Fire Time
Fire Time

Fire Time

by Poul Anderson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385055826
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/01/1974
Pages: 210
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926¿2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his "hard" science fiction, mysteries, and historical novels, he was responsible for classic books like The Broken Sword and Brain Wave. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

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Fire Time


By Poul Anderson

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1974 Trigonier Trust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2438-9


CHAPTER 1

In Fire Time the north country got no peace from the Demon Sun. Day and night, summer and winter, it blazed aloft until there was no longer any day or any winter. But those were the Starklands, where few mortals had ever gone and none could ever dwell, whether the year be good or evil. Dauri from that realm, bound south on their unknown errands, saw the Red One sink as they fared, until at last it sometimes wheeled under the horizon behind them.

Having crossed the Desolation Hills, such travelers were in among the Tassui, the Frontier Folk, who held the south end of Valennen and hence were the northernmost of mortals. Here land, life, and sky alike were strange to theirs.

When the Stormkindler was far from the world, hardly more than the brightest of stars, these parts knew small difference between seasons. In winter some rain might be hoped for, and the days were a little shorter than the nights, but that was nearly all. (Traders and soldiers from the Gathering said that meanwhile in the far north the True Sun never rose, and the cold grew so strong that ice lay in the very valleys.) But Fire Time changed this, as it did everything else. Then at midsummer the Tassui got the Invader by day, two suns at once, while at midwinter they got it by itself, not one moment of blessed darkness.

The same held true if a person traveled South-Over-Sea: except for seasons changing, winter in Beronnen when summer was in Valennen – and the Burner always lower to northward. Finally he reached a place which never saw it during Fire Time, merely afterward when it had retreated too great a distance to wreak harm. Most Tassui thought this must be a country favored by the gods, and disbelieved foreigners who told them that it was, instead, chill and niggardly.

Arnanak knew the story was right. He had visited Haelenhimself, a hundred years ago as a legionary of the Gathering. But he seldom gainsaid his fellows and followers about matters of that kind. Let them keep wrong ideas if they wanted, especially ideas which fed envy, suspicion, and hatred of the outsiders. For he was at last ready to open his full attack.

A horn blew in the hills above Tarhanna. Echoes toned off crags and scarps. Louder brawled the Esali River, hastening through a canyon toward the plain. Not yet had drought, already setting in elsewhere, shrunken it to the trickle, among stones that scorched the feet of the thirsty, which Arnanak's grandfather had remembered from cubhood. But the air hung still and hot, with a smoky smell out of lia and bushes where they withered.

Alone, the True Sun drew near to the western ridges. Haze turned its shield a dull yellow, ash-dust off a woodland or a range that flame had grazed upon. Otherwise the sky was clear, a blue so hard that it might ring if struck. Deeper blue ran the shadows of wrinkles on slopes; down in clefts and dales they were purple.

Again Arnanak winded his horn. The warriors left their shady spots and loped toward him. They would not don war-harness, those who had any, until just before the battle. Baldric, scabbard, pouch, quiver were the sole clothing of most. Their green pelts, green-and-gold-glinting red-brown manes, black faces and arms, stood vivid against the dun growth and strewn rocks around them. Spearheads gleamed high. Tails switched hindquarters in eagerness. When they crowded together beneath the low bluff on which he stood, their male odor was like a breath off damp iron.

The pride in Arnanak did not keep him from making a rough count, now when he had them in a group. They numbered about two thousand. That was much fewer than he expected soon to need. However, it was a good response for the start of an undertaking as venturesome as this. And they had come from everywhere, too. His own contingent had had the longest journey to rendezvous, he supposed, from Ulu under the Worldwall. But by looks, bearing, gear, ornament, scraps of talk, he recognized others out of all South Valennen, mountaineers, woods runners, plains rangers, sea reapers of coasts and islands. If they proved able to seize the trade town, their kindred would flock after them.

A third time he sounded the horn. Silence spread in its wake till the unseen water had the single voice. Arnanak let them see him, weigh him in their minds before he spoke.

Since his people admired anyone who had strength to gain and wit to keep wealth, he wore an abundance of costly gauds. Studded with gemstones, a golden coronet rose spiky from the leaves of his mane. Gold coils wound along arms and legs. Rings glittered on all four fingers of either hand. A many-colored Sehalan blanket decked his back and hump. The longsword he raised in sign of command was damascened steel forged South-Over-Sea; but it had seen ample use.

Behind him a phoenix tree rose umber and mighty till branches spread out to make a wide blue roof of foliage. Under that shelter a canebrake had lately sprouted, a curtain of tan stalks and rustly shadows. Arnanak had chosen the rendezvous well ahead of time, and taken care that he arrived first, partly in order to claim this spot for his own. He did not forbid it to others because he begrudged them its comfort; rather, he had made a point of staying out in the open, in unbroken sunlight, like the least fortunate newcomer. He needed it for the show he had planned.

