Stranded! **Part 2**

A Tale from the History of Bethdish

Planet of Bethdish, Kingdom of Intile

Star League Year 2762 -- Local Date: Year 4921

If you have not read the begining of this story click here to read Part 1.

I awoke shortly before sunrise in the tent that I shared with some of my comrades from the League's Shuttle. There was a feeling of anticipating in the air, or maybe that was just me. I was looking forward to meeting this mysterious immortal called Reever. Oddly, for the first time in days there was no preparation for battle going on- everyone seemed to be waiting for this Reever fellow, even the raiders were quiet. Our foes, how easy it had become to think of them as that, the raiders were so quiet it was spooky. Even though their camp was miles away, on any other morning we'd been able to hear the crash and jingle of armor being donned and the thumping of war-drums beating. I crept outside with a vague feeling of unease and made my way to the tables from where I could smell the rich odors of food wafting through the camp. Even the cooks were hushed as they prepared the morning's meal for the troops. I found Baron Sachmon already at the table, demolishing a respectable plateful of smoked meats, thick hot gruel, and some type of eggs. He looked me over as he tore a fist-sized hunk of bread from a fresh-baked loaf on a platter before him.

"You look like you've hardly slept, T'narthra," he said- as usual, slaughtering the pronunciation of my name. Arturia should be simple enough to say, but the natives insisted in adding an extra T or H to everything they said. I eyed the steaming-hot mug of high-caffeine brew he sipped from with envy. I had rapidly become acclimated to the beverage. "Have some kalithe and get yourself a plate of food. A full belly will make you feel like a new man. I can recommend the carberry preserves if your stomach is delicate this morning. Good for a hangover, too."

"Thank you, Baron. I hardly feel like eating, though," I replied. "The Fiends are quiet this morning," I added, hoping to get the Baron started on an explanation.

"Our enemies? Oh yes, they fear the wrath of the Immortal. They would lose valuable bargaining points if they attack us after news of the Reever's impending arrival reached them."

"I still don't understand the power this Reever represents..." I began.

"But you will soon," the Baron interrupted. "Look you, my lad, the Immortals are no one that any with a brain in their heads would cross. They have been appointed by the Gods themselves to shepherd the rest of us until such time as we achieve enough civilization so as to need caretakers no longer. They have witnessed the rise and fall of countless kingdoms and empires, and any foe who attacked them soon found themselves defeated and forgotten- swept away as if they'd never existed. Think of what a weaponsmith, one who has been alive since before your people had crawled out of the slime of your own world's seas, could achieve in the arts of destruction! I'd rather be un-manned than battle the least child among them! But this is no fit topic for discussion at table, you should break your fast and make ready for the Reever's arrival at mid-morning."

"So, what should I expect from the Reever?" I asked.

"Expect marvels and wonders, expect a truce with our foes, and expect to be accepted for who and what you are. You may expect wisdom, fairness, and a love for all that lives. I expect that your people from the stars will be made welcome to our world and treated fairly, with respect. Sit, eat, and wait with me. The Reever will not harm us, rest assured."

With that said, we both ate and sat back to await the arrival of the Reever. The Baron laughed and joked with his men as he puffed his after-breakfast pipe. A warm breeze gently blew the smoke towards the battlefield. As I watched, medical teams from both sides resumed the task of collecting the bodies of fallen warriors. Maintenance crews sorted through the wreckage to find still-usable bits of machinery. After a time, I grew fidgety with impatience. Baron Sachmon merely looked at me and smiled.

"How far does this immortal have to come to get here? And how will he arrive," I asked gruffly. "On foot?"

"I am not sure," replied the Baron. "He has been known to walk the width of the globe, but I feel that he will be riding one of the vehicles that the Immortals use. Come to think of it, I do not know where he is coming from, no doubt some great distance."

"Well, I wish he would hurry. This waiting is getting on my nerves."

Time passed until, at mid-morning, we could hear a high-pitched humming noise. In the distance to the south I could barely make out a thin plume of dust, rapidly growing larger.

"He came through the Great Ruins," said the Baron in an awed voice.

I assumed that the Baron was referring to the remains of a bombed-out city to the southeast. It was so large that we had easily spotted it from orbit. There were three other, similar sites scattered across the planet, but this one was by far the largest. The glass-like slag surrounding the ruins must have spanned two hundred miles or more. I shuddered to think of the fireball that must have created it, the number of megatons of explosive necessary to make such a thing was frightening.

