Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Planet Savers by Marion Zimmer Bradley


Excerpted from the book.

Get it on Project Gutenberg -

* * * * *

Carthon lay nestled under the outlying foothills of the Hellers, ancient
and sprawling and squatty, and burned brown with the dust of five
thousand years. Children ran out to stare at the ‘copter as we landed
near the city; few planes ever flew low enough to be seen, this near the

Forth had sent his crew ahead and parked them in an abandoned huge place
at the edge of the city which might once have been a warehouse or a
ruined palace. Inside there were a couple of trucks, stripped down to
framework and flatbed like all machinery shipped through space from
Terra. There were pack animals, dark shapes in the gloom. Crates were
stacked up in an orderly untidiness, and at the far end a fire was
burning and five or six men in Darkovan clothing–loose sleeved shirts,
tight wrapped breeches, low boots–were squatting around it, talking.
They got up as Forth and Kendricks and I walked toward them, and Forth
greeted them clumsily, in bad accented Darkovan, then switched to Terran
Standard, letting one of the men translate for him.

Forth introduced me simply as “Jason,” after the Darkovan custom, and I
looked the men over, one by one. Back when I’d climbed for fun, I’d
liked to pick my own men; but whoever had picked this crew must have
known his business.

Three were mountain Darkovans, lean swart men enough alike to be
brothers; I learned after a while that they actually were brothers,
Hjalmar, Garin and Vardo. All three were well over six feet, and Hjalmar
stood head and shoulders over his brothers, whom I never learned to tell
apart. The fourth man, a redhead, was dressed rather better than the
others and introduced as Lerrys Ridenow–the double name indicating high
Darkovan aristocracy. He looked muscular and agile enough, but his hands
were suspiciously well-kept for a mountain man, and I wondered how much
experience he’d had.

The fifth man shook hands with me, speaking to Kendricks and Forth as if
they were old friends. “Don’t I know you from someplace, Jason?”

He looked Darkovan, and wore Darkovan clothes, but Forth had forewarned
me, and attack seemed the best defense. “Aren’t you Terran?”

“My father was,” he said, and I understood; a situation not exactly
uncommon, but ticklish on a planet like Darkover. I said carelessly, “I
may have seen you around the HQ. I can’t place you, though.”

“My name’s Rafe Scott. I thought I knew most of the professional guides
on Darkover, but I admit I don’t get into the Hellers much,” he
confessed. “Which route are we going to take?”

I found myself drawn into the middle of the group of men, accepting one
of the small sweetish Darkovan cigarettes, looking over the plan
somebody had scribbled down on the top of a packing case. I borrowed a
pencil from Rafe and bent over the case, sketching out a rough map of
the terrain I remembered so well from boyhood. I might be bewildered
about blood fractions, but when it came to climbing I knew what I was
doing. Rafe and Lerrys and the Darkovan brothers crowded behind me to
look over the sketch, and Lerrys put a long fingernail on the route I’d

“Your elevation’s pretty bad here,” he said diffidently, “and on the
‘Narr campaign the trailmen attacked us here, and it was bad fighting
along those ledges.”

I looked at him with new respect; dainty hands or not, he evidently knew
the country. Kendricks patted the blaster on his hip and said grimly,
“But this isn’t the ‘Narr campaign. I’d like to see any trailmen attack
us while I have this.”

“But you’re not going to have it,” said a voice behind us, a crisp
authoritative voice. “Take off that gun, man!”

Kendricks and I whirled together, to see the speaker; a tall young
Darkovan, still standing in the shadows. The newcomer spoke to me

“I’m told you are Terran, but that you understand the trailmen. Surely
you don’t intend to carry fission or fusion weapons against them?”

And I suddenly realized that we were in Darkovan territory now, and that
we must reckon with the Darkovan horror of guns or of any weapon which
reaches beyond the arm’s-length of the man who wields it. A simple
heat-gun, to the Darkovan ethical code, is as reprehensible as a
super-cobalt planetbuster.

Kendricks protested, “We can’t travel unarmed through trailmen country!
We’re apt to meet hostile bands of the creatures–and they’re nasty with
those long knives they carry!”

The stranger said calmly, “I’ve no objection to you, or anyone else,
carrying a knife for self-defense.”

“A _knife_?” Kendricks drew breath to roar. “Listen, you bug-eyed
son-of-a–who do you think you are, anyway?”

The Darkovans muttered. The man in the shadows said, “Regis Hastur.”

* * * * *

Kendricks stared pop-eyed. My own eyes could have popped, but I decided
it was time for me to take charge, if I were ever going to. I rapped,
“All right, this is my show. Buck, give me the gun.”

He looked wrathfully at me for a space of seconds, while I wondered what
I’d do if he didn’t. Then, slowly, he unbuckled the straps and handed it
to me, butt first.

I’d never realized quite how undressed a Spaceforce man looked without
his blaster. I balanced it on my palm for a minute while Regis Hastur
came out of the shadows. He was tall, and had the reddish hair and fair
skin of Darkovan aristocracy, and on his face was some indefinable
stamp–arrogance, perhaps, or the consciousness that the Hasturs had
ruled this world for centuries long before the Terrans brought ships and
trade and the universe to their doors. He was looking at me as if he
approved of me, and that was one step worse than the former situation.

So, using the respectful Darkovan idiom of speaking to a superior (which
he was) but keeping my voice hard, I said, “There’s just one leader on
any trek, Lord Hastur. On this one, I’m it. If you want to discuss
whether or not we carry guns, I suggest you discuss it with me in
private–and let me give the orders.”

One of the Darkovans gasped. I knew I could have been mobbed. But with a
mixed bag of men, I had to grab leadership quick or be relegated to
nowhere. I didn’t give Regis Hastur a chance to answer that, either; I
said, “Come back here. I want to talk to you anyway.”

He came, and I remembered to breathe. I led the way to a fairly deserted
corner of the immense place, faced him and demanded, “As for you–what
are you doing here? You’re not intending to cross the mountains with

He met my scowl levelly. “I certainly am.”

I groaned. “Why? You’re the Regent’s grandson. Important people don’t
take on this kind of dangerous work. If anything happens to you, it will
be my responsibility!” I was going to have enough trouble, I was
thinking, without shepherding along one of the most revered Personages
on the whole damned planet! I didn’t want anyone around who had to be
fawned on, or deferred to, or even listened to.

* * * * *

He frowned slightly, and I had the unpleasant impression that he knew
what I was thinking. “In the first place–it will mean something to the
trailmen, won’t it–to have a Hastur with you, suing for this favor?”

It certainly would. The trailmen paid little enough heed to the ordinary
humans, except for considering them fair game for plundering when they
came uninvited into trailman country. But they, with all Darkover,
revered the Hasturs, and it was a fine point of diplomacy–if the
Darkovans sent their most important leader, they might listen to him.

“In the second place,” Regis Hastur continued, “the Darkovans are my
people, and it’s my business to negotiate for them. In the third place,
I know the trailmen’s dialect–not well, but I can speak it a little.
And in the fourth, I’ve climbed mountains all my life. Purely as an
amateur, but I can assure you I won’t be in the way.”

There was little enough I could say to that. He seemed to have covered
every point–or every point but one, and he added, shrewdly, after a
minute, “Don’t worry; I’m perfectly willing to have you take charge. I
won’t claim–privilege.”

I had to be satisfied with that.

* * * * *