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Chapter One

Barak bar Sandor fan Reenan, kapetein of the Bandari, supreme leader of the Pale of settlement and the Assembled Congregations of the True Faith, pushed back the stack of papers and groaned. Now he was kapetein; so he had to decide if more of the treasury should be spent on schools in Tallinn Valley, or the equally urgent irrigation canals. Both were necessary to knit Tallinn and its folk into the fabric of the Pale. He had to settle the endless squabbles of the Congregations of the Edenites—the original inhabitants of Eden Valley, and after three centuries still far from universally content with Bandari rule. On top of this he had a major undeclared war to run, and the convulsions on the northern steppe had disrupted trade . . . and the folk of the Pale were the primary long-distance merchants of this world of Haven.

Why does anyone want this job? he thought bitterly. He'd done his best to avoid getting elected to it. Twenty years as kommandant and now this.

"What's got your stomach in a twist now?" his assistant asked.

"More dispatches from Hammer-of-God," the older man said. Barak was sixty T-years, Old Earth measurement—and right now he felt every one of them. For most of those years he'd been a soldier of the Pale, and the bloody necessities of that trade had seemed hard enough. Being ruler was turning out to be worse, just as he'd feared.

You died too soon, Mordekai. You should have lived to see this day, he thought.

The room was warm and brightly lit, even twenty hours into truenight; it was summer, and in Eden Valley that meant that water would scarcely freeze even with the sun and Cat's Eye both out of the sky. Almost tropical, compared to the high steppe.

This house was ancient, built on foundations nearly a thousand years old—back when the CoDominium still ruled Earth, at the dawn of Man's expansion into the universe. The present walls had stood when the First Empire fell and the Saurons came to Haven, in flight from the destruction of their homeworld. Perhaps the Empire still did exist, somewhere—nobody had come to tell them. Haven had been a dumping ground for the CoDominium, and a place of exile under the Empire established by the kings of Sparta. The Saurons seemed to have known what they were doing when they came here looking for a bolt-hole.

The air smelled of coal from the stove, of wax and polish and careful cleaning. He never really felt at home here; it was the smell of Mordekai's house. Old Mordekai had been Kapetein for most of Barak's life. All his adult life. Barak looked up to the far wall, where Piet fan Reenan's portrait rested. The sardonic almost-smile of the Founder seemed to comfort and taunt him at once; it had been drawn by Ruth, daughter of Boaz, self-proclaimed Prophet and last Edenite ruler. She had rebelled against her father's madness, and he had hung her from a cross of iron outside the city walls. Piet fan Reenan had taken her down from the cross and together they had overthrown and slain him.

We are the Kings who die for the People. Those had been the Founder's last words, and Barak decided you had to be kapetein to realize their truth. Piet's eyes were green, in the dark Frystaater face. The thick body—Frystaat was a heavy-G world, much heavier than Haven—seemed to radiate indomitable strength. Father Piet fan Reenan had lived through the Sauron attack on Haven, had led a band of refugees here to Eden and made them the People . . . haBandari, in the new tongue. Fan Reenan's Band, in the old. Barak was one of those who believed his anima and those of his wives Ilona and Ruth still watched over their descendants. Frystaater, Ivrit and Edenite, together making up the People.

Give me strength, he thought and prayed. The painted smile watched him. You died, Father Piet, but the People live.

The thick callused fingers of one hand prodded at the letters and maps on the table. "This thing is growing like mushrooms on horseshit," he said.

His finger traced a line from the Pale, up north, around the mountains and across the Great Northern steppe, that surrounded the Shangri-La Valley like a horizontal C. The Citadel—the inner fortress of the Sauron soldiers' power—sat at the northeastern end of the Valley, above the sole pass into the great equatorial lowland. The Pale was at the far western end of the C, comfortably distant. Twelve thousand difficult kilometers. There were outlying Bases much closer; Quilland up at the gap where the cul-de-sac of the Pale met the Great Northern steppe. Angband Base had been much closer, but had fallen half a lifetime ago. As a satellite might fly the Shangri-La was only a few hundred kilometers away, but the Afritsberg stood between, the horns of its peaks far above any breathable atmosphere. The Karakal Pass was the only entrance . . .

