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It's a Young World




In the Enemy's House


I don't think there was anyone in the universe that shot better than my Tribe, but I brought down the average a lot. Though I'd been a hunter all my life, I never became really proficient. Even the babies of the tribe were better than I when it came to shooting at a moving target with a light bow, and I was never allowed to participate in the raids on enemy camps for that reason.

Hunting was all right. There my natural gifts for being inconspicuous and very quiet helped me. I could be more motionless than even the rocks I sat upon. When the wood's life came close to me I didn't have to be a good shot to kill more than my share of marauding animals.

Not that most of the animals we ever saw were really dangerous: of course not. But there was a species of lizard we had come to fear. It was big and powerful, and it moved almost without sound, but those were not the worst things. Being a lizard, akin to the fish of the streams more than to us, it actually ate the flesh of the animals and men it killed. When it could get no living thing to eat, it chewed and swallowed leaves or grass, or the flowers and fruits of the trees. It had to. If it did not eat, it would die. It was too low in the evolutionary scale, it seems, to live as all warm-blooded creatures do, on the fresh water and fresh air that are free to all.

Because of this vile habit of eating, it always gave me a feeling of pleasure to kill these lizards whenever I could, almost like what the others boasted of when they came back from a raid and told of the fun of killing the members of the Enemy tribe.

Four times in every year I was sent out to kill a lizard—we called them Eaters—and each time I remained away until I caught one. Though it might take me days or weeks to track one down and slay it, I dared not come back without at least one skin on my shoulders. Though they became increasingly scarce, I always managed to trap one eventually—always, that is, but once.

For there finally came a day when, look where I would, use whatever arts of searching I knew, there was no Eater to be found. I ranged a hundred miles and more, over a period of nearly a month, utterly without success. In our own area of the planet, at least, the Eaters seemed completely extinct.

As I trudged into the village of my Tribe I saw that something was up. I had no wish to attract attention, since my quest had been fruitless, so I did not quite enter the village, but stood within the shelter of the trees and watched for a little while. The warriors were stalking around importantly in a bustle of scurrying women and hunters like myself, each warrior lugging a twelve-foot war bow.

A raid?

It had to be that. Little Clory, my favourite girl friend, spied me before anyone else and came running up to me with a finger on her lips. "Stay back, Keefe," she warned. "They're going out to lick the Red-and-Browns and you'd better not get in the way."

I picked her up and sat her on my shoulder. She was a little thing, even for her seven years of age, but her long yellow hair covered my face. I blew it aside, and said, "When will they have the Affair, Clory?"

"Oh, right away. Look—they're building the fires now."

They were. The warriors had gathered and were seated in the triple-tiered Balcony of Men, while the youths and women built a tottering little shack of firewood. I should have helped them, being a non-military, but I wasn't needed, and I preferred to keep as much as possible out of anything connected with raids.

The whole Tribe was in the little clearing on the outskirts of the village by now. The House of the Enemy—that was the little jerry-built shack that would be burned—was nearly completed. The four braided vine ropes that would serve as fuses were already laid out, and the musicians were tuning up with an ungodly din.

Corlos, Chief of the Warriors, and Lord of the Tribe of the Blues, strode into the centre of the cleared circle, and raised his bow. A ten-foot arrow, hollowed at the point, was in it; he drew it back in the string until I could almost hear the wood of the bow creaking, then released it, aiming at the tiny red disc of the sun, setting on the horizon. The arrow screamed up and out in a flat arc—literally screamed, because the pitted point caused it to whistle in flight.

That was the signal. The musicians, who had been silent for a few moments, waiting their cue, screamed into their instruments, slapped their drums, sawed their stringed gourds. The noise was frightful—but almost beautiful, I had to admit. Maybe the beauty lay in the unusualness, because we heard this ceremonial music only just before a raid, not more than once in a year.

To the tune of the tempestuous music, a group of the younger girls of the Tribe came pacing in to the centre of the ring, bearing a closed palanquin on their shoulders. In it, presumably, was the Enemy, the animal—sometimes, the person—which would be burned alive, representing the members of the Tribe against whom our warriors would soon be marching.

Corlos strode up to the car and halted, raising his arm peremptorily. The music stopped. In a savage, deep guttural he declaimed: "Who is our Enemy?"

The antiphony rose in unison from the benches of the warriors: "He who does not serve the Tribe—he is our Enemy: he must die! That which kills one of our Tribe—that is our Enemy; it must die! He who profanes the Name of our Tribe—he is the Enemy; he must die." I repeated the familiar words of the Three Evil Acts with the warriors. I knew them by heart. Corlos went on with the ritual.

