_By E. E. SMITH, Ph. D._
_Illustrated by J. Allen St. John_
Aided by Llosir, his strange, new god, Tedric enters into battle with Sarpedion, the sacrifice-demanding god of Lomarr in this story of science and swash-buckling adventure which marks the return of "Doc" Smith, author of the Skylark series, Lensman series, etc.
“_The critical point in time of mankind's whole existence is there–RIGHT THERE!” Prime Physicist Skandos slashed his red pencil across the black trace of the chronoviagram. “WHY must man be so stupid? Anyone with three brain cells working should know that for the strength of an individual he should be fed; not bled; that for the strength of a race its virgins should be bred, not sacrificed to propitiate figmental deities. And it would be so easy to straighten things out–nowhere in all reachable time does any other one man occupy such a tremendously–such a uniquely–key-stone position!_”
_“Easy, yes,” his assistant Furmin agreed. “It_ is _a shame to let Tedric die with not one of his tremendous potentialities realized. It would be easy and simple to have him discover carburization and the necessary techniques of heat-treating. That freak meteorite need not lie there unsmelted for another seventy years. However, simple carburization was not actually discovered until two generations later, by another smith in another nation; and you know, Skandos, that there can be no such thing as a minor interference with the physical events of the past. Any such, however small-seeming, is bound to be catastrophically major.”_
_“I know that.” Skandos scowled blackly. “We don't know enough about time. We don't know what would happen. We have known how to do it for a hundred years, but have been afraid to act because in all that time no progress whatever has been made on the theory.”_
_He paused, then went on savagely: “But which is better, to have our entire time-track snapped painlessly out of existence–if the extremists are right–or to sit helplessly on our fat rumps wringing our hands while we watch civilization build up to its own total destruction by lithium-tritiide bombs? Look at the slope of that curve–ultimate catastrophe is only one hundred eighty seven years away!”_
“_But the Council would not permit it. Nor would the School._”
“_I know that, too. That is why I am not going to ask them. Instead, I am asking you. We two know more of time than any others. Over the years I have found your judgment good. With your approval I will act now. Without it, we will continue our futile testing–number eight hundred eleven is running now, I believe?–and our aimless drifting._”
“_You are throwing the entire weight of such a decision on_ me?”
“_In one sense, yes. In another, only half, since I have already decided._”
“_So be it._”
- * * * *
The Lomarrian ironmaster woke up; not gradually and partially, like one of our soft modern urbanites, but instantaneously and completely, as does the mountain wild-cat. At one instant he lay, completely relaxed, sound asleep; at the next he had sprung out of bed, seized his sword and leaped half-way across the room. Head thrown back, hard blue eyes keenly alert, sword-arm rock-steady he stood there, poised and ready. Beautifully poised, upon the balls of both feet; supremely ready to throw into action every inch of his six-feet-four, every pound of his two-hundred-plus of hard meat, gristle, and bone. So standing, the smith stared motionlessly at the shimmering, almost invisible thing hanging motionless in the air of his room, and at its equally tenuous occupant.
“I approve of you, Tedric.” The thing–apparition–whatever it was–did not speak, and the Lomarrian did not hear; the words formed themselves in the innermost depths of his brain. “While you perhaps are a little frightened, you are and have been completely in control. Any other man of your nation–yes, of your world–would have been scared out of what few wits he has.”
“You are not one of ours, Lord.” Tedric went to one knee. He knew, of course, that gods and devils existed; and, while this was the first time that a god had sought him out personally, he had heard of such happenings all his life. Since the god hadn't killed him instantly, he probably didn't intend to–right away, at least. Hence: “No god of Lomarr approves of me. Also, our gods are solid and heavy. What do you want of me, strange god?”
“I'm not a god. If you could get through this grill, you could cut off my head with your sword and I would die.”
“Of course. So would Sar …” Tedric broke off in the middle of the word.
“I see. It is dangerous to talk?”
“Very. Even though a man is alone, the gods and hence the priests who serve them have power to hear. Then the man lies on the green rock and loses his brain, liver, and heart.”
“You will not be overheard. I have power enough to see to that.”
Tedric remained silent.
“I understand your doubt. Think, then; that will do just as well. What is it that you are trying to do?”
“I wonder how I can hear when there is no sound, but men cannot understand the powers of gods. I am trying to find or make a metal that is very hard, but not brittle. Copper is no good, I cannot harden it enough. My soft irons are too soft, my hard irons are too brittle; my in-betweens and the melts to which I added various flavorings have all been either too soft or too brittle, or both.”