Gravely he trod to the bluff edge, met their eyes, filled his lungs and let roll forth:

'You Tassui, hark. I, Arnanak, Overling of Ulu, speak; and you will understand.


'My messengers who carried the war-daggers from household to household could tell of little more than a place to meet when the moons sail thus-and-thus among the stars. You knew that over the years I have made allies and oath-givers of many in the west, and no few elsewhere. You have heard how my wish is to drive the foreigners into the sea and beyond, unbarring our way to the south before Fire Time waxes its fiercest. You have guessed I may strike first at Tarhanna.

'But this the legion also knows, has heard, and can guess. I would not risk spies or traitors telling our enemies more closely what we will do.

'Therefore I am not wroth that most males hung back. Some fear me, some fear my failure; moreover, now is the season when every household must garner what it can, that it may feed itself through a hard year to come and worse years afterward. No, I find the best of omens in seeing this many of you here.

'We move at sunset. I will tell you the plan.

'A reason I had for choosing springtime is just that then the Tassui are toiling. The legion will not await more from us than a few raids – surely not an onslaught against the chief inland stronghold of the Gathering. I know how they think, those from South-Over-Sea. Through double agents I have helped them come to look for any large movement of ours only in summer, when we have something in our larders at home, and have full nights for cover and coolness as we travel.

'Yet we have half a night here before the Red One rises – time to reach Tarhanna, given both moons up to help us fare speedily. I have myself made the trip, twice, and know. Besides, I know the garrison is small. The legion has withdrawn part of it to help fight buccaneering along the Ehur coast ... buccaneering that I got started this past winter for that same purpose!'

A murmur went through the array. Arnanak overrode:

'Today your leaders and I have hammered out what to do. You have but to cleave to their standards. In two divisions, we will go at the north and south gates. Then when we have the soldiers well busied, a little band will scale the riverside wall – a tricky act, therefore a surprise, but not too tricky for my sailors, who have rehearsed it on a copy of the wall which I had built at Ulu. They will carve a bridgehead for others, who will fall on whichever gate looks more weakly defended, and get it open; and thus we take the town.


'If there is hunger in your home, warrior, remember that you can go to islands in the Fiery Sea which are still fat and still too well held for us to overcome; and you can barter your share of the loot for food. Before all, remember that here we barely begin the overthrow of the Gathering. Your children shall dwell in lands the gods love.

'Of this I give you a sign.'

He had been pacing his words to the sun. When it slipped beneath the hills, dusk went like a wave across the world and the first stars leaped forth. From that same western rim lifted Kilivu, its jaggedness aglint as it tumbled. Frosty light shivered among suddenly uneasy darknesses. Somewhere a prowler howled; the noise of the river seemed to louden; though soil and boulders breathed forth heat, the air felt at once less heavy.

Arnanak's tail signaled the dauri. They slipped from the canebrake like seven other shadows, until their weirdness entered the moonglow. Beneath its petals, their leader bore in its arms the Thing.

Fear whistled and bristled in the murky mass gathered under the bluff. Spearheads slanted forward, blades and axes flew free. Arnanak took the Thing. He held its gleams and blacks on high. 'Hold fast!' he shouted. 'Stand firm! No curse is here. These beings are with me.'

After a while he had the warriors calmed enough that he could say more quietly: 'Many of you have heard how I am become a friend of the dauri. You have heard how I fared into the Starklands which they haunt, where never mortal trod before, and brought back from their tomb city a Thing of Power. Behold, it was no lie. We cannot but conquer.

'Tonight we begin. I have spoken; and you will understand.'

Before the troop had set off, Narvu rose in the east, smaller, duller, slower, but full, which Kilivu was not. That meant full in the light of the True Sun. The Invader cast its own wan red glow on both; no longer were they always eclipsed when they crossed the top of the sky at this phase. Between moons, stars, and Ghost Bridge, the Tassui saw well.

Nonetheless, descent to the valley was hard. Often Arnanak must grip with all three toes on all four feet, lest he tumble down a slope eroded to treacherousness. His hearts thumped. His throat felt sere as the brush which clawed at his pasterns. He could well-nigh sense the leaves of mane and brows, the blades of his pelt, go likewise dry. The night brooded thick. He knew it must be growing milder, but his overburdened body did not.

He had left his riches and the Thing behind in care of the dauri. No Tassu – belike no legionary – would try to steal them from those creatures. Rather, such a person would run or, if uncommonly bold, make an offering on the spot in the hope of good luck later on. Now Arnanak carried war-gear on his back. Made in Beronnen for him when he served the Gathering, it was heavier than what most of his followers bore.

He heard them behind him, foot-thuds, metal-clink, rattle of stones, muttered oaths and harsh breath. Stiffly, he kept ahead. If he would be obeyed, he must ever be in the van of trek or battle.

