"Why do all you slaves believe those fairy tales about cannibalism?" she asked scornfully. The word cannibalism was unfamiliar to Alan. "We aren't going to eat you, boy, we're going to make you free. What's your name?"
"Alan," he answered in a shaky voice, allowing himself to be led onward. "What is this freedom the zird was talking about?"
"You'll find out," she promised. "But the zird doesn't know. Zards are just flying animals. We train them to say that one sentence and lead slaves to us,"
"Why don't you just come in the fields yourselves?" he asked curiously, his fear dissipating. "You could climb the fences easily."
"That's been tried. The silly slaves just raise a clamor when they recognize a stranger. The Hussirs have caught several of us that way."
The two suns rose, first the blue one, the white one only a few minutes later. The mountains around them awoke with light.
In the dawn, he had thought Mara was dark, but her hair was tawny gold in the pearly morning. Her eyes were deep brown, like the fruit of the ttornot tree.
They stopped by a spring that gushed from between huge rocks, and Mara took the opportunity to appraise his slender, well-knit frame.
"You'll do," she said. "I wish afl of them we get were as healthy."
In three weeks, Alan could not have been distinguished from the other Wild Humans outwardly. He was getting used to wearing clothing and, somewhat awkwardly, carried the bow and arrows with which he was armed. He and Mara were ranging several miles from the caves in which the Wild Humans lived They were hunting animals for food, and Alan licked his lips in anticipation. He liked cooked meat. The Hussirs fed their human herds bean meal and scraps from the kitchens. The only meat he had ever eaten was raw meat from small animals he had been swift enough to catch in the fields.
They came up on a ridge and Mara, ahead of him, stopped. He came up beside her.
Not far below them, a Hussir moved, afoot, carrying a short, heavy bow and a quiver of arrows. The Hussir looked from side to side, as if hunting, but did not catch sight of them.
A quiver of fear ran through Alan. In that instant, he was a disobedient member of the herd, and death awaited him for his escape from the fields.
There was a sharp twang beside him, and the Hussir stumbled and fell, transfixed through the chest with an arrow. Mara calmly lowered her bow, and smiled at the fright in his eyes.
"There's one that won't find Haafin," she said. "Haafin" was what the Wild Humans called their community.
"The there are Hussirs in the mountains?" he quavered.
"A few. Hunters. If we get them before they run across the valley, we're all right Some have seen us and gotten away, though. Haafin has been moved a dozen times in the last century, and we've always lost a lot of people fighting our way out Those little devils attack in force."
"But what's the good of all this, then?" he asked hopelessly. "There aren't more than four or five hundred humans in Haafin. What good is hiding, and running somewhere else when the Hussirs find you, when sooner or later there'll come a time when they'll wipe you out?"
Mara sat down on a rock, "You learn fast," she remarked. "YouTI probably be surprised to learn that this community has managed to hang on in these mountains for more than a thousand years, but you've still put your finger right on the problem that has faced us for generations."
She hesitated and traced a pattern thoughtfully in the dust with a moccasined foot.
"It's a little early for you to be told, but you might as well start keeping your ears open," she said. "When you've been here a year, you'll be accepted as a member of the community. The way that's done is for you to have an interview with The Refugee, the leader of our people, and he always asks newcomers for their ideas on the solution of that very problem."
"But what will I listen for?" asked Alan anxiously.
"There are two different major ideas on how to solve the problem, and FH let you hear them from the people who believe in them," she said. "Just remember what the problem is: to save ourselves from death and the hundreds of thousands of other humans in the world from slavery, we have to find a way to force the Hussirs to accept humans as equals, not as animals!" Many things about Alan's new life in Haafin were not too different from the existence he had known. He had to do his share of work in the little fields that clung to the edges of the small river in the middle of the valley. He had to help hunt animals for meat, he had to help make tools such as the Hussirs used. He had to fight with his fists, on occasion, to protect his But this thing the Wild Humans called "freedom" was a strange element that touched everything they were and did. The word meant basically, Alan found, that the Wild Humans did not belong to the Hussirs, but were their own masters. When orders were given, they usually had to be obeyed, but they came from humans, not Hussirs.
There were other differences. There were no formal family relationships, for there were no social traditions behind people who for generations had been nothing more than domestic animals. But the pressure and deprivations of rigidly enforced mating seasons were missing, and some of the older couples were mated permanently.
"Freedom," Alan decided, meant a dignity which made a human the equal of a Hussir.
The anniversary of that night when Alan followed the zird came, and Mara led him early in the morning to the extreme end of the valley. She left him at the mouth of a small cave, from which presently emerged the man of whom Alan had heard much but whom he saw now for the first time.
