their would-be killers. A few were running away, pursued. Some were dead, and some were now trying to choke their chokers.

He looked at the big gate. It was swinging open. Behind it was a horde of guards, all armed with spears.

“Stop it!” he roared. “It’s too late now! Attack the guards!”

Without waiting to see how many had heard him, he ran toward the first of the spearmen. He yelled to give himself courage and to startle the guards into self-defence. But what did they have to fear from an unarmed, naked, and enfeebled man?

The guards nearest him did, however, raise their spears.

Good! He’d hurl himself onto the points, arms out, catching some in his belly and some in his chest.

But the captain bellowed out an order, and they reversed their weapons. The shafts would be used as clubs.

Nevertheless, he leaped, and he saw the butt end of the spear that would knock him senseless.

Chapter 12

When he awoke, he had two pains in his head, the new one far worse than the old. He also was suffering again from diplopia. He sat up and looked around at the blurred scene. There were bodies of the prisoners here and there. Some had been killed by the others, and some had been beaten to death by the guards. Three of the guards lay on the dirt, one dead, the others bleeding. Apparently, some prisoners had wrested the spears away from the guards and gotten some small revenge before being killed.

Yeshua was standing away from the rest of the prisoners, his eyes closed and his mouth moving. He looked as if he were praying, but Mix doubted that he was.

When he looked back, he saw about twenty spearmen marching through the compound gate. Kramer was leading them. Mix watched the short, fat youth with the dark-brown hair and very pale blue eyes walking toward him. His piggish face looked pleased. Probably, Mix thought, he was happy that Mix and Yeshua had not been slain.

Kramer stopped a few feet away from Mix. He looked ridiculous, though he must think he made a splendid figure. He wore a crown of oak wood each of the seven points of which sported a round button cut from mussel shells. His upper eyelids were painted blue, an affectation of the males of his land, an affectation which Mix thought was fruity. The upper ends of his black towel-cape were secured around his fat neck with a huge brooch made from copper, an exceedingly rare and expensive metal. On one plump finger was an oak ring in which was set an uncut emerald, also a scarce item. A black towel-kilt was around his paunch, and his knee-length boots were of black fish-leather. In his right hand he held a long shepherd’s crook, symbol that he was the protector of his sheep—his people. It also signified that he had been appointed by God for that role.

Behind Kramer were two bloodied and bruised and naked prisoners, whom Mix had not seen before. They were short dark men with Levantine features.

Mix squinted. He was wrong. He did know one of the two. He was Mattithayah, the little man who had mistaken Mix for Yeshua when they had first been Kramer’s prisoners.

Kramer pointed at Yeshua and spoke in English.

“Iss zat ze man?”

Mattithayah broke into a storm of unintelligible but recognisable English. Kramer whirled and sent him staggering backward with a blow of his left fist against the jaw. Kramer said something to the other prisoner. This one answered in English as heavily accented as Kramer’s, but his native tongue was obviously different.

Then he cried, “Yeshua! Rabbi! We have looked for you for many years! And now you are here, too!”

He began to weep, and he opened his arms and walked toward Yeshua. A guard banged the butt of his spear on his back, over the kidney area, and the little man groaned and fell on his knees, his face twisted with pain.

Yeshua had looked once at the two men and had groaned. Now he stood with downcast eyes.

Kramer, scowling and muttering, strode up to Yeshua and seized his long hair. He jerked it, forcing Yeshua to raise his head.

“Madman! Anti-Christ!” he shouted. “You’ll pay for your blasphemies! Yust ass your two crazedt friendss vill pay!”

Yeshua closed his eyes. His lips moved soundlessly. Kramer struck him in the mouth with back of his hand, rocking Yeshua’s head. Blood flowed from the right corner of Yeshua’s lips.

Kramer screamed, “Shpeak, you filt! Do you indeedt claim to be Christ?”

Yeshua opened his eyes, and spoke softly.

“I claim only to be a man named Yeshua, just another son of man. If this Christ of yours did exist and if he were here, he would be horrified, driven to madness with despair, at what had happened on Earth to his teachings after he died.”

Kramer, yelling, hit Yeshua alongside the head with his staff. Yeshua fell to his knees and then crumpled forward, his head hitting the earth with a soft thud. Kramer drove the toe of his boot against the fallen man’s ribs.

“Renounce your blasphemiess! Recant your Satanic ravingks! You vill excape mush pain in zis worlt if you do, ant you may safe your zoul in the next!”

Yeshua raised his head, but he said nothing until he had regained his breath.

“Do what you will to me, you unclean Gentile.”

Kramer shouted, “Shut your dirty mous, you inzane monshter!”

Yeshua grunted as Kramer’s boot toe drove into his side again, and he moaned for a little while thereafter.

Kramer, his black cloak flapping after him, strode to Mattithayah and his companion.

“Do you shtill maintain zat zis lunatic iss ze Blessedt Zon of Godt?”

The two were pale beneath their dark skins, and their faces looked as if they were made of melting wax. Neither replied to Kramer.

“Answer me, you svine!” he cried.

He began to beat them with the shepherd’s staff. They backed away, their hands up to protect themselves, but they were seized by the guards and kept from retreating.

Yeshua struggled to his feet. Loudly, he said, “He is so savage because he fears that they speak the truth!”

Mix said, “What truth?”

His double vision was increasing, and he felt as if he should vomit. He was beginning to lose interest in everything but himself. God, if only he could die before he was tied to the stake and the wood set afire!

“I’ve heard that question before,” Yeshua said.

Mix didn’t know for a moment what Yeshua meant. Then illumination flooded in. Yeshua had thought he’d said, “What is truth?”

After Kramer had beaten Mattithayah and his friend into unconsciousness, they were dragged out through the gate by their legs, their heads bumping, their arms trailing along behind their heads. Kramer started to walk toward Yeshua, his staff lifted high as if he intended to give him the same treatment. Mix hoped that he would. Perhaps, in his rage, he’d kill Yeshua now and thus save him from the fire.

The joke would certainly be on Kramer then.

But a sweating panting man ran through the gate, and he cried out Kramer’s name. It was thirty seconds, though, before he caught his wind. He was the bearer of ill news.

Apparently, there were two fleets approaching, one from up-River, one from down-River. Both were enormous. The states to the north of Kramer’s and the states to the south of the newly conquered territories had been galvanised into allied action against Kramer, and the Huns across from them had joined them. They finally realised that they must band together and attack Kramer before he moved against them.

Kramer turned pale, and he struck the messenger over the head with his staff. The man fell without a sound.

Kramer was in a bad way. Half of his own fleet had been destroyed in its victory, and the number of his soldiers had been considerably reduced. He wouldn’t be ready for a long time to launch another attack nor was he well fitted to withstand an invasion from such a huge force.

He was doomed, and he knew it.

Despite Mix’s pain and the knowledge of the fire waiting for him, he managed a smile. If Kramer were captured, he would undoubtedly be tortured and then burned alive. It was only just that he should be. Perhaps if Kramer himself felt the awful flames, he might not be so eager to subject others to them when he rose again.

But Mix doubted that.

Kramer shouted orders to his generals and admirals to prepare for the invasion. After they had left, he turned, panting, toward Yeshua. Mix called to him.

“Kramer! If Yeshua is who those two men claim he is, and they’ve no reason to lie, then what about you? You’ve tortured and killed for nothing! And you’ve put your own soul in the gravest jeopardy!”

Kramer reacted as Mix had hoped he would. Screaming, he ran at Mix with the staff raised. Mix saw it come down on him.

Kramer must have pulled his punch. Mix awoke some time later, though not fully. He was upright and tied to a great bamboo stake. Below him was a pile of small bamboo logs and pine needles.

Through the blur, he could see Kramer applying the torch. He hoped that the wind would not blow the smoke away from him. If it rose straight up, then he would die of asphyxiation and would never feel the flames on his feet.

The wood crackled. His luck was not with him. The wind was blowing the smoke away from him. Suddenly, he began coughing. He looked to his right and saw, vaguely, that Yeshua was tied to another stake very near him. Upwind. Good, he thought. Poor old Yeshua will burn, but the smoke from his fire will kill me before I burn.

He began coughing violently. The pains in his head struck him like fists. Vision faded entirely. He fell toward oblivion.

But he heard Yeshua’s voice, distorted, far away, like thunder over a distant mountain.

“Father, they do know what they’re doing!”

RIVERWORLD WAR

Foreword

Those who’ve read the preface to The Dark Design know that I’d sliced the manuscript in half and had it published under the above title. As it was, this half made a very long book. The second half was to come out as The Magic Labyrinth. But when I reworked this, it got longer and longer and ended up at about 220,000 words. The Berkley editor assured me that this length was economically unfeasible if the book was to be a hardcover, and the publisher would look askance and think twice about issuing it as a softcover. Moreover, when I reread it after completing the manuscript, I thought it too long. The editor agreed. As it was, the battle between the two mighty riverboats, captained respectively by Samuel Clemens and King John of England, was 50,000 words long. The conflict was a book in itself or at least of book-length.

I made great slashes in this as I did elsewhere in the novel. Result: the reader of the fourth and final book in the series will know that many of the characters more or less prominent in the first three books had died during the battle. But the reader won’t know how they died or why.

The chapters excised from Design but included in the book at hand relate the fate of these people. They also tell how Burton managed to get to the ammunition storage room in the Not For Hire during the battle.

I’d have liked to have included most of the excisions, but they consisted of lines or half-lines, paragraphs or half-paragraphs, pages or half-pages, and half-chapters lifted from everywhere, from the beginning of the book to near its end. They couldn’t be put together to make a coherent whole. The chapters here, however, form a sort of long short story or novelette.

i

John crawled to a stairway and went down it hands first. Before he had gone three steps, his hand missed a hold, and he slid face-first down. He brought up with a crash at the bottom, and lay there, too stunned to know where he was or what he was supposed to be doing.

Tordenskjold came groping slowly down the steps then and stumbled over his captain. He looked at the groaning form at his feet, then bent and began to drag him out of the enclosure. Flames were leaping behind him. A high-pitched sound that pierced through his deafness made him look up. The pilothouse was beginning to topple, just as that of the enemy boat had. Fortunately for both of them, it was leaning sidewise, toward Tordenskjold’s left. Over it went, the bending metal protesting. Its top deck crashed against the side, split off, and fell between the boats.

In the corridor, Richard Burton picked himself up from the deck. The others straggled up. Several had been hurled against a bulkhead and were too stunned to do anything but groan.

Burton blew the whistle which hung from a cord around his neck. “Follow me!”

The deck on the outside was bright enough. The fires started by the hydrogen gas, the shells, and the rockets were blazing vigorously. The wind had almost ceased with the advent of night, and the smoke was a swollen monster covering both vessels. The heavy acrid odor set him to coughing and his eyes watering. It wasn’t necessary to open the hatch. It had been blown off. He stumbled over the warped hatch a few feet from the exit. He shouted a warning to those behind him. They couldn’t hear him. Nor could they see the obstacle in the smoke until they were on it. Three marines piled up on it.

Burton went through the hatchway out onto the deck. The walkway was filled with people, a number of whom had hurled grappling hooks tied to lines. Some of these had caught on railings or posts or become embedded in the flesh of enemy crewmen. There was much screaming and cursing and explosions of pistols and rifles from both boats and the thud of arrows striking people or the hull. Burton could hear all this only dimly since he was still half-deaf from the broadsides. The smoke was clearing, however, and he could get a grasp of some of the situation. The vessels were touching at only two points. The crumpled prow of the enemy was against the stern of the Rex. And its fore starboard paddlebox was against the fore port side of the Rex. At these points, the sailors had cast grappling lines onto each other’s vessels. The more distant points had been spanned by lines shot from grappling guns. A few of the heavy ropes were secured to stanchions or railings. Others lay untied. The hands that would have made them tight were lax, their owners lying dead or wounded on the decks.

Burton plowed through the crowd, cursing and shoving aside those who blocked him. “Let the marines through!” he bellowed. It was doubtful that they could hear him any better than he could hear them. Suddenly, the press thinned. Men and women were dropping on all sides of him. Across the way, clouds of smoke were rising, blown from the muzzles of pistols and shotguns. The enemy marines were ranged along the top of the paddlebox and the walkway on both sides of it.

Plastic bullets spanged against the bulkheads and pieces whistled through the crowd. Burton felt one sting his leg. Arrows thumped against metal or the metal of the hull or through the metal of armor and into flesh. Down the way, barely visible in the smoke, some archers were returning the arrow fire of the enemy.

Just before the collision, and perhaps afterward, boarding bridges had been extended from the Not For Hire. These were oblong railingless duraluminum extensions thirty feet long which had been concealed within the hull behind closed ports.

Burton pulled his Mark IV pistol out and aimed coolly across the top of the paddlebox. His bullets knocked down three men with the crested helmets and silvery cuirasses.

Burton reloaded his pistol, then blew his whistle three times. He turned to see how many had heard the signal. About twenty. The others were still shooting or reloading. Burton holstered his pistol, unsheathed his cutlass, and, waving it, shouted, “Follow me!”

Evidently, the enemy marines had had the same idea. The firing across the way suddenly stopped, and the crested helmets surged over the railing and dropped onto the top of the box. Burton met one of them halfway on the slippery curving top of the housing. He was in the lead, and his helmet and cuirass bore eagle heads. A small man, he attacked as if he were a giant, his cutlass a silver whirl.

“Cochon! Tu as la face d’un con!”

”Ta mère fait la gamahoucherie avec les nègres!” Burton shouted. “Et ton père boit dans les pissoires!”

Burton laughed as the little fellow, his eyes enormous, almost frothing at the mouth, hammered away at him. Burton parried each time, then suddenly slid his cutlass in, using the point instead of the edge. The little Frenchman reeled back as blood gushed from a deep cut in his cheek. As he returned furiously to the attack, two battlers got in the way. Burton lost sight of him in the swirling melee. A man and a woman, fighting side by side, attacked him, and he was forced to back quickly away from them. The woman was taller than he by almost a head, and she had the long lean body of a fencer. Her companion was shorter than Burton but muscular. They drove him back toward the edge of the paddlebox, from which a number of men and women, screaming, had fallen. The slope put them above Burton, but this was not an advantage for them. Burton leaped to one side, went in past the woman’s guard, and raked her arm with the edge. Her cutlass fell clattering on the duraluminum surface, and then she fell backwards, struck by a bullet.

The man lunged then, trying to get him with the point. Burton deflected this and riposted, then brought his cutlass back in a manchette that cut across the fellow’s wrist. The man’s weapon dropped; Burton stepped forward, putting his foot on the woman’s cutlass. She had bent down to pick it up, and Burton’s move imprisoned her hand under her weapon’s hilt.

He could have cut off her head then, but the man, bellowing, charged in head-down. Burton brought the edge of his cutlass down against the brim of the man’s helmet, but the impetus of the attack knocked him down. The man went to the deck with him. He caught a flash of the woman picking up the cutlass. She’d be on him in two seconds. The man got onto his hands and knees and shook his head. Burton, lying on his back, kicked his boots into the man’s face. The woman ran toward him then, her cutlass raised. Burton rolled over past the man, who was lying face down, blood running from his mouth.

One of his marines got in the way of the woman, though not intentionally. He was retreating from the onslaught of a huge red-headed man. The marine, a paleolithic named Skroombr, was retreating. Hopelessly outclassed, he had a choice of being killed by the cutlass or going off the box into the water. The tall woman had taken a cut at Skroombr, but missed. The red-headed man had bellowed at her to get out of the way. Now she came at Burton, who had gotten to one knee. He snatched the heavy gun from his holster and fired at her as she loomed over him. The bullet hit her cuirass in the center, knocking her onto her back. Though the plastic projectile had not penetrated the duraluminum armor, it had bent it inward at the point of impact. And she was unconscious from shock.

Her companion was trying to draw his gun. Burton rose and kicked him in the face again. The man collapsed. Burton bent down and rolled him over the edge of the paddlebox.

He looked up. The red-headed giant had severed Skroombr’s right arm with his cutlass, and Skroombr, gushing blood, was dead on the deck. The redhead kicked the corpse, and it went sliding down the curve of the paddlebox and over the edge. The redhead looked fiercely around, almost seeming to breathe fire. Seeing Burton, he started toward him. Suddenly, the tall black form of Umslopogaas, holding Woodpecker, was in front of him. The redhead, knowing that his cutlass was no match for the long-shafted axe, produced a knife. He did it with such speed that Burton could not see where the blade had come from. A streak in the light from the fires, the knife struck point-first. But Umslopogaas, fortunately for him, had slipped in blood. The knife hit the top of his helmet as he bent forward. It bounced off as he continued his forward movement, turning a stumble into a charge. Straightening up just in time, he brought his axe-head up. Steel rang as the redhead’s cutlass struck the head of the axe. Umslopogaas’ grip was almost torn from the shaft, so strong was the impact.

But he quickly jabbed the point of the head at the redhead. And then, suddenly becoming aware that he was alone, that his fellows had been cleared from the paddlebox, the redhead leaped. He soared over the edge, dropping into the darkness between the two boats.

It was a long way down. But if the redhead survived the fall, he would be back into the fray soon. He gave the impression of great energy and determination.

The Swazi grinned and called to Burton, “That man with the hair like fire… I will meet him again.”

Burton said nothing. What was there to say? He took stock of the situation. His marines had won this little battle. His troops were pouring from the walkway over the box, and they had pushed the resistance back on both sides of the walkway.

But the situation was just the opposite where the prow of the Not For Hire touched the portside of the Rex. Here Clemens’ men had run over King John’s crew, and they were crowding onto its decks. At least, this was happening on the hurricane decks. Below this there was still battling.

Burton started toward the deck, and at that moment a blast completely deafened and half-stunned him, lifted him from the box, and propelled him through the air. He fell headlong onto several people, fortunately for him. Otherwise, he would have been killed or severely bashed. Even so, when he returned to full consciousness, his chest and face hurt from the impact against armor. The two he had landed on were either senseless or dead.

Rising, he stared at the Rex. It was leaning away from him, slowly tilting. It took some time before he grasped that it was sinking.

Someone near him murmured, “Torpedo! Their torpedo boat got through!”

So…the gun and rocket batteries on the starboard side had failed to sink the Not For Hire’s launch. Or, if they had succeeded, they had done so too late. One, perhaps two, torpedoes had struck the Rex at the waterline. The explosion had lifted him, hurled him forward. Rather, it had lifted and rolled that mighty boat just enough out of the water for the edge of her deck to catch the edge of the paddlebox. And, like an acrobat bounced from a trampoline, Burton had soared off the box.

Below him, to both sides, men and women were scrambling from the sinking vessel to the Not For Hire. Among them were the enemy who had just battled so successfully to board the Rex.

He came out of his freeze then. Where was Alice? Had she been caught in sick bay, perhaps killed as the deadly waves from the explosion traveled through the metal hull? He had been told that when a torpedo struck a big vessel, the vibrations from the explosion went upward from deck to deck in a triangle, and all those who stood in it died. He did not know if that was true. In any event, sick bay was in the middle of the boat. Surely the deadly fatal waves would not reach there. But hatches might have been slammed shut, and she might be trapped. Or she could have been knocked out or her arm or leg broken. Or she may have been all right, but she did not have time to get out of the boat.

It was sinking swiftly. Those who had not leaped to the deck level on which Burton was now had to try for the lower decks as the boat sank. They did not have much time, a few seconds.

Some did jump and were caught between the decks. They shrieked as their bodies were cut or ground in half between the hulls.

Some made it.

The boarding bridges screamed metallically as they were bent or torn off by the rolling Rex.

He didn’t see Alice. However, the boat was so huge that she could have been on the far end and he wouldn’t even see her in this fitful firelight. Or she could have jumped off the other side and be swimming now.

He became aware that the Swazi was gripping his arm.

“We can do nothing to keep her from sinking, captain. We must fight on the boat or else leap into The River and swim for it. Our enemies outnumber us two to one.”

The Rex kept on rolling, the weight of the water pouring in through the big hole and the starboard paddlewheel making her heavier on that side. As he stared fascinated, he saw the mighty bottom expose itself, then it sank back into The River. And there was then only a hole in the waters, the sides steep and racing, streaked white in the fires from the Not For Hire, forming a whirlpool. A vast sucking sound was followed by a great sigh, as if the vessel were glad that the end of its long journey had at last come.

The waters fell together and swirled. Great bubbles burst on the surface.

“Captain, we must fight!” Umslopogaas said.

Burton got onto the railing and held on to a stanchion while he looked along both lengths of the deck. His marines and many crewmen were strung out along the walkway. So far, their opposition had ceased. Clemens’ people had retreated to prepare an ambush or surprise attack. Or they had halted to observe the sinking of the Rex Grandissimus. Whatever they were doing, they were not in sight.

But when he leaned far out to look on the decks below, he saw that the walkways contained a number of the enemy. They did not crowd the walkways, there were not enough of them left to do that. But they were moving toward the prow, where some of King John’s men had managed to get aboard. In fact, unless he was mistaken, John was among them. He could not be sure at this distance, but one man had broad shoulders and tawny hair. Or the hair seemed to be tawny.

Whether it was John or not, his people were going to have a hell of a fight soon. So, for that matter, would those around Burton.

More bubbles burst. Debris popped out on the roiled waters from time to time. Among it, a few swimmers struggled.

For the third time, Umslopogaas spoke.

“Captain, we must fight!”

Burton got down from the railing.

Somebody else was on his right side. He looked around into the dark eyes of Tom Mix. Beyond him was the sturdy figure of Jack London. Mix drawled, “Pogaas is right, captain. We either got to fight or get to hell off of here.”

“What the hell is there to fight about?” London cried. “Our boat’s gone! It’s like having your country sink under you.”

In a sense, London was right. But their captain might still be alive. And as long as John was, his cause was not dead.

Also, there was Alice. She could be dead, most probably was. But he would not quit until he knew whether she was alive or dead.

“All right!” Burton bellowed, suddenly coming from his stasis. He paused. From above and below came scattered gun reports and cries, the clashing of blades. That was another reason to keep on fighting. As long as others did, he couldn’t quit.

“Quiet!”

The voices of those around him died down. He got back onto the railing so they could all see him.

“King John’s still alive! And fighting!” he cried. “I saw him down at the front part of the boat on this side!”

He did not know if he had really seen John. But his troops needed something to fight for, blood to be transfused into their morale.

A loud cheer rose.

“There are plenty of us aboard,” he said. “You can hear them now! We’ll go to their help! Mix, you take all but fifteen and lead them down to the boiler deck, the port forward section. That’s where John and most of the others are! I’ll take my fifteen and try for the main ammunition stores! If we can get to them, we’ll set them off and sink the boat! You be sure to tell John that when you get to him! He shouldn’t be taken unawares!”

“Hell, you could blow us all up, too!” Mix said.

“Not if you’re on the walkway,” Burton said. “Anyway, you’ll have to take your chances!”

“Then you want us to be a diversion, to draw everybody to us while you pussyfoot down to the ammo room?” Mix said.

“That’s about the essence of it,” Burton said.

Mix turned and began shouting orders. Burton picked his fifteen, mostly from those that happened to be near him. Umslopogaas was one. While the remainder of the force was walking toward the nearest ladder, Mix in their lead, Burton took his men in the opposite direction.

Umslopogaas, behind him, said, “Captain, where is the powder room?”

“A good question,” Burton said. “I’m presuming that it’s amidships, probably in the boiler deck. Or there may be more than one. But the main one should be in the boiler deck.”

As he went by a prostrate form, he heard a groan. He stopped and looked through the semidarkness. The sound had come from one of the bodies strewn along the deck.

The groan came again. This time he identified its source. It was a man lying on his side. Burton held up his hand and said, “Halt!”

The Swazi passed the command along.

“What is it?” Umslopogaas said to Burton, who was kneeling by the wounded man.

“He can tell us where the magazine is,” Burton said.

The Swazi pulled the bleeding man to a sitting position. The man’s head lolled; his mouth hung open.

“Where is the ammunition supply room?” Umslopogaas said in Esperanto.

The man stared with glazed eyes.

The Swazi released the man, who fell backward, striking his head hard upon the deck, “He is of no use!”

ii

Before the airplane double duel, Nur el-Musafir told Peter Frigate, “It’s not so much the physical events of a battle that should interest a person, though these do have a certain fascination, especially among those engaged in it. The number of soldiers or sailors involved, the attacks, the defenses, the feints, the percentage of casualties, the stupidities and blunders, the shrewd or brilliant moves, the seizing of temporary advantages, the cowardices and heroisms, the unexpected turn of events, the unexplainable mishaps, the sudden surges of common courage or lack of it, these, to a certain degree, are intriguing.

“But what is really interesting and significant is what the soldiers, from the general down to the lowliest enlisted man, learn from the battle. And even more important, what changes in character, if any, the participants have during the battle. Or what they become aware of in retrospect after the battle.”