The only pass until we discovered one, he reminded himself. He traced that, too. Down the escarpment south of the Pale and over the Afritsberg mountains where they dwindled toward the sea, a narrow winding trail through deadly jungle and up to the very edge of breathable air, then down into the western Shangri-La. Another branch ran further down the escarpment, down to the sea and the mouth of the Xanadu River. Down to Khanut Base, the Saurons' ocean outpost. Fifty T-years of secret labor and incredible expense to make those roads. Hundreds of lives.

"Do we send it?" the assistant asked. He was a pushy youngster . . . .

No, curse it, he's a grown man and a father himself, Barak reminded himself.

"Yes," Barak grunted, shaking his head in wonder. "We send the seven everything we can. It's fated, I think."

How long since Juchi and Chaya were exposed on the culling ground of Angband Base? More years than he had lived. The Saurons cast out their get if their accursed blood ran too weak in it—and that sin had come back to haunt them. Women sometimes took the children in. Juchi's foster mother had, and he had grown to be the chief of Dede Korkut's tribe. His twin sister Chaya had been taken by Dvora bat Lizabet on the same night, and became Judge in the Pale. Together with Badri, their mother, they had brought Angband Base down and freed the Tallinn Valley it had dominated.

Barak shivered slightly, making the sign of the horns under the table with his left hand—a habit he'd picked up fighting the plainsmen. Juchi hadn't known of his ancestry until too late; so he had killed the wandering Sauron scout Dagor . . . who was his father. He'd wed Badri . . . who, all unknowing, was his mother as well as the mother of his children Aisha and Dagor. Badri had hanged herself on the day that terrible knowledge came to light, and Juchi had put out his own eyes. Who knew where Dagor had gone? Aisha had wandered the steppes for thirty T-years, leading her blinded father. Leading him at last to the Citadel, where he died. Died, and Aisha nearly died, killing Glorund the Cyborg Battlemaster.

Barak shivered again. It was an ill thing to be caught up in the webs of fate. Aisha came back to the Pale and chaos exploded. Mordekai dying—well, he'd been an old, old man—plots uncovered. Chaya's son young Barak revealed as the son of a wandering Sauron she'd trapped and killed the night Angband fell and her husband Heber died helping to take it. Aisha and Chaya, Karl bar Edgar the mediko, young Barak, his lover Sannie, Kemal who was heir to Juchi's tribe—maybe—and his blood-brother Ihsan—they'd all gone out into the steppe north of the Pale's ranchlands.

The seven. Seven against the Citadel, preaching jihad against the Saurons. A living myth, that had set men's minds aflame.

"Seven maniacs, plus about two hundred thousand fools."

"Sir?" Ariel asked. He was a portly man in his thirties, plump but with hard muscle under it, and scars to show he knew how to use it.

"Perhaps two hundred and fifty thousand. Hammer-of-God thinks the seven have that many now."

Hammer-of-God had been Barak's right-hand man when he commanded the Pale's armies, for all that he was pure Edenite peasant by birth. He'd come out of a retirement that proved less pleasant in reality than prospect to join his old friend-adversary Chaya in one last fight. One last crusade, for God spoke to His Hammer . . . or at least that was what Hammer-of-God Jackson thought.

The younger man shaped a soundless whistle. "That must be nearly every hotnot able to walk," he said.

"There are more of them up there on the steppe than you might think," Barak said. Most of Haven was steppe; too high and dry and thin-aired for farming. Too thin-aired for safe birthing, apart from the great lowland of the Shangri-La and smaller valleys like Eden. "And everyone hates the Saurons."

With good reason: their bloody-handed levying of tribute, and the tribute of breeding women—tribute maidens—worst of all. Saurons bred three sons for every daughter, and they needed females from the cattle, as they called unaltered humanity, for their breeding program. The Bandari had never paid so much as a sheep to the Saurons—but the Bandari held Eden Valley, as well as broad steppe lands. Others were less fortunate and had to bend the knee to the Citadel for access to Shangri-La or the outlying valleys staked down by Bases.