“I gathered that such was your problem. Your wrought iron is beautiful stuff; so is your white cast iron; and you would not, ordinarily, in your lifetime, come to know anything of either carburization or high-alloy steel, to say nothing of both. I know exactly what you want, and I can show you exactly how to make it.”
“You can, Lord?” The smith's eyes flamed. “And you will?”
“That is why I have come to you, but whether or not I will teach you depends on certain matters which I have not been able entirely to clarify. What do you want it for–that is, what, basically, is your aim?”
“Our greatest god, Sarpedion, is wrong and I intend to kill him.” Tedric's eyes flamed more savagely, his terrifically muscled body tensed.
“Wrong? In what way?”
“In every way!” In the intensity of his emotion the smith spoke aloud. “What good is a god who only kills and injures? What a nation needs, Lord, is _people_–people working together and not afraid. How can we of Lomarr _ever_ attain comfort and happiness if more die each year than are born? We are too few. All of us–except the priests, of course–must work unendingly to obtain only the necessities of life.”
“This bears out my findings. If you make high-alloy steel, exactly what will you do with it?”
“If you give me the god-metal, Lord, I will make of it a sword and armor–a sword sharp enough and strong enough to cut through copper or iron without damage; armor strong enough so that swords of copper or iron cannot cut through it. They must be so because I will have to cut my way alone through a throng of armed and armored mercenaries and priests.”
“Because I cannot call in help; cannot let anyone know my goal. Any such would lie on the green stone very soon. They suspect me; perhaps they know. I am, however, the best smith in all Lomarr, hence they have slain me not. Nor will they, until I have found what I seek. Nor then, if by the favor of the gods–or by _your_ favor, Lord–the metal be good enough.”
“It will be, but there's a lot more to fighting a platoon of soldiers than armor and a sword, my optimistic young savage.”
“That the metal be of proof is all I ask, Lord,” the smith insisted, stubbornly. “The rest of it lies in my care.”
“So be it. And then?”
“Sarpedion's image, as you must already know, is made of stone, wood, copper, and gold–besides the jewels, of course. I take his brain, liver, and heart; flood them with oil, and sacrifice them …”
“Just a minute! Sarpedion is not alive and never has been; does not, as a matter of fact, exist. You just said, yourself, that his image was made of stone and copper and …”
“Don't be silly, Lord. Or art testing me? Gods are spirits; bound to their images, and in a weaker way to their priests, by linkages of spirit force. Life force, it could be called. When those links are broken, by fire and sacrifice, the god may not exactly die, but he can do no more of harm until his priests have made a new image and spent much time and effort in building up new linkages. One point now settled was bothering me; what god to sacrifice him to. I'll make an image for you to inhabit, Lord, and sacrifice him to you, my strange new god. You will be my only god as long as I live. What is your name, Lord? I can't keep on calling you 'strange god' forever.”
“My name is Skandos.”
“S … Sek … That word rides ill on the tongue. With your permission, Lord, I will call you Llosir.”
“Call me anything you like, except a god. I am _not_ a god.”
“You are being ridiculous, Lord Llosir,” Tedric chided. “What a man sees with his eyes, hears with his ears–especially what a man hears _without_ ears, as I hear now–he knows with certain knowledge to be the truth. No mere man could possibly do what you have done, to say naught of what you are about to do.”
“Perhaps not an ordinary man of your …” Skandos almost said “time,” but caught himself “… of your culture, but I am ordinary enough and mortal enough in my own.”
“Well, that could be said of all gods, everywhere.” The smith's mien was quiet and unperturbed; his thought was loaded to saturation with unshakable conviction.
Skandos gave up. He could argue for a week, he knew, without making any impression whatever upon what the stubborn, hard-headed Tedric knew so unalterably to be the truth.
“But just one thing, Lord,” Tedric went on with scarcely a break. “Have I made it clear that I intend to stop human sacrifice? That there is to be no more of it, even to you? We will offer you anything else–_anything_ else–but not even your refusal to give me the god-metal will change my stand on that.”
“Good! See to it that nothing ever does change it. As to offerings or sacrifices, there are to be none, of any kind. I do not need, I do not want, _I will not have_ any such. That is final. Act accordingly.”
“Yes, Lord. Sarpedion is a great and powerful god, but art _sure_ that his sacrifice alone will establish linkages strong enough to last for all time?”
Skandos almost started to argue again, but checked himself. After all, the proposed sacrifice was necessary for Tedric and his race, and it would do no harm.
“Sarpedion will be enough. And as for the image, that isn't necessary, either.”
“Art wrong, Lord. Without image and temple, everyone would think you a small, weak god, which thought can never be. Besides, the image might make it easier for me to call on you in time of need.”