“I’ve been through a few,” Frigate said. “About all I was aware of during them was that I was scared, sometimes literally shitless. Though usually I get diarrhea before the battle and so go into it with empty bowels. Most of the time I wish that I was somewhere else. However, after it’s over, I get a certain peculiar feeling of happiness. It’s not so much that I survived as it is having wreaked violence on the poor devils I’d fought, I became aware of this on Earth when I was forced into some fist fights and won. At that time I analyzed myself, and I was sure that under my lifelong and almost pathological aversion for violence was a suppressed desire for violence. But I was afraid of it; I suppressed the desire, perverted it into a great fear of it. It’s taken years for me to overcome that, to see the other side of the coin, as it were. I no longer am numb, paralyzed when physical or verbal violence threatens. But I still get frightened before the action starts and sometimes during it. But that’s normal. If I’m brave, it’s because I’m afraid to show my fear.”

“You still react too much to other people’s opinions,” Nur said. “When you can act on your own, without regard for what others think, then you’ll have taken one more step toward being a whole man.”

“I know that,” Frigate said.

Nur grinned and shook his head.

“You’re always telling me that you already know that. But with you knowledge doesn’t lead to action. Though you’ve improved enormously since I met you.”

Frigate refrained from saying that he’d known that.

One of his troubles, Frigate thought, was that he was a reactor. He’d depended too much upon letting others initiate action. But inside or under the reactor was another self, an embryonic or perhaps suppressed actor or initiator. That self had burst through now and then, but had usually not known moderation and had spoiled his nonreacting acts. It was an overly exuberant Samson who toppled down the temple while trying to pull up a pillar. And then, of course, the bad results of his initiative had caused him to allow the nonreacting self to take over again.

Still, his Riverworld life had given him a chance to overcome that, and he had done so to a certain degree.

Nur had kept an almost continuous psychological pressure on him, and that had been the main factor in changing his character. But the life aboard the Rex had also resulted in increasing both his confidence and awareness of his self. Like all the others, including King John, he had been trained to fulfill any duty aboard. Thus, during the many years on it, he’d learned almost everything needed to be a proficient electrical and mechanical engineer, plumber, gunner, radar and radio operator and maintenance man, welder, fitter, boat pilot, and officer. He’d also spent countless hours in exercises designed to build muscle, wind, and quickness. He’d learned judo, jiujitsu, judako, savate (both French and Moroccan), boomerangery, archery, boxing, marksmanship, spearmanship, axmanship, stick-fighting, knife fighting and throwing, tomahawk and battle-axe throwing, and dueling with foil, épée, saber, and cutlass. With everybody else, he’d taken turns being the commander so that, if need be, he could captain the boat. The day after doing that, he might be put on cleaning detail to scrub out the toilets and wash the decks.

However, though he’d become an experienced aircraft mechanic, he was not allowed to pilot the planes or chopper. The craft was too precious to risk in the training of pilots.

All this had given him a trust in himself he’d lacked before and had developed his body and its reactions to their fullest potential.

His normal duty was as an archer. Though six feet tall and weighing 187 pounds, he was considered too small and too light and not spectacular enough with the heavy weapons to serve as a front-line marine. Burton was not quite as tall and heavy as he was, but his mastery of the blade had made him captain. Little Nur was unexcelled at knife-fighting, but he couldn’t handle the big spear or axe or broadsword well enough. So he and Frigate went to the archery squad, where marksmanship was the criterion.

And so, when the Not For Hire and the Rex closed in for boarding, he and Nur were stationed in a room looking out on the hurricane deck. They shot all of their arrows through the window at the boarders from the Not For Hire and at those on the walkway. Then they abandoned their bows and sallied out among the second wave of boarders.

Frigate saw Kazz drop off the top of the paddlebox, an arrow in his knee. He fell into the water, came up, thrashed for a moment, and then went back under. Frigate had little time to watch him, so he did not know if the Neanderthal rose again.

During the melee, he received some slight wounds on his face, right arm, and left thigh. Then he was knocked down, and before he could get up, something struck him on the helmet. When he regained his senses, he became aware that he was surrounded by Clemens’ people. Whether all of his comrades had been killed or some had fled to another part of the Not For Hire, he didn’t know. Wisely, he played dead until the enemy had gone some other place.

While he had been unconscious, the Rex had sunk.

Standing on the deck and holding the railing to keep from falling over, he considered the situation. He could go back to playing dead or he could rejoin his fellows, who were still fighting, or he could dive overboard and swim like hell for the bank.

The first alternative was attractive, but he could never live with himself if he adopted that. Besides, he had to find out what had happened to those he loved. Maybe he could save them; his sudden appearance might make all the difference for his comrades in a desperate fight.

He turned and stooped to pick up a cutlass and almost fell forward. His head hurt, and he was dizzy. Never mind. He’d not count himself out as a casualty.

Somebody shot at him from a doorway about fifty feet away, toward the stem. The bullet whistled close to his head. He fell down as if he’d been hit. Like it or not, he had to play possum again.

Hearing someone running toward him, he reached out and grabbed the hilt of a cutlass. Was the runner an enemy coming to check on him? Or had one of his own mistaken him for an enemy? The lights were still on in some rooms, the illumination streaming through the window near him. He hadn’t been standing in it, but surely he’d been visible enough so that the shooter could distinguish the shape of his helmet. It must be a Clemensite.

He was in terror. What could he do with the cutlass when he was lying face down? The enemy wouldn’t be foolish enough to bend down over him to find out if he was dead. He’d either shoot him again or run a sword through him.

By then the person was on him. Frigate rolled over and slashed at the feet of the enemy, but he, no, she, was gone on past him and still running. She hadn’t been interested in whether he was just wounded or a corpse. She was hell-bent on getting some place else, though no one was apparently after her. And she’d not been aware that she had so barely escaped hamstringing.

Frigate watched her disappear into a corridor before he rose groaning. He checked his wounds, one of which was still flowing. He ripped a towel-kilt from a corpse and applied it to the wound. After it had been stanched, he wrapped another towel around his arm and tied it clumsily with one hand.

Just then the woman returned. Behind her were four men. Frigate ran staggering for the nearest doorway. Shouts arose behind him, and a .60-caliber pistol boomed. The bullet, plastic or wood, destroyed itself against the doorframe as he dived through it. He got up and staggered on, then saw a corpse beside which was a short barreled rifle. He picked it up and examined it by the single light overhead in the corridor. Its chamber held three brass casings with wooden bullets.

He turned and shot at the first person to come through the doorway behind him. He missed. The woman shot again. She missed. Frigate fired again. The bullet hit her, and she fell backward.

Frigate fired his last shot, dropped the rifle, turned, and ran. A bullet struck his cuirass over the right shoulder. He was hurled forward, fell, got up, and ran on. His shoulder and arm felt numb. Reaching the end of the corridor, he ran on, leaped over the railing, and dived headfirst into The River.

He almost drowned before he could get out of the cuirass since he was handicapped by his partially paralyzed arm. When he rose to the surface, blowing and gasping, he saw that the Not For Hire had drifted out of his reach. There were little combats going on here and there, pistols firing, the ringing of blades on blades, shouting, screaming. The group that had chased him was outlined by the dim corridor light. They were standing by the railing but seemed to have lost interest in him. He was glad about that. After a moment, they ran toward the nearest fight.

Frigate supposed that if his arm regained its full use and if he swam hard enough, he might be able to catch up with the Not For Hire. If there were lines trailing in the water from the boat, he might be able to climb back up and rejoin the fray. He doubted that he could do it. Though the cold water had revived him, he felt weak.

“Fuck it!” he said, and he began to dogpaddle toward the nearest bank. It was a long long way off, though, and he would have drowned if a Virolander longboat hadn’t picked him up. Seeing it approaching under the light of the torches held by its occupants, he yelled at them until they heard him and paddled swiftly to him. They got him into a towel-suit and gave him hot coffee. He felt a little better then.

The Virolanders pulled out of the water a woman’s corpse and then a man, a naked Mongolian. His glossy black wet hair fell to his hips. He seemed to be about five feet nine inches tall and his body was broad-shouldered and slim-waisted. After wrapping himself in a big towel, he sat by Frigate and then leaned down to look closely at him. The bright torches illuminated his large glowing green eyes.

The Mongolian spoke in Esperanto in a loud shrill voice.

“You are from the Rex?”

“No,” Frigate said weakly but clearly. “I was just out taking a swim.”

The man smiled. His face was lean and angular, strong-looking, and handsome even by Caucasian standards. Frigate could imagine that he would look very fierce, though, when he was fighting. Like a young Fu Manchu in a fury.

“When we get to shore, we can continue the fight,” the man said.

“You’re crazy,” Frigate said.

The man laughed loudly and long. When he’d finished, he said, “You’re right. Why should we continue? Your boat is sunk; you’ve been defeated. But my boat may sink soon. So who is to say who won? It was a good battle, though, the best I’ve ever been in, and I’ve fought in hundreds of battles and hundreds of duels. I killed twelve of your people today, perhaps more. Why should I kill more? I am tired of killing. Besides, the Virolanders would not allow us to keep on fighting.”

“That makes sense,” Frigate said. “By the way, what is your name?”

“I call myself Tai-Peng. That means Great Phoenix in the language of the Middle Kingdom. I was a great poet and a great drinker, and a great swordsman and a great lover of women. My best friend was Tu Fu.”

“Don’t forget to add a great modesty of your talents,” Frigate said.

Tai-Peng laughed uproariously.

“I have never claimed to be that, though I suppose I could be if I wanted to.”

Frigate closed his eyes. When he opened them, he said, “Were you born in the far west of China and were you an infant when Empress Wu was forced to abdicate by her son, Chung-tsung? Did you serve The Brilliant Emperor, Ming Huang, and were you one of The Six Idlers of the Bamboo Stream and later one of The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup? And were you drowned while drunkenly trying to kiss the moonlight reflection of your face in water?”

The man looked surprised, then he laughed shrilly, and he said, “What if I were?”

“Then you’d be the great poet of the T’ang dynasty, Li Po, also called Li T’ai-Po.”

“That man died long long ago,” Tai-Peng said.

Which was true. But there was no one of this world who hadn’t died long ago, at least, as far as Frigate knew.

He closed his eyes again. The only sound was the dipping of paddles and an occasional short and murmured dialog between two paddlers. The din of battle had departed.

The Mongolian, or, to be more specific, Chinese, was undoubtedly the great Li Po. But why was he traveling under a pseudonym? Well, of course, the ancient Chinese poets sometimes did that. But Frigate suspected that Tai-Peng or Li Po had done so because he was one of those drafted by the Ethical X. The Mysterious Stranger. If so, however, Tai-Peng was doing a poor job as an undercover agent. Though he’d taken a fake name, his ego was too huge for him to take a false background.

Frigate wondered why he was thinking about this man when he should be worrying about his friends and lover. And then he went to sleep.

iii

Burton strode to the nearest hatch.

“This way! Double file!”

The overhead lights in this passageway were on. The generators were still running despite the explosions. He walked swiftly down the passageway to the starboard side. There was no living person in sight, though there were what seemed to be eight corpses. A rocket had gone through the open hatch and exploded, blowing them apart, sticking gobs of flesh against the bulkheads and the overhead and the deck. A severed arm lay across the naked breast of a woman in grisly intimacy. A man’s eyes stared up at Burton from a trunkless head.

Burton felt that curious withdrawal, that dislocation, that lengthening of distance between himself and dead people which he’d always had. They couldn’t hurt Mm. He was too far away from them.

That was strange, he thought. Not the feeling of not quite being in the same world as the dead. The fact that it should come at just this time. He was too busy, too engaged in the violence to feel this sense of nonparticipation. That should come later, after the fury was over. But here it was, roosting like a black bird in his head for some reason he couldn’t explain.

Burton shook his head. Umslopogaas, now by his side, said, “What is it, Captain?”

“Nothing,” Burton said. He was disgusted with himself. After one hundred and twenty-nine years of often violent living, he should be rid of this neurotic feeling. But he still put off the full impact of horror by throwing up some sort of invisible barrier.

Umslopogaas seemed to be unaffected by the blood and the gobs of flesh which made the walking so slippery. He had grown up in a culture which expected him to be a warrior and which had inured him to grisly sights. Almost overconditioned him, as it were. He reveled in fighting to the death. And though he had been exposed for many years to the teachings of the Church of the Second Chance and of other religions, he had not a single doubt about the value of war. It was man’s greatest glory.

Burton put such thoughts out of his mind as he reached the ladder on the starboard side. He had chosen to go down the far side because there was little chance of encountering opposition here. Everybody would have rushed to the port side where all their foes were.

He went down the spiraling ladder to the next deck and then along the passageway toward the port side. A closed hatch confronted him. He tried the lever, and the hatch opened. He did not push it open yet. First, he told the Swazi to turn off the lights. That being done, he opened the hatch.

Light blazed through the opening. He stepped out slowly onto a gallery. This ran around the circumference of a great well, square in shape. It rose through the vessel, its lowest part a deck only a few inches from the bottom of the hull. The overhead was the bottom of the hurricane deck. The well was two decks high, and at the stern end towered the batacitor, an oblong structure covered with duraluminum. Ahead and behind it were the electric motors that drove the paddlewheels. These were motionless now. Near the fore part of the well was a two-deck high metal cylinder. This was the boiler which burned alcohol to heat water at high pressure for the showers and wash basins and to make steam for the steam machine guns.

Overhead were huge cranes.

There was not a person in the well, which was brightly lit. Evidently, the engineers had been called away to help in the fighting. There was no further need for their services here; the Not For Hire, its control cables gone, its backup control system also destroyed, was drifting. She would go where the current took her, would end up against a bank, mired in the shallows. That is, she would unless Clemens’ crew got rid of its enemies in time to jerrybuild a control system. It was Burton’s intention to make sure that they did not do that.

“If this boat is laid out like ours,” he said, “The stern powder room will be close to the power well on the main deck. Thorpe, you take seven men and go forward. When you find the forward powder room, send a man to tell me what you find in it. I’m taking the others to look for the stern powder room.”

Thorpe, an archer and a 20th-century Amerind, said, “Yes, sir,” and called out the names of seven men. Umslopogaas was one of them. The Swazi looked as if he were going to protest. Burton was his comrade-in-arms, and he wanted to be close by his side. Burton saw no reason to override Thorpe’s choice. He said to the others, “Come on!” and started down the gallery toward the stern. His goal was a closed hatch around the corner of the gallery. Before he got there, he heard a faint noise. Gunfire a long way off. And then, on the portside gallery, halfway along the well, a hatch suddenly opened. Through it came loud noises: pistols firing and people yelling.

A man ran through the hatch. He held a Mark IV in one hand and a cutlass in the other. His body was grimed with gunpowder, and his face was streaked with mixed blood and powder. Behind him came others, all men from the Rex, all in retreat.

Other hatches opened, not only on this deck but above. Men and women poured through them. And then their pursuers were entering or trying to do so. Some of his fellows were making a stand at the door, either firing their pistols or thrusting or hacking with their cutlasses. The well became a bedlam.

Burton’s men had halted. They looked as if they wanted to plunge into the fight.

Burton shouted, “Come on! It’s more important that we blow up the boat!”

Reluctantly, the eight followed him through the hatch into the next compartment. This was a very large one, an armory. Its bulkheads held racks of rifles, pistols, longbows, crossbows, cutlasses, sabers, epees, axes, maces, shields, helmets, cuirasses, chainmail shirts and skirts, and three complete suits of armor.

In the far bulkhead was a large hatch. Burton ran to it, seized the lever, and depressed it. The hatch failed to open. But there were several entrances to the powder room. At least, he presumed there were. He turned and went through the port hatch. It led to another passageway. He found the light switch. He ran down it until he got to the hatch opening onto the walkway. Here he stopped, pulled the hatch open, and looked cautiously out. There might be enemies out there now. But there was not, as far as he could determine, anyone. The only illumination along it was from the blazing fires on the bank and from the fire on the flight deck. But it was enough.

He went along the walkway with the others behind him until he came to the next hatch. This was obviously designed to admit a large body of men and bulky material, such as rockets. It was also locked. There were no ports for him to look inside. Even if there had been, he could see nothing inside without a flashlight.

“It’s damn funny,” he said to Thorpe. “Why would they lock the magazine in the midst of battle?”

“I suppose that the captain thought there might not be any use for it at the moment. His boat was about to engage ours at close range and then his men would board us.”

“That doesn’t seem likely,” Burton said. “You men look around for a machine gun.”

He went with two men toward the stem while Thorpe took the rest in the other direction.

Corpses and weapons were scattered along this walkway. There were also sections of the bulkheads and even of the deck which had been destroyed. He had to jump across a four-foot gap at one place. Beyond it was an overturned and twisted rocket battery, a wrecked assemblage of tubes. Here the bulkhead curved deeply in to make a recess for the battery and the men who handled it. A rocket or rockets from the Rex had struck directly here, disintegrating the railing, tearing the battery from its attachment to the swivel equipment, dispersing the crew into various parts, and blasting out a hatch and a large part of the bulkhead surrounding it. Probably, the battery tubes had been empty at the moment; more rockets were being brought up, and these had also been touched off.

Burton looked inside the compartment. The fires illumined the interior dimly, but he could make out the racks of silvery missies, their cone-shaped noses turned toward him. There were about fifty empty racks and twenty filled. He was in luck. This was a magazine for a permanent battery, and the explosion that had ruined the battery had made it impossible for the hatch to be locked.

It took several minutes, two men carrying a rocket, to lay the twenty missiles on the walkway. These were one hundred and twenty pounders of which twenty-five pounds was warhead. But the explosive force was usually greater than that in the warhead, since there would be much fuel left if the rocket had a short distance to cover.

In normal operation, the missiles were fitted into the launching tubes, and an electrical charge ignited the fuse. There was no time mechanism to explode the warhead; this detonated on impact.

As Burton considered what to do with them, the illumination from the bank faded. The prow of the boat was swinging around. In a minute or so, it would be turned broadside to the current. So far, the boat had remained at about a mile from the bank. If it sank here, it would descend several thousand feet before it hit bottom. On the other hand, if it did not sink, its control systems could be repaired.

There was no chance that the crew of the Rex could take the boat over. They were too outnumbered. Most of John’s people had gone down with the Rex. They might be out there swimming in the dark lake now, but unless they could stay afloat for two or three miles, they would drown. It was only a mile in a straight line to the bank, but the current would make the swim at least two miles, and probably more.

At that moment, one of the enemy launches came around the prow of the boat. It moved under the starlight and firelight like a giant prehistoric turtle, its rounded back dark-silver. Its searchlight was a cyclopean eye probing the surface with its bright beam. It seemed to be looking for swimmers. But doubtless it would be picking up only its own. There wasn’t enough room in it for the enemy.

The light moved across the waters, then moved back and forth to illuminate a dozen or so heads scattered over an acre. The launch turned toward them.

Burton, watching it, said, “Everybody get rid of his helmet and cuirass. Anything that identifies you as from the Rex. ”

He proceeded to obey his own order, taking off and then throwing his armor into The River.

“We’ll try to pass ourselves off as Clemens’ men,” he said. “Even if we are challenged, we’ll have the advantage of surprise. They’ll be hesitant to fire on us until they know for sure we aren’t their own men. And if anybody stops us, I’ll tell them we’re a work party and we have orders to move the rockets away from the fire. That won’t fool anybody for long, but it will be long enough.”

He gave some more orders. They bent to the task of moving the rockets, four at a time, down to the stern of the boiler deck. Two men carried a missile while Burton led the way. He kept his eye out for the enemy and also for explosives. He needed these to detonate the rockets, which he hoped would blow a hole in the bottom of the boiler deck. The River would roar in, and that would be the end of the greatest example of Earth technology on The Riverworld. It was a pity. More than a pity. She was such an amazing beauty.

iv

Thorpe and his men had returned from the powder room and pitched in to help the others. All twenty of the big rockets had been placed in a storage compartment in the extreme aft of the boiler deck. Ten were placed side by side in the corner. Ingots of iron were stacked around the missiles, and then the last ten rockets were placed on top of the first ten. More ingots were put on top. When the explosion took place, the maximum effect would be directed through the hull. The thickness of this was unknown to Burton, but he supposed that it would not be more than two inches, if that. Beyond that was The River.

Cloths were brought in from another storage room and piled on top of the ingots. The whole heap was blanketed thickly except for a hole at the bottom. Here a trail of gunpowder had been laid from the opened nose of a missile between two ingots and out along the deck to the hatch.

Burton said, “Very well, men. It should be all set. Everybody out!”

He wiped the sweat from his face with a cloth. The airconditioning had failed, though the lights were still working. Carrying the rockets down the ladders and half the length of the boat, lifting and stacking heavy iron ingots, working under extreme pressure, afraid that at any moment they’d be discovered, had made them hot and sticky and very thirsty.

The men left the passageway. Burton checked everything again, then joined his troops.

“Get down to the end,” he said. “Thorpe, could you find a faucet somewhere near so we could all get a drink of water?”

Thorpe said, “Yes, sir,” and went down the corridor. Burton had a cigarette lighter which he had borrowed earlier from a marine. He knelt down by the trail of powder that led into the hatchway and into the corridor. He pressed on the button at the end of the cylinder. A thin wire slid out the other end; in a second it was glowing white-hot. He stuck the tip into the black line on the deck. Smoke shot out from almost invisible flames and traveled into the room. Burton got up quickly and slammed the hatch shut and locked it. He turned and ran down to join his men, who were around the corner. Before he got there, he was hurled to the deck. The wave of air that blew off the hatch had bounced off the bulkhead and sped howling down the passageway. Even so, most of the force of the explosion had been directed out through the hull. Burton was not hurt, though his ears did ring a little. He got up and looked back down the passageway. Through the smoke he could see the torn-off hatch leaning against the bulkhead at a forty-five degree angle. Cloths, torn or in shreds, were scattered about it. The end of an iron ingot stuck out from the hatch.

Then water poured out through the hatchway, lifted the cloths, and swirled them down toward him.

He estimated that the passageway would be filled with water from deck to overhead within three minutes. That is, it would if it had no place else to flow. It would be the business of his force to open all the hatches they could on the boiler deck.

The problem of slaking their thirst was solved. All they had to do was to drink from The River. But they could not take their time doing that. If they did, they’d drown.

From then on it was hurry, hurry, opening hatches and securing them so they would not shut again, while the water rose steadily, though slowly, to their ankles, to their calves, to their knees. By the time they had reached the entrances to the power room, they were in up to their waists.

“Isn’t this enough?” Thorpe called from the end of the passageway.

“No!” Burton shouted. “I want all the hatches to the power room open. And I want the hatches at the far end of this passageway open too!”

It was hard work with so much area to cover. The boat was enormous, and it would be impossible to open every hatch even on just the boiler deck.

There would be enough open, though.

v

Within the many-chambered vessel, little de Marbot and huge “Liver-Eating” Johnston followed the noise of battle. They found the conflict on several decks along the galleries surrounding the engine room. Johnston had picked up a waraxe dropped by a man from the Rex. The Frenchman was gripping the hilt of a cutlass in one hand and a long knife in the other, both taken from a dead man. They plunged into the fray, hewing and stabbing at the backs of their enemies. At least five fell before the attacked group were aware that they had foes both before and behind.

Johnston carried everybody before him, battering down cutlasses and axes, severing wrists and arms, chopping off heads. Then he slipped in blood he had caused an enemy to lose, and he fell heavily on his back.

Suddenly, a tall black man with an axe with a hornfish tip appeared from the strugglers. Grinning, he stabbed downward, but the tip was deflected by the redhead’s arm. The black snatched the axe back and brought it up and down. This time the edge of the blade came down. However, the press of bodies had confined the movements of the axe; the black just could not bring it up high enough. And so its downward force was slowed.

Johnston reached up with brawny arms covered with reddish hair. His great hands closed on the shaft just back of the axehead. There was a struggle, silent except for the hiss of their breaths. Then the white man’s feet kicked out, and the feet of the black went back and out. He fell face forward, but managed to keep his grip on the axe shaft. That did him no good, however, and so he quickly loosened it. His hand went to the handle of the knife in the sheath at his belt. A big hand clamped down on his wrist, and it was turned. Crying out, the black forgot about the knife and instead brought his free hand up to tear at the redhead’s eyes.

Umslopogaas did not know how the giant white man had done it. But he was lifted up and out, turned over, spewed as if from a waterfall or hurled as if from a catapult. His revolving body knocked down three men, and then the redhead was on his feet, and now he had the axe shaft in his hand.

Though dizzy and battered, Umslopogaas recovered quickly. He got to his feet, grabbing a cutlass as he came up. The redhead lifted the axe, not to bring the axehead edge down on him but to stab the hornfish tip into his chest. Umslopogaas parried, and the tip fell off, sliced away. The redhead bellowed with laughter then and reversed the handle, expecting to surprise him and knock him down with the butt.

The maneuver might have worked if the elbow room had not been so small. A man staggered back into Johnson, propelling him forward. Umslopogaas grabbed the shaft behind the head, just as the redhaired giant had done a moment ago. But the giant jerked backward, and Umslopogaas, refusing to let go, was drawn along with the giant.

More men stumbled into them. Umslopogaas felt something slide across his cheek. A moment later, the pain began, and he was aware of a wetness down the side of his face, seeping under the collar of his chainmail shirt.