The Refugee's hair and beard were gray, and his face was lined with years.
"You are Alan, who came to us from Wfln Castle," said the old man.
"That is true, your greatness," replied Alan respectfully.
"Don't call me 'your greatness.' That's slave talk. I am Roand, The Refugee."
"When you leave me today, you will be a member of the community of Haafin, only free human community in the world," said Roand. "You will have a member's rights. No man may take a woman from you without her consent. No one may take from you the food you hunt or grow without your consent. If you are first in an empty cave, no one may move into it with you unless you give permission. That is freedom.
"But, as you were no doubt told long ago, you must offer your best idea on how to make all humans free."
"Sir " began Alan.
"Before you express yourself," interrupted Roand, "I'm going to give you some help. Come into the cave."
Alan followed him inside. By the light of a torch, Roand showed him a series of diagrams drawn on one wall with soft stone, as one would draw things in the dust with a stick.
"These are maps, Alan," said Roand, and he explained to the boy what a map was. At last Alan nodded in comprehension.
"You know by now that there are two ways of thinking about what to do to set all humans free, but you do not entirely understand either of them," said Roand. "These maps show you the first one, which was conceived a hundred and fifty years ago but which our people have not been able to agree to try.
"This map shows how, by a surprise attack, we could take Falklyn, the central city of all this Hussir region, although the Hussirs in Falklyn number almost ten thousand. Holding Falklyn, we could free the nearly forty thousand humans in the city and we would have enough strength then to take the surrounding area and strike at the cities around it, gradually, as these other maps show."
"But I like the other way better," Alan said. "There must be a reason why they won't let humans enter the Star Tower."
Roand's toothless smile did not mar the innate dignity of his face.
"You are a mystic, as I am, young Alan," he said. "But the tradition says that for a human to enter the Star Tower is not enough. Let me tell you of the tradition.
"The tradition says that the Star Tower was once the home of all humans. There were only a dozen or so humans then, but they had powers that were great and strange. But when they came out of the Star Tower, the Hussirs were able to enslave them through mere force of numbers.
'Three of those first humans escaped to these mountains and became the first Wild Humans. From them has come the tradition that has passed to their descendants and to the humans who have been rescued from Hussir slavery.
'The tradition says that a human who enters the Star Tower can free all the humans in the world if he takes with him the Sflk and the Song."
Roand reached into a crevice.
'This is the Silk," he said, drawing forth a peach-colored scarf on which something had been painted. Alan recognized it as writing, such as the Hussirs used and were rumored to have been taugjht by humans. Roand read it to him, reverently.
"REG. B-m CULTURE V. SOS."
"What does it mean?" asked Alan.
"No one knows," said Roand. "It is a great mystery. It may be a magical incantation."
He put the Silk back into the crevice.
"This is the only other writing we have handed down by our forebears," said Roand, and pulled out a fragment of very thin, brittle, yellowish material. To Alan it looked something like thin cloth that had hardened with age, yet it had a different texture. Roand handled it very carefully.
"This was torn and the rest of it lost centuries ago," said Roand, and he read. " 'October 3, 2... ours to be the last... three lost expeditions... too far to keep trying... how we can get Alan could make no more sense of this than he could of the words of the Silk.
"What is the Song?" asked Alan.
"Every human knows it from childhood," said Roand. "It is the best known of all human songs."
"'Twinkle, twinkle, golden star,'" quoted Alan at once, "'I can reach you, though you're far--'"
"That's right, but there is a second verse that only the Wild Humans know. You must learn it. It goes like this: "Twinkle, twinkle, little bug, Long and round, of shiny hue.
In a room marked by a cross, Sting my arm when I've found you.
Lay me down, in bed so deep, And then there's naught to do but sleep"
"It doesn't make sense," said Alan. "No more than the first verse -- though Mara showed me what a turtle looks like."
"They aren't supposed to make sense until you sing them in the Star Tower," said Roand, "and then only if you have the Silk with you."
Alan cogitated a while. Roand was silent, waiting.
"Some of the people want one human to try to reach the Star Tower and think that will make all humans miraculously free," said Alan at last 'The others fhfnlr that is but a child's tale and we must conquer the Hussirs with bows and spears. It seems to me, sir, that one or the other must be tried. I'm sorry that I don't know enough to suggest another course."
Roand's face fell.
"So you will join one side or the other and argue about it for the rest of your life," he said sadly. "And nothing will ever be done, because the people can't agree."
"I don't see why that has to be, sir,"
Roand looked at him with sudden hope.