“You can't call me. Even if I could receive your call, which is very doubtful, I wouldn't answer it. If you ever see me or hear from me again, it will be because I wish it, not you.” Skandos intended this for a clincher, but it didn't turn out that way.
“Wonderful!” Tedric exclaimed. “All gods act that way, in spite of what they–through their priests–say. I am overwhelmingly glad that you are being honest with me. Hast found me worthy of the god-metal, Lord Llosir?”
“Yes, so let's get at it. Take that biggest chunk of 'metal-which-fell-from-the-sky'–you'll find it's about twice your weight …”
“But I have never been able to work that particular piece of metal, Lord.”
“I'm not surprised. Ordinary meteorites are nickel-iron, but this one carries two additional and highly unusual elements, tungsten and vanadium, which are necessary for our purpose. To melt it you'll have to run your fires a lot hotter. You'll also have to have a carburizing pot and willow charcoal and metallurgical coke and several other things. We'll go into details later. That green stone from which altars are made–you can secure some of it?”
“Any amount of it.”
“Of it take your full weight. And of the black ore of which you have occasionally used a little, one-fourth of your weight …”
The instructions went on, from ore to finished product in complete detail, and at its end:
“If you follow these directions carefully you will have a high-alloy-steel–chrome-nickel-vanadium-molybdenum-tungsten steel, to be exact–case-hardened and heat-treated; exactly what you need. Can you remember them all?”
“I can, Lord. Never have I dared write anything down, so my memory is good. Every quantity you have given me, every temperature and step and process and item; they are all completely in mind.”
“I go, then. Good-bye.”
“I thank you, Lord Llosir. Good-bye.” The Lomarrian bowed his head, and when he straightened up his incomprehensible visitor was gone.
Tedric went back to bed; and, strangely enough, was almost instantly asleep. And in the morning, after his customary huge breakfast of meat and bread and milk, he went to his sprawling establishment, which has no counterpart in modern industry, and called his foreman and his men together before they began the day's work.
“A strange god named Llosir came to me in the night and showed me how to make better iron,” he told them in perfectly matter-of-fact fashion, “so stop whatever you're doing and tear the whole top off of the big furnace. I'll tell you exactly how to rebuild it.”
The program as outlined by Skandos went along without a hitch until the heat from the rebuilt furnace began to come blisteringly through the crude shields. Then even the foreman, faithful as he was, protested against such unheard-of temperatures and techniques.
“It _must_ be that way!” Tedric insisted. “Run more rods across, from there to there, to hold more hides and blankets. You four men fetch water. Throw it over the hides and blankets and him who turns the blower. Take shorter tricks in the hot places–here, I'll man the blower myself until the heat wanes somewhat.”
He bent his mighty back to the crank, but even in that raging inferno of heat he kept on talking.
“Knowst my iron sword, the one I wear, with rubies in the hilt?” he asked the foreman. That worthy did, with longing; to buy it would take six months of a foreman's pay. “This furnace must stay this hot all day and all of tonight, and there are other things as bad. But 'twill not take long. Ten days should see the end of it”–actually seven days was the schedule, but Tedric did not want the priests to know that–“but for those ten days matters _must_ go exactly as I say. Work with me until this iron is made and I give you that sword. And of all the others who shirk not, each will be given an iron sword–this in addition to your regular pay. Dost like the bargain?”
They liked it.
Then, during the hours of lull, in which there was nothing much to do except keep the furious fires fed, Tedric worked upon the image of his god. While the Lomarrian was neither a Phidias nor a Praxiteles, he was one of the finest craftsmen of his age. He had not, however, had a really good look at Skandos' face. Thus the head of the image, although it was a remarkably good piece of sculpture, looked more like that of Tedric's foreman than like that of the real Skandos. And with the head, any resemblance at all to Skandos ceased. The rest of the real Skandos was altogether too small and too pitifully weak to be acceptable as representative of any Lomarrian's god; hence the torso and limbs of the gleaming copper statue were wider, thicker, longer, bigger, and even more fantastically muscled than were Tedric's own. Also, the figure was hollow; filled with sand throughout except for an intricately-carved gray sandstone brain and red-painted hardwood liver and heart.
- * * * *
“They come, master, to the number of eleven,” his lookout boy came running with news at mid-afternoon of the seventh day. “One priest in copper, ten Tarkians in iron, a five each of bowmen and spearmen.”
Tedric did not have to tell the boy where to go or what to do or to hurry about it; as both ran for the ironmaster's armor the youngster was two steps in the lead. It was evident, too, that he had served as squire before, and frequently; for in seconds the erstwhile half-naked blacksmith was fully clothed in iron.
Thus it was an armored knight, leaning negligently upon a fifteen-pound forging hammer, who waited outside the shop's door and watched his eleven visitors approach.