Johnston had been wounded also. A fallen man had stabbed upward and driven a dagger into the back of the calf of his right leg.

Johnston bellowed with anguish, but he kicked back with the heel of his right leg. The man who’d stabbed him fell back dead, his neck broken. Johnston slammed the back of his hand across Umslopogaas’ jaw, momentarily stunning him. He picked up Umslopogaas and lifted him above his head at the full extent of his arms. Despite the crippling wound, he hobbled forward until he came to the railing of the gallery.

There he stood, poised for a second before he cast the struggling black out into the pit to fall thirty feet.

Umslopogaas, his senses returning, cried out. He slapped down both hands to seize a massive biceps.

Though practically standing on one leg, Johnston held his burden firmly. Then, giving a cry, he heaved outward.

Coming up from behind Johnston, yelling at Umslopogaas to hang on, Tom Mix hurled a tomahawk. It revolved, and its sharp edge buried itself in the flesh and bone of Johnston’s neck.

Screaming, Umslopogaas fell. One flailing hand almost caught the railing, but it could not keep its grasp.

Johnston fell forward, his trunk going over the railing, his legs following a second afterward as he pitched completely over.

Both landed on top of bodies that had preceded them. But these did not soften the impact enough. Besides, Johnston must have been dead before he struck the bottom. And Umslopogaas broke some ribs, his back, and his neck.

Mix had time for only a glance over the railing. Then he was fighting for his life against three men. Seeing that he could not last against so many more than a few seconds, he fled. He slammed into the back of a Clemensite partially blocking his way, thus knocking the man against the point of his foe’s blade. This happened to be Jack London, who was grateful for the interference, though not for long. Two of those who’d been chasing Tom turned on Jack. The third continued his pursuit. Mix leaned down and picked up an empty pistol and hurled it with one hand. The Clemensite ducked, allowing Tom, stepping forward, to run the point of his cutlass into the man’s eye.

He attacked one of London’s assailants from the back. That man went down with a slash across his neck. London kept the survivor of the trio busy, though outmatched, until Tom had half-severed the man’s sword arm.

Breathing hard, covered with blood, they leaned against the railing for a moment. It was apparent, however, that they could rest only a short time and they would be better off if they did not rest at all. They were seriously outnumbered.

Tom straightened up and, yelling orders, attacked. Jack followed him. They cut down two men, then, ranged with the six of their crew left standing, fought back out into the passageway. Here they ran for it, coming out onto the walkway into the midst of another fight. Once more, they were outnumbered, and their pursuers would make the match even more disadvantageous.

Suddenly, their opponents retreated swiftly from them, leaving ten of the Rexites between two forces. Their chief, a little bright-blue-eyed man with a wounded cheek, yelled, “You from the Rex! Surrender, and we’ll spare you! There’s no use any more of us getting killed! You can’t win!” Tom Mix waited until he had caught his wind.

“How do we know we can trust you to keep your word?” he said. “And what would you do, lock us up and give us a trial later? Or just hang us out of hand?”

The little man almost jumped with indignation. At least, he was quivering.

“Sacré nom d’un con!” and he spat French so swiftly that Tom could not follow him.

“Speak Esperanto,” Tom said.

“The name of de Marbot is an ancient and honored one in France!” the little man said. “It was respected even by the great Napoleon himself! And it has been honored in The Rivervalley too! I give you my word that you will be locked up until this affair is settled. And then, sometime later, you will be released. What is this, anyway? You would demand conditions of surrender, you who are in no position to demand anything? I am offering you your lives so that some of ours may be saved, too. But if you do not care to accept my magnanimity…?”

“Could we have a minute, your esteemed frogginess?” Tom drawled.

“Frogginess, what does that mean?” de Marbot sputtered. “Is it that you are insulting me?”

“Wouldn’t think of it,” Tom Mix said. “What about it? Could we discuss your offer?”

“Don’t you have a leader, a man with supreme authority?”

“Yes,” Mix said. “But this is something every man should have to decide for himself.”

“Pah!” de Marbot said. “What kind of naval organization is this? You are merely fighting for time? You will get your breath back and then renew the fighting, yes?”

Tom muttered, “That Frenchy is shrewd.” He spoke to the others, “Okay, men. What’ll it be? I think we can trust this guy. But I sure hate to quit.”

“I do, too,” London said. “But facts is facts. They’re thirty or more to our ten. However…”

“Yeah?” Tom said.

“We could jump over the side. Once on the main deck, we could get away into another part of the boat.”

“We’d bust our ankles and pancake our feet,” a man said. “That’s a hell of a drop.”

Tom looked up and saw several people peering over the edge of the gallery above. He said, “There may be help. From above. No, I don’t mean from God.”

De Marbot said, “Well! Give me an answer at once, or we’ll attack!”

Tom grinned and said softly, “Don’t look, but Aphra Behn and Nur are up there.”

A man yelled, and then he fell backward with an arrow sticking out from the top of his shoulder. Immediately after, another man, standing beside de Marbot, crumpled, a boomerang bouncing off his head. Then four more arrows plunged into flesh, followed by spears, empty pistols, aces, and chairs.

The enemy were reduced to twelve.

Tom, yelling, led four men against de Marbot and five near him. London led four against the other six. Before they reached their foes, they saw more missiles drop two more. De Marbot stayed to fight. The others fled. Tom thought that the little Frenchman had all the courage, but the others had a more desirable quality, considering the situation. They had good sense.

Tom called, “Okay, mon ami. My turn to offer you a chance to save your life. Give me your sword, and I’ll let you swim for it.”

De Marbot looked behind him. His fellows were still fleeing along the walkway. Between him and flight were several of the enemy, these having come down the ladder.

The shrug was one hundred percent Gallic. He said, “Merde!” and he dropped his cutlass and swung sidewise over the railing. For a moment, one hand clutched the bar. A man raised his cutlass to swing down on the fingers. Tom, yelling, “No!”, knocked the man’s blade aside. The hand disappeared.

Tom looked over the railing. The little fellow had survived the drop of twenty-five feet. He was up on his feet and bending over to pick up a cutlass.

Tom shouted at him. “You better swim for it, fellow! We’ll be after you in a moment.”

The Frenchman looked up. His teeth gleamed palely in the starlight. He bowed, and said, “Thank you for stopping that man from cutting off my fingers. It was you, was it not?”

He turned and started to walk, but he had to stop. It was evident that he had hurt his ankle in the fall.

“Better surrender!” Tom yelled at him.

“De Marbot does not surrender!” the little man said. Hobbling, he disappeared through a hatch.

“You’ll drown!” Tom called. He said to London, “He probably won’t make it with that bad ankle.”

“What do you care?” London said.

“I admire him. He’s sure got guts. Too bad he wasn’t on our side.”

“Too bad they all weren’t,” London said. “Well, what do we do now? We were lucky that the others came along. Otherwise, we’d be dead or locked up. There’s still too many of them and too few of us.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Tom said.

“We’ll look for King John,” Tom said. “If we don’t find him or if he’s dead, we’ll get off the boat. No use keeping on fighting if he’s gone.”

“And if he’s alive?” a man said.

“Then we battle on. If it looks like we got a fighting chance. The way things is, we don’t know what’s going on elsewhere on the boat or who’s winning.”

“We need a program,” London said.

Tom Mix called up to Nur. “Thanks for the helping hand! Wait there, and we’ll join you.”

On the way up, they passed Loghu’s body at the head of the ladder. She still clutched a pistol. Lying crossed over her was a big blond hairy man whose heavy bones identified him as an early paleolithic. A dagger was sticking from the back of his neck.

“Goddamn!” Mix said. “She was one of the most beautiful women inside and out I ever knew!”

They went on up and then down a corridor leading to the open deck. London spoke softly to Mix. “Do you think we’ll make it?”

Mix shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Whatever happens, I’ve had a good time most of the time on this world. And on Earth, too. The bad times was mostly my fault.”

“Yes,” London said, “but if we die now, it’s for keeps.”

“You don’t know that for sure. Anyway, what if it is? Haven’t we lived far longer than we thought we would when we was on Earth?”

“It’s not good enough,” London said.

“Things never are for you.”

“Still, I don’t like dying for that son of a bitch John. We’ve paid for our ticket. There’s really nothing more we can do for the boat or for John. We’ve done our best for the asshole.”

“He wasn’t such a bad guy,” Mix said. “I’ve had worse bosses. And he was a hell of a good pokerplayer.”

“What an epitaph!”

“Lots of men have had worse.”

“It’s not disloyalty, you understand,” London said, “or fear. You know that, don’t you?”

“Sure. But we owe John for the ride.”

“Yeah, but the Rex is sunk. I say, let’s get ashore while the getting’s good.”

“It’s not just John. There’s the others.”

“If they have any sense, they’ll get off, too. They’ve been exploited by John just as we have.”

“If you felt so strongly you were being exploited, why didn’t you leave long ago?”

“Because of that Ethical. Because I’d like to find out just who’s running this world and why they’re doing it. Because I like you and lots of other people on the boat. But the Ethical and King John were exploiting us. I could put up with it as long as I thought it was worth it. It isn’t any more.”

“Hell,” Mix said, “you can’t be sure the Ethical was using us just for his own purposes. And John’son exploitation, as you call it, was mighty easy to take. We lived like kings for many years. Anyway, you’re always hollering about being exploited. Even when you ain’t. Jesus, man! Everybody’s using everybody else for something or other! And when you get rid of one exploiter, you get another.”

“Well, which is it?” London said fiercely. “Stay here when there’s no good reason to get our ass chopped off? We’ve fulfilled our obligations, more than fulfilled them, I say. Or do we get off now and continue going on up The River? Or do we say to hell with the Misty Tower and the Ethical and settle down here? Life is good here.”

Mix stopped, and the men bunched up behind him. He frowned, then said, “I been needling you, Jack, but a lot of what you say makes good sense. The only trouble is that my heart overrules my reason. I say we shouldn’t quit until we’ve been licked.”

“Dammit, we are licked! There’s no shame in admitting that! I’m no quitter, you know that! But we were outnumbered, and we fought a hell of a good fight! I’d say keep going, too, if our cause was worth it. But it ain’t!”

“Well, maybe you’re right,” Mix said. “But…no, I ain’t going to quit! You can do what you want to, and I won’t think the worse of you if you desert. But me, I’m staying here until the last dog dies.”

He started to walk on. London hesitated a moment, then said, “Well, what the hell!” He went after Mix, and the others followed him.

At that moment a door, which had been opened an inch, swung fully out. Three people, two men with double-barrelled shotguns and a woman with a carbine loaded with wooden bullets, stepped out. All were wounded, though not so much that they couldn’t walk and, they hoped, swim. They had intended to leave the boat at the first opportunity, since they believed that the presence of the Rexites meant that they had taken over the boat. It would have been easy to wait until the enemy were gone and then sneak to the railing and jump into The River. But they were grieved because so many of their lovers and friends had been killed, and they wanted to strike one more blow.

One man was a 20th-century Ecuadorian poet. The other was an 18th-century Irish barber with no little ability as a warrior and with only his trade to offer. Except that he was a superb raconteur, and King John had laughed so much at his stories while ashore that he’d offered him a berth. The woman was a sister of Tatianus, the famous (in his time) 2nd-century A.D. Christian apologist who then became a heretic. Her parents were Syrians living in Mesopotamia. She had been picked by John because of her dark beauty and especially large flashing eyes. She’d been John’s cabinmate for two years (almost a record). In the six years on the boat, she’d revealed a surprising aptitude at electronics and so had become second-in-command of the engine room personnel.

The three, at a whispered signal from the Ecuadorian poet, raised their guns together and fired.

Tom Mix’s ten-gallon hat was blown off along with part of his head. A wooden bullet shattered itself against Jack London’s spine. The others also either died or were wounded so badly they had no chance to survive.

Before the smoke had cleared, Lt. Gaius Flaminius and the two men left in his group came up behind the three and cut them down with cutlasses.

A moment later the rockets in the storage room on the boiler deck blew up. Flaminius and his men were unhurt but decided to abandon boat.

CROSSING THE DARK RIVER

1

What? You prescribed lemon juice to cure cholera?”

“What? You had a sure cure for infants who held their breaths until their faces turned blue? And for young females in a hysterical seizure? You stuck your little finger up their anuses? Presto! Changeo! They’re rid forever of infantile behavior and the tantrums of the body?”

“What? You’re searching for the woman who’s supposed to have given birth to a baby somewhere along the River? A baby? In this world where all are sterile and no woman has ever gotten pregnant? You believe that’s true? How about buying the Brooklyn Bridge?

“No? Then how about a splinter from the True Cross? Ho! Ho! Ho! And you believe that this baby reproduced by parthenogenesis is Jesus Christ born again to save us Valleydwellers? And you’ve been traveling up-River to find the infant? Who do you think you are? One of the Three Wise Men? Ho! Ho! Ho!”

And so Doctor Andrew Paxton Davis had not stayed long any place until he had been detained by Ivar the Boneless. He had wandered up the Valley, seldom pausing, just as, on Earth, he had been the peripatetic’s peripatetic. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, he had traveled to many cities in the United States. There he had lectured on and practiced his new art of healing and sometimes established colleges of osteopathy. Denver, Colorado; Quincy, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati, Ohio; LaFayette and Indianapolis, Indiana; Dallas and Corsicana, Texas; Baker City, Oregon; Los Angeles, California, and many other places.

Then he had originated Neuropathy, an eclectic discipline of healing. It combined all the best features of osteopathy, chiropracty, magnetism, homeopathy, and other systems of drugless medicine. He had preached that God-inspired gospel throughout the country. And he had written four thick books that were used by osteopaths and ophthalmologists and read by many laymen throughout the United States.

“From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down in it.”

That was Satan’s answer to God when He said, “Whence comest thou?” That could be said also of Andrew P. Davis. But Davis loathed Satan, and his model was Job, who “was perfect and upright and one that feared God and eschewed evil.”

Since Davis had awakened on the Riverworld, he had suffered the torments of Job. Yet he had not faltered in his faith any more than had Job. God must have made this world, but the Great Tempter was here too. To realize that, you just had to look around at the inhabitants.

Riverworlders dreamed most often about lost Earth. The one exception to this was the nightmare about their mass resurrection, the Day of the Great Shout when all the dead had screamed at one time. What a cry that must have been!

Doctor Andrew Paxton Davis had often awakened moaning, sometimes screaming, from that nightmare. But he had another dream that distressed him even more.

For instance, on this early and still-dark morning of the fifth anniversary of The Day, he had painfully oozed into wakefulness from a Riverworld-inspired nightmare. Not terror but shame and humiliation had written the script for that sleep-drama.

He had gotten his M.D. from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1867. Bur, after many years as a physician in the rural areas of Illinois and Indiana, he had become unhappy with the practice. Always a seeker after truth, he had become convinced that the new science and art of healing devised by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still was a breakthrough. Davis had been in the first class (1893) to complete the courses of the newly established American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri.

But, ever questioning, ever seeking, he had decided that osteopathy alone was not enough. Hence, his own discipline and his founding of the College of Neuropathy in Los Angeles. When he died at the age of eighty-four of stomach cancer—he also had nightmares about that long agony—he was still the head of a flourishing practice.

However, medical science had improved considerably from his birth in 1835 to his death in 1919. And, from then on, it had accelerated at an incredible velocity. His late-twentieth-century informants made it sound like one of those scientific romances by H.G. Wells.

In the first two years on the Riverworld, he had proudly; at first, anyway, told the doctors he met of his knowledge and accomplishments. He had also confided his belief that the Savior had been born again. So many had laughed at him that he became very reserved about telling any M.D. that he had practiced the healing art. He was almost as reticent about revealing his Quest to laymen. But how could he find the Holy Mother and the Holy Infant unless he told people that he was searching for them?

He had awakened this morning and lain in a sweat not caused by the temperature. After a while, he vaguely remembered a dream preceding the one about the mockery and jeers.

He was outside the tower on top of the hill and just starting to walk down the hill when he heard the king calling him. He turned and looked up through the twilight that enveloped most of his dreams. Ivar the Boneless was staring down at him from the top of the tower. As usual, the king was half smiling. Beside him, Ann Pullen, the queen not only of Ivar’s land but of all the bitches in the world, was leaning through a space in the top wall. Her bare breasts were hanging over the top of the stone. Then she lifted one and Hipped it at him.

Suddenly, Sharkko the Shyster appeared beside the two. Sharkko, the man who would have been utterly miserable if he could understand how detestable he was. But Sharkko was unable to imagine that anyone could not like him. He had been given solid proof, kicks, slaps, curses, and savage beatings, that he was not loved by all. Yet his mind slid these off and kept his self-image undented and unbreakable.

These three were the most important beings in Davis’s life in Ivar’s land. He would have liked to have put them in a rocket and fired them off toward the stars. That way, he would keep them from being resurrected somewhere along the River and thus avoid meeting them again. Except in his nightmares, of course.

Later, a few hours after dawn, Davis was walking up the hill to the tower after fishing in the River. He had caught nothing and so was not in a good mood. That was when he met the lunatic gotten up like a clown.

“Doctor Faustroll, we presume?”

The man, who spoke in a strangely even tone, held out an invisible calling card.

Davis glanced down at the rips of the man’s thumb and first finger as if they really were holding a card.

“Printed in the letters of fire,” the man said. “But you must have a heart on fire to see them. However, imaginary oblongs are best seen in an imaginary unlighted triangle. The darker the place, the brighter the print. As you may have noticed, it’s late morning, and the sunlight is quite bright. At least, they seem to be so.”

The fellow, like all other insane on Earth, must have been resurrected with all traces erased of any mental illness he had suffered there. But he was crazy again.

His forehead was painted with some kind of mathematical formula. The area around his eyes was painted yellow, and his nose was painted black. A green mustache was painted on his upper lip. His mouth was lipsticked bright-red. On his chest, a large question mark was tattooed in blue. A dried fish was suspended on a cord reaching to his belly. His long, thick, and very black hair was shaped into a sort of bird’s nest and held in place by dry gray mud.

And, when the man bent his neck forward, he exposed the upper part of an egg in the nest. Davis could easily see it because the man was shorter than he. It did not roll with the movement of the head. Thus, it must be fixed with fish glue to the top of his head. The wooden and painted pseudo-egg, Davis assumed, was supposed to represent that laid by a cuckoo. Appropriate enough. The stranger was certainly cuckoo.

A large green towel, the clown’s only garment, was draped around his hips. The gray cylinder of his grail was near his bare feet. Most people carried a fish-skin bag that held their worldly possessions. This fellow lacked that, and he was not even armed. But he did carry a bamboo fishing pole.

The man said, “While on Earth, we were King Ubu. Here, we are Doctor Faustroll. It’s a promotion that we richly deserve. Who knows? We may yet work our way to the top and become God or at least occupy His empty throne. At the moment, we are a pataphysician, D.Pa., at your service. That is not a conventional degree in one sense, but in all senses it is a high degree, including Fahrenheit and Kelvin.”

He started to put his imaginary card in an imaginary pocket of an imaginary coat.

Davis said, “I’ll take it,” and he held out his hand. Humoring the pataphysician, whatever that was, might prevent him from becoming violent.

He moved his hand close to his bare chest to suggest that he was pulling out a card from an inner pocket of his coat. He held it out.

“Andrew Paxton Davis, M.D., Oph.D., N.D., D.O., D.C.”

“Where’s the rest of the alphabet?” the man said, still keeping his voice even-toned. But he pretended to take the card, read it, and then put it inside his coat.

“I made soup of it,” Davis said. His blue eyes seemed to twinkle.

Doctor Faustroll’s dark-brown eyes seemed to reflect the twinkle, and he smiled. He said, “Now, if you’ll be kind enough to conduct us to the ruler of this place, whatever his or her or its names, we will present ourself or perhaps more than one of our selves and will apply for a position or positions.”

Davis was startled. He said, “What? You don’t know where you are? The guards did not stop you? How did you get by them?”

Doctor Faustroll indicated an invisible object by his right foot. “We carried ourself through the border in our suitcase. The guards did not see the case. It was midnight and cloudy. Also, they were drowsy.”

“It must be a very large case to hold you. All of you?”

“It’s very small, but there’s enough room for us and our conscience,” Doctor Faustroll said. “We take the conscience out of the case only when we intend to use it, which isn’t often. Or when it needs airing.”

He picked up his grail with one hand and his fishing pole in the other.

Davis hitched up the towel Velcroed to his waist and then grasped the handle of his own grail. His good humor had vanished. He was getting impatient with the fellow, and he did not want to be late for his appointment with the king.

Looking serious, he said, “If I were you, I’d get out of this place as quickly and quietly as possible. If you don’t, you’ll be working with those wretched people down there.”

He pointed at the riverbank. Faustroll turned around to stare at the swarm of sweating, straining, and shouting men and women. Tiny figures at this distance, they were striving to pull or to push a roughly cube-shaped and bungalow-sized block of granite on log rollers into the River. Its forward edge was on two wooden runners, heavily lubricated with fish fat, that dipped into the water.

“They’re building a pyramid beneath the surface of the River?” Faustroll said.

“Must you keep up this nonsense?” Davis said. “And why don’t you ask me why I’m giving you this advice to scoot out of here as fast as your feet can carry you? If, that is, you’re able to do so, which I doubt very much.”

“There is no such thing as nonsense,” Faustroll said. “In fact, what you call nonsense makes greater sense than what you call sense. Or, perhaps, there is no concrete abstraction that we term sense. But, if there is no sense, then there is also no nonsense. We have spoken. Selah.”

2

Davis sighed, and he said, “If you don’t mind risking slavery and perhaps torture, come along with me. Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.”

They had been standing at the edge of the grass-carpeted plain. Now they trudged up the slope of the foothills, Davis, a red-haired man of medium height and build but with abnormally large hands, led the way. The madman was slower because he was observing the whole milieu. Though the mountains towering straight up to 20,000 feet, the mile-wide foothills, and the mile-wide plains on either side of the mile-wide River were typical of most of the Rivervalley, the human activity was not. Many men and women were cutting away large blocks of stone in the vertical face of the mountains and were sliding the blocks down the foothills. The grass in the path of the very heavy weights was crushed, and the earth had sunk in. But the grass was so tough that it had not died our.

Near the lower edge of the foothill were extra oak log rollers for moving the blocks across the plain. Halfway along the plain, several crews were pulling on ropes tied around the blocks while gangs shoved against the rear of the blocks. When these got to the River’s edge, they were placed on runners and slid into the water.

As in most areas, the River was shallow for several yards beyond the banks, which were only a few inches above the River. Then the level bottom abruptly became a cliff. That plunged straight down at least a mile before reaching the cold and lightless bottom in which was a multitude of strange forms of fish.

Not only was the bank swarming with people, the River itself was jammed with boats small and large. And two gigantic wooden cranes on the bank were close to being completed.

The other side of the River showed a similar scene. Even as Faustroll watched, a huge stone block on that side slid on runners into the water and disappeared. A huge bubble formed above the roiling water and burst.

Suddenly, Faustroll caught up with Davis.

“We don’t leap to quick conclusions,” he said, “or even walk to them. But it seems to us that those workers are trying to fill the River. They’re not having much success at it.”

“Building a dam,” Davis said. He quickened his pace. “Ivar and that other fool across the River, King Arpad, plan to dam the stream with all those blocks of stone if it takes them a hundred years. Then they’ll be able to keep any boats from slipping through past the guards at night. They’d also tax the merchant boats going up and down the River past this point. Also, Ivar thinks that he’ll be able to cut through the mountains to the other side of the Valley. He’ll invade the state on the other side and rule it. And the tunnel will be a conduit for trade from the other side, Ivar also has this dream that the tunneling will reveal large deposits of iron.

“Pride goeth before a fall. He’ll suffer the fate of the arrogant Nimrod, who built the Tower of Babel thinking that he could conquer the hosts of Heaven.”

“How can they cut granite with flint tools?” Faustroll said.

“They can’t. But this area was blessed—or cursed—with underground deposits of copper and tin. The only such for thousands of miles either way from here, Ivar and his army of Vikings and Franks grabbed this land three years ago, and that’s why he has bronze tools and weapons.”

Going up the hill, they heard a loud explosion as rock was blasted with black gunpowder. When they stopped at the top, they heard a loud clanging. Beyond the shallow valley below them was a higher hill on top of which was a large round tower of granite blocks. Circling it at its base was a moat.

Below the two in the valley were the smithies, the molds, and great chunks of tin- and copper-bearing ore and the round bamboo huts with cone-shaped and leaf-thatched roofs in which the workers lived. The din, heat, and stench rolled over the two men in a nauseating wave.

“Men have brought Hell from Earth to this fair place,” Faustroll said, “They should be seeking spiritual progress, not material gain and conquest. That, we believe, is why we were placed in this purgatory. Of course, without the science of pataphysics, they won’t get far in their quest.

“On the other hand, left or right, we don’t know, it may all be accidental. But accidental doesn’t necessarily mean meaningless.”

Davis snorted his contempt for this remark.

“And just what is pataphysics?” he said.

