The Spirit of DorsaiGordon R. Dickson
The Spirit Of Dorsai
Copyright © 1979 by Gordon R. Dickson
Illustrations copyright © 1979 by Fernando Fernandez
A portion of this book was published as "Brothers" in ASTOUNDING: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, copyright © 1973 by Random House, Inc.
An ACE Book - Cover art by Enric
First Ace printing: September 1979 First mass market printing: April
She was tall, slim, and so blonde as to be almost white-haired. There was an erectness to her body that no man could have possessed without stiffness. As she sat cross-legged, her grey eyes gazing down into the valley on the Dorsai that held Fal Morgan and the surrounding homesteads, her face had the quality of a profile stamped on a silver coin.
"Amanda…" said Hal Mayne, gently.
Lost in her thoughts, she did not hear him; and the moment was so close to perfection that he was reluctant to disturb it. The part of him that was a poet, which had survived the months of being a hunted guerrilla on Harmony and even the sickness and the brutalities of the prison there before his escape, stirred again, watching her. Here, on the roof of a warriors' world, under a clean and cloudless sky in a time when the human race was everywhere submitting to the chains of a new slavery, she wore an armor of sunlight, unconquerable. Beside her, in his much taller, wide-shouldered but gaunt, body, pared thin by privation and suffering, he felt like some great dark bird of earth-bound flesh and bone, bending above an entity of pure spirit.
As he waited, her eyes lost their abstraction. As if they had been separated so far that his voice, speaking her name, had had to stretch across time and space to only now reach her, she turned finally back to him.
"Did you say something?" she asked.
"I was going to say how much you resemble that picture of her—of the first Amanda Morgan," he said. "It could be a picture of you."
She smiled a little.
"Yes," she said, "both the second Amanda to bear the name, and I look very much like her. It happens."
"It's still a strange thing, with only three of you of that name in your family in two hundred years," he said. "Does it just happen she had her picture printed at the same age you are now?" he said.
"No." She shook her head. "It wasn't."
"No. That picture you saw in our hall was made when she was much older than I am now."
"It's true," she said. "We age very slowly, we Morgans—and she was something special."
"Not as special as you," he said. "She couldn't be. You're Dorsai—end-result Dorsai. She lived before people like you were what you are now."
"That's not true," the third Amanda said. "She
was Dorsai before there was a Dorsai world. What she was, was the material out of which our people and our culture here were made."
He shook his head, slowly.
"How can you be so sure about what she was— two hundred standard years ago?"
"How can I?" She looked at him far a moment. "In many ways, I am her."
He watched her.
"No," she answered. "Not really. But something… more as if time didn't matter. As if it's all the same thing; her, there in the beginning of our world, and I here, at…"
"The end of it," he suggested.
"No." She looked at him steadily with those grey eyes. "The end won't be until the last Dorsai is dead. In fact, not even then. The end will only be when the last human is dead—because what makes us Dorsai is something that's a part of all humans; that part the first Amanda had when she was born, back on Earth."
Something—the shadow of a swooping bird, perhaps—shuttered the sunlight from his eyes far a split second.
"You think so much of her," he said, thought-fully. "But it's Cletus Grahame and his textbooks on the military art he wrote two hundred years ago—it's Donal Graeme and the way he brought the inhabited worlds together, one hundred years ago—that other worlds think of when they use the word 'Dorsai'."
"We've had Graemes far our next neighbor since Cletus," she replied. "What's thought of them, they earned. But the first Amanda was here before either of them. She founded our family. She cleared the outlaws from these mountains before Cletus came; and when she was ninety-three, she held Foralie district against Dow deCastries' veteran troops when they invaded, thinking they'd have no trouble with the children, the women, the sick and the old that were all that were left here, then."
"You mean," Hal said, "that time deCastries tried to take over the Dorsai, at the very end of Cletus' struggle with him?"
"With him and all the power of Earth behind him, in a time when everyone thought Earth was more powerful than all the other inhabited worlds combined."
"But wasn't it Cletus who gave directions for the defense of Dorsai, that time?"
"Cletus wasn't here. He left two of his officers, Arvid Johnson and Bill Athyer to coordinate the defense and give the districts a general survey of the strategical and tactical situations involved. But their job was only a matter of laying out the military physics of the situation, with Cletus' theories and principles as guidelines. It was up to each district individually after that, to draw up its own plan for dealing with the invaders. That's what Foralie did—knowing it would be under the gun more than any other district, since Foralie homestead was here, and Cletus would be expected to return to it as soon as he heard the Dorsai had been invaded."
"And it was the first Amanda who was given charge of Foralie district, by the people in the district, then?" he asked. "Why her? She hadn't been a soldier."
"I told you," she said. "During the Outlaw Years, she'd led the way in clearing out the lawless mercenaries. After she did that—and other things— with just the women, the cripples, old men and children to help her, the rest of the districts fallowed her example and law came to all the Dorsai. She was the best person to command."
"How did they do it, then?"