"So we'll send the seven more help."

He traced the route, past the shoulder of the Atlas Mountains and eastward. "Step up the raids on Quilland Base, here."

That was the Saurons' westernmost outpost, since the fall of Angband. He grinned in his white beard; Quilland had thought that the Pale was doing no more than harassing because they were intimidated, or too weak. Mordekai's cunning. He'd been a careful steward. The numbers and wealth of the People had doubled in his fifty T-years of rule, and that wasn't counting Tallinn Valley or Juchi's tribe, who were tributaries now and marched to war with the Bandari. Clan fan Gimbutas, the engineers and artificers of the People, had been building weapons in secret all that time too, new and powerful weapons.

The Pale didn't have the numbers or the technology or the wealth that the Citadel did—but they were second in all those categories, a closer second than the Citadel dreamed. The Citadel's technology were leftovers from the ship that brought them from the wreck of Old Sauron, the Dol Guldur. Bandari technology was their own reinvention; they understood it and they could make more. And they didn't have the planetwide assortment of sworn enemies the Citadel did, either.

"We've taken Khanut Base," Barak went on.

That was Yohann bar Non's force; he was one of the Orphans. The Bandari had taken in the Sauron children of Angband Base and raised them as their own; they'd also been systematically rescuing infants from the culling grounds wherever Bandari merchants went. Which was all over Haven.

"Khanut was easier than we expected." The Saurons had stripped its garrison to deal with the revolt of the New Soviet Men and the Sons of Liberty in the Shangri-La, a revolt the Pale was secretly backing.

"Send another brigade—Pinkas bar Rhodevik's—up to keep Quilland occupied. Get the heavy equipment rolling toward the seven at once. I authorize as many extra draught animals as necessary. And tell Pinkas to push out strong patrols, well-armed—all riflemen—further east. Start building a chain of supply depots; the steppe will be empty behind the seven. When they come back, the Bases"—there were four, counting Quilland, along the arc of the Great Northern steppe—"will give them bad trouble. If we raid and harass, we'll keep them too busy and off-balance to coordinate their actions. And Yohann took a fair number of Sauron weapons at Khanut; have fifty percent of those sent up here and passed on to Pinkas."

The seven were leading a folk-migration, and necessarily moving slowly. Picked troops, even with a siege-train, could double or triple their speed and catch up with them. "And get me that agent we had down in the Shangri-La," he said. "I want to know how that rebellion we fomented is coming."

The cold night wind hooted around the adobe walls of the kapetein's house, through the streets of the city called Strang that had once been Strong-in-the-Lord. Out beyond it, out beyond the city walls and the fertile valley fields of Eden, men were dying across half of Haven. On the northern steppes, on the shores of the Southern Ocean, soon under the terrible walls of the Citadel itself. Dying by his command, or because they were caught up in webs of power and intrigue spun out from this house over generations. He'd sent men to die before, but he'd led from the front when he was a commander.

Barak hunched his thick shoulders. Ruling was a cold thing.


I told you so.

The words were bitter as wormwood in Sharku's mind. Nothing hurt worse than being proved right too late to do anything about it. Sure enough, there was a connection between the Pale and the west of the Shangri-La Valley, whether the Threat Analysis Computer, Cyborg Rank Battlemaster Carcharoth, or anyone else back at the Citadel believed it or not. The TAC was a tool, not an oracle—but the Cyborgs didn't see it that way, possibly because they were too much like computers themselves. They treated its conclusions as infallible, on a level with observed fact. He'd argued against it, taken it right to the Council—but the Council was a collection of nonentities these days, half of them senile.

We retreated to this barren world because we had no choice, and we hid because we had no alternative. And now we stagnate here. And what would First Soldier Diettinger and Lady Althene say if they knew what we had made of the Race? Soldiers. We came from the stars! Now we hide in fear of the Empire, we who made the Empire tremble. And because of our fear we have—this.