The banner was that of a priest of the third rank. Good–they weren't worried enough about him yet, then, to send a big one. And only ten mercenaries–small, short, bandy-legged men of Tark–good enough fighters for their weight, but they didn't weigh much. This wouldn't be too bad.
The group came up to within a few paces and stopped.
“Art in armor, smith?” the discomfited priest demanded. “Why?”
“Why not? 'Tis my habit to greet guests in apparel of their own choosing.”
There was a brief silence, then:
“To what do I owe the honor of this visit, priest?” he asked, only half sarcastically. “I paid, as I have always paid, the fraction due.”
“True. 'Tis not about a fraction I come. It is noised that a strange god appeared to you, spoke to you, instructed you in your art; that you are making an image of him.”
“I made no secret of any of these things. I hide nothing from the great god or his minions, nor ever have. I have nothing to hide.”
“Perhaps. Such conduct is very unseemly–decidedly ungodlike. He should not have appeared to you, but to one of us, and in the temple.”
“It is un-Sarpedionlike, certainly–all that Sarpedion has ever done for me is let me alone, and I have paid heavily for that.”
“What bargain did you make with this Llosir? What was the price?”
“No bargain was made. I thought it strange, but who am I, an ordinary man, to try to understand the actions or the reasonings of a god? There will be a price, I suppose. Whatever it is, I will pay it gladly.”
“You will pay, rest assured; not to this Llosir, but to great Sarpedion. I command you to destroy that image forthwith.”
“You do? Why? Since when has it been against the law to have a personal god? Most families of Lomarr have them.”
“Not like yours. Sarpedion does not permit your Llosir to exist.”
“Sarpedion has nothing to say about it. Llosir already exists. Is the great god so weak, so afraid, so unable to defend himself against a one-man stranger that he….”
“Take care, smith–silence! That is rankest blasphemy!”
“Perhaps; but I have blasphemed before and Sarpedion hasn't killed me yet. Nor will he, methinks; at least until his priests have collected his fraction of the finest iron ever forged and which I only can make.”
“Oh, yes, the new iron. Tell me exactly how it is made.”
“You know better than to ask that question, priest. That secret will be known only to me and my god.”
“We have equipment and tools designed specifically for getting information out of such as you. Seize him, men, and smash that image!”
“HOLD!” Tedric roared, in such a voice that not a man moved. “If anybody takes one forward step, priest, or makes one move toward spear or arrow, your brains will spatter the walls across the street. Can your copper helmet stop this hammer? Can your girl-muscled, fat-bellied priest's body move fast enough to dodge my blow? And most or all of those runty little slavelings behind you,” waving his left arm contemptuously at the group, “will also die before they cut me down. And if I die now, of what worth is Sarpedion's fraction of a metal that will never be made? Think well, priest!”
Sarpedion's agent studied the truculent, glaring ironmaster for a long two minutes. Then, deciding that the proposed victim could not be taken alive, he led his crew back the way they had come, trailing fiery threats. And Tedric, going back into his shop, was thoroughly aware that those threats were not idle. So far, he hadn't taken too much risk, but the next visit would be different–very different. He was exceedingly glad that none of his men knew that the pots they were firing so fiercely were in fact filled only with coke and willow charcoal; that armor and sword and shield and axe and hammer were at that moment getting their final heat treatment in a bath of oil, but little hotter than boiling water, in the sanctum to which he retired, always alone, to perform the incantations which his men–and hence the priests of Sarpedion–believed as necessary as any other part of the metallurgical process.
That evening he selected a smooth, fine-grained stone and whetted the already almost perfect cutting edge of his new sword; an edge which in cross-section was rather more like an extremely sharp cold-chisel than a hollow-ground razor. He fitted the two-hand grip meticulously with worked and tempered rawhide, thrilling again and again as each touch of an educated and talented finger-tip told him over and over that here was some thing brand new in metal–a real god-metal.
A piece of flat wrought iron, about three-sixteenths by five inches and about a foot long, already lay on a smooth and heavy hardwood block. He tapped it sharply with the sword's edge. The blade rang like a bell; the iron showed a bright new scar; that was all. Then a moderately heavy two-handed blow, about as hard as he had ever dared swing an iron sword. Still no damage. Then, heart in mouth, he gave the god-metal its final test; struck with everything he had, from heels and toes to finger-tips. He had never struck such a blow before, except possibly with a war-axe or a sledge. There was a ringing clang, two sundered slabs of iron flew to opposite ends of the room, the atrocious blade went on, half an inch deep into solid oak. He wrenched the weapon free and stared at the unmarred edge. UNMARRED! For an instant Tedric felt as though he were about to collapse; but sheerest joy does not disable.