“Our friend and fellow doctor, let us charge through the breach created by our conversation and assault the definition of pataphysics. It is an almost impossible task since it can’t be explained in nonpataphysical terms.

“Pataphysics is the science of the realm beyond metaphysics. It lies as far beyond the metaphysics as metaphysics lies beyond physics—in one direction or another, or perhaps still another.

“Pataphysics is the science of the particular, of laws governing exceptions. You follow us so far?”

Davis only rolled his eyes.

“Pataphysics, pay attention, this may be the heart of the matter, pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions. But only imaginary solutions are real.”

Davis grunted as if struck a soft blow in the stomach.

“For pataphysics, all things are equal,” Faustroll continued. “Pataphysics is, in aspect, imperturbable.

“And this, too, is the heart of the matter, one of them anyway. That is, all things are pataphysical. Yet few people practice pataphysics.”

“You expect me to understand that?” Davis said.

“Not at once. Perhaps never. Now, the last castle to be conquered. Beyond pataphysics lies nothing. It is the ultimate defense.”

“Which means?”

Faustroll ignored that question. He said, “It allows each man or woman to live his own life as an exception, proving no law but his own.”

“Anarchy? You’re an anarchist?”

“Look about you. This world was made for anarchy. We don’t need any government except self-government. Yet men won’t permit us to be anarchists—so far.”

“Tell this to Ivar,” Davis said. He laughed, then said, “I’d like to see his face when you tell him that.”

“Ah, but what about the brain behind that face? If he has a brain?”

“Oh, he has brains! But his motives, man, his motives!”

They descended the hill and then climbed to the top of the next hill, much steeper and higher than the previous ones. The tower drawbridge was down, but many soldiers were by its outer end. Most of them were playing board games or casting dice carved from fish bones. Some were watching wrestling matches and mock duels. Their conical bronze helmets were fitted with nose- and cheek-pieces. A few wore chain-mail armor made of bronze or interlocking wooden rings. All were armed with daggers and swords and many had spears. Their leather bronze-ringed shields were stacked close by them. The wooden racks by these held yew bows and quivers full of bronze-tipped arrows. Some spoke in Esperanto; others, in barbaric tongues.

The sentinels at each end of the drawbridge made no effort to stop the two. Davis said, “I’m the royal osteopath to King Ivar. Since you’re with me, they assume you’re not to be challenged.”

“I like to be challenged,” Faustroll said. “By the way, what is an osteopath?”

“You’ve never heard of osteopathy?” Davis said, raising his reddish eyebrows. “When did you die?”

“All Saints’ Day, though I’m no saint in the Catholic sense, in 1907. In Paris, which you may know is in France, who knows how many light-years away?”

Davis said only, “Ah!” That explained the man’s madness and decadence. He was French and probably had been a bohemian artist, one of those godless immoral wretches roistering in the dives of Montmartre or the Left Bank or wherever that kind of low life flourished. One of those Dadaists or Cubists or Surrealists, whatever they were called, whose crazed paintings, sculptures, and writings revealed that their makers were rotten with sin and syphilis.

There wasn’t any syphilis on this world, but there was plenty of sin.

“My question?” Faustroll said.

“Oh, yes! One, osteopathy is any form of bone disease. Two, it’s a system of treatment of ailments and is based on the valid belief that most ailments result from the pressure of displaced bones on nerves and so forth. Osteopaths relieve the traumatic pressure by applying corrective pressure. Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Actually, I seldom have to treat the king for anything serious, he’s in superb physical health. It could be said that he retains me—enslaves me would be a better term—as the royal masseur.”

Faustroll lifted his eyebrows and said, “Bitterness? Discontent? Your soul, it vomits bile?”

Davis did not reply. They had gone through the large foyer and up the stone steps of a narrow winding staircase to the second floor. After passing through a small room, they had stepped into a very large room, two stories high and very cool. Numerous wall slits gave enough light, but pine torches and fish-oil lamps made the room brighter. In the center, on a raised platform, was a long oaken table. Placed along it were high-backed oaken chairs carved with Norse symbols, gods, goddesses, serpents, trolls, monsters, and humans. Other smaller tables were set around the large one, and a huge fireplace was at the western wall. The walls were decorated with shields and weapons and many skulls.

A score or so of men and women were in a line leading to a large man seated in a chair. The oaken shaft of a huge bronze-headed ax leaned against the side of the chair.

“Petitioners and plaintiffs,” Davis said in a low voice to Faustroll. “And criminals.”

“Ah!” Faustroll murmured. “The Man With the Ax!” He added, “The title of one of our poems.”

He pointed at a beautiful bare-breasted blonde sitting in a high-backed chair a few feet from the king’s throne.

“She?”

“Queen Ann, the number-one mare in Ivar’s stable,” Davis said softly. “Don’t cross her. She has a hellish temper, the slut.”

Ivar the Boneless, son of the semilegendary Ragnar Hairybreeches, who was the premier superhero of the Viking Age, stood up from the chair then. He was at least six feet six inches tall. Since his only garment was a sea-blue towel, his massive arms, chest, legs, and flat corded belly were evident. Despite his bulk, his quick and graceful movements made him seem more pantherish than lionlike.

His only adornment was a wide bronze band around the upper right arm. It bore in alto-relief a valknut, three hunting horns meeting at the mouthpieces to form a triskelion, a three-legged figure. The valknut, the knot of the slain, was the sacred symbol of the greatest of the Norse gods, Odin.

His long, wavy, and red-bronze hair fell to his very broad shoulders. His face would have been called, in Davis’s time on Earth, “ruggedly handsome.” There was, however, something vulpine about it. Though Davis could not put a verbal finger on the lineaments that made him think of Brer Fox, he always envisioned that character when he saw the king.

Ivar was not the only general in the ninth century A.D. Danish invasion of England. Many native kings ruled there, but the king of Wessex would be the only one whose name would be familiar to twentieth-century English speakers. That was Alfred, whom later generations would call The Great, though his son and grandson were as deserving of that title. Though Alfred had saved Wessex from conquest, he had not kept the Danes from conquering much of the rest of England. Ivar had been the master strategist of the early Dane armies. Later, he had been co-king of Dublin with the great Norwegian conqueror, Olaf the White. But: Ivar’s dynasty had ruled Dublin for many generations.

As Davis and Faustroll approached the king, Davis said softly, “Don’t call him Boneless. Nobody does that to his lace without regretting it. You can call him Ivar, though, from what he’s told me, it was Yngwaer in the Norse of his time. Languages change; Yngwaer became Ivar. His nickname in Old Norse was The Merciless, but it was close in sound to a word meaning “boneless.” Later generations mistranslated the nickname. But don’t call him Merciless either.

“If you do, you’ll find out why he was called that.”

3

Doctor Davis was surprised.

He had been sure that the king would hustle the grotesquely painted and nonsense-talking Frenchman to the slave stockade at once. Instead, Ivar had told Davis to get quarters in the tower for Faustroll, good quarters, not some tiny and miserable room.

“He’s been touched by the gods and thus is sacred. And I find him interesting. See that good care is taken of him, and bring him to the feast tonight.”

Though this duty was properly the province of the king’s steward, Davis did not argue. Nor did he ask Ivar what he meant by referring to the gods. On Earth, Ivar had been a high priest of the Norse god Odin until a few years before he died. Then he had been baptized into the Christian faith. Probably, Davis thought, because the foxlike Dane figured that it couldn’t hurt to do that. Ivar was one to make use of all loopholes. But, after being resurrected along the River, the Viking had rejected both religions. However, he was still influenced by both, though far more by his lifelong faith.

Ivar gave his command in his native language, instead of Esperanto. Ivar referred to it as “that monotonously regular, grating, and unsubtle tongue.” Davis had learned Old Norse well enough to get by. Two-thirds of its speakers in the kingdom came from Dublin, where Ivar had been king of the Viking stronghold when he had died in 873. But most of these were half-Irish, equally fluent in the Germanic Norse and Keltic Gaelic. Davis could speak the latter, though not as well as he could Norse.

Since the Franks made up one-fourth of the population of Ivar’s kingdom, having been resurrected in the same area as the Dane, Davis had some knowledge of that tongue. The Franks came from the time of Chlodowech (died A.D. 511 in Paris), known to later generations as Clovis I. He had been king of the western, or Salian, Franks and conqueror of the northern part of the Roman province of Gaul.

Andrew Davis and Ivar’s queen, Ann Pullen, were the only English speakers, except for some slaves, in the kingdom. Davis only talked to her when he could not avoid it. That was not often, because she liked him to give her frequent treatments, during which she did her best to upset him with detailed stories of her many sexual encounters and perversions. And she brazenly insisted that he massage her breasts. Davis had refused to do this and had been backed by Ivar, who seemed amused by the situation.

Ann Pullen had never told Davis that she was aware that he disliked her intensely. Both, however, knew well how each felt about the other. The only barrier keeping her from making him a quarry slave was Ivar. He was fond, though slightly contemptuous, of Davis. On the other hand, he respected the American for his knowledge, especially his medical lore, and he loved to hear Davis’s stories of the wonders of his time, the steam iron horses and sailless ships, the telegraph and radio, the automobile, the airplane, the vast fortunes made by American robber barons, and the fantastic plumbing.

What Davis did not tell Ivar was what the late-twentieth century doctors he had met had told him—to his chagrin. That was that much of his treatment of his patients on Earth had been based on false medical information. However, Davis was still convinced that his neuropathic treatments, which involved no drugs, had enormously benefited his patients. Certainly, their recovery rate had been higher than the rate of those who went to conventional M.D.’s. On the other hand, the physicians had admitted that, in the field of psychiatry, the recovery rate of the mentally disturbed patients of African witch doctors was the same as that of psychiatrists’ patients. That admission, he thought, either down-valued twentieth-century medicine or up-valued witch doctors.

A few of his informants had admitted that a large number of physically sick people recovered without the help of medical doctors or would have done so without such help.

He explained this to the painted madman on the way to the room, though he was irked because he felt compelled to justify himself. Faustroll did not seem very interested. He only muttered, “Quacks. All quacks. We pataphysicians are the only true healers.”

“I still don’t know what a pataphysician is,” Davis said.

“No verbal explanation is needed. Just observe us, translate our physical motion and verbal expressions into the light of truth, vectors of four-dimensional rotations into photons of veracity.”

“Man, you must have a reasonable basis for your theory, and you should be able to express it in clear and logical terms!”

“Red is your face, yet cool is the room.”

Davis lifted his hands high above his head. “I give up! I don’t know why I pay any attention to what you say! I should know better! Yet…”

“Yet you apprehend, however dimly, that truth flows from us. You do not want to acknowledge that, but you can’t help it. That’s good. Most of the hairless bipedal apes don’t have an inkling, don’t respond at all. They’re like cockroaches who have lost their antennae and, therefore, can’t feel anything until they ram their chitinous heads into the wall. But the shock of the impact numbs even more the feeble organ with which they assumedly think.”

Faustroll waved his bamboo fishing pole at Davis, forcing him to step back to keep from being hit on the nose by the bone hook.

“I go now to probe the major liquid body for those who breathe through gills.”

Faustroll left the room. Davis muttered, “I hope it’s a long time before I see you again.”

But Faustroll was like a bad thought that can’t be kept out of the mind. Two seconds later, he popped back into the room.

“We don’t know what the royal osteopath’s history on Earth was,” Faustroll said, “or what your quest, your shining grail, was. Our permanent grail is The Truth. But the temporary one, and it may turn out to be that the permanent (if, truly, anything is permanent) grail or desideratum or golden apple is the answer to the question: Who resurrected us, placed us here, and why? Pardon. Nor a question but questions. Of course, the answer may be that it doesn’t matter at all. Even so, we would like to know.”

“And just how will you be able to get answers to those questions here when you couldn’t get them on Earth?”

“Perhaps the beings who are responsible for the Riverworld also knew the answers we so desperately sought on Earth. We are convinced that these beings are of flesh and blood, though the flesh may not be protein and the blood may lack hemoglobin. Unlike God, who, if it does exist, is a spirit and thus lacks organs to make sound waves, though It seems to be quite capable of making thunder and lightning and catastrophes and thus should be able to form its own temporary oral parts for talking, these beings must have mouths and tongues and teeth and hands of a sort. Therefore, they can tell us what we wish to know. If we can find them. If they wish to reveal themselves.

“It’s our theory, and we’ve never theorized invalidly, that the River in its twistings and windings forms a colossal hieroglyph. Or ideogram. Thus, if we can follow the entirely of the River and map it, we will have before us that hieroglyph or ideogram. Unlike the ancient Mayan or Egyptian hieroglyphs, it will be instantly understandable. Revelation will come with the light of comprehension, not with the falling of the stars and the moon turning blood-red and the planet cracking in half and the coming of the Beast whose number is 666 and all those delicious images evoked by St. John the Divine.”

Davis spoke more hotly than he had intended. “Nonsense! In our first life, faith and faith alone had the answers, faith in the divine work as recorded in the Bible. As on Earth, so here.”

“But there is no Holy Scripture here.”

“In our minds!” Davis said loudly. “It’s recorded here!” And he tapped a fingerpoint against his temple.

“As you know, no afterlife depicted in any religion faintly resembles this one. However, we do not argue. We state the truth and move on, leaving the truth behind us yet also taking it with us. But truth is arrived at when one ceases thinking. That’s hard to do, we admit. Yet, if we can think about abandoning thought, we will be able to quit thinking. Thus, with that barrier to mental osmosis removed, the molecules of truth penetrate the diaphragm.”

“Lunacy! Sheer lunacy! And blasphemy!”

Faustroll went through the doorway. Over his shoulder, he said, “We go, yet that is an illusion. The memory of this event remains in your mind. Thus, we are still here; we have not left.”

Andrew Davis sighed. He sure had a lot to put up with. Why didn’t he just take French leave and continue his quest up-River? Why didn’t he? He had compelling reasons not to. One, if he were caught sneaking our of Ivar’s domain, he’d be a slave and probably flogged. Two, if he did get out of the kingdom’s boundaries, he still would not be safe from recapture for several days. The kingdoms for a fifty-mile stretch up the River had an agreement to return slaves to the states from which they had run away. Three, he could take the guaranteed foolproof way of escape. But, to do that, he’d have to kill himself. Then he’d be resurrected far away, but the thought of killing himself was hard to contemplate.

Bur, though his mind knew that he’d live again, his body didn’t. His cells fiercely resisted the idea of suicide; they insisted on survival. Furthermore, he loathed the idea of suicide, though it was not rationally based. As a Christian, he would sin if he killed himself. Was it still a sin on the Riverworld? He doubted that very much. But his lifelong conditioning against it made him act as if it were.

Also, if he did do away with himself, he had a fifty-fifty chance of being translated downstream instead of upstream. If that happened he’d have to travel past territory he’d already covered. And he could be captured and enslaved again by any of hundreds of states before he even got to Ivar’s country.

If he awoke far up the River, he might have the goal of his quest behind him. Not until he had come to the end of the River would he know that he had skipped it. Then he would have to retrace his route.

What if the story of the woman who gave birth in the Valley was false? No, he would not consider that. He had not only faith but logic behind his belief. This world was a final test for those who believed in Jesus as their savior. Pass this test, and the next stage would be the true paradise. Or the true Hell.

The Church of the Second Chance had some false doctrines, and it was another trap set by Satan. But the Devil was subtle enough to have planted some true doctrines among the false ones. The Second Chancers did not err in claiming that this world did offer all souls another opportunity to wash off their spiritual filth. What that church overlooked or deliberately ignored was that it also gave Satan a second chance to grab those who had eluded his clutches on Earth.

He looked through the wide, arched, and glassless window. Prom his height, he could see the hills and the plain and the River and the plain, hills, and mountains on the opposite bank. Arpad (died A.D. 907) ruled that twelve-mile-long area. He was the chief of the seven Mongolian tribes, called Magyar, who had left the Don River circa A.D. 889 in what would be Russia and migrated westward to the Pannonian Plains. This was the area that would become Hungary. Arpad had been resurrected among a population that was partly ancient Akkadian, partly Old Stone Age southeast Asiatics, and ten percent of miscellaneous peoples. Though he was a Magyar, a tiny minority in this area, he had became king. That testified to his force of personality and to his ruthless methods.

Arpad was Ivar’s ally and also a partner in the dam project. His slaves worked harder and longer and were treated much more harshly than Ivar’s. The Norsemen was less severe and more generous with his slaves. He did not want to push them to the point of revolt or of suicide. Arpad’s slaves had rebelled twice, and the number of suicides among them was far higher than among Ivar’s.

Nor did Ivar trust Arpad. That was to be expected. Ivar trusted no one and had good reason not to rely on the Magyar. His spies had told him that Arpad had boasted, when drunk, which was often, that he would kill Ivar when the dam was finished.

If the Dane planned to jump the gun and slay Arpad first, he had not said so. Though he drank deeply at times, he reined in his tongue. At least, he did so concerning matters of state.

Davis was convinced that one of the two kings was nor going to wait for the dam to be completed. Sometime, probably during the next two years, one was going to attack the other. Davis, on the principle that the lesser of two evils was to be preferred, hoped that Ivar would win. Ideally, each would knock the other off. Whichever happened, Davis was going to try to flee the area during the confusion of the battle.

4

He must have been looking through the window longer than he had thought. Faustroll had left the tower and was walking downhill, the fishing pole on his shoulder. And, some paces behind him, was the inevitable spy, a woman named Groa. She, too, carried a fishing pole, and, as Davis watched, she called to the Frenchman. He stopped, and they began talking. A moment later, they were side by side and headed for the River.

Groa was a redheaded beauty, daughter of a ninth-century Norwegian Viking, Thorsteinn the Red, son of Olaf the White and that extraordinary woman, Aud the Deep-Minded. Thorsteinn had been killed in a battle after conquering the northern part of Scotland. It was this event that caused Aud to migrate to Iceland and become ancestress of most Icelanders of the twentieth century.

No doubt, Thorsteinn was somewhere on the River and battling some foe while trying to get power over the foe or else battling to keep a toe from getting power over him. Power had been the main fuel of humankind on Earth. As on Earth, so here. So far. Until the Savior—Savioress?—grew up and worked God’s will on His creations.

Groa must have been ordered by Ivar to attach herself to Faustroll. She was to find out if his story was true. Though the king had seemed to accept Faustroll at face value, he would wonder if the fellow had been sent by Arpad to assassinate him. Groa would test him, probe him, and go so far as to lie with him if it was necessary. Perhaps, even if it was not necessary. She was a lusty woman. Then she’d report to Ivar later.

Davis sighed. What a life the afterlife was! Why couldn’t everybody live in peace and trust? If they could not all love each other, they could at least be tolerant.

They could not do this for the same reason they had not done so on Earth. It was the nature of Homo Sapiens. Of most of men and women, anyway. But…their situation was so different here. It was set up so that none need work hard for food and housing and other necessities. If people could all be pacifists and honest and compassionate, they would need no government by others. The Frenchman was right, though Davis hated admitting it even to himself. Given a new type of people, anarchy could be workable here.

Obviously, Whoever had placed humanity here had designed the Rivervalley so that humans, not having to spend so much time working, had time to advance themselves spiritually. But only those who understood this would advance themselves, change themselves for the better, and go on to whatever stage the Whoevers had built for them.

The Whoevers, however, had to be God. For Davis, there was no doubt or mystery about the identity of the creator of this place. The big mystery was why He had prepared a halfway house for the once-dead instead of the heavenly mansion the Bible had described.

He admitted to himself that the Bible had been very vague about the specifics of the abode of the saved, the saints. It had been much more concrete about the abode of the damned.

He could only accept that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew what he was doing.

Why, as so many complained, had not God given them some reassurance? A sign? A beacon toward which they could go as a moth could fly to the flame? Though that was not the best of comparisons, now he considered it. Anyway, where was the sign, the beacon, the writing in the sky?

Davis knew. It was the birth of a baby to a virgin. In a world where men and women were sterile, one woman had been the exception. She had been impregnated with the Holy Spirit, and she had conceived. God had performed a miracle. The infant, so the story went, was female. At first, hearing this, Davis had been shocked. But, thinking about it calmly and logically, trying to overcome his preconceptions, he had concluded that he should not be upset, not kick against the pricks. On Earth, the Savior had been a male. Here, the Savior was a female. Why not?

God was fair-minded, and who was he to question the Divine Being?

“Davis!” a harsh voice said behind him. He jumped and whirled, his heart beating hard. Standing in the doorway was Sharkko the Shyster, the ever-egregious slave of whom he had dreamed last night.

“Hustle your ass, Davis! The Great Whore of Babylon wants you for a treatment! Right now!”

“I’ll tell the queen what you said about her,” Davis said. He did not intend to do so, but he wanted to see the loathsome fellow turn pale. Which he did.

“Ah, she won’t believe you,” the slave said. “She hates your guts. She’d take my word against yours any time. Anyway, I doubt she’d be insulted. She’d think it was a compliment.”

“If it wasn’t against my nature, I’d boot you in the rear,” Davis said.

The slave, his color now restored, snorted. He turned and limped down the hall. Davis left the room. He watched the man as he walked behind him. Though the man had been resurrected in his twenty-five-year-old body, his vision restored to 20/20, he was now a human wreck. His right leg had been broken in several places and reset wrong. His nose had not been reset after the bridge had been shattered. He could not breathe properly because of his nose and some ribs that had also lacked proper resetting. One eye had been knocked out and was not yet fully regrown. His face twisted and leered with a tic.

All of this had resulted from a beating by slaves whose overseer he had been. Unable any longer to endure his bullyings, kicks, and other unjust treatment, they had worked on him late one night and thus worked our their hatred of him. His hut had been too dark for him to identify his attackers, though he, and everybody else, knew his men were the malefactors. If you could fairly call them malefactors. Most people thought the deed was justified self-defense.

Ivar thought so, too, after hearing testimony. He decided that Sharkko had broken the rules laid down by the king. These were mainly for the sake of efficiency, not of humanitarianism. But they had been disregarded, and Sharkko’s back was bloody from forty lashes with a fish-hide whip. Each of the overseer’s slaves had administered a stroke. Ivar, witnessing this, had been highly amused.

Sharkko had then been degraded to a quarry slave. But his injuries had kept him from doing well at the hard work, and he had been made a tower slave after six months. Ivar used him for, among other things, a human bench when he wished to sit down where a chair was unavailable.

The Shyster had been so named by a Terrestrial client who was now a citizen of Ivar’s kingdom. From what the client said, he had been cheated by Sharkko and had been unable to find justice in the court. The ex-client was among those who had beaten Sharkko.

The Shyster had been indiscreet enough to tell some cronies that he meant to revenge himself on all who had wronged him. Though Davis did not think that he had earned Sharkko’s hatred, he was among those named for some terrible retribution. The Shyster had not been so full of braggadocio that he had said anything about revenging himself on Ivar. He knew what would happen to him if the king heard about such a threat.

Sharkko, hunched over, dragging one foot and mumbling to himself, continued on down the hall. Sharkko was a veritable Caliban, Davis thought, as he followed the monster down the hall to a steep and spiraling staircase.

He felt unusually uneasy. It seemed to him that events were coming to a head, a big, green, and pus-filled boil on the face of this kingdom. The coming conflict between Arpad and Ivar, the arrival of the grotesque and disquieting Faustroll, the increasing tension between himself and the queen, and Sharkko’s hatred added up to a situation that could pop open—like a boil—at any time. He could feel it. Though he could not logically predict that the eruption would occur soon, he sensed it.

Or, perhaps, this was caused by his internal conflicts. He himself was ready to break open and out, much as he wanted to wait until the right moment for flight.

The virgin mother and the baby were waiting for him up the River. They did not know it, of course. But he was to play a strong part in the events that would bring on the revelation of the second Savior to this world. Though it might be egotistic to think so, he was sure of it.

Me entered the large room where Queen Ann waited for him. She was on the osteopathic table that he had built. But, spread out naked there, she looked as if she were waiting for a lover. Her two attendants giggled when they saw him. They were blacks who had been slaves of an early-twentieth-century Arabian family on Earth. They had been free for only one year after their resurrection. Now they were slaves again.

They should be sympathizing with his plight. Instead, they were amused.

5

Massage my inner thigh muscles,” Ann said. “They’re very tight.”

She kept talking softly while laughing loudly between sentences. Her remarkably bright and leaf-green eyes never left his face. Though he kept it expressionless, he longed to snarl at her, spit in her face, and then vomit on her. The Jezebel! The Scarlet Women! The Great Whore of Babylon!

“When you’re on your back, rotating your pelvis, your legs up in the air for a long time, you put a strain on those muscles,” she said. “It’s almost an equal strain when I’m on top. Sometimes I have to rest between up-and-downs and hip gyrations. But then I squeeze down on him with my sphincter muscle and so don’t really get a rest. It is the sphincter, isn’t it, Doctor?”

He knew the human body so well he did not have to see what he was doing. His head turned away from her, his eyes half closed, he kneaded her flesh. How soft her skin was! What a muscle tone! Sometimes, when he was in that drowsy twilight state between dreaming and awakening, he knew his fingers were working on flesh. Not hers, of course. The reflex was caused by a digital memory, as it were, of the thousands of bodies he had treated while on Earth.