Now two regiments of soldiers deployed on the rolling plains waited for his commands. His commands. Regiment Leader Sharku.

It had happened suddenly. The strength of the Citadel was entrusted to Deathmaster Ghâsh, sent southwest to the ends of the Shangri-La to rescue a Firebase that ought to have been reinforced months ago at the first sign of the new barbarian activities. The Sons of Liberty and the New Soviet Men, an improbable alliance of barbarians who ought to be fighting each other. But they aren't fighting each other, they have allied. As I predicted . . .

"Are you afraid?" Deathmaster Ghâsh had asked when they had passed Castell City.

"No, but I am concerned. Why are these barbarian groups banded together?"

"What do we care what thoughts enter the minds of cattle?"

We should be. "First Soldier Diettinger did not call enemy soldiers 'cattle.' Only their civilians."

Ghâsh smiled mirthlessly "That was long ago, when there were fighting men among the cattle."

"They threaten a Firebase. That has not happened in your lifetime. They have learned to ally, and learned to fight. Perhaps they are no longer cattle." A phrase from an ancient history came to mind. "Do you recall the speeches of Demosthenes of Athens?"

Ghâsh looked at Sharku, a puzzled look. "I was told you have odd thoughts. Speak."

"You hear that Phillip is in the Chersonese and you vote an expedition there. You hear that he is in Thessaly and you send another there. You march the length and breadth of Greece at his command, and you take your marching orders from him. Which is what we are doing."

"And what would you do?"

"The key to an alliance is what one partner holds dear. In this case the city of Cobalt. Take their capital and the Sons of Liberty will come streaming home to rescue it. Cobalt is much closer than Firebase Six."

"We have our orders." Ghâsh looked thoughtful. "I have had my doubts about the Threat Analysis Computer for some time." He nodded. "Regiment Leader Sharku: take two Regiments, and capture the city of Cobalt. I will continue the expedition as ordered, but it may be that you will achieve results sooner than I will."

And now two Regiments waited his commands. Behind them the ruins of the New Soviet Men's town of—his mind hunted through its files—Beiragorod was in flames. He gritted his teeth. The enemy had set it on fire before they retreated, as they had burned all the settlements in the soldiers' path. Here it is not so important, but Ghâsh will have nothing behind him but desolation. A long supply line. Unless we achieve something first. More enemies ahead. Enemies. Not cattle.

Strike where the enemy does not expect. "Forward!"

Almost invisible against the pale straw color of the reaped barley, the troopers moved out; teams to set up portable Gatlings, and the rifle squads leapfrogging forward, cover and advance. The savage brrrttttt of the Gatlings sounded; short economical bursts, since every round had to come seven hundred kilometers from the nearest Firebase, and down the Xanadu from near the Citadel to the Firebase in the first place.

Far too soon, the enemy in the earthworks ahead opened up themselves. "Bandari rifles," Sharku said.

The whole western valley had blown up. Close to a million barbarian warriors—cattle to the fools in the Citadel—were in the field; Hell's-A-Comin' had fallen to them, and many lesser posts. Even with the Khanut garrison called back from over the Escarpment, the soldiers were having a hard time getting things under control. Despite their speed, despite their fieldcraft, soldiers were falling. Not all that many, but . . .

Mumak, his second-in-command, nodded. That had been the final proof. The Bandari manufactured a breech-loading flintlock; it could fire five big elongated slugs a minute and was accurate out to a thousand meters. The Sauron assault rifles had similar range and were vastly quicker-firing, but the difference was a whole order of magnitude less than it had been back when the cattle had only smoothbore muzzle-loaders. Every advance in range decreased the Sauron advantages of quicker reflexes and better eyesight, too.

The soldiers advanced. Their fire, and the fire of the Gatlings, began to beat down the defenders'.

"How many?" Sharku said, moving forward with the command group. They trotted not far beyond the rearmost firing line; the day was long past when even soldiers could have easy radio communications with individual units.