There was nothing left to do except make the links, hinge-pins, and so on for his armor, which did not take long. Hence, when the minions of Sarpedion next appeared, armored this time in the heaviest and best iron they had and all set to overwhelm him by sheer weight of numbers, he was completely ready. Nor was there palaver or parley. The attackers opened the door, saw the smith, and rushed.
But Tedric, although in plain sight, had chosen the battleground with care. He was in a corner. At his back a solid-walled stairway ran up to the second floor. On his right the wall was solid for twenty feet. On his left, beyond the stairwell, the wall was equally solid for twice as far. They would have to come after him, and as he retreated, they would be fighting their way up, and not more than two at a time.
This first swing, horizontal and neck-high, was fully as fierce-driven as the one that had cloven the test-piece and almost ruined his testing-block. The god-metal blade scarcely slowed as it went through armor and flesh and bone. In fact, the helmet and the head within it remained in place upon the shoulders for what seemed like seconds before the body toppled and the arteries spurted crimson jets.
He didn't have to hit so hard, then. Good. Nobody could last very long, the way he had started out. Wherefore the next blow, a vertical chop, merely split a man to the chin instead of to the navel: and the third, a back-hand return, didn't quite cut the victim's head clear off.
And the blows his steel was taking, aimed at head or neck or shoulder, were doing no harm at all. In fact, except for the noise, they scarcely bothered him. He had been designing and building armor for five years, and this was his masterpiece. The helmet was heavily padded: the shoulders twice as much so. He had sacrificed some mobility–he could not turn his head very far in either direction–but the jointing was such that the force of any blow on the helmet, from whatever direction coming, was taken by his tremendously capable shoulders.
The weapons of the mercenaries could not dent, could not even nick, that case-hardened high-alloy steel. Swords bent, broke, twisted; hammers and axes bounced harmlessly off. Nevertheless the attackers pressed forward; and, even though each blow of his devastating sword took a life, Tedric was forced backward up the stairs, step by step.
Then there came about that for which he had been waiting. A copper-clad priest appeared behind the last rank of mercenaries, staring upward at something behind the ironmaster, beckoning frantically. The priest had split his forces; had sent part of them by another way to the second floor to trap him between two groups; had come in close to see the trap sprung. This was it.
Taking a couple of quick, upward, backward steps, he launched himself into the air with all the power of his legs. And when two hundred and thirty pounds of man, dressed in eighty or ninety or a hundred pounds of steel, leaps from a height of eight or ten feet upon a group of other men, those other men go down.
Righting himself quickly, Tedric sprang toward the priest and swung; swung with all the momentum of his mass and speed and all the power of his giant frame; swung as though he were concentrating into the blow all his hatred of Sarpedion and everything for which Sarpedion stood–which in fact he was.
And what such a saber-scimitar, so driven, did to thin, showy copper armor and to the human flesh beneath it, is simply nothing to dwell upon here.
“HOLD!” he roared at the mercenaries, who hadn't quite decided whether or not to resume the attack, and they held.
“Bu … bub … but you're dead!” the non-com stuttered. “You _must_ be–the great Sarpedion would….”
“A right lively corpse I!” Tedric snarled. “Your Sarpedion, false god and coward, drinker of blood and slayer of the helpless, is weak, puny, and futile beside my Llosir. Hence, under Llosir's shield and at Llosir's direction, I shall this day kill your foul and depraved god; shall send him back to the grisly hell from whence he came.
“Nor do I ask you to fight for me. Nor would I so allow; for I trust you not, though you swore by all your gods. Do you fight for pleasure or for pay?”
A growl was the only answer, but that was answer enough.
“He of Sarpedion who paid your wages lies there dead. All others of his ilk will die ere this day's sunset. Be advised, therefore; fight no more until you know who pays. Wouldst any more of you be split like white-fish ere I go? Time runneth short, but I would stay and oblige if pressed.”
He was not pressed.
Tedric whirled and strode away. Should he get his horse, or not? No. He had never ridden mighty Dreegor into danger wearing armor less capable than his own, and he wouldn't begin now.
The Temple of Sarpedion was a tall, narrow building, with a far-flung outside staircase leading up to the penthouse-like excrescence in which the green altar of sacrifice was.
Tedric reached the foot of that staircase and grimly, doggedly, cut his way up it. It was hard work, and he did not want to wear himself out too soon. He might need a lot, and suddenly, later on, and it would be a good idea to have something in reserve.