"What do you mean?"
"Can't you or someone else order them to take one course or another?"
Roand shook his head.
"Here there are rules, but no man tells another what to do," he said. "We are free here."
"Sir, when I was a small child, we played a game called Two Herds," said Alan slowly. "The sides would be divided evenly, each with a tree for a haven. When two of opposite sides met in the field, the one last from his haven captured the other and took him back to join his side."
"I've played that game, many years ago," said Roand "I don't see your point, boy."
"Well, sir, to win, one side had to capture all the people on the other side. But, with so many captures back and forth, sometimes night fell and the game was not ended. So we always played that, then, the side with the most children when the game ended was the winning side.
"Why couldn't it be done that way?"
Comprehension dawned slowly in Roand's face. There was something there, too, of the awe-inspiring revelation that he was present at the birth of a major advance in the science of human government "Let them count those for each proposal, eh, and agree to abide by the proposal having the majority support?"
Roand grinned his toothless grin.
"You have indeed brought us a new idea, my boy, but you aad I will have to surrender our own viewpoint by it, I'm afraid, I keep close count. There are a few more people in Haafin who think we should attack the Hussirs with weapons than believe in the old tradition."
When the aimed mob of Wild Humans approached Falklyn in the dusk, Alan wore the Silk around his neck. Roand, one of the oldsters who stayed behind at Haafin, had given it to him.
"When Falklyn is taken, my boy, take the Silk with you into the Star Tower and sing the Song," were Roand's parting words, 'There may be something to the old traditions after all."
After much argument among those Wild Humans who had given it thought for years, a military plan had emerged blessed with all the simplicity of a non-military race. They would just march into the city, killing all Hussirs they saw, and stay there, still killing all Hussirs they saw. Their own strength would increase gradually as they freed the city's enslaved humans. No one could put a definite finger on anything wrong with the idea.
Falklyn was built like a wheel. Around the park in which stood the Star Tower, the streets ran in concentric circles. Like spokes of the wheel, other streets struck from the park out to the edge of the city.
Without any sort of formation, the humans entered one of these spoke streets and moved inward, a few adventurous souls breaking away from the main body at each cross street. It was suppertime in Falklyn, and few Hussirs were abroad. The humans were jubilant as those who escaped their arrows fled, whistling in fright.
They were about a third of the way to the center of Falklyn when the bells began ringing, first near at hand and then all over the city. Hussirs popped out of doors and onto balconies, and arrows began to sail in among the humans to match their own. The motley army began to break up as its soldiers sought cover. Its progress was slowed, and there was some hand-tohand fighting.
Alan found himself with Mara, crouching in a doorway. Ahead of them and behind them, Wild Humans scurried from house to house, still moving forward. An occasional Hussir hopped hastily across the street, sometimes making it, sometimes falling from a human arrow.
"This doesn't look so good," said Alan. "Nobody seemed to think of the Hussirs being prepared for an attack, but those bells must have been an alarm system"
"We're still moving ahead," replied Mara confidently.
Alan shook his head "That may just mean well have more trouble getting out of the city," he said. "The Hussirs outnumber us twenty to one, and they're inning more of us than we're killing of them."
The door beside them opened and a Hussir leaped all the way out before seeing them. Alan dispatched him with a blow from his spear. Mara at his heels, he ran forward to the next doorway. Shouts of humans and whistles and cries of Hussirs echoed back and forth down the street The fighting humans were perhaps halfway to the Star Tower when from ahead of them came the sound of shouting and chanting. From the dimness it seemed that a solid river of white was pouring toward them, fining the street from wall to wall.
A Wild Human across the street from Alan and Mara shouted in triumph.
"They're humans! The slaves are coming to help us!"
A ragged shout went up from the embattled Wild Humans. But as it died down, they were able to distinguish the words of the chanting and the shouting from that naked mass of humanity.
"KILL the Wild Humans! Kill the Wild Humans! Kill the Wild Humans!"
Remembering his own childhood fear of Wild Humans, Alan suddenly understood. With a confidence fully justified, the Hussirs had turned the humans' own people against them.
The invaders looked at each other in alarm, and drew closer together beneath the protection of overhanging balconies. Hussir arrows whistled near them unheeded.
They could not kill their enslaved brothers, and there was no chance of breaking through that oncoming avalanche of humanity. First by ones and twos, and then in groups, they turned to retreat from the city.
But the way was blocked. Up the street from the direction in which they had come moved orderly ranks of armed Hussirs. Some of the Wild Humans, among them Alan and Mara, ran for the nearest cross streets. Along them, too, approached companies of Hussirs.