The Final EncyclopediaGordon R. Dickson
The Childe Cycle
Gordon R. Dickson
The Wolves of God
In his flight from the Others, Hal Mayne had gone to the faith-oriented planet of Harmony, taking the pseudonym Howard Immanuelson. Now, the militia was searching the planet for him, and the farmers were afraid.
Suddenly, James Child-of-God, the guerrilla leader of the Children of Wrath, faced the farmers. "Howard Immanuelson hath fought by the side of those in this Command, as ye have not," he said angrily. "What business is it of such as ye that a Warrior of the Lord is being specially searched for in thy district? Ye are the fat and useless sheep on which our enemies feed. We are the Wolves of God…"
Worlds of the Childe Cycle
Plane of Sol's Ecliptic
Distance from Sol in light years
(not to scale)
The Final Encyclopedia, and the Childe Cycle of books of which it is a part, are dedicated to my mother, Maude Ford Dickson, who in her own way in ninety-five years has achieved far greater things.
The low-angled daylight dimmed suddenly on the page of a poem by Alfred Noyes that Walter the InTeacher was reading. It was as if a little cloud had passed over the face of the late afternoon sun that was slanting its rays through the library window beside him. But when Walter glanced up, Earth's star shone bright and round in the sky. There was no cloud.
He frowned, set the antique book aside and reached into his now old-fashioned Maran robes to take out a small, transparent cube filled with liquid, within which normally drifted a thin pink strip of semi-living tissue. It was a cube sent to him here on Earth fourteen years back, from what remained of the old Splinter Culture of the men and women of Mara—that with Kultis had been the two Exotic Worlds. In all those years, as often as he had looked at it, the appearance of the strip had never changed. But now he saw it lying shriveled and blackened and curled as if burned, at the bottom of the liquid enclosing it. And from the implications of this it came to Walter then, coldly and like something he had been half-expecting for some time, that the hour of his death was upon him.
He put the cube away and got swiftly to his feet. At ninety-two he was still tall, spare and active. But he did not know how long the life gauge had been shriveled, or how much time remained. He went quickly, therefore, along the library and out through a tall french window onto the flagstone terrace, flanked at each end by heavy-blossomed lilac bushes and standing a sheer forty feet above the half mile of lake enclosed by the Mayne estate.
On the terrace, legs spread and big hands locked together behind him, Malachi Nasuno, once an officer and man of the Dorsai, but now a tutor like Walter, stood watching an eggshell plastic canoe and the canoeist in it, paddling toward the house. It was almost sunset. The sun, dropping rapidly behind the sharp peaks of the Sawatch range of the Rocky Mountains around them, was growing a shadow swiftly across the lake from its further end. This shadow the canoeist was racing, just ahead of its edge on the dark blue water.
Walter wasted no time, but hurried to the flagstaff at one end of the terrace. He loosened the cord on the staff; the sun-warmed, flexible length of it ran through his fingers, burning them lightly, and the flag with its emblem of a hawk flying out of a wood fluttered to the terrace stones.
Out on the lake, the canoeist's paddle beat brightly once more in the sunlight and then ceased. The living figure vanished overside. A moment later, the canoe itself heaved up a little, filled and sank, as if it had been ripped open from beneath and pulled down into the depths. A second later the advancing edge of darkness upon the water covered the spot where the craft had been.
Walter felt the breath of Malachi Nasuno suddenly warm against his left ear. He turned to face the heavy-boned, deep-lined features of the old professional soldier.
"What is it?" asked Malachi, quietly. "Why alarm the boy?"
"I wanted him to get away—if he can," answered Walter. "The rest of us are done for."
Malachi's craggy, hundred-year-old face hardened like cooling metal and the grey thickets of his brows pulled close together.
"Speak for yourself," he said. "When I'm dead, I'm dead. But I'm not dead yet. What is it?"
"I don't know," said Walter. He lifted the cube from his robes and showed it. "All I know is I've had this warning."
"More of your Exotic hocus-pocus," growled Malachi. But the growl was only half disdainful. "I'll go warn Obadiah."
"There's no time." Walter's hand on a still-massive forearm stopped the ex-soldier. "Obadiah's been ready to meet that personal God of his for years now, and any minute we're liable to have eyes watching what we do. The less we seem to be expecting anything, the better Hal's chance to get away."
Far up along the shadowed margin of the lake, the gaudy shape of a nesting harlequin duck, disturbed from some tall waterweeds below overhanging bushes, burst suddenly into the open, crying out, and fluttered, half-running, half-flying, across the darkened surface of the water to another part of the shore. Walter breathed out in relief.
"Good lad," he said. "Now, if he'll just stay hidden."