“Don’t get too close to the king’s personal property,” she said. “You touch it, and he might cut your hands off.”

If he did that, Davis thought, scores of the males in the kingdom would be without hands.

“You’re not much of a man,” she said. “A real man’s tallywhacker would be lifting that towel right off his waist, rip the Velcro apart.”

The slave girls giggled though they did not understand English. But they had heard similar phrases in Esperanto for a long time. They knew that she was saying something taunting and demeaning.

Davis envisioned closing his hands around the queen’s throat. It wouldn’t take long.

Then he prayed. Oh, Lord! Save me from such sinful thoughts!

“Perhaps,” he said, “I should massage your knees, too? They seem to be rather stiff.”

She frowned and stared hard at him. The she smiled and laughed.

“Oh! You’re suggesting…? Yes, do. I have spent a certain amount of rime on my knees. But they’re on pillows, so it’s not so bad. However…”

Instead of flying into a rage, as he had expected, she was amused. She also looked somewhat triumphant, as if goading him into saying something insulting to her, even an innuendo, was a victory. However, she probably did not regard his comments as an insult. The bitch was more likely to think he had complimented her.

What did he care what she thought? To be honest with himself, he cared a lot. Unless she was stopped by Ivar, she could make his life unbearable, torture him, do anything with or to him. Davis had not heard any stories about her being cruel, except for her sexual teasing, which could not be ranked with torture or killing. Rut he had no guarantee that she might not become so. Especially in her dealings with him.

Ann Pullen was a fellow American, though a nauseating example as far as he was concerned. She had been born about 1632 in Maryland. Her family had been Quakers, but when it converted to Episcopalianism, she had gone to hell. Those were her own words. She had been married four times to tobacco plantation owners in Virginia and Maryland. She had survived them all.

No wonder, Davis thought. She’d wear any man out, if nor from her incessant sexual demands and infidelity, then from her TNT temper and willfulness.

Mostly, she had lived in Westmoreland County, Virginia, which was between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. In her day, the area had many thick forests and large swamps but no roads. Travel was mainly by river or creek. Nor did the plantations resemble those of a later era. There were no beautiful many-pillared mansions and broad well-kept lawns. The owners’ houses were modest, the stables were likely to be made of logs, and chickens and hogs roamed the yards. Pig stealing was common even among the plantation owners. Cash was scarce, the chief currency was tobacco. The people were unusually hot-tempered and litigious, though no one knew why.

By her own testimony, Ann had once been sentenced to ten lashes on her bare shoulders because of her libelous and scandalous speeches against a Mister Presley. She also had once attacked her sister-in-law with bare hands.

It had been recorded in the Order Book of the county in A.D. 1677 that Ann Pullen had encouraged her daughter Jane to become “the most remarkable and notorious whore in the province of Virginie.” But Davis had to admit that, in the strict sense of the word, she was not a whore. She fornicated because she liked to do so and never took money.

The Order Book also said that Jane’s mother. Ann Pullen, had debauched her own daughter by encouragement to commit adultery and break the whole estate of matrimony.

The daughter’s husband, Morgan Jones, had enjoined more than once (as the court had recorded) any man from entertaining or having any manner of dealing with Jane or transporting her out of the county or giving her passage over any river or creek.

It was also recorded that Ann Pullen had declared that Jane had no husband at that time, Jones having died, and she (Ann) did not know why her daughter should not take the pleasure of this world as well as any other woman. Also, Ann did not care who the father of her daughter’s child was, provided one William Elmes would take her to England, as he had promised.

Ann was a feminist ahead of her time, a lone pioneer in the movement in the days when it was dangerous to be such. She had also been a libertine, though Davis thought that automatically went with the desire for female equality.

However, such Terrestrial attitudes should not apply on the Riverworld. Even he admitted that, though insisting that there were limits to that viewpoint. Ann had certainly overstepped them. With seven-league boots.

Ivar’s kingdom was basically Old Norse. Since women (though not female slaves) in the pre-Christian era had had many more rights than those in the Christian countries, they had even more rights on the Riverworld. In this state, anyway. Theoretically, Ann could divorce Ivar with a simple statement that she wished it, and she could take her property with her. Not half of the kingdom’s, that is, the kings. Her grail, her towels, her artifacts, and her slaves were hers.

But divorce didn’t seem likely. Ivar was greatly amused by her, even when she became angry at him, and he reveled in her uninhibited and many-talented lovemaking. He knew that she had lovers, bur he didn’t seem to care. He doubted that she would plot with a lover to assassinate him. She knew well on which side her vagina was buttered.

So Andrew Davis had to suffer the indignities she piled on him. Meanwhile, he dreamed of the divinely begotten infant far up the River. He also tried to think of foolproof ways to escape this land. And how to prevent capture by the other slave-holding states between him and his goal.

Doing his Christian duty, he had tried to pray for Ann. Bur he sounded so insincere to himself that he knew God would ignore his requests that she be forgiven and be made to see the Light.

When her treatment was over, he left the chamber as he always did. He was angry, frustrated, and sweating, his stomach was boiling, and his hands were shaking.

Oh, Lord, how long must I endure this? Do not, I pray You, continue to subject me to evil and the temptation to curse You as you did Job!

At high noon, the grailstone in the tower courtyard erupted in lightning and thunder. He left the room in which he had been waiting until this happened. To stand in the yard near the stone was to be deafened. Though his grail was full of excellent food and drink, he had no appetite. What he did not eat, he shared with his cronies at the table in the big hall. The cup of brandy and the pack of mingled tobacco and marijuana cigarettes he put aside. He could have kept half of the booze and the coffin nails for himself, but he would give them all to Eysteinn the Chatterer, Ivar’s chief tax and tribute collector.

Thus, he paid his taxes at a double rate. That enabled him halfway through the month to pour the daily quota of the liquor down a drain and to shred the cigarettes. He did this secretly because many would have been outraged at this waste. They would report to the king, who would confiscate the extra “goodies” and would punish him.

He had never, during his two lives, tasted any alcohol or smoked. In tact, on Earth, he had not even drunk ice water because of its unhealthy effects. He loathed having to contribute to the king and his vices. But, if he didn’t, he would suffer the cat-o’-nine-tails or become a quarry slave. Or both.

That evening, shortly after sunset, he went to the great hall built near the bank. This was where Ivar preferred to eat supper, to drink, and to roister among his cronies and his toadies. (Davis admitted that he was one of the latter. But he had no choice.) The hall was built in the old Viking style, a single huge room with Ivar’s table on a platform and at the head of the floor-level tables. The platform had not been used on Earth among the semi-democratic Vikings. It was an innovation adopted by Ivar. The support poles were carved with the heads of humans, gods, beasts, and symbols from the old religion. Among these and often repeated were gold-mining dwarfs, dragons, the Earth-encircling Midgard serpent, stags, bears, valknuts, frost giants, Thor and his hammer, one-eyed Odin with, sometimes, his ravens Hugin and Munin on his shoulders, right-handed swastikas, runic phrases, and Skidbladnir, the magical ship that could be folded and carried in a bag after use.

Tonight, as usual, the men and women drank too much, the talk was fast and furious, boasting and bombast thundered in the hall, people quarreled and sometimes fought. Ivar had forbidden duels to the death because he had lost too many good warriors to them. But the belligerents could go at each other with fists and feet, and the king did not frown on gouging of eyes, crushing of testicles, ripping off of ears, and hiring off of noses, Though it took three months, the eyes, noses, and ears would grow again, and the testicles would repair themselves.

Davis had grown used to these nightly gatherings, but he did not tike them. Violence still upset him, and the air stank of tobacco and marijuana smoke and beer and liquor fumes. Also, the sickening odor of farts, followed by loud laughter and thigh-slapping, drifted to him now and then. Queen Ann, who was sitting on Ivar’s left, was one of the loudest in her laughter when this form of primitive humor erupted. Tonight she wore a towel around her neck, the ends of which covered her breasts. But she was rather careless about keeping them in place.

Mingled with the other smells was that of the fish caught in the river and fried in one end of the hall.

Davis sat at the king’s table because he was the royal osteopath. He would have preferred a table as far away as it could be from this one. That would give him a chance to sneak away after all were too drunk to notice him. Tonight, however, he was interested in watching and occasionally overhearing the conversation of Doctor Faustroll and Ivar the Boneless. The Frenchman sat immediately to the king’s right, the most favored chair at the table. He had brought an amazing amount of fish to the feast, far more than any other anglers. Once, during a lessening of the uproar, Davis heard Ivar ask Faustroll about his luck.

“It’s not luck,” Faustroll lead said. “It’s experience and skill. Plus an inborn knack. We survived mainly on fish we caught in the Seine when we lived in Paris.”

6

Paris,” Ivar said. “I was with my father, Ragnar, son of Sigurd Hring, when we Danes sailed up the Seine in March, the Franks not expecting Vikings that early in the year. A.D. 845, I’ve been told. The Frankish ruler, Charles the Bald, split his army into two. I advised my father to attack the smaller force, which we did. We slaughtered them except for one hundred and eleven prisoners. These my father hanged all at once as a sacrifice to Odin on an island in the Seine while the other Frankish army watched us. They must have filled their drawers from horror.

“We went on up to Paris, a much smaller city then than the vast city others have told me about. On Easter Sunday, the Christian’s most holy day, we stormed and plundered Paris and killed many worshipers of the Savior. Odin was good to us.”

Ivar smiled to match the sarcastic tone of his voice. He did not believe in the gods, pagan or Christian. But Davis, watching him closely, saw the expression on his face and the set of his eyes. They could be showing nostalgia or, perhaps, some unfathomable longing. Davis had seen this expression a score of times before now. Could the ruthless and crafty hungerer for power be longing for something other than he now had? Did he, too, desire to escape this place and its responsibilities and ever-present danger of assassination? Did he, like Davis and Faustroll, have goals that many might think idealistic or romantic? Did he want to shed the restrictions of his situation and be free? After all, a powerful ruler was as much a prisoner as a slave.

“The One-Eyed One blessed us,” Ivar said, “though it may just have been coincidence that Charles the Bald was having serious trouble with other Frankish states and with his ambitious brothers. Instead of trying to bar us from going back down the Seine, he paid us seven thousand pounds of silver to leave his kingdom. Which we did, though we did not promise not to come back again later.”

Faustroll had so far not interrupted the king, though disgust sometimes flitted across his face. He drank swiftly and deeply, and his cup was never empty. The slave behind him saw to that. He also gave the Frenchman cigarettes after he had smoked up his own supply. The slave was Sharkko, apparently delegated by the king to serve Faustroll tonight. Sharkko was scowling, and, now and then, his lips moved. His words were drowned out by the din, and a good thing, too, Davis thought. Davis could lip-read both English and Esperanto. If Ivar knew what Sharkko was saying, he would have him Hogged and then put into the latrine-cleaning gang.

Finally, he banged his wooden cup down, causing those around him, including Ivar, to look startled.

“Your Majesty will pardon us,” he said loudly. “But you are still as you were on Earth. You have not progressed one inch spiritually; you are the same bloody barbarous pirate, plenty of offense meant, as the old hypocrite who died in Dublin. But we do not give up hope for you. We know that philosophy in its practical form of pataphysics is the gate to the Truth for you. And, though you at first seem to be a simple savage, we know that you are much more. Our brief conversation in the hall convinced us of that.”

Many at the table, including Davis, froze, though they rolled their eyeballs at each other and then gazed at Ivar. Davis expected him to seize the war ax always by his side and lop off Faustroll’s head. But the Viking’s skin did not redden, and he merely said. “We will talk with you later about this philosophy, which we hope will contain more wisdom and less nonsense than that of the Irish priests, the men in women’s skirts.”

His “we,” Davis knew, was a mimicking and mocking of Faustroll.

Ivar rose then, and silence followed three strokes on a huge bronze gong.

Ivar spoke loudly, his bass voice carrying to all corners of the huge hall.

“The feast is over! We’re all going to bed early tonight, though I suppose many of you will not go to sleep until you can no longer get it up!”

The crowd had murmured with surprise and disappointment, but that was followed by laughter at the king’s joke. Davis grimaced with disgust, Ann, seeing his expression, smiled broadly.

“We haven’t run out of food or drink,” Ivar said. “that’s not why I’m cutting this short. But it occurred to me a little while ago that tomorrow is the third anniversary of the founding of my kingdom. That was the day when I, a slave of the foul Scots tyrant, Eochaid the Poisonous, rose in revolt with Arpad, also a slave, and with two hundred slaves, most of whom now sit in honored places in this hall. We silently strangled the guards around Eochaid’s hall. He and his bodyguards were all sleeping off their drunkenness, safe, they supposed, in their thick-walled hall on a high mound of earth. We burned the log building down and slaughtered those who managed to get out of the fire. All except Eochaid, whom we captured.

“The next day, I gave him the death of the blood eagle as I did on Earth to King Aella of York and King Edmund of East Anglia and some of my other foes whom I sacrificed to Odin.”

Davis shuddered. Though he had never seen this singular method of execution, he had heard about it many times. The victim was placed facedown, his spine was cut, and his lungs were pulled our and laid on his back, forming the rough shape of an eagle with outspread wings.

“I have decided that we will go to bed early and get up early tomorrow. The slaves will be given the day off and given plenty of food and drink. Everybody will celebrate. We will all work to collect much fish, and that evening we will start the festivities. There will be games and archery and spear-casting contests and wrestling, and those who have grudges may fight to the death with then enemies if they so wish.”

At this, the crowd shouted and screamed.

Ivar lifted his hands for silence, then said, “Go to bed! Tomorrow we enjoy ourselves while we thank whatever gods made this world that we are free of Eochaid’s harsh rule and are free men!”

The crowd cheered again and then streamed out of the hall. Davis, the handle of his grail in one hand, was heading for the tower and halfway up the first hill when the even-toned voice of Faustroll rose behind him. “Wait for me! We’ll walk the rest of the way with you!”

Davis stopped. Presently, the Frenchman, in no hurry, caught up with him. Heavy fumes of whiskey mixed with fish enveloped him, and his words were somewhat slurred. “Mon ami? Mia amico! That which treads on day’s heels is beautiful, is it not. The beings that burn in the nocturnal bowl above in their un-Earth patterns, how inspiring! Wise above the wisdom of men, they will have nothing to do with us. But they are generous with their splendor.”

“Uhmm,” Davis said.

“A most observant remark. Tell me, my friend, what do you think is the real reason behind Ivar’s ending the feast?”

“What?”

“I do not trust the goat who leads the woolly ones. Statesmen and politicians, generals and admirals, they seldom reveal their real intentions. The Boneless is up to something his enemies won’t like. Nor will his people.”

“You’re very cynical,” Davis said. He looked across the River. The plains and the hills in Arpad’s kingdom were dark except for the scattered fires of sentinels. There were also torches on the tops of the bamboo signal towers a half-mile apart and forming a ten-mile-long line.

“Cynical? A synonym for experience. And for one whose eyes have long been open and whose nose is as keen in detecting corruption as the nose of the hairy one some claim is man’s best friend. Remember, our leader comes from the land where something is rotten, to paraphrase the Bard of Avon.”

They had resumed walking. Davis said, “What did Ivar say to make you suspicious?”

“Nothing and everything. We do not accept anything at face value. The meaning of words and of facial expressions, the hardness of objects, the permanence of the universe, that fire will always burn skin, that a certain cause always leads to a certain result, that what goes up must come down. It isn’t always necessarily so.”

He swung the cylinder of his grail around to indicate everything.

Davis did not feel like talking about metaphysics or, in fact, anything. Especially not with this fellow, who made no sense. But he accepted Faustroll’s invitation to sit down in the tower courtyard and converse for a while. Perhaps he might find out just why Faustroll suspected that Ivar was up to something. Not that it made any difference. What could he do about anything here?

There was a table near a row of torches in wall brackets. They sat down. The Frenchman opened his grail and drew out a metal cup half filled with whiskey. Davis looked at the formula painted on the man‘s forehead. He had attended lectures on calculus at Rush Medical College, and he was familiar with the markings. But, unless you knew the referents of the symbols, you could never know what they meant or how to use them. He read: - 0 - a - + a + 0 =

Faustroll said, “The significance of the formula? God is the tangential point between zero and infinity.”

“Which means?”

Faustroll spoke as if he had memorized this lecture. “God is, by definition, without dimension, but we must be permitted…”

“Is this going to be long?” Davis said.

“Too long for tonight and perhaps for eternity. Besides, we are rather drunk. We can visualize all clearly, but our body is weary and our mind not running on all eight cylinders.”

Davis rose, saying, “Tomorrow, then. I’m tired, too.”

“Yes, you can understand better our thesis if we have a pen and a piece of paper on which to lay it out.”

Davis said good night, leaving the Frenchman sitting at the table and staring into the dark whiskey as if it were a crystal ball displaying his future. He made his way up to his tiny room. It was not until he was at its door that he remembered how astray his conversation with the Frenchman had gone. Faustroll had not told him what he had concluded from his suspicions about Ivar.

He shrugged. Tomorrow he would find out. If, that is, the crazy fellow’s tongue did not wander off again. To him, a straight line was not the shortest path between two points. Indeed, he might deny the entire validity of Euclidean geometry.

Davis also had an uneasy feeling that Faustroll’s near-psychopathic behavior hid a very keen mind and a knowledge of science, mathematics, and literature far exceeding his own. He could not be dismissed as just another loony.

Davis pushed in the wooden-hinged and lockless door. He looked out through the glassless opening into the darkness lit only by the star-crowded sky. But that light was equal to or surpassed that of Earth’s full moon. At first, it seemed peaceful. Everybody except the sentinels had gone to bed. Then he saw the shadows moving in the valley below the tower. As his eyes became more adjusted to the pale light, he saw that a large body of men was in it.

His heart suddenly bear hard. Invaders? No. Now he could see Ivar the Boneless, clad in a conical bronze helmet and a long shirt of mail and carrying a war ax, walking down the hill toward the mass of men. Behind him came his bodyguard and counselors. They, too, were armored and armed. Each wore two scabbards encasing bronze swords, and they carried spears or battle-axes. Some also bore bundles of pine torches or sacks. The containers would, he knew at once, hold gunpowder bombs.

Faustroll had been right. There would be no celebration tomorrow unless it was a victory feast. The king had lied to cover up a military operation. Those not involved—as yet—in the military operation had been lied to. But selected warriors has been told to gather secretly at a certain time.

Suddenly, the starlight was thinly veiled by light clouds. These became darker quickly. Davis could no longer see Ivar or, in fact, any human beings. And now the sound of distant thunder and the first zigzag of lightning appeared to the north.

Soon, the raging rain and the electrical violence that often appeared around midnight would be upon the kingdoms of Ivar and Arpad. Like the wolf on the fold, Davis thought. And Ivar and his army would be like the ancient Assyrians sweeping down from the hills on the Hebrews as that poet—what was his name?—wrote.

But who was Ivar going to assault?

7

The wind spat raindrops through the window into Davis’s face. Another layer of darkness slid in and cut off his view of the men. Thunder rolled closer like a threatening bully. A lightning streak, brief probing of God’s lantern beam (looking for an honest man?), noisily lit up the scene. He glimpsed Ivar’s group running over the top of the nearest hill to the River. He also saw other dark masses, like giant amoebae, flowing onto the plains from the hills. These were warriors hastening to join Ivar. The larger body of plains dwellers waiting for the king was, as it were, the mother amoeba.

Another blazing and crashing streak, closer this time, revealed a great number of boats in slips that had been empty for a long time. These had to have come in recently from upstream. Just off the bank many vessels: rowboats, dugouts, catamarans, dragonships, and the wide-beamed merchant boats called dromonds. Their sails were furled, and all bristled with spears.

Under cover of the night, Ivar’s warriors from every part of the kingdom had slipped down here. Of course, there would be other parties who would attack the opposite bank, Arpad’s domain, up-River. The attack had to be against the Magyar’s kingdom. Davis did nor know why he had wondered what the king was up to. However, Ivar was unpredictable, and it was chancy to bet on any of his next moves.

The secrecy with which the operation had been carried out impressed Davis. He had had no inkling of it, yet he was often in the king’s company. This operation, though it involved thousands of men who had somehow not revealed the plans to their female hutmates, had been exceedingly efficient.

But the lightning was going to display the invaders to Arpad’s sentinels. Unless, that is, some of Ivar’s men had crossed the River earlier and killed the guards.

After a while, the heart of the storm raged over the area within his sight. Now the warriors were grouped on the bank and embarking. So frequent and vivid were the bolts, he could see the invaders moving. They were many-legged clumps the individuals of which were not visible from this distance in the rainy veil.

He gasped. A fleer was putting out from the opposite bank.

A few seconds later, more groups began to gather behind Ivar’s forces on the bank. He groaned, and he muttered, “Arpad has pulled a sneak play!” His force had come ashore farther up the River and sneaked along the banks to come up on the Ivarians’ flank. And now the Arpadians were charging it. The surprises had been surprised; the fox had been outfoxed. The Magyar was going to grind his former ally between two forces. But that was easier planned than done. Ivar’s men on shore, though taken by surprise, had not fled. They were fighting fiercely, and their shore force outnumbered the enemy’s. Soon, Ivar’s warriors in the boars would join those on the bank. As quickly as the oars could drive the boats, they were driving toward the slips and the open bank. Though the boatmen could not get back to the bank to disembark swiftly, they should be able to get all ashore before the enemy’s second force arrived front the opposite bank. And they would overwhelm the ambushers—if Ivar had anything to do with it. He was a very cool and quick thinker. His men, veterans of many battles, did not panic easily.

Meanwhile, Arpad’s fleet was about a quarter of a mile from their destination. Its commander, whom Davis assumed was Arpad, not one to hang back behind his army, would be considering two choices. He could order the boats back to his shore and there await the inevitable assault from Ivar’s forces. Or Arpad could keep on going straight ahead, hoping that the ambushers would keep Ivar’s men entangled long enough for him to land his army.

The rain thickened. Davis saw the conflict now as if through distorted spectacles. And then, five or six minutes later, the downfall began to thin. The worst of the storm had passed over, but thunder and lightning still harried the land. Intermittently, starlight between masses of clouds revealed that a third force had entered the fray. It was a large fleet that must recently have come around the River’s bend a half-mile to the north. Davis could not identify who its sailors were. But the only ones liable to come from the north were the men of Thorfinn the Skull-Splitter.

Thorfinn had been on Earth the earl of Orkney Islands and part of northern Scotland. Though a mighty warrior, as his nickname testified, he had died in A.D. 963 in bed. The “straw death,” as the Norse called it, was not the fare he wanted. Only men who were killed in battle went to Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain, where the heroes fought each other during the day and those killed were resurrected to fight the next day, where the mead and the food was better than anything on Earth, and where, at night, Odin’s Valkyries screwed the drunken heroes’ brains out.

But Thorfinn had awakened in the Rivervalley along with everyone else: the brave and the cowardly, the monarchs and the slaves, the honored and the despised, the honest and the crooked, the devout and the hypocrite, the learned and the ignorant, the rich and the poor, and the lucky and the unlucky.

However, the Riverworld was, in many respects, like Valhalla. The dead rose the next day, though seldom in the place where they had died; the drink and the food were marvelous; nonfatal wounds healed quickly; a chopped-off foot or a gouged-out eye grew back again; women with the sexual drive of a Valkyrie abounded. Of course, Valkyries never complained or nagged, but they were mythical, not real.

And what was he, Andrew Paxton Davis, a pacifist, a Christian, and a virtual slave, doing standing here and watching the battle among the heathens? Now, now, now was the time to escape.

He quickly stuffed his few possessions in a fish-skin bag and grabbed the handle of his grail. Like the Arab in the night, I steal away, he thought. Except that I don’t have to take the time to fold my tent. He walked out of his room swiftly and sped down the narrow winding steps. He met no one until he got to the courtyard. Then he saw a dark figure ahead of him. He stopped, his heart beating harder than his running accounted for. But a lightning bolt revealed the face of the person who had struck such fear into him.

“Doctor Faustroll!”

The Frenchman tried to bow but had to grip the side of the table to keep from falling on his face.

“Doctor Davis, I presume?” he mumbled.

The American was going to hurry past him bur was restrained by a charitable impulse. He said, “There’s uproar in Acheron, my good fellow. Now is the time to gain our freedom. Ivar was going to make a sneak attack on Arpad, but Arpad had the same idea about him. There’s the devil to pay, and Thorfinn, Ivar’s ally, has just shown up. Chaos will reign. We have an excellent chance of getting away during all the commotion.”

Faustroll put a hand on his forehead and groaned. Then he said, “Up the River? Our quests for the probably nonexistent?”

“Think, man! Do you want to remain a slave? Now’s the time, the only chance we may ever have!”

Faustroll bent to pick up his grail and fishing pole. He groaned again and said, “La merde primitive! The devil is using our head as an anvil.”

“I’m going.” Davis said. “You may come with me or not, as you please.”

“Your concern for us is touching,” the Frenchman said. “But we really don’t have to run. Though we’ve been in lifelong bondage, we have never been a slave. Unlike the billions of the conventional and the swine-minded, we have been free.”