As he mounted higher and higher, however, the opposition became less and less instead of greater and greater, as he had expected. Priests were no longer there–he hadn't seen one for five minutes. And in the penthouse itself, instead of the solid phalanx of opposition he had _known_ would bar his way, there were only half a dozen mercenaries, who promptly turned tail and ran.
“The way is clear! Hasten!” Tedric shouted, and his youthful squire rushed up the ramp with his axe and hammer.
And with those ultra-hard, ultra-tough implements Tedric mauled and chopped the image of the god.
- * * * *
Devann, Sarpedion's high priest, was desperate. He believed thoroughly in his god. Equally thoroughly, however, he believed in the actuality and in the power of Tedric's new god. He had to, for the miracle he had performed spoke for itself.
While Sarpedion had not appeared personally in Devann's lifetime, he had so appeared many times in the past; and by a sufficiently attractive sacrifice he could be persuaded to appear again, particularly since this appearance would be in self-defense.
No slave, or any number of slaves, would do. Nor criminals. No ordinary virgin of the common people. This sacrifice must be of supreme quality. The king himself? Too old and tough and sinful. Ah … the king's daughter….
At the thought the pit of his stomach turned cold. However, desperate situations require desperate remedies. He called in his henchmen and issued orders.
- * * * *
Thus it came about that a towering figure clad in flashing golden armor–the king himself, with a few courtiers scrambling far in his wake–dashed up the last few steps just as Tedric was wrenching out Sarpedion's liver.
“Tedric, attend!” the monarch panted. “The priests have taken Rhoann and are about to give her to Sarpedion!”
“They can't, sire. I've just killed Sarpedion, right here.”
“But they _can_! They've taken the Holiest One from the Innermost Shrine; have enshrined him on the Temple of Scheene. Slay me those traitor priests before they slay Rhoann and you may….”
Tedric did not hear the rest of it, nor was his mind chiefly concerned with the plight of the royal maid. It was Sarpedion he was after. With a blistering oath he dropped the god's liver, whirled around and leaped down the stairway. It would do no good to kill only one Sarpedion. He would have to kill them both, especially since the Holiest One was the major image. The Holiest One … the Sarpedion never before seen except by first-rank priests … of _course_ that would be the one they'd use in sacrificing a king's daughter. He should have thought of that himself, sooner, damn him for a fool! It probably wasn't too late yet, but the sooner he got there, the better would be his chance of winning.
Hence he ran; and, farther and farther behind him, came the king and the courtiers.
Reaching the Temple of Scheene, he found to his immense relief that he would not have to storm that heavily-manned rampart alone. A full company of the Royal Guard was already there. Battle was in progress, but very little headway was being made against the close-packed defenders of the god, and Tedric knew why. A man fighting against a god was licked before he started, and knew it. He'd have to build up their morale.
But did he have time? Probably. They couldn't hurry things too much without insulting Sarpedion, for the absolutely necessary ceremonies took a lot of time. Anyway, he'd have to take the time, or he'd never reach the god.
“Art Lord Tedric?” A burly captain disentangled himself from the front rank and saluted.
“I'm Tedric, yes. Knewst I was coming?”
“Yes, Lord. Orders came by helio but now. You are in command; you speak with the voice of King Phagon himself.”
“Good. Call your men back thirty paces. Pick me out the twelve or fifteen strongest, to lead.
“Men of the Royal Guard!” He raised his voice to a volume audible not only to his own men, but also to all the enemy. “Who is the most powerful swordsman among you?… Stand forward…. This armor I wear is not of iron, but of god-metal, the metal of Llosir, my personal and all-powerful god. That all here may see and know, I command you to strike at me your shrewdest, most effective, most powerful blow.”
The soldier, after a couple of false starts, did manage a stroke of sorts.
“I said _strike_!” Tedric roared. “Think you ordinary iron can harm the personal metal of a god? Strike where you please, at head or neck or shoulder or guts, but strike as though you meant it! Strike to kill! Shatter your sword! STRIKE!”
Convulsively, the fellow struck, swinging for the neck, and at impact his blade snapped into three pieces. A wave of visible relief swept over the Guardsmen; one of dismay and shock over the ranks of the foe.
“I implore pardon, Lord,” the soldier begged, dropping to one knee.
“Up, man! 'Tis nothing, and by my direct order. Now, men, I can tell you a thing you would not have fully believed before. I have just killed half of Sarpedion and he could not touch me. I am about to kill his other half–you will see me do it. Come what may of god or devil you need not fear it, for I and all with me fight under Llosir's shield. We men will have to deal only with the flesh and blood of those runty mercenaries of Tark.”
He studied the enemy formation briefly. A solid phalanx of spearmen, with shields latticed and braced; close-set spears out-thrust and anchored. Strictly defensive; they hadn't made a move to follow nor thrown a single javelin when the king's forces withdrew. This wasn't going to be easy, but it _was_ possible.