"He'll stay," said Malachi, grimly. "He's not a lad now, but a man. You and Obadiah keep forgetting that."
"A man, at sixteen?" said Walter. The ready tears of age were unexpectedly
damp against the outer corners of his eyes. "So soon?"
"Man enough," grunted Malachi. "Who's coming? Or what?"
"I don't know," answered Walter. "What I showed you was just a device to warn of a sharp pressure increase of the ontogenetic energies, moving in on us. You remember I told you one of the last things I was able to have them do on Mara was run calculations on the boy; and the calculations indicated high probability of his intersection with a pressure-climax of the current historical forces before his seventeenth year."
"Well, if it's only energies—" Malachi snorted.
"Don't fool yourself!" said Walter, almost sharply for a Maran. "There'll be men or things to manifest its effect when it gets here, just as a tornado manifests a sudden drop in air pressure. Perhaps—" He broke off. Malachi's gaze had moved away from the Maran. "What is it?"
"Others, perhaps," said Malachi, quietly. His generous nostrils spread, almost sniffing the cooling air, tinged now by the sky-pink of the sunset that was beginning to flood between the white-touched mountain peaks.
"Why do you say that?" Walter glanced covertly around, but saw nothing.
"I'm not sure. A hunch," said Malachi.
Walter felt coldness within him.
"We've done wrong to our boy," he almost whispered. Malachi's eyes whipped back to focus on him.
"Why?" demanded the Dorsai ex-soldier.
"We've trained him to meet men—men and women at most," whispered Walter, crouching under his feeling of guilt. "And these devils are loose now on the fourteen worlds."
"The Others aren't 'devils'!" snapped Malachi, not bothering to keep his voice down. "Mix your blood and mine, and Obadiah's in with it—mix together blood of all the Splinter Cultures if you want to, and you still get men. Men make men—nothing else. You don't get anything out of a pot you don't put into it."
"Other Men and Women. Hybrids." Walter shivered. "People with half a dozen talents in one skin."
"What of it?" growled Malachi. "A man lives, a man dies. If he lives well and dies well, what difference does it make what kills him?"
"But this is our Hal—"
"Who has to die someday, like everyone else. Straighten up!" muttered Malachi. "Don't they grow any backbones on the Exotics?"
Walter pulled himself together. He stood tall, breathed deeply and with control for a few seconds, then put on peace like a cloak.
"You're right," he said. "At least Hal's had all we could give him, the three of us, in skill and knowledge. And he's got the creativity to be a great poet, if he lives."
"Poet!" said Malachi, bleakly. "There's a few thousand more useful things he could do with his life. Poets—"
He broke off. His eyes met Walter's with abrupt warning.
Walter's eyes acknowledged the message. He folded his hands in the wide sleeves of his blue robe with a gesture of completion.
"But poets are men, too," he said, as cheerfully and casually as someone making light argument for its own sake. "That's why, for example, I think so highly of Alfred Noyes, among the nineteenth century poets. You know Noyes, don't you?"
"I think so," said Walter. "Of course, I grant you no one remembers anything but The Highwayman, out of all his poems, nowadays. But Tales of a Mermaid Tavern, and that other long poem of his—Sherwood—they've both got genius in them. You know, there's that part where Oberon, the king of elves and fairies, is telling his retainers about the fact Robin Hood is going to die, and explaining why the fairies owe Robin a debt—"
"Never read it," grunted Malachi, ungraciously.
"Then I'll quote it for you," said Walter. "Oberon is talking to his own kind and he tells about one of them whom Robin once rescued from what he thought was nothing worse than a spider's web. And what Noyes had Oberon say is—listen to this now—
" '…He saved her from the clutches of that Wizard,
'That Cruel Thing, that dark old Mystery,
'Whom ye all know and shrink from…!' "
Walter broke off, for a thin, pale-faced young man in a dark business suit, holding a void pistol with a long, narrow, wire-coil-shielded barrel, had stepped from the lilac bushes behind Malachi. A moment later another gunman joined him. Turning, Walter saw yet two more had appeared from the bushes at his end of the terrace. The four pistols covered the two old men.
" '… Plucked her forth, so gently that not one bright rainbow gleam upon her wings was clouded… .' " A deep, vibrant voice Finished the quotation, and a very tall, erect man with dark hair and lean, narrow-boned face, carrying the book Walter had just been reading with one long finger holding a place in its pages, stepped through the same french window from which Walter had come a few moments before.
"… But you see?" he went on, speaking now to Walter, "how it goes downhill, gets to be merely pretty and ornate, after that first burst of strength you quoted? Now, if you'd chosen instead the song of Blondin the Minstrel, from that same poem—"
His voice took on sudden strength and richness—half-chanting the quoted lines in the fashion of the plainsong of the medieval monks.
