West of the Sun
Chapter 1

Public Domain

“This island is Eden.” Sears Oliphant spoke drowsily. Toy bat wings flickered from the woods crowning the hillside, hovered over a pond: illuama. In a scant year of Lucifer time (seventeen months of the calendar of Earth) native names had become natural, mostly Mijok’s names.

Two red-moon changes ago, in the final jading month of the rains, the pygmy word “kaksma” had been only a symbol. Now it woke the image of a village desolate, bones scraped and scarred. The mind’s eye winced in pity--a sentry careless, a bridge left in place after dark; thousands of ratty bodies rustling down from the wet hills, over open ground, swimming swollen streams, finding the bridge before oil on the rain water in the ditch could be ignited. Small bodies, not swift, leaping or humping along like furry worms, sniffing, squeaking, their stabbing teeth dark with the blood of any flesh that moved. The northernmost of the villages allied with Pakriaa’s had already returned to jungle.

But here, ten miles offshore from the coastal range, no kaksmas lived; Sears and Paul, in two days of study on this second visit, had established that. No wide wings lurked in the sky. The hilly island had no large meadows where omasha could hunt. Three giants had been flown to the island a month ago--the girl Arek, her mother Muson, and old Rak. They said it was a place of calm. Their soft talk could be heard up the slope, where a log building was growing. Paul stretched, lean and comfortable, on the grass, glad to be alone for a while with this least demanding of his friends.

Sears was fatter, but hardened, a round block of man, with a coarse black beard, kindness of brown eyes unaltered. Christopher Wright, waiting at the “fortress” by Lake Argo and no doubt frantic for word of this exploration, had let his beard grow too, sandy gray. Spearman and Paul had stayed clean-shaven, with soap made from fat and wood ashes. “The others must come here, Paul. I suppose Chris won’t consent till Pakriaa agrees--damn, you’d think she could see it. She knows her enemies fear the ocean as she does. Lantis’ two-by-four army would never chase after us in their lake boats.”

“Wait a minute, Jocko. Lantis is no two-by-four proposition.”

“Damn pint-size Napoleon with four teats and a grass skirt.”

“Lookee: that settlement south of Lake Argo is thirty miles long. Equivalent of two hundred villages, to Pakriaa’s six. Say twenty thousand warriors who got their pride hurt a year ago when the crash of Argo swamped their fleet and scared the pants off ‘em. They’ll have replaced the fleet. They’ll come overland too. Lantis, Queen of the World.”

“If they do”--Sears’ heavy voice had the tremor that he himself hated--”the firearms should be at least one ace in the hole.”

“Ye--es. Ed’s pistol helped in our one bad scrape with Pakriaa herself. But it was his smashing the idol that stalled ‘em, not the gun.”

“Poor little Abro Pakriaa!” Sears spoke with tenderness. “If ever a lady was pulled seven ways from Sunday! Wants our way of life, doesn’t want it. Wants to grasp Chris’ ethics, doesn’t want to. Afraid of Ed’s strength and aggressiveness, admires ‘em too, oh my, yes. Tries to believe the god Ismar died or never lived--but can’t, quite.”

“And can’t understand why our women are gentle--Dorothy anyway----”

“Nan’s toughening up is conscious effort, Paul. Superficial. She’s made herself hunt, shoot well, act hard, because her brain tells her she should. If we could only find something to restring her violin! I think she’s given up hope of it: nothing I’ve found so far has been any good. She doesn’t see that Dorothy does more for us by remaining the person she always was ... You know, when I go alone to Pak’s village, I just set. Even the witches have got used to me, not that they wouldn’t gut me if they could.”

“Jocko”--Paul looked away--”you told me once you were scared all the time. When you go there alone--or when you tame the olifants for that matter--are you sort of grasping the nettle? And does it work?”

“Don’t ask me, friend. Because I don’t exactly know. I was never a brave man.” Brown eyes misted in what was partly laughter. “Oy, the witches! There’s the big enemy in the battle for Pakriaa’s mind. Chris may claim they aren’t real witch doctors, just advisers, low-grade magicians. I’m not so sure. Priests of Ismar, and when Ed clobbered the idol Pakriaa did consider having ‘em all burned alive. Point is, she didn’t do it. They gnaw away in the dark at all we try to teach her. That proposed bonfire, by the way, is gossip passed on to me in confidence by Abara.”

“There’s a dear little man.”

“Ain’t he though?” Smiling into late sky, Paul envisaged the wizened red midget riding the white monsters that Sears had tamed and insisted on naming olifants-with-an-f. A painting might grow out of that, he thought, squat coppery lump astride of massive white--it might, if the desire to paint should ever wake again and be as strong as it once was on Argo, when his mind’s eye could remember Earth without distortion. Abara, popeyed and potbellied, a favorite in Pakriaa’s harem, had been commissioned by her as a student and go-between at the lakeside camp; Sears had not only adopted him as an olifant trainer, but suspected him of furtively possessing a sense of humor. “Well--the giants. Lantis will always have thought of them as wild animals----”

“Sears”--Paul rolled over and pressed his face in the grass--”can we ask or even permit the giants to tangle in a pygmy war?”

“Ah ... It’s tormenting Chris too, ever since Lantis sent that ultimatum.” He snarled in his beard, “Thirty fat meat slaves every two months! There’s politics for you. Dirtiest way she could answer Pak’s challenge to personal combat, and the automatic refusal makes an excuse to come and clean up. Sounds like home ... Mijok wants to help fight--says he does.”

“It’s still our responsibility.” Paul sat up. His eyes kept returning to the towering courage of the trees. Brave as any cathedral spire, scarcely one was free from the clutch of the purple-leaf vine. “As for moving here to the island, Pak sees it, but the idea’s too new. You just don’t pull up stakes, venture on the Big Water, crossing forbidden kaksma country.”

