The noise of morning birds roused him to wakefulness. He got up, stretching carefully, as his muscles had tightened up during his slumbers. Breakfast was leftover turkey for Fors and two rabbits for Nira. He removed his clothing and plunged into a small pool of water downstream from his cave. Emerging a few minutes later, he shook himself off and dried with his blanket. Shortly afterwards, the two left the quiet glade and struck due south.
By mid-morning, he was already scaling foothills, the mountains visible in the distance. By late morning he had reached the foot of one of the many trails that led directly to the Eyrie. To a stranger, the trails were invisible, but to an experienced traveler like Fors, the way up was as plainly visible as if it had been lined with torches. As he climbed, he began to pass the places he knew were under observation by the outpost sentries. He was careful not to look for them, as they were careful not to reveal their locations. This was for the safety of the Eyrie, in case a returning Star Man had been trailed by an enemy.
The sun had reached its zenith when Fors crested the north ridge, the stony natural fortification that marked the outer boundary of the Eyrie settlement. Picking his way down the winding trail into the small, nearly hidden valley, he began to smell wood smoke and hear the sound of his people. With a smile touching his lips, he emerged from the rocks into a large circular basin, rimmed by small buildings. On the south rim of the circle was the House of Elders. Flanking either side were buildings given over to the multitudinous official tasks of government. Storehouses, holding foodstuffs of various kinds, the House of Healers, and the Sentry and Defenders House completed the loop. But standing alone at the north end was the long low building that was in many ways the spiritual center of the Eyrie: The Star House. Fors turned in that direction, returning the greetings of others on his way. It was heart-warming, Fors realized, to receive those cheerful greetings. In his youth, before the tribe was led to an awakening by Jarl, a Star Captain, he had been outcast, ignored, and even feared. He shook his head in wonder. How things had changed!
He entered the Star House, pulling aside the heavy wooden door engraved with a star. Closing it behind him, he turned to his right, heading for another door even more ornately decorated. Raising his hand, he knocked. A muffled voice from inside granted him entry. He opened this door and stepped into a small chamber with a roughly made table, the walls lined with symbols and treasures, memorials to decades of exploration and courage. An older man rose from behind the table in greeting. Fors drew himself to attention and repeated the ancient words:
“I, Fors of the Puma Clan; a Star Man of the Eyrie report my return. I have traveled over far lands in peace; showing not my sword or bow, save in defense of my life. Knowledge have I sought; and knowledge have I found; knowledge do I now lay before you, for the life of the Eyrie is knowledge. To the Eyrie have I brought life.”
Torin, the Star Captain, replied, “To the sanctuary of the Eyrie do I salute the return of a Star Man. I stand ready to receive the gift of the knowledge you have carried. The hearts of all the people of the Eyrie rejoice! For you have come home alive.”
In keeping with tradition, Torin summoned a Star novice, who took Fors’ weapons. Star Men, although highly skilled in the arts of combat, were primarily explorers, not warriors, and as a symbol of the commitment to knowledge, surrendered their weapons upon return to the Eyrie. Thus relieved, the two men grasped hands warmly.
Torin wore a look of relief on his sharply featured face. He said, “You have been gone a long time. We were beginning to worry that misfortune had befallen you.”
Fors replied, “It was a ceremony that lasted many days. As it turned out, not only was there a marriage between a Plainsman and a woman from the Southerners, there was also a ceremony where the two clans were merged into one. Before they were merely allies; now, they are brothers.”
Torin nodded. “How has the Southerners settlement grown?”
“There are now 7 separate villages along the river valley. There is a lively trade between them and the Plainsmen. Jarl was right. They are well on their way to becoming one nation.” Fors sighed. “It is good to see peace.”
Torin rose and came from behind the rough table and placed a hand on Fors’ shoulder. “They have you to thank, my friend.” The Star Captain gestured toward his door. “Come, it is time for the mid-day meal.”
The two walked to a large common area dominated by a very long, wooden table surrounded by large chairs. It was here that those of the Star House took their meals, met in council, or worked in small groups. At the moment, there were 31 Star Men on roster, most of who were out on the trails. Those who remained were instructors, each assigned to a novice and three others who were recovering from wounds. They all gathered around one end of the massive table and the food was set before them by the novices. As they ate, Torin plied Fors with many questions about the events he had witnessed. The others listened closely.
Fors’ position in the Star House was unique. While other wore stars of five points, Fors’ star consisted of many points. He had been set aside by Jarl those many years ago in recognition of his unique talents at diplomacy, “binding together in peace swords that otherwise might be raised in war.” Over the years, the many clans of the Plainsmen and Southerners in the lowlands had learned to trust Fors’ counsel and insight. In the lowlands, he was known as a peace maker and a peace keeper and it was widely recognized that it was through his efforts that humanity had a real chance at unity, after generations of conflict.
Yet, despite his talents, Fors was still an explorer at heart, more at home on the trails than within the Eyrie. He had grown up a loner, and still remained one; living a life somewhat detached from the others. Yet, he was honored by the tribe and deeply respected in the Star House. He was free to roam and explore within the bounds of his duties. It had been a deeply satisfying life.
Later, after the meal had been cleared away and the group had scattered to their diverse responsibilities, Fors labored at his report. Referring frequently to the notes and entries in his Journal, Fors painstakingly recorded the details of his journey. He also updated the maps held by the Star House, carefully noting the locations of the new villages along the river valley, as well as additional information gleaned from the Plainsmen, who were now getting information about the lands to the far northwest.
According to the Plainsmen, the people who occupied those lands were divided into tribes. They wore the skins of animals and claimed that the entire continent had been theirs in the far distant past, a history that pre-dated even the Old Ones. They possessed horses in great numbers and were nomadic in nature, much like the Plainsmen. Relations between the two were cordial, a relationship the Plainsmen’s Recorder of Deeds felt had potential. He had suggested to Fors that his unique talents could be of use in this case and had invited the Star Man to accompany them on their next journey. The mission intrigued Fors, but gazing at the map he realized that it would be a journey of several months duration, since the land controlled by those tribes lay over a thousand miles to the west. It was already mid-summer, and even on horseback such a journey could not possibly be accomplished before the snows fell and closed the trails. Perhaps next spring, Fors mused. A cooperative venture from all three tribes, extending brotherhood and diplomacy would continue the task of re-uniting humanity and rebuilding a nation.
Several hours later, Fors delivered his completed report to Torin, who received the sheaves of paper with enthusiasm. Fors prepared to return to his house, but was told by the Star Captain that the Eyrie Guardian himself had asked to be briefed over supper. Although not unheard of, it was unusual for a returning Star Man to break bread with the leader of his tribe. Fors, still wearing travel clothes caked with the dust and sweat of his journey, returned to his house to prepare.