A distant flash faintly illumined Faustroll. His eyes were rolling as if he were trying to see something elusive.

“Stay here, then, and be free in your miserable bonds!” Davis shouted. “I felt it was my duty to tell you what is going on!”

“If it had been love compelling you, it would be different.”

“You’re the most exasperating man I’ve ever met!”

“The gadfly has its uses, especially if it is equipped nor only with a fore sting but an aft sting.”

Davis snorted and walked away. But, by the time he had starred down the hill from the tower, he heard Faustroll call out to him.

“Wait for us, my friend, if, indeed, you are that!”

Davis halted. He could not say that he liked the grotesque fellow. But…something in the absurd Frenchman appealed to him. Perhaps, Davis thought, it’s the physician in me. The man’s mad, and I should take care of him. I might be able to cure him someday.

More likely, it’s just that I don’t want to be alone. Crazed company is better than none. Sometimes.

The thunder and lightning had rolled on down the Valley. In a few minutes, the bright zigzags and the vast bowling-pin noises would be out of sight and out of ear. Then, as almost always, the downpour would stop as if a valve had been shut. The clouds would disappear within thirty minutes or so after that. And the star-filled sky would shed its pale fire on the pale weapons of the warriors and their dark blood. It would also make it easier for Faustroll and him to be seen.

Now he could faintly hear the frightening sounds of the clash. Shrill screams, deep cries, swords clanging, drums beating, and, now and then, the bellowing of a black gunpowder bomb as it destroyed itself in a burst of light. He also became aware that the tower, in which he had thought was no living soul, was as busy as a disturbed anthill. He turned to look back. Faustroll, panting, was just about to catch up with him. He was silhouetted by the many torches of the many people streaming from the tower.

Among them was Ann Pullen. She had put a heavy towel over her shoulders and a long one around her waist. But her white face and streaming blond hair were vivid under the flaming brand she held high.

And there was Sharkko walking as fast as his dragging leg would permit him. He carried a grail in one hand, a sword in the other, and a large bag was strapped, to his back.

The others passed Davis on their way down the hill. Apparently, they were going either to join Ivar in the battle or to find a place where they could more closely observe it. The latter, more likely. If they thought that things were going against Ivar, they would be running, too.

Davis grabbed a torch from a slave woman as she passed him. She protested but did not light him. He held it up and pointed up-River.

“Let’s go!”

Easier said than done. Just as they reached the edge of the plain, they were forced to stop. A large body of men, many of them holding torches, jogged by. Davis looked at the round, wooden, leather-covered helmets, the broad dark faces, and the eyes with prominent epicanthic folds. He groaned. Then he said, “More of Arpad’s men! They must be a second flanking force!”

These were not Magyars but soldiers from Arpad’s ancient Siberian citizens, forming ten percent of the kingdom’s population. They looked much more like the American Indians than Eskimos or Chuk-chuks. A group of six or seven men broke off from the mass and trotted toward them. Davis yelled, “Run!” and he fled back up the hill. Behind came the sound of bare feet on the wet grass and wet mud under it. Bur it was Faustroll.

When he was halfway up the hill, Davis looked behind him. The invaders were no longer in pursuit. Finding that they could not kill the two men easily, they had rejoined the army.

After a while, he and Faustroll quit climbing along the sides of the hill and went down to the edge of the plain. Within ten minutes the starblaze was undimmed by clouds.

“Time to look for a boat,” Davis said.

They went slowly and stealthily among the huts. Now and then, they had to go around corpses. Most of these were women, hut some had managed to kill invaders before they had been cut down. “The never-ending story,” Davis said. “When will they learn to stop killing and raping and looting? Can’t they see that it does nothing to advance them? Can’t…”

“They didn’t see on Earth, why should they here?” Faustroll said. “But perhaps it’s a weeding-out process here. We get not just a second chance but many chances. Then, one day, poof! The evil ones and the petty, the malicious, and the hypocritical are gone! Let’s hope that that docs not mean that nobody is left here. Or, perhaps, that’s the way it’s going to work out.”

He stopped, pointed, and said, “Eureka!”

There were many boats along here, beached or riding at anchor a few feet from the short. They chose a dugout canoe with a small mast. But, just as they were pushing it off the grass into the water, they were startled by a yell behind them.

“Wait! For God’s sake, wait! I want to go with you!”

They turned and saw Sharkko hobbling toward them. He was dragging another bag, a large one, behind him. No doubt, Davis thought, it was filled with loot Sharkko had picked up on the way. Despite his fear, his predatory nature had kept the upper hand.

Davis said, “There’s not enough room for three.”

Panting, Sharkko stopped a few feet from them. “We can take a larger boat.”

Then he turned quickly to look down-River. The distant clamor had suddenly become closer. The starlight tell over a dark and indistinct mass advancing from the south. Shouts and clanging of bronze on bronze swelled from it. It stopped moving toward Davis for several minutes. Then the sounds ceased, and the group moved again, more swiftly now.

Whoever the men chasing after those who fled were, they had been killed. But another hue and cry rose from behind the survivors. The men coming toward Davis began to run.

“Get in one of the boats!” Sharkko squalled. “They’ll grab them, and we won’t have any!”

Davis thought that that was good advice, but he did not intend to take the fellow with him. He resumed helping the Frenchman push the canoe. It slid into the water. But Sharkko had splashed to it, thrown his grail and bags into it, and started to climb in. Davis grabbed the bags and threw them into the water. Sharkko screamed with fury. His fist struck Davis’s chin. Stunned, Davis staggered back and fell into the water. When he rose, sputtering, he saw that Sharkko was going after the bags. He got to the boat and threw Sharkko’s grail after him. That made the man scream more loudly. Without the grail, Sharkko would either starve to death or have to live from the food he could beg or the fish he could catch.

Faustroll, still standing in the water, was doubled over with laughter.

Davis’s anger ebbed and was replaced by a disgust he felt for himself. He hated Sharkko, yet despised himself for hating him and for losing his temper. It was hard to act like a Christian when dealing with such a “sleazebag” (a word he had learned from a late-twentieth-centurian).

But he now had no time to dwell on his own failings. The running men had stopped near him. They seemed out of breath, though that was not the only reason they had halted. They were Ivar and about fifty of his Norse and Frankish warriors and a dozen women. Ann Pullen was one of them. Ivar was bloody though not badly wounded, and the bronze war-ax he waved about dripped red. He seemed to be in favor of making a stand of it against the pursuers. Some of his men were arguing against it. Davis did not know what had happened at first. By listening to them while he was getting into the canoe, he pieced out their situation.

Apparently, the rear attack had caught Ivar by surprise.

But he had rallied his men, and Arpad’s had been routed. No sooner was this done than Arpad, leading his fleet, had stormed the shore. In the mêlée, Ivar had killed Arpad.

“I hewed off his sword arm!” Ivar shouted. “And his forces lost heart and fled. We slaughtered them!”

8

But Thorfinn the Skull-Splitter had his own plans. He had sent a part of his army to overrun the west bank. While they were doing that, he had attacked the rear of Arpad’s fleet. That was partly responsible for the panic among Arpad’s men on the east bank.

Thorfinn had decided then, or perhaps he had long ago decided, to betray Ivar. Thus, he would become master not only of his own kingdom but of Arpad’s and Ivar’s.

Ivar and his soldiers had not expected betrayal, but they had rallied quickly and had fought furiously. Bud they had been forced to run, and Thorfinn’s hounds were baying close to their heels.

Ivar yelled in Norse, “The traitor! The traitor! No faith, no faith! Thorfinn swore by Odin on the oath-ring that we would be as brothers!”

Davis, even in the midst of his anxiety, could not help smiling. From what he knew about Norse kings and their brothers, he was sure that there was nothing unusual about their trying to kill each other. That, in fact, had been typical of most medieval royal kin, whatever their nationality.

Oh, he was among barbarians, and he had been just about to be free of them when the Norris decreed that they should catch up with him. No, he thought, it’s not the Norns, the three female Fates of the ancient Scandinavian religion. It’s God who’s destined this. I’ve been among the Vikings so long, I’m beginning to think like them.

By now, Ivar had quit raving. In one of the sudden switches of mood that distinguished him, he was laughing at himself.

“After all, Thorfinn only did what I might have done, given the circumstances. Seize the chance turn of events! Get the power! The power!”

Faustroll, now sitting in the canoe, called out, “Your Majesty, true descendant of the great King Ubu! We believe that Power is what motivates almost all of humanity, and Power is responsible for more rationalizations and false justifyings than Religion is, though the two are by no means unconnected! You are a true son of Adam, not to mention of Eve, and perhaps of a fallen angel who saw that the daughters of men were fair and went unto them and lay with them! Go, go, go, our son! Consider Power, worship it, obey its ten thousand commandments! But we are a voice crying in the wilderness! Crying in the jungle fertilized by the never-ending flow of desire for Power in its ten thousand manifestations, the true shit of the true universe!

“Yet somewhere there is the Holy Grail! Seek it, find it, seize it! Be redeemed thereby and by It! In the Grail you have the greatest fountain of Power! But it renders all other Powers powerless!”

Ivar’s counselors had been babbling while Faustroll spoke, but they fell silent when their leader lifted his hand. From a distance, not far enough away to damp the writhing of Davis’s nerves, came the yells of Thorfinn’s men as they ran toward the fugitives.

“For God’s sake!” Davis murmured. “Let’s get into the boats and get away!”

Ivar shouted, “You are a strange man, Doctor Faustroll! One touched by whatever gods may be! You may have been sent by them! Or by Chance, of which I have heard so much from men of the latter days since I came to this world. Either way, you may have been sent to me. So, instead of slaying you, which would do little good except to get rid of your presence, and I might run into you again, I will go with you! Perhaps…”

He was silent for a moment while the others about him looked more than uneasy. Then he soared, “Into the boats!”

No one protested, though a few of the more aggressive warriors sighed. They scrambled, though nor in a panicky manner, into the vessels. Ivar roared orders, assigning each to a particular craft. Davis was commanded, along with Faustroll and Ann Pullen, to get into the largest craft, a single-roasted merchant boat with oarlocks for fourteen rowers. Ivar took the helm while the rowers began pulling and the big sail was unfurled.

He laughed uproariously and said, “The Norns have smiled on me again! These must be the boats Arpad’s men used to bring them to this bank for the flanking attack!”

Davis, Pullen, and Faustroll were sitting on a bench just below the helm deck. The Frenchman called up, “Perhaps it’s a sign from them that you should leave this area forever!”

“What! And allow the troll-hearted Thorfinn to crow that he defeated Ivar Ragnarsson?”

He shouted in Norse at the warriors who had not yet gotten into a boat. “You there! Helgi, Ketil, Bjorn, Thrand! Push the empty boats into the stream! We will jeer at our enemies while they dance frustrated and furious on the bank and utter threats that will harm us no more than farts against the wind!”

Helgi the Sharp yelled back,

“Boatless will they be.

Boneless makes them bootyless.

Boneheaded Thorfinn,

Bare is your bottom!”

Those within hearing broke into laughter. And Ivar laughed until he choked, which relieved Davis, who had become even more anxious on hearing the stanza. The Dane became very angry when someone slipped up and used the surname he did not care to hear.

“I love the words,” Ivar called our. “But, Helgi, your meter is blunted. Wretched. However, considering our haste and that your meter always scans as if it were a newborn foal trying to walk…”

He laughed again for several seconds. Then, recovering, he bellowed, “Row as if Loki’s daughter, the hag Hel, clutches your ankles with corpse-cold hands to drag you down into Niflheim! Bend your backs as if you are the bow of Ull and your arms are the god’s hundred-league arrows! Row, row, row!”

There might have been rowers as mighty as the Norse, though none was better. However, these men had been in face-to-face battle, and nothing funneled the energy out more swiftly. Nevertheless, they dug in as if they had had a long night’s sleep. Their enemies on shore were left far behind. But the starlight glimmered on a large mass along the eastern bank moving up-River. It was about a half-mile behind them. Thorfinn’s fleet, part of it, anyway, was hot on their trail. Not so hot, perhaps, since his men would also be battle-weary.

“We make for the kingdom of my brother, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye!” Ivar said loudly. “It’s a long long way off, but our pursuers will tire before we do. We’ll be safe then, and we can loll around, drink all the thickly sugared lichen bar and the grail-given liquor we want. We will also have our fill of the beautiful women there. Or vice versa.”

The rowers had no breath to laugh, though some tried. Sigurd was one of the few men Ivar trusted and was probably his only trusted brother. He had been a mighty Viking when young. But, in his middle age, he had hung up his sword and become a peaceful and just ruler of Sjæland, Denmark’s largest island. The kingdom he had established since coming to the Riverworld was four hundred miles from Ivar’s. He had visited his brother once, and Ivar had visited him twice. Davis had seen Sigurd every time. The slender, wriggly, and red birthmark on the white of his right eye had given him his Terrestrial surname. Though it was gone when he was resurrected, the nickname stuck.

Davis’s thoughts were broken by cries behind him. He stood up and looked around the raised helmsman’s deck. The boat holding Helgi and three men was passing by a man in the water. Though Davis could not see the swimmer’s face, he knew that he had to be Sharkko. Apparently, he was asking to be taken into the boar. But they were laughing as they rowed, and presently, Sharkko, still screaming, was left behind them.

A thrill of sympathy, though fleeting, ran through Davis. Sharkko was a liar, a cheat, a blusterer, a coward, and a bully. Yet the man could not believe that there were people, and they were many, who did not like him. It was pathetic, which was why Davis pitied him at that moment.

He sat down and looked sidewise at Ann, who was sitting near him. A small thin blue towel was draped over her head like a scarf that women wore in church on Earth. She had a strange expression, a mixture of sweetness and longing. Or so it seemed to him, though who knew what the bitch was thinking. Yet she looked like a madonna, mother of the infant Jesus, in a painting Davis had seen in a cathedral.

He wondered if that was what she had looked like when an infant. What had erased that sweetness, that goodness?

Then she turned her head and said, “What in hell are you staring at, you lascivious lout?”

Davis sighed, relishing the moment when he had pitied her because of her lost innocence. And he said, “Not much.”

“You may think you can talk to me like that because of the situation,” she said. “But I won’t forget this.”

“Your Majesty is like King Louis XIV of France, of whom someone said that he never forgot anything,” he said. He added, under his breath, “And who also said that he never learned anything.”

“What?”

Most un-Christian of me, Davis thought. Why can’t I learn to turn the other cheek? I should have said nothing to her. The silence of the martyrs.

Later, Ivar transferred the four men from the rear boat to his. By late morning, the lead boat in Thorfinn’s fleet was far ahead of the rest of the pack. An hour before high noon, it was within arrow range of Ivar’s craft. Ivar turned his vessel around, picked off seven men with his arrows, rammed the enemy, and then boarded him. Davis and Faustroll sat in the boat while the battle raged. Ann Pullen used her woman’s bow to wound several men. Whatever she may be, Davis thought, she has courage. But I hope she doesn’t turn around and shoot me, too.

Ivar lost six men but killed all of the enemy except those who jumped into the River. Thorfinn’s other boats were still our of sight. Ivar took over the enemy’s vessel and abandoned his own. He and his crew sailed on while they sang merrily.

By the time they got near to Sigurd’s realm, they had passed through at least forty waking nightmares. Or so it seemed to Davis, though the Norse obviously enjoyed it. There was one fight after another and one flight after another. The states for hundreds of miles up-River from Ivar’s ex-kingdom and probably down-River, too, were in a state of bloody flux. The invasions of Ivar’s land seemed to have had a violent wave effect on others, none of which was very stable. Slaves were revolting, and kings and queens were trying to take advantage of the deteriorating situations to attack each other. Davis believed that only this semi-anarchy enabled Ivar’s fleet to get this far. Even so, all but four vessels of the original fleet had been sunk or abandoned. The survivors had lived chiefly on the fish they trolled for while sailing up-River. Now and then, they had been allowed to go ashore and fill their grails. But even when the people seemed peaceful and cooperative, the Vikings were nervous. Behind the smiles of their hosts might be plans to seize the guests as slaves.

“Oh, Lord,” Davis prayed, “I beseech you, stop this killing, torturing, robbing, and raping, the heartbreak and the pain, the hatred and viciousness. How long must this go on?”

As long as men permit themselves to do all the horrible deeds, he thought, God wasn’t going to interfere. But, if He didn’t, then He had a good purpose in His mind.

A few hours past dawn, the fleet arrived at Sigurd’s kingdom. Or what had been his. It was obvious that it, too, had been torn apart by the strife that seemed to have been carried by the wind. Men and women capered drunkenly while waving weapons and severed heads. Most of the bamboo huts and wooden buildings were blazing, and bodies lay everywhere. As the fleet drew near the bank, a horde climbed into boars and began paddling or rowing toward Ivar’s boats.

“Who are they?” Ivar said. Then, “It doesn’t matter. Sail on!”

“What about your brother?” Davis said.

“He may have escaped. I hope so. Whatever happened to him, I can’t save him. We are too few.”

After that, he was silent for many hours, pacing back and forth on the small afterdeck. He frowned much, and, several times, he smote his breast with an open hand. Once, he startled all on his boats when he threw his head back and howled long and mournfully.

Bjorn the Rough-footed, standing near Davis, shivered and made the sign of Thor’s hammer. “The cry of the great wolf Fenris himself comes from his throat,” he said. “Ivar acts as if he’s about to go berserk! Get ready to defend yourself! Better yet, jump into the River!”

But Ivar quit howling, and he stared around as if he had suddenly been transported here from a million miles away. Then he strode to the forward end of the deck, and he called down.

“Osteopath! Clown! Come up here!”

Reluctantly, knowing that the Dane’s actions could never be predicted and were often to be dreaded, Davis went up the short ladder with Faustroll. Both halted several feet away from Ivar. Davis did not know what Faustroll was thinking, but he himself was prepared to follow Bjorn’s advice.

Ivar looked down at them, his face working with some unreadable expression.

“You two are of lowly rank, but I’ve observed that even a slave may have more brains than his master. I’ve heard you speak of your quests, the spirit of which I admit I don’t quite understand. But you’ve intrigued me. Especially when you spoke about the futility and emptiness of always striving to gain more land, more property, and more power. You may be right. I really don’t know. But, a few minutes ago, I was seized by some spirit. Perhaps I was touched by whatever god made us, the unknown and nameless god. Whatever strange thing happened. I suddenly felt emptied, my mind and blood pouring out of me. That terrible feeling was quickly gone, and I saw the sense in your wisdom, I also was overwhelmed, for a moment, with the uselessness of all I had done. I saw the weariness of forever fighting to get power and then fighting to keep it or to get even more power. Glory seems golden. But it’s really leaden.”

He smiled at them, then looked past them toward the north. When he resumed talking, he kept on staring past them. It was as if, Davis thought, Ivar was envisioning something really glorious.

Faustroll murmured softly. “He sees, however dimly, the junction point of zero and infinity.”

Davis did not speak, because Ivar was glaring at him and the Frenchman. When Ivar spoke, he wanted your complete attention, no interruptions. But Davis thought, No, it’s not that, whatever that means. It’s…can’t remember the Greek theological term…it means a sudden and totally unexpected reversal—a flipflop—of spirit. Like the reversal of attitude and of goal that Paul of Tarsus experienced on the road to Damascus…he had been fanatically persecuting the Christians…the great light came even as he was plotting death tor all Christians…he fell paralyzed for a while…when he arose, he had become a zealous disciple of Christ. Sudden, unexpected, unpredictable by anyone. Your spirit, hastening you toward the South Pole, turns you around without your will and shoots you toward the North Pole. There were records of similar mystical or psychological reversals of spirit.

He felt awed. It was several seconds before the cold prickling of his skin faded away.

However, he reminded himself, this sudden turnabout was not always for the good. Though it was rare, a flipflop from good to evil occurred. As if Satan, imitating God, also touched a man with his spirit.

“The god did not speak with words,” Ivar said. “But he did not have to do so. He said that I should go up the River until I came to its source, no matter how far away that is. There I will find a Power beyond power.”

“Always power,” Faustroll murmured. He spoke so softly that Davis could barely hear him, and Davis was sure than Ivar could not.

“You, kneader of sore flesh, and you, the mocker of all that men hold to be good sense,” Ivar said, “also have your quests. One wants to find the baby born of a virgin. The other hopes to find the truth that has eluded all men from the birth of mankind.”

He paused, then said, “Though you are no warriors and have some strange attitudes, you may be the kind of companions I need for the long journey. What do you say?”

His tone implied that he was condescending to give the invitation. Yet he intended it as a compliment.

Faustroll said. “King Ubu and his two fools looking for the Holy Grail? Ah, well, I will he pleased to go with you.”

Davis did not hesitate. He said, “Why not? Perhaps we are all seeking the same thing. Or, if we’re not, we’ll find the same thing.”

Author’s Note:

It’s obvious that the adventures of these three will continue and be concluded in volume 2 of the Riverworld shared-world anthology.

I have a strong sense of historical continuity that was strengthened while I was researching into my genealogy. As of this moment, I have 275 confirmed American ancestors and several thousand European ancestors. So, I thought, why not use some on the Riverworld, where everyone who has lived and died now lives? And I did so.

Thus, every named character in this story, except for Faustroll (Alfred Jarry) and Sharkko, is a direct ancestor of mine. Doctor Andrew P. Davis is my great-great-grandfather (1535-1919). He was an extraordinary man, an eccentric, a quester after the truth, and an innovator. Ann Pullen is my nine-times-great-grandmother. She was, according to the court records, a real hellraiser, spitfire, and liberated woman in an age when it was dangerous for a woman to be so. As for my remote forebears, Ivar the Boneless and the other Viking men and women herein, their living descendants as of 1991 would number many millions. It’s reasonable to assume that at least three-quarters or more of my readers will be descended from them.

A HOLE IN HELL

His pen had hurled many into Hell. Now he, who should be in Heaven with his adored Beatrice, was in a pit such as he had depicted in The Inferno.

For years, he had searched along the River for the only woman he had ever deeply loved, the light of his life and his poetry. Now he was imprisoned by a man whom he deeply hated.

The eight-feet-square and twelve-feet-deep pit was on top of a foothill. Its sides were oak logs that slanted inward. (This whole world, he thought, slants inward and imprisons me.) The pit was in shadow except when the sun was directly overhead. Oh, blessed sun! Oh, swiftly moving sun! Stay in your course!

Ankle-deep in sewage, Dante Alighieri stood, his face turned upward. Dawn was an hour old. Soon, Dante’s accursed enemy, Benedict Caetani, Pope Boniface VIII from 1294 to 1303, would come. Dante would know when Boniface was nearing because he would hear the barking and the howling of dogs. Yet there were no dogs in this place, which might be Purgatory or might be Hell.

A few minutes later, he stiffened. The yapping, barking, and howling sounded faintly. It was as if he had just detected the sounds erupting from the three heads of Cerberus, Satan’s unnatural hound that guarded the entrance to Inferno. Presently, the noise became a clamor, and he saw the man who owned the dogs.

“Another God-given morning,” Boniface said. “Time for my first piss. I baptize thee, Signor Alighieri, in the name of those whom you so hatefully consigned to Hell!”

His eyes shut, Dante endured the rain that did not come from the heavens. A minute later, he opened them. The pope had shed his robes and his wooden beehive-shaped tiara. The dogs—naked men and women on hands and knees or on hands and toes—prowled around the edges of the pits. Their fish-skin collars were attached to leashes held by men and women of Boniface’s court. The male dogs, by the edge of the pit and parallel with it, lifted legs to piss into it.

Boniface stuck his buttocks over the pit while two men held his hands to keep him from falling backward.

“In the name of those whom you wrongfully put in Hell in your vicious poem, I give you the bread and wine of the unblessed! Eat thereof, and glory in the transubstantiation of your fallen god, Lucifer!”

At the same time, a dozen dogs loosed their bowel contents. Only by standing in the center of the pit could he avoid being struck.

After a year of this, Dante thought, he should have been suffocated by the filth daily expelled into the hole. But the many excrement-eating earthworms kept the level of filth down to his ankles. Boniface had been pulled erect but again bent over as a series of slaves spat water between the popes buttocks. Meanwhile, the dogs barked, howled, whined, and yipped.

Dante shouted, “May God force you for eternity to wear an iron tiara as white hot as His wrath!”

“Dante Alighieri never learns!” the pope screamed. “Does he get down on his knees, that stiff-necked Florentine, and beg forgiveness of those whom he has cruelly wronged? Not he! His mind is as the shit in which he lives!

“You committed blasphemy when you wrote of me in your Inferno as being in Hell while I was still living! Even God does not put sinners in Hell before they die!”

“You were and are evil!” Dante cried. “Would a godly man make dogs out of men, no matter what their offence?”

Boniface screamed, “Down on your knees, Guelf pig, and confess that you have wronged me and be truly contrite! Then you may continue your journey to find your beloved Beatrice! Though you should be seeking the Truth and God, not a slut such as she!”

“A fig upon you!” Dante screamed. And he bit his thumb and stabbed it at Boniface.