Foolishness, he thought. Civilized folk were wiser. His commandant in his soldiering years had been lamed by wounds long before, but stayed in charge because there was no better tactician or day-by-day administrator. Barbarians – yes, barbarians – could win against civilization only by default, when it was breaking down.

He was glad that the legion he meant to throw out of this land was the Zera, not his own old Tamburu Strider.

Of course, the latter might chance to come here as reinforcement. But that was beyond likelihood. One by one, the Gathering was abandoning its outer territories, as civilizations did each thousand years when the Stormkindler returned. Let Valennen be lost, and the Gathering would hardly try to regain it ... even though this would presently mean the fall of the Fiery Sea islands, and thereafter–

Unless the humans– What could a male really know about beings more eldritch than the dauri, beings from so far away that their sun was lost to sight – if that story of theirs, or any other, could be believed–?

Arnanak clutched the hilt of the sword sheathed at his torso. If he had heard, and understood, and guessed aright,the humans would be too busy around Sehala to help in this remote outpost. Foreign as they were, they shouldn't grasp the meaning of the Valenneners' advance until too late. Then … why should they not be willing to deal with the High Overling? He would have more power, more to offer, than the shards of the Gathering.

If Arnanak had caught the truth and planned well.

If not, he would die, and most of his people with him. But Fire Time would have killed them anyhow, in worse ways than battle. Arnanak let go the sword and gave himself to making haste down the stony, scored flanks of the hills.

Travel was easier in the flat lands. On orders from their chief, the warriors stayed off a trade trail along the river, save twice when they slipped thither to quench thirst and lave their skin-plants. They might have met a patrol, a few of whom might escape to give the alarm. Instead they trotted cross-country.

The fields there were free of brush if not of thorn fences. Taught by the towndwellers, folk hereabouts had been cultivators for two or three sixty-four-years. Speargrain, breadroot, and tame animals grew well. But come Fire Time, farms where food was would draw more hungry raiders than the legion could handle, until weather destroyed crops and cattle from the gentler climes of Beronnen. The cultivators were leaving their homes while a chance remained to take up different ways of life. Arnanak's band met no one in the few steadings it passed. However, pasture was not yet completely ruined; the fighters foraged sparingly as they went.

The east had lightened when they swung back toward the stream. Black ahead of them, limned against western stars and moon-shimmer on water, bulked the walls and watch-towers of Tarhanna. Leaders uttered low-voiced commands to halt and arm quickly, before the Demon Sun rose and betrayed them to yonder sentries.

By now, air and soil were nearly cool. The Invader would not by itself bring back great heat. Though somewhat larger in the sky than the True Sun when passing nearest the world, it gave less brightness and warmth – about a fifth as much, a philosopher in Sehala had once told Arnanak. Indeed, the worst part of a Fire Time came after the Marauder was again outward bound.

Still, by True noon today, when it set, the plain would be fevered. (And this was only spring, in an early year of the evil!) Arnanak hoped to be inside the town before then. Whether or not he would be out of his armor depended on the garrison. He believed the legionaries would surrender on promise of being allowed to depart disarmed. Civilized soldiers reckoned it an empty bravery to die in a lost cause. But their captain might decide death was worthwhile for the sake of killing as many barbarians as might be.

Well, then the bone kettles would seethe; and kindred from end to end of South Valennen would join the Overling of Ulu in revengefulness.

He unpacked his kit, fastened helm and mail to his body with the help of his standard-bearer, took shield on arm. The bad dawn broke, crimson across the land. Arnanak lifted his sword to grab that light. 'Come!' he roared. 'Attack and win!' He trotted into a run. Behind him the ground drummed under the weight and haste of his warriors.

CHAPTER 2

The door chimed. 'Entre,' called Yuri Dejerine. Rising, he waved the phonoplay to silence. Had it been drawing something classical from the data bank – a piece by Mozart, say, or a raga concert – he would have reduced the sound level to a gentle background. But most humans dislike Gean music, all of it, never mind that that planet has as old and wide a variety of traditions as ever did Earth. To understand, one needs the interest from which springs patience, plus a good ear.

The door admitted a young man whose uniform bore air corps pursuit squadron insignia. They shone very new, and his salute was a bit awkward. He handled himself well in Lunar gravity, though; he wouldn't have qualified for his service if he weren't more quickly weight-adaptable than most. His frame was tall and powerful, his face handsome in a blond Caucasoid mode. Dejerine wondered whether he really bore subtle indications of having been born and reared beyond the Solar System. Knowing he was, an observer could too easily read clues into a look, a stance, or a gait.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fire Time by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1974 Trigonier Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Fire Time 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Karlstar on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A similiar concept to Aldiss' Heliconia novels, but in reverse, a planet that goes through a very hot cycle when one of its stars approaches, causing the fall of civilization, usually. This time humans are there to help prevent it, maybe. A much shorter treatment of the ecosystem gone mad concept. Global warming long before it was a fad!