"Clean out the outlaws?" the third Amanda asked.
"No—though I want to hear that sometime, too. What I meant was, how did Amanda and Foralie district defeat first-line troops? Most military scholars seem to think that the invaders defeated themselves, that they had to defeat themselves; because there was no way a gaggle of women, children and old people could possibly have done it."
"In a way you could say the troops did defeat themselves—did you ever read Cletus' Tactics of Mistake?" she answered. "But actually what happened was a case of putting our strengths against the weaknesses of the invaders."
"Weaknesses? What weaknesses did first-line troops have?"
She looked at him again with those level eyes.
"They weren't willing to die unless they had to."
"That?" Hal looked at her curiously. "That's a weakness?"
"Comparatively. Because we were."
"Willing to die?" he studied her. "Non-combatants? Old people, mothers—"
"And children. Yes." The armor of sunlight around her seemed to invest her words with a quality of truth greater than he had ever known from anyone else. "The Dorsai was farmed by people who were willing to pay with their lives in others battles, in order to buy freedom far their homes. Not only the men who went off to fight, but those at home had that same image of freedom and were willing to live and die far it."
"But simply being willing to die—"
"You don't understand, not being born here," she said. "It was a matter of their being able to make harder choic
es than people less willing. Amanda and the others in the district best qualified to decide sat down and considered a number of plans. They all entailed casualties—and the casualties could include the people who were considering the plans. They chose the one that gave the district the greatest effectiveness against the enemy for the least number of deaths; and, having chosen it, they were all ready to be among those who would die, if necessary. The invading soldiers had no such plan—and no such courage."
He shook his head.
"I don't understand," he said.
"That's because you're not Dorsai. And because you don't understand someone like the first Amanda."
"No," he said. "That's true. I don't."
He looked at her.
"How did it happen?" he asked. "How did she-how did they do it? I have to know."
"You do?" Her gaze was unmoving on him.
"Yes," he said. There were so many things he had not been able to explain, things he had not admitted to her yet. There was the matter of his visit to Foralie, and the particular moment in which he had stepped into the doorway which some of the towering Graeme men, such as Ian and Kensie, the twin uncles of Donal Graeme, had been said to fill from sill to lintel and from side to side. As it had been with them, Hal's unshod feet had rested on the sill and the top of his head brushed the lintel. But unlike them, his shoulder-points had not touched the frame on either side.
It might be that with recovered health and some years of growth yet, that, too, could happen. But it did not matter. What mattered—and what he could not yet bring himself to talk about—was the sudden, poignant, feeling in him of kinship with the Graemes, unexpected as a blow, that had come on him without warning, as he stood in the doorway.
"I need to know," he said again.
"All right," she said. "I'll tell you just how it was."
Stone are my walls, and my roof is of timber; But the hands of my builder are stronger by far. The roof may be burned and my stones may be scattered. Never her light be defeated in war …
Song of the house named Fal Morgan
Amanda Morgan woke suddenly in darkness, her finger automatically on the firing button of the heavy energy handgun. She had heard—or dreamed she heard—the cry of a child. Rousing further, she remembered Betta in the next room and faced the impossibility of her great-granddaughter giving birth without calling her. It had been part of her dream, then.
Still, for a few seconds more, she lay, feeling the ghosts of old enemies still around her and the sleeping house. The cry had merged with the dream she had been having. In her dream, she had been reliving the long-ago swoop on her slammer, handgun in fist, down into the first of the outlaw camps. It had been when Dorsai was new, and the camps, back in the mountains, had been bases for the out-of-work mercenaries. She had finally led the women of Foralie district against these men who had raided their homes for so long, in the intervals when the professional soldiers of their own households were away fighting on other worlds.
The last thing the outlaws had expected from a bunch of women had been a frontal assault in full daylight. Therefore, it had been that she had given them. In her dream she had been recalling the fierce bolts from the handgun slicing through makeshift walls and the bodies beyond, setting fire to dried wood and oily rags.
By the time she had been in among the huts, some of the outlaws were already armed and out of their structures; and the rest of the fight had disintegrated into a mixed blur of bodies and weapons. The outlaws were all veterans— but so, in their own way, were the women from the households. There were good shots on both sides; and in her younger strength, then, she was a match for any out-of-condition mercenary. Also, she was carried along in a rage they could not match…
She blinked, pushing the images of the dream from her. The outlaws were gone now—as were the Eversills who had tried to steal her land, and other enemies. They were all gone, now, making way for new foes. She listened a moment longer, but about her the house of Fal Morgan was still.
After a moment she got up anyway, stepping for a second into the chill bath of night air as she reached for a robe from the chair by her bed. Strong moonlight, filtering through sheer curtains, gave back her ghost in dim image from the tall armoire mirror. A ghost from sixty years past. For a second before the robe settled about her, the lean and still-erect shape in the mirror invented the illusion of a young, full-fleshed body. She went out.