“Dante empties himself; he confesses his guilt and sin. Continue to suffer your rightful punishment!”

Then the pope, slaves, henchmen, and dog pack left. Four guards stayed behind to make sure that he did not find some means of killing himself.

Tonight, as every night, it would rain so hard that he could lie down in the water and drown himself. To do that would be to commit an unforgivable sin, one that automatically damned a soul. Would that be a sin in this world? Here, when a man died, he rose to life twenty-four hours later, though far away from where he had died. Was it then a sin to kill himself? Logic said that it was not. Yet he could not be sure. What God forbade on Earth should also be forbidden in this world. Or had the commandments been changed somewhat here to fit the situation?

Unheeding the soft squishy stuff under his feet, he paced back and forth. His mind went from the unanswerable question of suicide here to the conflicts raging during his lifetime. When he was calm and logical, which was not often, he told himself that the bloody quarrels between Ghibellines and Guelfs and between Black Guelfs and White Guelfs over politico-religious issues no longer mattered.

The huge majority of resurrectees had never heard of these conflicts and would yawn if they did. Only in this area, where Italians of his era lived, did the hatred burn fiercely. Yet it should be forgotten. Far more important things stalked the Rivervalley and should be dealt with. If they were not, salvation would be beyond their reach.

But he could neither forget nor forgive.

At high noon, the grailstones thundered. The echoes from the mountains had just ceased when he heard the dogs coming toward him. Presently, the barking and the howling, mixed with the crack of the dog-tenders’ whips, were above and around him. Dante looked upward, shielding his eyes against the sun. He cried out and sank to his knees. He said then, “Beatrice!”

Boniface, standing naked by the edge of the pit, a leash in his hand, said, “Your long quest is over, sinner! Your beloved whore was brought in this morning by slave dealers! Here she is, a lovely bitch who must surely be in heat!”

Dante had averted his eyes, but he forced himself to look again. Once more, he cried out with horror.

She was naked and down on her hands and knees. She was weeping, her face so twisted that he should not have been able to recognise her. Something, some divine element, a sort of lightning flash between heaven and earth, had flashed from her to him. He had known instantly that she was Beatrice.

Boniface, grinning like a fox about to eat a chicken, pulled on her leash and kicked her, though not hard, in the ribs. She obeyed his orders to place herself parallel with the edge of the pit and very close to it. Then he gave the leash to a guard and got down on his hands and knees behind her.

“A bitch must be mounted from behind!” he shouted. She cried out, “Dante!”

A whip wielded by another guard cut her across her shoulders. She cried out again.

“Do not speak!” Boniface said. “You are a soulless dog, and dogs do not speak!”

He eased himself forward over her. She screamed when he penetrated her.

Dante was leaping upward again and again and yelping like a dog. But he could not jump high enough to grab the edge.

“Look, look, sinner!” Boniface cried. “I am no dog, yet I am humping doglike the bitch you love so much!”

Dante wanted to close his eyes but could not.

And then Beatrice heaved upward and lifted Boniface with her. Though the guard jerked savagely on her leash, he could not stop her. She was at this moment as strong as if an avenging angel had poured his holy fierceness into her. She turned around and grabbed Boniface. Both screaming, they fell into the pit, the leash jerking loose from the guards hand. She landed on top of the pope and knocked the wind out of him. Immediately, she began tearing at his nose with her teeth. She ceased biting when a spear cast by a guard from above plunged deep into her back.

She gasped, “Mother of…wish…die forever,” and died.

The guards shouted at Dante to stay away from the pope. He had pushed the woman’s corpse aside and was scrambling to his feet. Dante, crying out with grief and rage, jerked the spear from the beloved flesh and drove its point into the popes belly. Then he yanked it out and started to turn.

A guard who had just dropped into the pit ran toward Dante, his spear held level. But his feet slipped in the filth, and he fell hard on his face.

Dante raised the spear to stab the guard. He hesitated. If he spared the guard, he, too, might be spared. But the popes’ men would only do that to torture him and then, probably, cast him again into the pit.

As the guard, slipping in the filth, tried to get up, Dante cried out, “Beatrice! Wait for me!”

He rammed the spear butt against the log wall and pushed the blade into the pit of his stomach. Despite the agony, he kept on pushing until the blade was buried in him.

He was committing the sin of suicide. But it was the only way of escape. Someday, he would find out if it was unforgivable. If he eventually went to Hell because of his evil deed—if it was evil—he was willing to pay the full price.

Beatrice had been little more than an arms length from him. Then, within two minutes, she was gone.

But she could be found again.

Though he might have to search for a hundred years, he would find her.

Surely, God understood his great love for her. He would not be jealous because his creature, Dante Alighieri, loved Beatrice more than he loved his Creator.

Dante’s last thought dwindled into darkness. Forgive…didn’t mean tha…

UP THE BRIGHT RIVER

1

Andrew Paxton Davis leaned into the fifteen-mile-an-hour wind. But not too far. He was standing at the end of a fifty-foot-long yew wood gangplank. It was three inches deep and four and a half inches wide. Thirty feet of it was supported by a single forty-five-degree angled beam, the ocher end of which was attached to the tower structure. Beyond that, the remaining twenty feet formed a sort of diving board. Davis, having ventured out to its end, felt it bend under him.

The ground was three hundred feet below him, but he could clearly hear the roar and screams of the crowd and sometimes fragments of words from an individual. The upturned faces were mostly eager or malicious. Some expressed fear or sympathy for him.

Beyond the end of the board was a twelve-foot gap. Then the projecting end of another gangplank equally long and narrow, began. But his weight bent the end of the plank he stood on and made it five inches lower than the other.

If he could leap from one gangplank to the next he was free. The Emperor had promised that any “criminals” who could do so would be allowed to depart unharmed from the state. Attempting such a feat or refusing to do it was not, however, a choice. All major criminals were sentenced to the ordeal.

The people below were rooting for him or hoping he would fall. Their attitude depended upon which way they had bet.

Behind him, standing on the platform of the tower, the other prisoners shouted encouragement. Davis did not know two of them or what their crimes were. The others were his companions, if you could call them that, who had traveled far together and had been captured by the people of the Western Sun Kingdom. They were the Viking, Ivar the Boneless, the mad Frenchman, Faustroll, and Davis’s bane, the beautiful but sluttish Ann Pullen.

Davis had been chosen by the Emperor Pachacuti to jump first. He would just as soon be the last in line. If he refused to leap, he would be thrown off the cower by the guards.

Ivar shouted in Old Norse. Though the wind hurled his words away from his lips, they came from the chest of a giant. Davis heard them as if they were far away.

“Show them you are not afraid! Run bravely and without fear! Run with the fleetness of Hugi, the giant whose name means Thought! Then fly as if you wear the birdskin of Loki! Pray to your god that you will not bring shame to him by hesitating! Nor to us!”

Faustroll’s voice was shrill but pierced the wind. He spoke in English.

“It does not matter if you fail and fall, my Philistine friend! One moment of terror, quite cathartic for you and for us, and you will awake tomorrow as whole as ever! Which, if you will pardon my frankness, is not saying much!”

Anal Pullen either said nothing or her voice was snatched away by the wind.

What Faustroll said about him was, excluding the insults, true. He would die today; he would be resurrected at dawn. But he might be far down the River and have to start his journey all over again. That prospect made him quail almost as much as what he must do within the next twenty seconds. He had been given only two minutes to make the attempt.

“Ten feet, Andrew the Red!” Ivar had said when the Emperor pronounced sentence on him. “Ten feet! It is nothing! I will run on the board like a deer and will soar off its end like a hawk and land upon the other board like a lynx pouncing upon its prey!”

Brave words. Though Ivar was six feet six inches tall and was enormously powerful, he weighed over two hundred and thirty pounds. That was a lot of muscle and bone to lift. The heavier the runner, the more the wood would bend down. Not only would he have to leap across, he would have to leap up to attain the end of the other board.

Davis had an advantage in being only five feet six inches high and in weighing only one hundred and forty pounds. But the jumper’s degree of courage made a difference. He had seen men and women who might have crossed the gap if fear had not slowed them down.

No hesitation, he told himself. Do it! Get it over with! Give it all you have! But his stomach hurt, and he was quivering.

He prayed to God as he trotted back to the tower and as he turned around to face the gangplank. Fifty feet was not long enough for a good runway. In that distance, he could not reach maximum speed. Bur that was how it was. No evading it; no excuses. Still praying, he bent down in the starting crouch and then sprang outward with all his strength. The sickness and the quivering were gone, or he was unaware of them. He felt as he had when, in 1845, he was ten years old and competing in a jump across a creek with other farm boys near Bowling Green, Clay County, Indiana. The glory of his healthy young body and intimations of immortality had blazed then.

Now, his spirit and body had become one as they had been one when he had made that winning jump on Earth. He was an arrow aimed at the end of the board beyond the void. The shouts of his companions, the roar of the crowd, and the captain of the guards counting off the seconds remaining became one voice. His bare feet slapped on the wood as they had slapped on the dirt when she had won the contest with his schoolmates. But, then, he had faced only getting wet if he fell short.

The end of the gangplank was coming far more swiftly than he thought possible. Beyond it was the space he had to travel, a short distance in reality, a long, long one in his mind. And the beam was dipping. Only a few inches, but the slight deviation from the horizontal might defeat him.

He came down hard with his right foot and rose up, up, up. The void was below him. He thought, Oh, God, to whom I have been always faithful, deliver me from this evil! But a rapture, completely unexpected, shot through him. It was as if the hand of God were not only lifting him but enveloping him in the ecstasy few besides the saints knew.

It was worth the price of horror and of death.

2

Yesterday, Andrew Paxton Davis had also been high above earth. But he was not under any sentence and was not afraid of dying immediately. He was clinging to the railing of a bamboo platform, the crow’s nest as it were, while it swayed in the strong wind. He was seasick, though there were no seas on this world.

Bright in the early-morning sun, the city below him creaked as if it were a ship under full sail. He had ascended many staircases and climbed many ladders past many levels to reach the top floor of this sentinel tower, the highest structure of the gigantic skeletal building that was also a city. Though he had stood here for only two minutes, he felt as if he had endured an hour of watch on a vessel during a violent storm. Yet the view was certainly peaceful and undisturbed. The storm was within himself.

Northward, the River ran for thirty miles before turning left to go around the shoulder of the mountain range. That marked the upper border of this kingdom. Southward, twenty miles away, the River came from around another bend. That was the lower border of this small yet mighty monarchy. The Inca Pachacuti ruled both sides of the River within these borders, and he was disobeyed only at the risk of torture, slavery, or death.

Just past the edge of the City on the north was the Temple of the Sun, a flat-topped pyramid a hundred and fifty feet high and made of stone, earth, and wood. Below Davis was the Scaffolding City, the City of Many Bridges, the City Swaying in the Wind, the Airy Domain of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, who had ruled on Earth from A.D. 1438 to 1471. The Peruvians of that time knew him as the great conqueror and Emperor Pachacuti.

The City that Pachacuti had built was like none known on Earth and was, perhaps, unique on the Riverworld. The view from the top level of the highmost sentinel tower would have made most people ecstatic. It made Davis feel like throwing up.

The Incan sentinel was grinning. His teeth were brown from chewing the grail-provided cocoa leaf. He had seen Davis here many times and was enjoying his plight. Once, the guard had asked Davis why he came here if the place always made him ill. Davis had replied that at least here he could get away from the even more sickening citizens of the City.

But, suddenly inspired, he had added, “The higher I get from the ground, the closer I am to the Ultimate Reality, the Truth. Up here, I may be able to see the Light.”

The watchman had looked puzzled and somewhat fearful. He had moved away from Davis as far as he could get. What Davis did not tell him was that it was not only the height and the swaying that made him nauseous. He was also sick with longing to see a child who might not be and may never have been. Rut he would not admit that that could be the reality. He was certain that, somewhere up the River, was a woman who had borne a baby in a world where no woman, so far, had conceived. Moreover, Davis was certain that the baby was of virgin birth and that it was the reincarnation of Jesus.

From below came, faintly, the voices of the people chattering away in Kishwa, Aymara, Samnite, Bronze Age Chinese, and a dozen other languages, the tinkling of windblown bundles of mica shards, the shrillnesses of whistles and flutes, and the deep booming of drums. All these floated upward, wrapped in the odor of frying fish.

Except for the temple and the city, the plains and foothills looked like most other areas along the River. The mushroom-shaped grailstones, the conical-roofed bamboo huts, the fishing boats, the large oar-and-sail war or merchant vessels, the people moving around on the plains bordering the River, were nothing unusual. But the city and the temple were extraordinary enough to bring men and women from far-off places up and down the River. Like Earth tourists, they were gawkers who had to pay a price for admission. Their dried fish; wooden, fishbone, flint, and chart tools and weapons; rings and statuettes; containers of booze, cigarettes, dreamgum, and ochre enriched the kingdom. Even the slaves enjoyed the bounty to some extent.

Presently, as Davis stood there, looking northward toward the invisible Light, the face of a man appeared just above the platform. He hoisted himself up from the ladder with powerful arms and stood erect. He towered over Davis and the sentinel. His shoulder-length hair was bronze-red; his eyes were large and light blue; his face was craggy yet handsome. He wore a kilt made of a blue towel, a necklace of colored fish bones, and a cap decorated with wooden pieces carved into the semblance of feathers. His tanned humanskin belt held a large stone ax.

Despite his savage appearance, he, too, had a quest. During the flight from his former kingdom, he seemed to have been seized with a revelation. At feast, he had said so to Davis. What it was, he kept to himself. Davis had not been able to tell that the illumination or whatever it was had changed his character for the better. But Ivar was determined to travel to the end of the River. Where, Davis supposed, the Viking thought that he would find the beings who had made this planet and resurrected the dead of Earth. And they would reveal the Ultimate Reality, the Truth.

Ivar the Boneless spoke to Davis in the Old Norse of the early-ninth-century Vikings. “Here you are, Andrew the Red, the Massager, enjoying the view and your sickness. Have you seen the Light?”

“Not with my eyes,” Davis said. “But my heart sees it.”

“What the heart sees, the eye sees,” Ivar said.

He was now standing by Davis, his huge hands squeezing on the railing bar, his massive legs braced on the slowly rocking platform. Though he looked at the north of the Rivervalley, he was not trying to see Davis’s Light. Nor was he looking for his own Light. As always when here, he was planning an escape route while seeing the entire kingdom spread out before him. Being the general of one of the Inca’s regiments was not enough to detain a man who had been a king on Earth and in the Valley.

“We’ve tarried here far too long,” he growled. “The source of the River beckons, and we have many a mile to go.”

Davis looked anxiously at the sentinel. Though the Aymara did not understand Ivar’s language, he still might report to the Inca that the two had been conversing in a suspicious manner. Pachacuti would then demand that Davis and Ivar tell him what they had said. If he was not satisfied with their answers, he would torture them to get the truth out of them. Suspicion floated through this land like a fever-breeding miasma. Hence, it was full of spies.

As Ivar had once said, a man could not fart without the Inca hearing about it.

“I go up-River tonight,” Ivar said. “You may come along with me, though you are not a great warrior. Yet, you have some cunning, you have been useful in frays, and you do have a strong reason to leave this place. I tell you this because I can trust you not to betray me if you decide to stay behind. That is praise, since few may be trusted.”

“Thank you,” Davis said. His tone hinted at sarcasm, but he knew that the Viking was, according to his lights, being complimentary. “I will go with you, as you knew I would. What are your plans? And why tonight? What makes it different from all the others?”

“Nothing is different. My patience is gone. I’m weary of waiting for events to open the way. I’ll make my own event.”

“Besides,” Davis said, “the Inca is too interested in Ann. If you wait much longer, he will make her one of his concubines. I assume chat she’s going with us.”

“Correct.”

“And Faustroll?”

“The crazed one may stay here or go with us as he wishes. You will ask him if he cares to accompany us. Warn him to stay sober. If he is drunk, he will be left behind, most probably as a corpse.”

Davis and Ivar talked in low tones as Ivar revealed his plans. Then the Viking climbed down from the crow’s nest. Davis stayed awhile so that the sentinel would not think that they had been conspiring and were eager to begin their wicked work against the Inca.

At noon, Davis was by a grailstone on the edge of the River. After the top of the stone erupted in lightning and thunder, he waited until an overseer handed him his big cylindrical grail. He went off to cat from its offerings, walking slowly and looking for Faustroll in the crowd. He did not have much time for this. His appointment with the Inca was within the hour, and that bloody-minded pagan accepted no excuses for lateness from his subjects.

After several minutes, Davis saw the Frenchman, who was sitting cross-legged on the ground. He was eating and at the same time talking to some friends. Faustroll’s appearance was no longer so grotesque. He had washed out of his black hair the glue and mud forming a nest in the center of which was a wooden cuckoo egg. His hair now hung dawn past his shoulders. He no longer had a painted mustache and he had also removed the painted mathematical formula from his forehead. He spoke only occasionally in the even-stressed words once distinguishing all of his speech. The change in him had encouraged Davis to believe that Faustroll was beginning to recover his sanity.

But his fishing pole was always at hand, and he still called himself “we.” He insisted that using “I” made an artificial distinction between subject and object, that everybody was part of one body called humanity and that this body was only a small part of the even vaster universe.

“We” included the “Great Ubu,” that is, God, and also anything that did not exist but could be named, and also the past, present, and future. This triad he considered to be indivisible.

Faustroll had irked, angered, and repulsed Davis. But, for some reason, Davis also felt a sort of fondness for him and was, despite himself, fascinated by Faustroll. Perhaps that was because the Frenchman was also looking for the Ultimate Reality, the Truth. However, their concepts of these differed greatly.

Davis waited until Faustroll happened to look at him. He signaled with a hand raised level with his forehead, his fingers waggling. Faustroll nodded slightly to acknowledge the signal, but he continued his animated talk in Esperanto. After a few minutes, he rose, stretched, and said that he was going fishing. Fortunately, no one offered to go with him. The two met by the very edge of the River.

“What do we have in mind?” the Frenchman said, speaking in English.

“Ivar is going to leave tonight. I’m going with him, and so is Ann Pullen. You’re invited. But you must not get drunk.”

“What? Surely, we are jesting!”

“We are not amused,” Davis said.

“We are sometimes intoxicated, but we are never drunk.”

“Come off it,” Davis said. “No clowning around tonight. Ivar said he’d kill you if you’re drunk, and that’s no empty threat. And you know what’ll happen to us if we get caught. Are you coming with us or not?”

“We never leave a place. On the other hand we are never in one place. That would be too mundane and scarcely to be tolerated. Yes, we will accompany us, though the answer to the Great Question, the uncompleted side of the formula, may be here in this minute metropolis of uncertainty and instability, not, as we hope, far up the River.”

“Here’s what Ivar proposes,” Davis said.

Faustroll listened without interrupting, something he rarely did, then nodded. “We believe that that is as good a plan as any and perhaps better than most. Which is not to say that it has any merit at all.”

“Very well. We’ll meet at midnight at the Rock of Many Faces.”

Davis paused, then said, “I do not know why Ivar insists on bringing Ann Pullen along. She’s a troublemaker and a slut.”

“Ah! We hate her so much, we must love her!”

“Nonsense!” Davis said. “She’s contemptible, wicked, vicious, the lowest of the low. She makes the Great Whore of Babylon look like a saint.”

Faustroll laughed. “We believe that she is a soul who had and has the strength of intellect and character to free herself of the bonds, limits, and restrictions imposed upon women by men since time began or, perhaps, shortly before that. She snaps her fingers under the puissant but pinched proboscis of the god you worship and the puny pinched penises of the men who worship him. She…”

“You will burn in hell as surely as a struck match burns,” Davis said, his blue eyes slitted, his hands clenched.

“Many matches do not light because they are deficient in the wherewithal of combustion. But we agree with the dying words of the immortal Rabelais: ‘Curtain! The farce is finished! I am setting out to seek a vast perhaps.’ If we die the death of forever, so be it. There are not enough fires in Hell to burn all of us away.”

Davis opened his arms wide and held out his hands, indicating hopelessness. “I pray that the good Lord will make you see the errors of your ways before it is too late for you.”

“We thank you for the kind thought, if it is kind.”

“You’re impenetrable,” Davis said.

“No. Expenetrating.”

Faustroll walked off, leaving Davis to figure out what he meant.

But Davis hurried away to be on time for his daily appointment. Just as he had been the royal masseur for Ivar the Boneless, when Ivar was king of an area far to the south of this state, so Davis was now premier masseur for Pachacuti. His job angered and frustrated him because he had been on Earth an M.D., a very good one, and then an osteopath. He had traveled to many places in the U.S.A., lecturing and founding many osteopathic colleges. When he was getting old, he had founded and headed a college in Los Angeles based on his eclectic discipline, neuropathy. That used the best theories and techniques of drugless therapy: osteopathy, chiropractic, Hahnemanism, and others. When he had died in 1919 at the age of eighty-four, his college was still flourishing. He was sure that it would grow and would found new branches throughout the world. But late-twentieth-centurians he had met had said that they had never heard of him or of the college.

Seven years ago, Ivar had been forced to flee from his kingdom because of treachery by an ally, Thorfinn the Skull-Splitter. Davis, Faustroll, and Ann Pullen had gone with Ivar. They did not know what to expect from Thorfinn, but they assumed that they would not like it.

After many fights, enslavements, and escapes while going up the River, they had been captured by the Incans. And here they were, enduring what they must and plotting to get freedom someday.

Ivar was as patient as a fox watching a toothsome hen, but his patience had been eroded away. Just why the Viking had not taken off by himself, Davis did not know. He would be burdened by them—from his viewpoint, anyway. But an unanalyzable magnetism kept the four together. At the same time that they were attracted to each other, they also were repulsed. They revolved about each other in intricate orbits that would have given an astronomer a headache to figure out.

About ten minutes by the sand clock before his scheduled appearance, Davis was in the building housing the Inca’s court. This was a four-walled and roofed structure sitting on the intersection of many beams a hundred feet above the ground. The skeletal city creaked, groaned, and swayed around, above, and below them. It was noisy outside the building and only a trifle less so inside. Though the Inca sat on a bamboo throne on a dais while he listened to his petitioners, the people around him talked loudly to each other. Davis had threaded his way through them and now stood a few feet from the dais. Presently, the Inca would rise, a fishskin drum would boom three times, and he would retire to a small room with the woman he had chosen to honor with his royal lust. Afterward, Davis would massage the royal body.

Pachacuti was a short and dark man with a hawk nose, high cheekbones, and thick lips. Around the hips of his short squat body a long green towel served as a kilt, and a red towel, edged in blue, was draped over his shoulders as a cape. His headpiece was a turban-towel secured by a circlet of oak from which sprouted long varicolored fake feathers made of carved wood.

If Pachacuti had been naked, Davis often thought, he would not have looked like a monarch. Very few unclothed kings would be. In fact, even now, he was no more distinguished in appearance than any of his subjects. But his manner and bearing were certainly imperial.

Who was the woman who would share the royal couch today? Davis had thought that he did not care. And then he saw his bête noir, Ann Pullen, preceded by two spearmen and followed by two more. The crowd gave way for her. When she reached the dais, she stopped and turned around and smiled with lovely white teeth set in bright rouged lips.

Though Davis loathed her, he admitted to himself that she was beautiful. Those long wavy yellow tresses, the strikingly delicate and fine-boned face, the perfectly formed and outthrust breasts she was so proud of, the narrow waist and hips, and the long slim legs made her look like a goddess. Venus as she would be if Praxiteles had happened to dream of Ann Pullen. But she was such a bitch, he thought. However, Helen of Troy probably had been a bitch too.

The guards marched her toward the door of the room in which the Inca waited for her. A moment alter she had entered the room, the guards admitted the little big-eyed priest who observed the virility of the Incan during his matings. When the king was done, and God only knew when that would be, the royal witness would step outside and announce the number of times the Inca had mounted his woman.

The crowd would rejoice and would congratulate their fellows. The kingdom would continue to flourish; all was well with its citizens’ world.

Beware, though, if the Inca failed once.

Davis had never cursed. At least, not on Earth. But he did now.

“Go-o-o-od damn her!”

She had given herself to the Inca and now would become one of his wives, perhaps the favorite. But why? Had she quarreled with Ivar since he had been on the sentinel tower? Or had the Inca tempted her with such offers that she could no longer refuse him? Or had she, the Scarlet Woman, an abomination in the nostrils of the Lord, just decided that she would like to lie with the Inca before she left the kingdom tonight? The man was said to be extraordinarily virile.

Whatever the reason, Ivar would not ignore her infidelity. Though he had done so now and then in the past, that was because Ann had been discreet and he had been lying at the same time with another woman. For Ann to copulate with the Inca in public view, as it were, was to insult Ivar. Though he was usually self-controlled, he would react as surely as gunpowder touched with a flaming match.

“What’s gotten into that woman?” Davis mumbled. “Aside from a horde of men?”

Ann Pullen was a late-seventeenth-century American who had lived—and she had lived to the fullest—in Maryland and Westmoreland County, Virginia. Born in a Quaker family, she had converted to the Episcopalian Church along with most of her tobacco planter family. She had married four times, a man by the name of Pullen being her final husband. Just when she took her first lover and when she took the last one even she did not know. But they had been coming and going for at least forty years during her turbulent life an Earth.