“We will make the formation of the wedge, with me as point,” he went on. “Sergeant, you will bear my sword and hammer. The rest of you will ram me into the center of that phalanx with everything of driving force that in you lies. I will make and maintain enough of opening. We'll go up that ramp like a fast ship plowing through waves. Make wedge! Drive!”
Except for his armor of god-metal Tedric would have been crushed flat by the impact of the flying wedge against the soldiery packed so solidly on the stair. Several of the foe were so crushed, but the new armor held. Tedric could scarcely move his legs enough to take each step, his body was held as though in a vise, but his giant arms were free; and by dint of short, savage, punching jabs and prods and strokes of his atrocious war-axe he made and maintained the narrow opening upon which the success of the whole operation depended. And into that constantly-renewed opening the smith was driven–irresistibly driven by the concerted and synchronized strength of the strongest men of Lomarr's Royal Guard.
The result was not exactly like that of a diesel-powered snowplow, but it was good enough. The mercenaries did not flow over the sides of the ramp in two smooth waves. However, unable with either weapons or bodies to break through the slanting walls of iron formed by the smoothly-overlapping shields of the Guardsmen, over the edges they went, the living and the dead.
The dreadful wedge drove on.
As the Guardsmen neared the top of the stairway the mercenaries disappeared–enough of that kind of thing was a great plenty–and Tedric, after a quick glance around to see what the situation was, seized his sword from the bearer. Old Devann had his knife aloft, but in only the third of the five formal passes. Two more to go.
“Kill those priests!” he snapped at the captain. “I'll take the three at the altar–you fellows take the rest of them!”
When Tedric reached the green altar the sacrificial knife was again aloft; but the same stroke that severed Devann's upraised right arm severed also his head and his whole left shoulder. Two more whistling strokes and a moment's study of the scene of action assured him that there would be no more sacrifice that day. The King's Archers had followed close behind the Guards; the situation was well in hand.
He exchanged sword for axe and hammer, and furiously, viciously, went to work on the god. He yanked out the Holiest One's brain, liver, and heart; hammered and chopped the rest of him to bits. That done, he turned to the altar–he had not even glanced at it before.
Stretched taut, spread-eagled by wrists and ankles on the reeking, blood-fouled, green horror-stone, the Lady Rhoann lay, her yard-long, thick brown hair a wide-flung riot. Six priests had not immobilized Rhoann of Lomarr without a struggle. Her eyes went from shattered image to blood-covered armored giant and back to image; her face was a study of part-horrified, part-terrified, part-worshipful amazement.
He slashed the ropes, extended his mailed right hand. “Art hurt, Lady Rhoann?”
“No. Just stiff.” Taking his hand, she sat up–a bit groggily–and flexed wrists and ankles experimentally, while, behind his visor, the man stared and stared.
Tall–wide but trim–superbly made–a true scion of the old blood–Llosir's liver, what a woman! He had undressed her mentally more than once, but his visionings had fallen short, far short, of the entrancing, the magnificent truth. _What_ a woman! A virgin? Huh! Technically so, perhaps … more shame to those pusillanimous half-breed midgets of the court … if _he_ had been born noble….
She slid off the altar and stood up, her eyes still dark with fantastically mixed emotions. She threw both arms around his armored neck and snuggled close against his steel, heedless that breasts and flanks were being smeared anew with half-dried blood.
He put an iron-clad arm around her, moved her arm enough to open his visor, saw sea-green eyes, only a few inches below his own, staring straight into his.
The man's quick passion flamed again. Gods of the ancients, what a woman! _There_ was a mate for a full-grown man!
“Thank the gods!” The king dashed up, panting, but in surprisingly good shape for a man of forty-odd who had run so far in gold armor. “Thanks be to all the gods you were in time!”
“Just barely, sire, but in time.”
“Name your reward, Lord Tedric. I will be glad to make you my son.”
“Not that, sire, ever. If there's anything in this world or the next I _don't_ want to be, it's Lady Rhoann's brother.”
“Make him Lord of the Marches, father,” the girl said, sharply. “Knowst what the sages said.”
”'Twould be better,” the monarch agreed. “Tedric of old Lomarr, I appoint you Lord of the Upper, the Middle, and the Lower Marches, the Highest of the High.”
Tedric went to his knees. “I thank you, sire. Have I your backing in wiping out what is left of Sarpedion's power?”
“If you will support the Throne with the strength I so clearly see is to be yours, I will back you, with the full power of the Throne, in anything you wish to do.”