"Forty thousand in this bunch, I'd say," Mumak estimated; that was a little more than the Intelligence reports, but about what you'd expect from the rate of fire. Forty thousand cattle against four thousand soldiers was long odds—against the cattle.

Black-powder smoke was beginning to obscure the front of the enemy position; the flanks were anchored in deep wooded ravines on one side, and a tangle of hills on another, capped with one of the local feudal noble's castles—chairman of the Kolkhoz, in the local Russki dialect. It was from the castles that the local aristocracy, the nomenklaturniks, ruled the serfs.

Like any such fortress, the muzzles of brass cannon frowned from its stone-and-earthwork ramparts. He ignored them, even when they began to belch smoke and jets of reddish flame; cast-iron roundshot weren't much of a menace, and the range was over three thousand meters. His ears warned him; the whistling screech was too high-pitched.

"Down!" he shouted.

The command-group flung themselves flat. The first shell exploded at five meters, slamming up a pancake of dust as the musket-balls inside it lashed down. The lash fell across several soldiers as well. More shells burst, some in the air, some plowing harmlessly into the dirt first. Sharku snapped orders to continue the advance. The subordinate commanders and the men themselves thinned the firing line and moved the Gatlings on their own initiative, good tactics. Except that by dispersing the firing line they weakened the main attack, of course.

Something else fired from within the castle's courtyard. The projectile arched up over the plain. Sharku's Sauron eyes could penetrate the blur of speed to catch a long-finned cylinder in flight. Some sort of mortar . . .

BWAAAMP. Dirt fountained up ten times man-height. When the smoke settled a Gatling and its crew were gone, nothing but a crater visible.

The soldiers ignored it, as they ignored the steady shelling. The firing rose to a crescendo along the line, then suddenly ceased over on the right. Sharku nodded and turned his eyes there, in telescope-mode. Figures in field-gray, tiny as ants, were swarming out of the woods behind the curve of the New Soviet Men's line. That was his little surprise; the enemy didn't appreciate just how fast a soldier force could move on foot. This one had looped around the outer posts of the New Soviet Men's army, punched through, and outraced any word of its coming.

"Lets wrap this up," he said. "No prisoners except for interrogation."


Deathmaster Ghâsh turned the dud shell over with his toe. It was a long cylinder of rough cast iron, with a lead flange around its middle. The flange was grooved, much like the lands in the barrel of a rifled firearm—but this was on the projectile, not the weapon itself.

"Ingenious," he said. "And simple to make—given the mold to cast from, any village blacksmith could run it up. The grooves will spin the projectile from a smoothbore. You did well to send for me."

"Thank you."

"I should thank you, Regiment Leader. No sooner had you moved toward Cobalt than the attacks on Firebase Six faltered. The Firebase can hold now."

Orderlies handed cups of eggbush tea and loaves of plundered black bread to the commanders. They began to demolish it with methodical speed. Not far away, soldiers were destroying the captured weapons; bending the barrels of muskets into knots, and smashing the stocks. The piles grew, amid the iron clamor. Nobody was bothering with the enemy bodies; they could lie in their tens of thousands. The maniac laughter of Stobor sounded, still cautiously distant, but getting nearer. Now and then a cannon boomed from the New soviet castle, but the pickets around it were safely out of range. Nearer to the walls soldier snipers kept up a steady harassing fire. As they watched, a figure pitched out of an embrasure and lay with its limp arms dangling down the wall.

Ghâsh took out a map. "You changed the route of advance."

"I sent you full reports—"

"I am not reprimanding you, Regiment Leader."

Mumak visibly relaxed. Deathmaster Ghâsh frowned slightly. "A word of advice, Regiment Leader. It is well that your troops are loyal, but perhaps they need not be quite so eager to show that to me." He looked at the map again. "So you have chosen to stay on the border between the New Soviets and the Sons of Liberty."

"Yes, Deathmaster. We threaten both Cobalt and Novy Kiev. Why should the Sons of Liberty be the only ones to fear us—"

"We have been victors too long, Sharku," Ghâsh said. "I must admit that I would not have been concerned about which groups of cattle we fought. I think it is time we learned more of these—barbarian warriors."