As she had declared—this had been in a public record—she saw no reason why a woman should not enjoy the same liberty and privileges as a man. Though that was a dangerous sentiment in her time, she had escaped arrests for harlotry and adultery. Twice, though, she had come close to being whipped by the court flogger because she was charged with attacking women who had insulted her.

Perhaps the isolation of the Maryland and Virginia counties in which she resided had enabled her to avoid the severe punishment she would have gotten in the more civilized Tidewater area. Or perhaps it was the fiery and pugnacious nature and the wild ways and free spirit of the Westmorelandians of her time. In any event, she had been a terrible sinner on Earth, Davis thought, and on the Riverworld she had gotten worse. His Church of Christ beliefs made him scorn and despise her. At the same time, he was grieved because she would surely burn in Hell. Sometimes, though he was ashamed of himself afterward, he gloried in the visions of her writhing and screaming in the torments of Inferno.

So, now, the Jezebel had suddenly decided to couple with Pachacuti. There was not much more she could do to make trouble than this. Except tor telling the Inca that Ivar, Davis, and Faustroll were planning to leave the kingdom. Not even she would be so low.

Or would she?

He wished to slip away from the court, but he did not dare to anger the Inca. He was forced to listen to the cries and moans of ecstasy from the emperor and Ann Pullen. The courtiers and soldiers had quit talking to hear them, which made it worse for Davis. Especially since they were not at all disgusted. Instead, they were grinning and chuckling and nudging each other. Several men and women were feeling each other, and one couple was brazenly copulating on the floor. Savages! Beasts! Where was the lightning stroke to burn them with a foretaste of Hell? Where the vengeance of the Lord?

After several hours, the priest came out of the room. Smiling, he shouted that the Inca still had the virility demanded by the gods and his people. The state would prosper; good times would continue. Everybody except Davis and the man and the woman on the floor cheered.

Presently, slave women carried in bowls and pitchers of water and towels to bathe and to dry off the Inca and Ann. When they came out, the chief priest: went in to perform a cleansing ritual. After he was done, a servant told Davis that the Emperor was ready for him. Gritting his teeth, but trying to smile at the same time, Davis entered the chamber of iniquity. Despite the bathing, the two still reeked of sweaty and overly fluidic sex.

Ann, naked, was lolling on a couch. She stretched out when she saw Davis and then flipped a breast at him. One of her chief pleasures was to flaunt her body before him. She knew how disgusted that made him.

The Emperor, also naked, was lying on the massage table. Davis went to work on him. When he was done, he was told to massage Ann. The Emperor, after getting off the table, was clothed by his dressers in some splendid ceremonial costume, splendid by Riverworld standards, anyway. Then he left the chamber and was greeted with loud cheers by the crowd.

Ann got onto the table and turned over on her front.

She spoke in the Virginia dialect of her time. “Give me a very good rubdown, Andy. The Emperor bent me this way and that. I taught him many positions he did not know on Earth, and he used them all. If you were not such a holy man, I’d instruct you on them.”

Two female attendants remained in the room. But they did not understand English. Davis, trying to keep his voice from trembling with anger, said, “What do you think Ivar is going to do about this?”

“What can he do?” she said flippantly. Nevertheless, her muscles stiffened slightly. Then. “What business is it of yours?”

“Sin is everybody’s business.”

“Just what I’d expect a smellsmock fleak preacher to say.”

“Smellsmock? Fleak?” Davis said.

“A licentious idiot.”

Davis was kneading her shoulder muscles. He would find it very easy to move his hands up, close there around her neck, and snap it. Though he was not a big man, he had very powerful hands. For a moment, he almost realized the fantasy Hashing through his mind. But a true Christian did not murder, no matter how strong the provocation. On the other hand, he would not be really killing her. She would appear somewhere else tomorrow and bedevil others. Far from here, though.

“Licentious,” she said. “You hate me so much because, deep down, you would like to tup me. The Old Adam in you wants to ravish me. But you shove that down into the shadows of your sinfulness, into the Old Horny crouching clown there. I say that because I know men. Down there, they are all brothers. All, all, I say!”

“Whore! Slut! You lie! You would like to have carnal knowledge of every man in the world, and…”

She turned over abruptly. She was smiling, bur her eyes were narrow. “Carnal knowledge? You mealy-mouth! Can’t you use good old English? You wouldn’t say tit if you had one in your mouth!”

Though he was not done massaging, he walked out of the room. The snickering and giggling of the servants followed him through the bamboo walls. They had not understood a word, but the tones of his and Ann’s voices and her gestures were easily read.

Having recovered somewhat, he came back into the room. Ann was sitting up on the table and swinging her long shapely legs. She seemed pleased with herself. He stood in the door and said, “You know what Ivar intends for us to do tonight?”

She nodded, then said, “He’s told me.”

“So you had to have one last fling?”

“I’ve done the double-backed beast with kings bur never with an emperor. Now, if I could only find a god to take me as Zeus took Leda. Or the great god Odhinnr whom Ivar claims he’s descended from. A god who has the stamina to keep going forever and no storms of conscience afterward and is always kind to me. Then my life would be complete.”

“I could vomit,” he said, and he walked out again.

“That’s one form of ejaculation!” she said loudly.

He climbed down hundreds of steps, wondering meanwhile why these crazy pagans built such an inconvenient city. When he got to the ground, he searched for Faustroll along the Riverbank until he found him fishing from a pier. The Frenchman’s bamboo basket held seven of the foot-long striped species known as zebras. He was describing to his fellow fishers the intricacies of the science he had invented. He called it pataphysics. Davis understood little of it. So, evidently, did the people around him. They nodded their heads at his remarks. But their puzzled expressions showed that they were as much at sea as most of his listeners. That Faustroll’s Kishwa was not very good certainly did not help their comprehension.

3

Pataphysics,” Faustroll intoned, “is difficult to define because we must use nonpataphysical terms to define it.”

He had to use French words interspersed with Kishwa, because “pataphysics” and many other terms were not in the Incan language. Thus, he bewildered his audience even more. Davis decided char Faustroll did not care deeply whether or not these listeners comprehended him. He was talking to himself to convince himself.

“Pataphysics is the science of the area beyond metaphysics,” Faustroll continued. “It is the science of imaginary solutions, of the particular, the seeming exception. Pataphysics considers that all things are equal. All things are pataphysical. But few people practice pataphysics consciously.

“Pataphysics is not a joke or a hoax. We are serious, unlaughing, as sincere as a hurricane.”

He added in English for some reason Davis could not figure out, “Pataphysics is synaptic, not synoptic.”

Apparently, he had given up on the Incans. He switched to French.

“In conclusion, chough nothing is ever concluded in the full sense of ‘conclusion,’ we know nothing of pataphysics yet know everything. We are born knowing it at the same time that we are born ignorant of it. Our purpose is to go forth and instruct the ignorant—that is, us, until we all are illuminated. Then, mankind as we unfortunately know it now will be transformed. We will become as God is supposed to be, in many respects, anyway, even though God does not exist, not as we know it, its backside is chaos, and, knowing the Truth, we in our fleshly forms will pupate ourselves into a semblance of the Truth. Which will be close enough.”

Now here, Davis thought, is one who truly fulfills Ann’s definition of a “fleak.” And yet…and yet… Faustroll made some kind of sense. Remove all the folderol, and he was saying that people should look at things from a different angle. What was it that that late twentieth-century Arab he had met so many years ago had said? Abu ibn Omar had quoted…what was his name…ah! a man named Ouspensky. “Think in other categories.” That was it. “Think in other categories.” Abu had said, “Turn a thing over, look at its bottom side. A watch is said to be circular. But if its face is turned at right angles to you, the watch is an ellipse.

“If everybody were to think in other categories, especially in emotional, familial, social, economic, religious, and political areas, human beings would eliminate most of the problems that make their lives so miserable.”

“It didn’t happen on Earth,” Davis had said.

“But here it may,” Abu had said.

“Fat chance!” Davis had said. “Unless all turn to the Lord, to Jesus Christ, for salvation.”

“And were truly Christian, not the narrow-minded, bigoted, selfish, power-hungry wretches which most of them are. I will offend you when I say that you are one of them, though you will deny it. So be it.”

Davis had come close to punching the man, but he had turned away, trembling with anger, and walked off.

He still got indignant when he thought about Abu’s accusation.

“Faustroll!” Davis said in English. “I must talk to you!”

The Frenchman turned around and said, “Commence.”

Davis told him about Ann and the Emperor. Faustroll said, “You may inform the Boneless about this delightful situation if you care to. We do not wish to be in his neighborhood when he hears of it.”

“Oh, he’ll hear of it, though not from me. This area is a lava flow of rumor and gossip. Are you still willing to escape from this place tonight, as agreed?”

“With or without Ivar or Ann or you.”

He pointed past Davis, then said, “Someone has already told him.”

Davis turned around. The city proper, the towering skeleton city, began a half-mile from the Riverbank. The Viking was striding on the ground toward an entrance to a staircase. He gripped in one hand the shaft of a big stone ax. He was also carrying a very large backpack. Davis supposed that Ivar’s grail was in it. It bulged so much, however, that it had to contain something else. Even from this distance, Davis could see that Ivar’s face and body were bright red.

“He’s going to kill the Inca!” Davis said.

“Or Ann, or both,” Faustroll said.

It was too late to catch up with him. Even it they did, they could not stop him. Several times before, they had seen him in his insane rages. He would smash in their skulls with the ax.

“He’ll not get through the Inca’s bodyguards,” the Frenchman said. “I believe that the only thing we can do is to follow our plan and leave tonight. Ann and Ivar won’t be there. You and I must go without them.”

Davis knew that Faustroll was deeply upset. He had said “I” instead of “we.”

By then, the Viking had reached the third level and crossed over on it. For a moment, he disappeared behind a translucent wall formed by a lightweight sheet of dragonfish intestine.

“I feel as if I’m deserting him,” Davis said. “But what can we do?”

“We have changed our mind, which is the prerogative, indeed, the duty, of a philosopher,” Faustroll said. “The least we can do is to follow him and determine what happens to him. We might even be able to aid him in some way.”

Davis did not think so. But he would not allow this cuckoo to show more courage than he.

“Very well. Let’s go.”

They put their grails in their shoulder bags and hurried to the city. After climbing up staircases and ladders, they reached the level on which were the Inca’s quarters. They saw many people running around and very noisy about it. From a distance came a hullabaloo that only a large crowd could raise. At the same time, they smelled smoke. It had a different odor from the many cooking fares in the dwellings. Following the direction of the noise and sidestepping people running toward the staircases and ladders, they came out onto a small plaza.

The buildings around this, mostly two-story bamboo structures with half-walls, were government offices. The Inca’s “palace” was the largest building, three stories high but narrow. Though it had a roof, its exterior had few walls. Its far side was attached to the main scaffolding of the city.

The odor of smoke had become stronger, and there were more men and women running around. The two men could make no sense out of the shouts and cries until Davis caught the Kishwa word for “fire.” It was then they realized the commotion was not caused by Ivar. Or, perhaps, it was. Davis thought of the huge bulging bag on Ivar’s back. Had that contained pine torches and an earthen jar of lichen alcohol?

The strong wind was carrying the clouds to the south, which explained why the smoke stink had not been so detectable in the lower levels. Getting to the palace would be dangerous. By now, the bamboo floor of the plaza was burning swiftly and they would have to go around the plaza. For all they knew, the floor on its other side was also ablaze. Near them, a crew was working frantically hauling up big buckets of water from the ground on six hoists. Through the many open spaces among the rooms and the levels, Davis saw lines of people passing buckets of water from the river.

It had all happened very swiftly.

Now Davis smelled the distinctive odor of burning flesh. And he could see several bodies lying in the flames. Several seconds later, a corpse fell through the weakened floor to the one below it.

It did not seem possible that one man could wreak all this.

“Will you go now?” Davis said, “Ivar is doomed, if he’s not already dead. We’d better get down to the ground before we’re caught in the fire.”

“Reason does not always prevail,” the Frenchman said. “But fire does.”

They retreated, coughing, until the smoke thinned out enough for them to see. The exterior of the building was a few yards from them. Nearby were a staircase and several openings in the floor for descent by ladder. But they could not get to them because of the crowd surrounding them. The staircase and the ladders were jammed with a snarling, screaming, and struggling mob. Several fell off onto the heads of the refugees on the floor below.

“It is possible to climb down on the beams of the outer structure!” Faustroll yelled. “Let us essay to escape via those!”

By then, others had the same thought. But there was enough space for all. When Davis and the Frenchman got to the ground, they were shaking with the effort and their hands, bellies, and the inner parts of their legs were rubbed raw. They worked through the crowds until they were close to the River.

“Now is the time to appropriate a small sailing vessel and go up-River,” Faustroll said. “No one is here to object.”

Davis looked at the skeletal structure and the people swarming around it and still coming out of it. By then, the bucket brigades had done their work, though he would have bet a few minutes ago that the entire city was doomed. The smoke was gone except for some wisps.

He and Faustroll still had their grails. And a fishing vessel anchored a few yards out contained poles and nets and spears. That would have to be enough.

When they waded out to the boat, they saw a man, dark-skinned, black-haired, eyes closed, lying face up on the floor. His jaw moved slowly. He was not chewing a cud.

“Dreamgum,” Faustroll said. “He is now somewhere in Incan Peru, his mind blazing with visions of the land he once knew but that never really existed. Or, perhaps, he is flying faster than light among the stars toward the limits of the limitless.”

“No such splendid things,” Davis said disgustedly. He pointed at the man’s erect penis. “He dreams that he is lying with the most beautiful woman in the world. If he has the imagination to do so, which I doubt. These people are crude and brutal peasants. The apex of their dreams is a life of ease and no obligations, no masters to obey, plenty of food and beer, and every woman their love slave.”

Faustroll hauled himself aboard. “You have just described Heaven, my friend—that is, the Riverworld. Except for the masters to obey and every woman being a love slave, as you so quaintly describe the velvet-thighed gender. Get rid of the masters and accept that many women will scorn you but that there are many others who will not, and you have the unimaginative man’s ideal of the afterworld. Not so bad, though. Certainly, a step up from our native planet.

“As for this fellow, he was born among the poor, and he stayed among them. But the poor are the salt of the earth. By salt, we do not mean that excretion made by certain geological phenomena. We mean the salt left on the skin after much labor and heavy sweating, the salt accumulating from lack of bathing. That stinking mineral and the strata of rotting flaked-off skin cells is the salt of the earth.”

Davis climbed onto the boat, stood up, and pointed at the man’s jetting penis. “Ugh! Lower than the beasts! Let’s throw the ape overboard and get going.”

Faustroll laughed. “Doubtless he dreams of Ann, our local Helen of Troy. We, too, have done so and are not ashamed of it. However, how do you know that he is not dreaming of a man? Or of his beloved llama?”

“You’re disgusting, too,” Davis said. He bent over and clutched the man’s ankles. “Help me.”

Faustroll put his hands under the man’s arms and hoisted him. “Uh! Why does gravity increase its strength when we lift a corpse or a drunk or a drug-sodden? Answer us that, our Philistine friend. We will answer for you. It is because gravity is not an unvarying force, always obeying what we call the laws of physics. Gravity does vary, depending upon the circumstances. Thus, contrary to Heraclitus, what goes up does not always come down.”

“You chatter on like a monkey,” Davis said. “Here we go! One, two, three, heave!”

The man splashed into the water on his side, sank under the surface, then came up sputtering. Waist-high in the River, he began walking to the bank.

“Thank us for your much-needed bath!” Faustroll said, and he laughed. Then he began hauling up the anchor-stone.

But Davis pointed inshore and said, “Here they some!”

Ten soldiers, wooden-helmeted and carrying spears, were running toward them.

“Someone’s reported us!” Davis said, and he groaned. Two minutes later, they were being marched off to jail.

4

Ivar and Ann had not been killed. The Viking had fought through many soldiers, slaying and wounding many, yet had somehow reached his goal though he was bleeding from many wounds. His bloodstained ax had crashed down upon the head of the Inca, and Pachacuti had ceased to be the emperor. Ivar had made no attempt to kill Ann. That he was knocked out just after smashing the Inca’s skull in may been the only reason he did not slay her.

Under the law of the Western Sun Kingdom, Ivar should have been kept alive to be tortured for days until his body could take it no longer. But the man who seized power had another idea. Tamcar was the general of a regiment but was not next in line for the throne. He immediately launched his soldiers against Pachacuti’s, killed them, and declared himself the Inca. His assassins murdered the other generals, and, after some fighting, the survivors of the regiments surrendered to the new Inca. So much for the tradition of an orderly succession.

Though Tamcar publicly denounced Ivar, he must have been secretly grateful to him. He sentenced him to the Leap of Death, but that gave Ivar a thin chance to win his freedom and exile from the kingdom. Ann Pullen, Faustroll, and Davis had had no part in slaying Pachacuti, yet they were judged guilty by association with the Viking. Actually, the new Inca was just ridding himself of all those he considered dangerous to him. He rounded up a score of high-placed men and sent them out onto the gangplank. All but two tell. This pleased the people, though some were disappointed because not all failed. Tamcar sought out others whom he suspected might want to take the throne away from him. They, along with criminals, were forced to make the heap. The mob loved the spectacles. After these warm-ups, the main event came. Ivar and his companions now had their opportunity to thrill the populace. Not to mention themselves.

Two weeks after Pachacuti’s death, Davis and his fellow prisoners were taken to the tower at high noon. They had been held in a stockade, thus had had the space in which to exercise vigorously. Also, they had practiced long jumping on the runway and the sand pit provided for those who lead to make the Leap of Death. The Emperor wanted his gamesters to come as near as they could to the receiving gangplank before falling. The people loved a good show, and the Emperor loved what the people loved. He sat on a chair on the platform from which projected the “freedom” plank.

The drums beat and the unicorn-fish horns were blown. The crowd below cheered at the announcement of the first jump.

Faustroll, standing behind Davis, said, “Remember, our friend. The degree of force of gravity depends upon the attitude of the one defying it. If there were such a thing as good luck, we would ask that it be given to you.”

“Good luck to you, too,” Davis said. He sounded very nervous, even to himself.

The captain of the royal guards shouted that he would begin the count. Before the two minutes were up, Davis had sped down the thirty-foot-long plank, brought his right foot down hard on its end, and soared up. It was then that the rapture seized him. Afterward, he believed that that was the only thing that bore him to safety. It had been given to him by God, of course. He had been saved by the same Being who had saved Daniel in the lion’s den.

Nevertheless, he fell hard forward as his feet, just behind the toes, were caught by the end of the plank. His chest and face slammed into the hard yew wood near the edge of the plank. His hands gripped the sides of the plank, though he was not in danger of falling off. He lay for some time before getting up. Cheers, jeers, and boos rose from the mob on the ground. He paid no attention to them as he limped along the plank to the platform and was taken to one side by guards. His heart beat fast, and he did not quit trembling for a long time. By then, Faustroll was running down the gangplank, his face set with determination.

He, too, soared, though Davis doubted that the Frenchman was caught in the ecstasy he had felt. He landed with no inch to spare but managed to make himself fall forward. If he had gone backward and thus sat on the air, he would have fallen.

He was grinning when he got to Davis’s side. “We are such splendid athletes!” he cried.

The drums beat, and the horn blew for the third time. Ann, as naked as her predecessors, her skin white with fear, ran along the gangplank. Bent forward, her arms and long slim legs pumping, she sprung over the void without hesitation.

“What courage! What audacity!” Faustroll cried. “What a woman!”

Davis, despite his dislike for her, admitted to himself that the Frenchman was right. But her bravery and strength were not enough to propel her to a good landing. The end of the plank struck her in her midriff and her elbows slammed onto the wood. Her breath whooshed out. For a moment, she hung, legs kicking over the emptiness. Her efforts to catch her breath were agonizing. Then she stretched out her arms, moving her hands along the edge of the plank. Her face was against the wood. She began to slip backward as her grip weakened.

Ivar bellowed, his voice riding aver the clamor of the mob and the cries of the men on the platforms. “You are a Valkyrie, Ann! Fit to be my woman! Hang on! You can do it! Pull yourself up and forward! I will meet you at the platform! If I should fall, I will meet you again somewhere on the River!”

That surprised Davis. During the two weeks of their imprisonment, Ivar had not spoken a word to Ann. Nor she to him.

Ann grinned then, though whether it was with despair or pain or with joy at Ivar’s words was a question. Sweating, her face even whiter, struggling hard, she pulled herself forward until her legs were no longer dangling. Then she rolled over and lay flat on her back while her breasts rose and fell quickly. Her midriff bore a wide red mark from the impact. Two minutes later, she got on all fours and crawled several feet. Then she rose and walked unsteadily bur proudly to the platform.

Faustroll embraced her, perhaps more enthusiastically than modesty permitted, when she joined him. She wept for a moment. Faustroll wept too. But they separated to watch Ivar when again the drums rattled and the horns blared.

The huge man, his bronze-red hair shining in the sun, stepped onto the gangplank. As the other jumpers had done, he had been bending and flexing and leaping up and down in a warm-up. Now he crouched, his lips moving counting the seconds along with the captain of the guards. Then he came up out of his crouch and ran, his massive legs pumping. The plank bent down under his weight, and it quivered from the pounding. His left foot came down just a few inches from the end. He was up, legs kicking.

Down he came, a foot short of the end of the victory plank. His hands shot out and gripped the sides of the wood near the end. The plank bent, sprang up a little, and sank down again. It cracked loudly.

Davis cried out, “Get on the plank! It’s going to break!”

Ivar was already swinging himself backward to get momentum for a forward swing so he could get his leg up on the plank. Just as he did come forward, a sharp snapping noise announced that the wood had broken. Ann shrieked. Davis gasped. Faustroll yelled, “Mon dieu!”

Roaring, Ivar hurtled out of sight. Davis rushed forward and pressed his stomach against the railing. The plank was turning over and over. But the Viking was not in sight.

Davis leaned far out. There, thirty feet below him, Ivar was hanging by his hands from a slanting beam. His towerward swing had carried him far enough to grab one of the horizontal beams projecting beyond the main structure. Hanging from the beam with only his hands, he had managed to work closer to the building. But he must have slipped, and he had fallen. But, again, he had saved himself by clutching a cross beam slanting at a forty-five-degree angle in the exterior of the city structure. His body must have slammed hard against it, and his hands were slipping down along the slanting wood, leaving a trail of smeared blood.

When they were stopped where another angled beam met the one he was clinging to, he strove to pull himself up. And he succeeded. After that, he had to climb back up until he got to the platform on which Davis stood. If he did not do that, he would not be freed.

By then, Tamcar had left his throne to look over the platform and down at the Viking. He grimaced when he saw Ivar slowly but surely making his way up the outside of the structure. But even Tamcar had to obey the rules of the ordeal. No one was allowed to interfere with Ivar. It was up to him to get to the platform or to fall. Ten minutes or so passed. And the bronze-red hair of the Viking appeared and then his grinning face. After he hauled himself over the railing, he lay for a while to regain his strength.

When he arose, he spoke to Tamcar. “Surely, the gods favor us four. They have destined us for greater things than being your slaves.”

“I do not think so,” the Emperor said. “You will he freed, as the gods decree. Bur you will not go far. The savages just north of our state will seize you, and you will no longer be free. I will make sure of that.”

For a moment, it looked as if Ivar were going to hurl himself at the Emperor. But the spears of the royal guard were ready for him. He relaxed, smiled, and said, “We’ll see about that.”

Davis felt drained. The ordeal had been terrible enough. Now, after having survived it, they would again fall into the hands of evil. Here, at least, they had plenty of food. But, just beyond the upper boundary of the Kingdom of the West Sun, the land on both sides of the River was occupied by people whom it was best to avoid. They gave their slaves just enough food to keep them working; they enjoyed crucifying slaves and tying them up in agonizing positions for a long time; they relished eating them. If you were their captive and you suddenly were given much food, you knew that you were being fattened to be the main course.

Davis thought that he would have been better off if he had fallen to his death. At least, that way, he would have had a fifty-fifty chance to rise again far north of here.

He was still downcast when the boat carrying them brought them within sight of what the Incans called the Land of the Beasts. The two crewmen were starting to haul down the lateen sail. He was sitting with the other captives in the middle of the vessel. Their hands were bound before them with thin cords of fish-gut. They were naked and possessed only their grails. On both sides of them stood guards with spears.

The captain of the guards said, “Within minutes, you will all be free.” He laughed.

Apparently, the Emperor had sent word to the Beasts that they would soon have slaves as a gift. A group of dark-skinned Caucasians stood at a docking pier on the right bank. They waved flint-tipped spears and big clubs while they danced wildly, the sun flashing on the mica chips inset in their flaring, light-gray, fish-scale helmets. Davis had heard that they were supposed to be a North African people who lived sometime in the Old Stone Age. Seeing them made him swear and sick at his stomach. But, so far, they had not put out on boats to meet them.