Twenty steps down the long panelled corridor, with the familiar silent cone rifles and other combat arms standing like sentries in their racks on either wall, she became conscious of the fact that habit still had the energy handgun in her grasp. She shelved it in the rack and went on to her great-granddaughter's door. She opened it and stepped in.
The moonlight shone through the curtains even more brightly on this side of the house. Betta still slept, breathing heavily, her swollen middle rising like a promise under the covering blankets. The concern about this child-to-be, which had occupied Amanda all these past months, came back on her with fresh urgency. She touched the rough, heavy cloth over the unborn life briefly and lightly with her fingertips. Then she turned and went back out. Down the corridor and around the corner, the Earth-built clock in the living room chimed the first quarter of an hour past four a.m..
She was fully awake now, and her mind moved purposefully. The birth was due at any time now, and Betta was insistent about wanting to use the name Amanda if it was a girl. Was she wrong in withholding it, again? Her decision could not be put off much longer. In the kitchen she made herself tea. Sitting at the table by the window, she drank it, gazing down over the green tops of the conifers, the pines and spruce on the slope that fell away from the side of the house, then rose again to the close horizon of the ridge in that direction, and the mountain peaks beyond, overlooking Foralie Town and Fal Morgan alike, together with a dozen similar homesteads.
She could not put off any longer the making up of her mind. As soon as the baby was born, Betta would want to name her. On the surface, it did not seem such an important matter. Why should one name be particularly sacred? Except that Betta did not realize, none of them in the family seemed to realize, how much the name Amanda had come to be a talisman for them all.
The trouble was, time had caught up with her. There was no guarantee that she could wait around for more children to be born. With the trouble that was probably coming, the odds were against her being lucky enough to still be here for the official naming of Betta's child, when that took place. But there had been a strong reason behind her refusal to let her name be given to one of the younger generations, all these years. True, it was not an easy reason to explain or defend. Its roots were in something as deep as a superstition—the feeling in her that Fal Morgan would only stand as long as that name in the family could stand like a pillar to which they could all anchor. And how could she tell ahead of time how a baby would turn out?
Once more she had worn a new groove around the full circle of the problem. For a few moments, while she drank her tea, she let her thoughts slide off to the conifers below, which she had stretched herself to buy as seedlings when the Earth stock had finally been imported here to this world they called the Dorsai. They had grown until now they blocked the field of fire from the house in that direction. During the Outlaw Years, she would never have let them grow so high.
With what might be now coming in the way of trouble from Earth, they should probably be cut down completely— though the thought of it went against something deep in her. This house, this land, all of it, was what she had built for herself, her children and their children. It was the greatest of her dreams, made real; and there was no part of it, once won, that she could give up easily.
Still seated by the window, slowly drinking the hot tea, her mind went off entirely from the threats of the present to her earliest dreams, back to Caernarvon and the Wales of her childhood, to her small room on a top floor with the ceiling all angles.
membered that, now, as she sat in this house with only two lives presently stirring between its walls. No— three, with the child waiting to be born, who would be having dreams of her own, before long. How old had she herself been when she had first dreamed of running the wind?
That had been a very early dream of hers, a waking dream—also invoked as she was falling asleep. So that with luck, sometimes, it became a real dream. She had imagined herself being able to run at great speed along the breast of the rolling wind, above city and countryside. In her imagination she had run barefoot, and she had been able to feel the texture of the flowing air under her feet, that was like a soft, moving mattress. She had been very young. But it had been a powerful thing, that running.
In her imagination she had run from Caernarvon and Cardiff clear to France and back again; not above great banks of solar collectors or clumps of manufactories, but over open fields and mountains and cattle, and over flowers in fields where green things grew and where people were happy. She had gotten finally so that she could run, in her imagination, farther and faster than anyone.
None was so fleet as she. She ran to Spain and Norway. She ran across Europe as far as Russia, she ran south to the end of Africa and beyond that to the Antarctic and saw the great whales still alive. She ran west over America and south over South America. She saw the cowboys and gauchos as they once had been, and she saw the strange people at the tip of South America where it was quite cold.
She ran west over the Pacific, over all the south Pacific and over the north Pacific. She ran over the volcanos of the Hawaiian islands, over Japan and China and Indo-China. She ran south over Australia and saw deserts, and the great herds of sheep and the wild kangaroos hopping.
Then she went west once more and saw the steppes and the Ukraine and the Black Sea and Constantinople that was, and Turkey, and all the plains where Alexander marched, his army to the east, and then back to Africa. She saw strange ships with lug sails on the sea east of Africa, and she ran across the Mediterranean where she saw Italy. She looked down on Rome, with all its history, and on the Swiss alps where people yodeled and climbed mountains when they were not working very hard; and all in all she saw many things, until she finally ran home and fell asleep on the breast of the wind and on her own bed. Remembering it all, now that she was ninety-two years old— which was a figure that meant nothing to her—she sat here, light years from it all, on the Dorsai, thinking of it all and drinking tea in the last of the moonlight, looking down at her conifers.