"He must not fear the creatures that live in the ruins," added the Baron. "I wouldn't go through there with an army at my back!"

The noise from the vehicle grew louder, the dust trail grew clearer. Finally I could see the glint of sunlight reflecting from the mirror-like surface of the vehicle. Within minutes I was able to see it clearly, a featureless silver egg. As it pulled to a stop before us I could see no windows or doors, no wheels or exhaust ports, just the unbroken gleam of the egg's surface. It was roughly twelve feet long, seven feet high, and traveled with the small end of the egg foremost- floating a foot above the ground. The noise ceased as the vehicle's surface rippled like flowing water, opening a door and lowering a ramp to the ground. The end of the ramp was the only part of the vehicle to touch the ground. I heard the soldiers nearby draw a deep breath as someone emerged from the egg. Somehow, I think that I will always remember my first sight of the Reever.

He stood tall, taller than the average native by several inches. I'd place his height at six foot two or close to it. He was slim, but muscular, and dressed in what looked like gray leather pants and jacket with a light blue shirt of some silk-like material. The hilt of a sword was visible over his right shoulder and a holstered sidearm rode his left hip, butt forward in a crossdraw holster. He jabbed a metal- tipped staff almost as tall as himself into the ground at the foot of the vehicle's ramp, I could see intricate carvings running up and down it's length and several jewels of various colors decorated it's uppermost end. His hair was short, dark brown, with just a touch of gray at the temples. He looked to be about thirty five years of age.

The Baron bowed to him with an easy grace. Obviously, this was the man we had been waiting for all morning.

"Greetings Far Walker," said the Baron.

"Well met, Baron. Is the representative of your attackers present yet?" asked the Reever.

"Not as yet, Reever. I expect that they were waiting for your arrival. Have you broken your fast this morn?"

"Yes, but thank you for asking. I would much rather be getting on with the business at hand. There are other things requiring my attention. I fear that I cannot devote much time to pleasantries."

"As you will it, Reever."

"Is this one of the visitors from the sky? They are in need of allies," the Reever said while gesturing towards me. "At least, that is how the tale ran that reached Fort Mountain."

"I," replied the Baron in a formal manner I hadn't heard him use before. "Have allied myself with them. I pledge myself to their friendship and trust their honor. They have stood by us against the invaders and have asked for naught but to be treated as friends."

"Is this true?" the Reever asked me.

"Yes, your lordship," I replied in a shaky voice. "I am Arturia Lonscear, Journeyman Trader of the Merchant's Guild of Keylos. Keylos, my homeworld, is a member of the Zelath Stellar League. Baron Sachmon and his people have given us their trust. They have tended our wounds, fed us and clothed us. I couldn't ask for better friends."

"That is good," said the Reever. He smiled. "We do try to be hospitable to strangers. Be at ease, there is no danger from me. From the reports I have heard, your people have acted with honor. The Elders of my people are pleased to have you among us. It is hoped that trade with your own people will be long and equitable for all."

"Thank you, sir. I'm glad to hear that we haven't broken any of your laws," I said.

"Indeed, you have not. Travelers in distress are to be aided, not penalized, no matter where they come from." The Reever smiled again. "I would enjoy hearing of your people while we wait for the representatives of the other army to arrive."

"I have a pavilion set aside for our negotiations, Far Walker. It is there, on the edge of the field of honor," said the Baron, pointing to a large tent near the battlefield.

"Good," replied the Reever, pulling his staff from the ground. "We will have advance warning of the other party to these talks."

"I have to admit," I said as we walked to the pavilion. "I wouldn't have thought that your people would intervene in everyone's battles and wars, Reever. From the orbital survey we saw evidence of many wars in this planet's past."

"We don't as a rule," replied the Reever. "However, there are good reasons for this instance. Your own presence, for one, and the object of these invaders for another. For the most part, if our wards wish to fight with one another it is up to them. If they kill one another off, we tend to think of it as evolution in action. Regrettable, but only nature working under her own rules."

As we reached the shade of the pavilion's awning and took our seats, the Baron sent one of his retainers for wine. Before sitting down, the Reever once more jabbed the metal tip of his staff into the ground. It's jewels flashed brightly in a sequence that could not have been caused by reflected sunlight. I began to suspect that the staff was more than just a walking stick or a badge of office. The Reever confirmed this with his next words- spoken to the staff, rather than to the Baron or myself.