Sears chewed a grass blade. “Anyway we’ve got to bring Dorothy and the baby here, and Ann. Dorothy won’t fuss, will she, son?”

“Since there is Helen--no, she won’t. I still dream sometimes, as I did during her first pregnancy. Things, shapes, trying to pull her away--or she’s where I can’t find her, can’t push through the leaves.”

“She told me. It’s something else that’s made you blue lately.”

“No.”

Sears watched him. “Yes ... Want to start back tomorrow?”

“Might as well. We’ve learned all we need.”

“Mm ... Second thoughts about the daddy of Dorothy’s second----”

“No no. We settled that. She’s proud to be carrying it.”

“Good genetics could be damn bad psychology.”

“No, Jocko. Don’t think that. She’s close to me as ever.”

Sears waited and spoke softly: “New York late on a rainy night, a few car lights moving, street-lamp reflections like golden fish----”

“Orange paintbrush in New Hampshire meadows----We’d better stop.”

“We better. I want boat whistles--floating city coming out of the fog. Call it a slow-healing wound ... And look across the channel.”

Paul saw it presently: a cliff formation in the coastal range made a brow, nose, and chin. Below this, rounded rock could be a shoulder straining in heroic effort; then, tumbled reality of mountain-fancy must supply whatever held the figure in bondage. “Yes. He looks west. Past us, at the sun.”

“Why, no, Paul. I think he looks west of the sun...”

A red-furred girl wandered down from the woods. “I got tired.” Arek had lived twenty-two years; she was seven feet tall, not yet adolescent but near it. In the next Red-Moon-before-the-Rains, ten months away, she might take adult part in the frenzy of love if her body demanded it: if not, she would go apart with the other children, whose play also became innocently erotic at that time, and help care for the youngest. Sears grinned as she sat down with them. “Tired or lazy?”

“Both. You Charins are never lazy enough.” The name Charin, Paul thought, was almost natural now, a pygmy word for “halfway,” intended by Pakriaa merely to convey that Wright and his breed were halfway in size between her people and the giants, but Wright took sardonic satisfaction in it as a generic name. “Work and loafing are both good. Why can Ed Spearman never sit still in the sun? Or maybe I like to talk too much.”

“Never,” Sears chuckled. “Well--his best pleasure is in action. Maybe it’s the technician in him--he must always be doing something.”

“Like always waking, never sleeping.” She sprawled in comfort; her broad hands plucked grass, scattered it over the furry softness of her four breasts. “Green rain ... I want to stay on this island. Will they come?”

“We hope so. Mijok will as soon as Doc does.”

She sighed. “Mijok is a beautiful male. I think I’ll take him for my first when I’m ready ... And soon the pretty boat will be no more good. It’s sad we can’t make another. Tell me again about Captain Jensen. He was as tall as me? He had hair on his head, red like my fur. He spoke----”

“Like storm wind,” said Paul, supplying the wanted note in a favorite fairy tale, remembering a brother on Earth who was--perhaps--not dead.

“Hear the ocean,” Arek whispered. Paul could hardly separate the sound from the mutter of the pond’s outlet. This ridge of high ground ended short of the island’s northern limit. A white beach, where the lifeboat was shaded from late sun, faced the mainland. West of the beach a red stone cliff ran to the tip of the island, shouldering away the sea. Wind out of the west allowed no soil to gather on it. Now and then a rainbow flashed and died above the rock, when a wave of uncommon grandeur spent itself in a tower of foam. “Hear what it says? ‘I--will--try--aga-a-ain... ‘ Why must the others wait to come here?”

“Pakriaa’s people are not ready.”

“Oh, Sears!” Arek laughed unhappily and sat up. “I think of how my mother taught me the three terrors. She took me to the hills, beat two stones before a burrow till one blundered out maddened, afraid of nothing but the light. She crushed it, made me smell it. I was sick; then we fled. I think of how she flung an asonis carcass into meadow grass, so the omasha came. She wounded one with a stone, made me watch while the others tore it apart. Later still, when I could run fast--ah, through night to a village of the Red Bald----”

“Please, dear--pygmies. That’s a name they accept.”

“I’m sorry, Sears ... Yes, we hid in the dark, waited until a sentry moved--careless ... It was wrong. You’ve shown us how such things are wrong. And memory’s someone talking behind you, out of the big dark.”

“The laws we’ve agreed on----”

“I do honor them,” she said gently. “The law against murder was my first writing lesson. But--what if Pakriaa’s tribe--”

“They’re slower,” Sears said in distress, and the distress would be as much a message to Arek as any words. There was no hiding the heart from these people: green eyes and black ears missed no smallest nuance.

“When will they know they must not dig pits, with poisoned stakes--”

“But Pakriaa’s tribe don’t do that now. Do they?”

Arek admitted: “I suppose not. But the six other villages----”

“Five, dear. The kaksmas. And only two months ago, Arek.”

She stared at Paul with shock. “I had almost forgotten. But they do still hate us. The day before you flew us here, Paul, I met Pakriaa and two of her soldiers in the woods. I gave them the good-day greeting. Oh, if one of you had been there she would have answered it ... Wouldn’t the island be better without them? Some of you don’t like them. Even Dorothy only tries to like them. Since the baby was born, Paul, she--shrinks when they come to the fortress. They don’t know it, but I do.”

Dimly, Paul had known it, known also that it was a thing Dorothy would consciously reject. “Time, Arek. You’ll live a hundred and fifty years or better--more than three pygmy lifetimes. You’ll see them change.”

Speaking almost like a Charin, Arek said, “They’d better.”

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