"Knight on the narrow way,
Where wouldst thou ride?
'Onward,' I heard him say,
'Love, to thy side!'
"… then I'd have had to agree with you."
Walter bent his head a little with bare politeness. But there was a traitorous stir in his chest. The magnificent voice, the tall, erect figure before him, plucked at Walter's senses, trained by a lifetime of subtleties, with the demand for appreciation he would have felt toward a Stradivarius in the hands of some great violinist.
Against his will, Walter felt the pull of a desire—to which, of course, yielding was unthinkable—to acknowledge the tall man as if this other was a master, or a king.
"I don't think we know you," said Walter slowly.
"Ahrens is my name. Bleys Ahrens," said the tall man. "And you needn't be worried. No one's going to be hurt. We'd just like to use this estate of yours for a short meeting during the next day or two."
He smiled at Walter. The power of his different voice was colored by a faint accent that sounded like archaic English. His face held a straight-boned, unremarkable set of features that had been blended and molded by the character lines around the mouth and eyes into something like handsomeness. The direct nose, the thin-lipped mouth, the wide, high forehead and the brilliant brown eyes were all softened by those lines into an expression of humorous kindness.
Beneath that face, his sharply square and unusually wide shoulders, which would have looked out of proportion on a shorter man, seemed no more than normal above the unusual height of his erect, slim body. That body stood relaxed now, but unconsciously balanced, like the body of a yawning panther. And the pale-faced young gunmen gazed up at him with the worshipping gaze of hounds.
"We?" asked Walter.
"Oh, a club of sorts. To tell you the truth, you'd do better not to worry about the matter at all." Ahrens continued to smile at Walter, and looked about at the lake and the wooded margin of it that could be seen from the terrace.
"There ought to be two more of you here, shouldn't there?" he said, turning to Walter again. "Another tutor your own age, and your ward, the boy named Hal Mayne? Where would they be, now?"
Walter shook his head, pleading ignorance. Ahrens' gaze went to Malachi, who met it with the indifference of a stone lion.
"Well, we'll find them," said Ahrens lightly. He looked back at Walter. "You know, I'd like to meet that boy. He'd be… what? Sixteen now?"
"Fourteen years since he was found…" Ahrens' voice was frankly musing. "He must have some unusual qualities. He'd have had to have them—to stay alive, as a child barely able to walk, alone on a wrecked ship, drifting in space for who-knows-how-long. Who were his parents—did they ever find out?"
"No," said Walter. "The log aboard showed only the boy's name."
"A remarkable boy…" said Ahrens again. He glanced out around th
e lake and grounds. "You say you're sure you don't know where he is now?"
"No," answered Walter.
Ahrens glanced at Malachi, inquiringly.
Malachi snorted contemptuously.
Ahrens smiled as warmly on the ex-soldier as he had at Walter, but Malachi was still a stone lion. The tall man's smile faded and became wistful.
"You don't approve of Other Men like me, do you?" he said, a little sadly. "But times have changed, Commandant."
"Too bad," said Malachi, dryly.
"But too true," said Ahrens. "Did it ever occur to you your boy might be one of us? No? Well, suppose we talk about other things if that suggestion bothers you. I don't suppose you share your fellow tutor's taste for poetry? Say, for something like Tennyson's Morte D'Arthur—a piece of poetry about men and war?"
"I know it," said Malachi. "It's good enough."
"Then you ought to remember what King Arthur has to say in it about changing times," said Ahrens. "You remember—when Arthur and Sir Bedivere are left alone at the end and Sir Bedivere asks the King what will happen now, with all the companionship of the Round Table dissolved, and Arthur himself leaving for Avalon. Do you remember how Arthur answers, then?"
"No," Malachi said.
"He answers—" and the voice of Ahrens rang out in all its rich power again, "The old order changeth, giving place to new …" Ahrens paused and looked at the old ex-soldier significantly.
"—And God fulfills himself in many ways—lest one good custom should corrupt the world," interrupted a harsh, triumphant voice.
They turned, all together. Obadiah Testator, the third of Hal Mayne's tutors, was being herded out through the french window into their midst, at the point of a void pistol by a fifth young gunman.
"You forgot to finish the quotation," rasped Obadiah at Ahrens. "And it applies to your kind too, Other Man. In God's eye you, also, are no more than a drift of smoke and the lost note of a cymbal. You, too, are doomed at His will—like that!"
He had come on, farther than his young guard had intended, to snap his bony fingers with the last word, under the very nose of Ahrens. Ahrens started to laugh and then his face changed suddenly.