"How dies our Enemy?" he bellowed.

"By the flames of our fire," rolled back the response.

"Where seek we our Enemy?"

"In the woods; in our Tribe; on mountains or plain; wherever he may flee, there we shall go."

Corlos was working himself up to a frenzy. As the echoes of the warriors' shouts died away, he signalled to the musicians. A drum then boomed to accent each syllable, as he shrieked, "Behold our Enemy!" He ripped open the door of the palanquin; four warriors ran up and dragged out the Enemy.

I stared hard, then stepped back a pace and clutched a vine for support. The Enemy, this time, was human. It was a youth, slight, shaking in a hysteria of fear. It was Lurlan, my sworn blood brother!

Lurlan! Except for Clory, I had rather see anyone of the Tribe perish in the flames, even myself, rather than him. Clory clutched my arm, and a tiny whimper escaped her. It was a surprise to her too, it seemed.

I dismissed the thought that I was on ground none too secure myself, and my mind spun as I tried desperately to think of a way of saving Lurlan from the flames. But there was no time for thinking, for in a matter of minutes the fire would be lighted and Lurlan's corpse would roast in its embers.

If he had to die, he would die. Certainly I could never hope to save his life. But—need he die in the horrible agony of the flames?

He did not, I decided agonizedly—and found that while I had been painfully thinking it out, my body's reflexes had come to the same conclusion. My bow was in my hands, and an arrow was notched. I took hasty aim and released the bowstring. The arrow fled from me and cleaved straight to its target—the throat of my blood brother, Lurlan.

Consternation! The entire Tribe was in an uproar. I saw proven then what I had always known—Corlos, though a beast and a braggart, was no coward. He whipped around like a pinked Eater, and peered directly at me, his slightly nearsighted eyes blinking in the smoke of the smaller fires. I could have slain him as easily as I had Lurlan, and he must have realized that. But he stood his ground, though his swarthy face turned pale and he fingered his arrowless bow.

"Keefe!" he bellowed as soon as he identified me. Then he spun back and faced the warriors. "This man has slain the Enemy!" he howled. "He has profaned the Tribe—he is our Enemy! Let us burn him!"

They had every intention of doing it, too. The warriors rose, howling with rage. Though none of them loved Corlos unduly, they were all hogtied with respect for the sacred traditions of the Burning of the Enemy. I had violated them. I was the Enemy.

I plucked at Clory and backed away, as unobtrusively as I could. I had my bow still in my hand; I notched another arrow and held it ready. I wanted them to see that I wasn't going to burn without a fight.

The bush was pretty thick, and within twenty feet we were hidden. Then I slung the bow over my shoulder and made speed with Clory.


"Where are we going, Keefe?" Clory murmured in my ear. She was obviously being as brave as she knew how. I didn't have to tell her that we were in serious trouble. Maybe if her own father hadn't been dead, killed in a raid while unsuccessfully trying to protect her mother, she would have made a fuss about going away with me. But the only person she was really close to in the Blues was myself. She trusted me, and that was a powerful incentive, because her own life might not be entirely safe if we were captured.

I could hear them shouting back in the clearing, howling for my blood. Then Corlos's bullish yowl sounded over the others; I couldn't make out what he said, but it seemed to quiet them.

I set Clory down on the ground and led her along. It was growing late. If the warriors were to raid the Red-and-Brown tribe this night, they must leave soon, too soon to try to capture us—until they returned. That gave us a certain period of grace.

We stood statue-still for a second, listening for sounds of pursuit. There weren't any. Apparently the Tribe had decided to let our punishment wait until the raid had been completed, for I could hear the chant of the warriors resume their deep-voiced promises of catastrophe to the Enemy tribe.

Distantly Corlos's yowl came to me. "So burns the Enemy!" he shouted, over the thin pounding of the drums. "So dies their tribe! Burn, Red-and-Browns! Burn with the House of the Enemy!" And there was a blood-freezing screech from fifty throats, as the warriors echoed, "Burn!"

Then the drums rolled up to a bleak crescendo and stopped. I wondered what they had substituted for us in the House of the Enemy. Lurlan's corpse, probably. Well, better than his living body, or ours. I strained my eyes in the direction of the village, and saw the trees weirdly black and orange in the flickering of the burning shack. Then the cries died down and there was no sound we could hear, for a long time.




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