"Establish a link to the Hall of Records... Begin record mode." Catching my surprised look, the Reever nodded. "Why should a technology not be decorative as well as useful? This is a tool, as well as an object of beauty. It was a gift from the wizard Alazar. He made it with his own hands."

"Alazar?" asked the Baron. "The son of Lutay, the Wizard-King of the land of Tulag?"

"Yes," replied the Reever with a fond smile. "Alazar was one of my history students when I was a guest in Tulag. But I digress..."

"How is this conflict different?" I asked, wanting to know more of the motivations of the Immortals.

"It is different in that if these invaders that attack you were to be allowed to reach their true objective, they would be able to gain technology far in advance of their maturity. The possibility of its misuse is too great for the Elders to allow. Such as those," said the Reever while pointing towards the enemy camp. "They would cause more destruction and misery than my people could correct. We do not wish a repeat of the Four Cities War. The ruins of Kefa-Ku, there- to the south," the Reever nodded towards what the Baron had called the "Great Ruins" with a sad, grim look on his face. "They are reminder enough of what jealousy and greed can cause."

The Baron's eyes widened in sudden comprehension and a gasp escaped his lips.

"They seek the relic of Castle Urquare! This cannot be allowed!"

"Exactly," stated the Reever grimly. "That is why I have been sent here... To send them home to their own lands- or destroy them utterly."

"I don't understand..." I began.

"I will explain," said the Baron, cutting me off. "Civilizations rise and fall, yes? Well, Intile is not the first kingdom to occupy these lands. Far in the past, other peoples rose to rule here. They achieved great works, traded with other star-travelers like yourself, warred among themselves, and finally faded away in the mists of time. Sometimes, a relic of their age survived to be found by new inhabitants of the region. Many of the older castles across the world contain one or more of these remnants of that lost age. Some castles were built where they are just to house one of these relics. Castle Urquare is one of the oldest fortresses in the kingdom and as such, does indeed contain a great relic of the lost ages. I had supposed that these brigands merely wished to posses my own poor castle Dubov, but now..."

"Indeed," said the Reever as the Baron's voice trailed off into thought. "That relic deeply concerns your own people, Arturia. The Elders of my people wished to allow you use of it if a treaty between us is signed. It could provide your salvation."

"Our salvation? How... What?" I asked, breathless with shock and confusion.

"Castle Urquare was built to house one of the greatest relics of the Four Cities era, a time when the Kefa people traded with visitors from the stars. Indeed, the Kefa were employed by the builders of the Altiplaino, the ancient spaceport. You must have seen its ruins from orbit."

"Yes, we saw it."

"The relic inside Castle Urquare is a small, but still serviceable starship. The honorable behavior of yourself and your stranded companions has prompted the Elders to offer you a way to go home."

To be continued...

Go directly to part 3.

Copyright 1997 by Dan L. Hollifield

Author's Note:

Bethdish is a world circling a star, called Antuth by the natives (who named the star after the chief deity in their pantheon), presently some 65 lightyears from Earth. Rumor has it that the entire solar system had earlier been located in the Andromeda Galaxy, but was moved by some mysterious force to its new location in our own Milky Way Galaxy. The surviving written history of Bethdish covers some 12,000 years, (with the afore-mentioned displacement to the Milky Way occuring in their year 6055 -- circa 3140 AD, Terran Calendar) but the records of the Immortals reportedly go back roughly a billion years and relate the rise and fall of several civilized eras of non-immortal natives before the present recorded history begins.

The Immortals claim to have been directly created by the Gods of Bethdish, while the diverse non-immortal species are said to have evolved naturally. The several alien colonies now present are, of course, immigrants. One Xenoarcheologist of note, Professor Eustas Gray of the Emperor Norton University of San Francisco, has published several monographs on the subject of excavations on Bethdish that purport to uphold the Immortal's beliefs. Other experts in the field dispute his findings, but all the evidence is not yet in.

Further records of the history of Bethdish are forthcoming from this Author, while previous excerpts are available in your local information network.

Dan Hollifield (Aphelion Webzine's Editor, by the way) was born in 1957 at almost the same minute that Sputnik II was launched. This seems to have warped his point of view in the fact that he has always been rather a nut on the subject of spaceflight. He lives in Athens, Ga. USA. More biographical info can be found at The Mare Inebrium website- if you need that sort of thing. More of his work can be found at Aphelion Webzine.

If you like this story and you wish to tell Dan so you can e-mail him by clicking here.