Mumak grinned. It was the first time he had heard any of the soldiers refer to the enemy other than as cattle. Except for Sharku . . .

Ghâsh bent to examine the projectile. "What's the performance?"

"About three, four times the range of a smoothbore cannon," Sharku said. "They must have found a way to reinforce the breech; shrink on a band of red-hot wrought-iron bars, at a guess. And the shell's a lot more effective than roundshot as well as hitting further. The fuses are powder-train in drilled wood. They work, after a fashion. They have a lot of them."

Ghâsh nodded. "We found that out on the way here. The Sons of Liberty tried to stand in our path."

"As Sharku predicted," Mumak muttered.

The other regimental officers nodded silent agreement. Ghâsh nodded silently to himself. "I thank you for the warning. Well done."

A junior officer rode up. He ignored Ghâsh and ran up to Sharku. "The supply caravan, Regiment Leader. We found it."

Sharku looked up at the castle walls where the New Soviet banner flew. "Destroyed?"

"What we didn't capture."

"Good. Continue as ordered. Perhaps I'd better come with you. With your permission, Deathmaster?"

"Certainly." Ghâsh watched Sharku and the Assault Leader ride away. He also noted the looks the other officers had given Sharku. He turned to Mumak. "As a favor, Deputy Regiment Leader, what are those orders?"

Mumak grinned. "Sharku says assaulting strong walls is for culling troops, not a way to win wars. Sir."

Ghâsh smiled faintly.

"So we make like we're charging them, get them to shoot up their ammunition, and stay just out of range. Doesn't work with their best, but they don't leave their best to guard these castles."


"Yes, sir; there's a lot of these castles, and Sharku said if we stop to take every damn one of them we'll never get to Cobalt. Attack them, make it look like we didn't really surround them so they try to sneak in supplies—"

"I see. As I said, ingenious. You seem to have great confidence in Regiment Leader Sharku."

"Damn right, sir! He knew these damn tribes, Valley and Pale, all of them were working together, and nobody in the Citadel knows that yet!" He pointed to the rocket. "Look at that damn thing. Right out of the Pale. Nobody in the Valley invented that."


The camp was just beyond range of the fire from the castle walls. Deathmaster Ghâsh drank his after-meal tea and turned the shell over and over as the countryside around grew darker.

"That's the clincher," Sharku said. "But there's more. Better rifles. Communications and signals. Organization. Deathmaster, the Valley and the Pale are working together."

"The Pale has always envied the Valley," Ghâsh said.

"Exactly. And how is arming the Valley going to help them?"

"Disturbing. You imply that they will—Sharku, that's impossible."

"It was impossible that the New Soviets and the Sons of Liberty would ally. It was impossible that the Pale would enter the Valley."

"Let us be clear. You believe the Citadel is threatened."

"I do. I believe this has been a ruse to draw our strength here to the south. A successful ruse."

Ghâsh stared into his empty tea cup. "The TAC knows nothing of this."


"I know. We trust the future of the Race to a machine we do not understand."

Sharku sat motionless.

"Tell me more," Ghâsh said.

Sharku spoke quietly. "The Sons and the New Soviets have been at war since before the Dol Guldur arrived. The Citadel has encouraged this. Let the tribute cattle fight, let them cull themselves. But Deathmaster, do not the Breedmasters teach that over a long enough time a race under stress becomes stronger?"

"Strong enough to threaten the Citadel?"

"Deathmaster, there are many of them. Perhaps half a million are marching on the Citadel, and we are here."

Ghâsh stood in decision. "Ready your forces, Regiment Leader. I order you to return to the Citadel. I am under orders to rescue Firebase Six, but I see now that is more efficiently done by threatening Cobalt and Novy Kiev than a direct march. You have trained officers to think as you do, to understand these ca—these barbarian warriors?"

"Yes, sir."

"You will leave two of them to advise me. Take your Regiments and return. You'll have written orders in the morning."

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