“Of course I will support you, sire, as long as I live and with all that in me lies. Since time first was my blood has been vassal to yours, and ever will be. My brain, my liver, and my heart are yours.”
“I thank you, Lord Tedric. Proceed.”
Tedric snapped to his feet. His sword flashed high in air. His heavy voice rang out.
“People of Lomarr, listen to a herald of the Throne! Sarpedion is dead; Llosir lives. Human sacrifice–yes, all sacrifice except the one I am about to perform, of Sarpedion himself to Llosir–is done. That is and will be the law. To that end there will be no more priests, but a priestess only. I speak as herald for the Throne of Lomarr!”
He turned to the girl, still clinging to his side. “I had it first in mind, Lady Rhoann, to make you priestess, but….”
“Not I!” she interrupted, vigorously. “No priestess I, Lord Tedric!”
“By Llosir's brain, girl, you're right–you've been wasted long enough!”
- * * * *
_In another time-track another Skandos and another Furmin, almost but not quite identical with those first so named, pored over a chronoviagram._
_“The key point in time is there,” the Prime Physicist said, thoughtfully, placing the point of his pencil near one jagged peak of the trace. “The key figure is Lord Tedric of Lomarr, the discoverer of the carburization of steel. He could be manipulated very easily … but, after all, the real catastrophe is about three hundred eighteen years away; there is nothing alarming about the shape of the curve; and any interference with the actual physical events of the past would almost certainly prove calamitous. Over the years I have found your judgment good. What is your thought on this matter, Furmin?”_
“_I would say to wait, at least for a few weeks or months. Even though eight hundred twelve fails, number eight hundred fifty or number nine hundred may succeed. At very worst, we will be in the same position then as now to take the action which has for a hundred years been specifically forbidden by both Council and School._”
“_So be it._”
- * * * *
_The People Who Make_ OTHER WORLDS
EDWARD E. SMITH
Born May 2, 1890; Sheboygan, Wisconsin. In December of the same year the family moved to Spokane, Washington, where we lived for about twelve years. I went to school through the sixth grade, sold newspapers, and so on–the routine life of a husky kid living on the wrong side of the tracks.
In 1902 we moved to a homestead on the Pend d'Oreille River, in northern Idaho. There, besides picking up (in rather sketchy fashion) three more years of schooling, I worked at clearing land, harvesting, hay-baling, ranching, and umpteen different jobs in lumbering: from swamping out logs in the woods clear through to planing finished lumber in the mills.
Deciding that I didn't like the woods, I let my older brother and sisters back me into a stiff collar and ship me to the prep school of the University of Idaho. From 1907 until 1914 I was either in school or earning money to go back. Mining, surveying, dozens of jobs in many lines–far too many to list here.
In 1914 I graduated in chemical engineering. First job offered was in food work in the Bureau of Chemistry, Washington, D. C. Took it, and started studying organic and food chemistry at George Washington University. Married Jeannie MacDougall, of Boise, Idaho (formerly of Glasgow, Scotland) on Oct. 5, 1915. Three children–and, as of 1952, eight grandchildren. Became a specialist in cereal technology.
Came the war. Wanted to fly a Jenny, but chemists were too scarce. (Or were Jennies too valuable?) So they gave me a commission in the reserve and loaned me to Herbert Hoover–for the duration, as it turned out.
In pursuit of my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees I worked under Charles E. Munroe, probably the greatest high-explosives man yet to live. Got 'em–the M.S. in 1917, the Ph.D. in 1918; both from George Washington University.
Chief Chemist F. W. Stock & Sons, Hillsdale, Mich., from 1919 to 1936; where I developed a line of fully-prepared cereal mixes; the most important of which turned out to be donut mixes. From 1936 to 1941 I was production manager for the Dawn Donut Co., of Jackson, Mich.
Shortly after Pearl Harbor I went to Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, LaPorte, Ind., as chemical engineer on high explosives. (I was one year over age for reinstatement of my World War One commission). Senior chemical engineer, assistant chief, chief. Late in 1943 I was made head of the Inspection Division, and early in 1944 I was fired. Most of 1944 and most of 1945 I worked in various capacities on light farm machinery and heavy tanks for Allis-Chalmers.
On Oct. 1, 1945, I came to Chicago as manager of the Cereal Mix Division of J. W. Allen & Co., which position I still hold. It's the biggest and best job I ever had. It has only one drawback–on it, unfortunately, I not only can't write stories on company time, but (since I have to concentrate my one-cylinder brain on SF in order to write SF) I can't write on my own time because the job gets in the way.
Thus, I haven't done much writing since 1945. However, I hope to do more of it from now on. For, although I am only an amateur–or at best, a semi-pro–author, I certainly do not want to become an ex-author!