Read The Hostage of Zir Online
Authors: L. Sprague de Camp
Tags: #Fiction, #science fiction, #General
THE HOSTAGE OF ZIR
L. SPRAGUE DE CAMP
Outside the walls of the starport Novorecife, Earthmen on the warrior planet Kishna are on their own. So when he is chosen to lead the first ersuma (Earth-tourists) through the sorcerer-kingdoms of this "protected" medieval world, Fergus Reith must first learn to speak Durou; must take the chemical oath against imparting technical information; and must above all else learn to handle a broadsword! All these skills are needed when Reith finds himself and his ersuma trapped as pawns in a deadly war between a sorceress and a sterile kingdom under three moons . . . The Hostage of Zir is the third of L. Sprague de Camp's Krishna book - interplanetary romance in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian Tales.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1977 by L. Sprague de Camp
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Electronic Version by Baen Books
First Printing 1977
NOTE ON PRONUNCIATIONS
While the reader may render the exotic names in the story as he likes, the author’s usage with Varasto names is as follows:
as in “add” and “wad” respectively; other vowels about as in Spanish.
as in “keep” and “quote” regardless of adjacent sounds;
= French uvular
; = a glottal stop or cough; others as in English.
Words ending in a consonant or a diphthong are stressed on the last syllable; those ending in a simple vowel are usually but not always stressed on the next to the last. Hence, Balhib is “bal-HEEB”; Hershid is “hair-SHEED”; Sadabao is “sad-ab-OW”; Sotaspé is “saw-TASS-peh”; and Tázád is “Tah-ZODD.” Beizi rhymes with “lazy”; Ziro is “ZEE-raw”; Zirou, “zee-RO.” Castanhoso, a common Portuguese name, is approximately (depending on the dialect) “kush-TAH-nyew-soo.”
THE RELUCTANT SWORDSMAN
touched down at Novorecife, the loudspeakers boomed:
“Chégamos; todos passageiros for a!
We have arrived; all passengers out!”
Airlocks hissed, doors clanged, and the passengers shuffled down the ramp. Terrans marveled at the spectacular cloud effects and the peculiar vegetation, with its leaves not only of green but also pink, blue, and purple. They eagerly sniffed the warm spring air of the planet’s subtropical zone.
At the foot of the ramp, the fat security officer, Cristôvão Abreu, watched them come. The dozen tourists from the Magic Carpet Travel Agency, recognizable by their red arm bands, formed a block in the middle of the line. Abreu picked out their courier, Fergus Reith, who was flitting about like an agitated sheep dog, counting his charges and chivvying them to stay in line and close ranks. This pale, thin young man with carrot-red hair did not impress Abreu as quite the fearless leader. With the instinct of a longtime policeman, Abreu foresaw trouble with this group.
The twelve tourists and their guide soon stood at counters in the customs room. Under the direction of a big, scowling Russian, the customs officers went through their baggage.
Otto Schwerin, the stubby tourist with bad teeth and cameras hung all over him, had trouble. Some of his cameras were neither small enough to hide in the hand nor equipped with self-destruct mechanisms. After expostulating in voluble German and broken English, he had to leave them under seal.
Once through customs, the gaggle of tourists got red-carpet treatment. The
silver-haired William Desmond Kennedy, shook hands all around and introduced Security Officer Abreu, Comptroller Angioletti, and Magistrate Keshavachandra.
“You are celebrities,” said Kennedy. “This is the first guided tour to reach Krishna. Earthmen are after coming here for decades, but they’ve mostly been scientists, adventurers, missionaries, and officials. This is the beginning of organized tourism.”
“Then,” asked Fergus Reith, “the Middle Kingdom Travel Bureau hasn’t shown up yet?”
“They have not, sir. You’re the first”
“That’s something. There’s been a race among the agencies to bring the first party to Krishna, and we thought the Chinese might have beaten us to it. We could hardly match the resources of that government But you know, Mr. Kennedy, you’re something of a celebrity yourself. The Terran press calls you the most successful of all the Terran administrators abroad.”
“Do they now? That’s very flattering. But you must remember, Mr.—ah—Reith, that back in the days of the British Empire, we Irish were very successful colonial administrators.” Kennedy chuckled. “Having grown up in an atmosphere of hospitality, flattery, treachery, and murder, we weren’t surprised when we encountered these things in the colonies.”
A small, squirrel-like man came in. Kennedy said, “Let me present Senhor Herculeu Castanhoso, assistant to Senhor Abreu. He’ll get you outfitted.”
Castanhoso took the party to their quarters. When Reith tried out his Portuguese on Castanhoso, the latter laughed.
“Que está cômico, o Senhor Dom Herculeu?”
“Excuse me,” said Castanhoso, “but I was marveling at your European pronunciation.”
“Well, the fellow who made the phonograph records I studied from spoke European Portuguese.”
Our Brazilian form, which we use in the Viagens Interplanetarias, is closer to the Spanish. Now suppose I meet you all in front of the Compound in one hour, to take you to the outfitting shop.”
The outfitter was the first Krishnan whom Reith had seen at close range. He was about the size and shape of a tall, lean earthman—taller than Reith, who was of good height himself. The Krishnan’s skin had a faint olive-green tinge and his hair a dark, bluish-green sheen. His features were not unlike those of Reith’s tourists—all but one of them Caucasoids—but flatter and more oriental-looking.
When Reith looked closely, he picked out many small differences: the pointed ears, the form of the teeth, and so on. The most conspicuous feature was the Krishnan’s external organs of smell: a pair of feathery appendages, like a moth’s antennae. They sprouted up and out from the inner ends of the Krishnan’s eyebrows, like a pair of extra brows.
Castanhoso explained: “Years ago, earthmen went out disguised with wigs and dyes. It was not safe to travel otherwise. Now we have normal relations with nearby states, and their people know we are not all scoundrels or sorcerers. Likewise, they are no longer so easily fooled; most of them know a Terran voice. For the more distant parts, however, we still advise the old disguises. Now I present Mr. Sivird bad-Fatehán, our outfitter.”
The Krishnan said: “May ze stars favor you. Ze Senhor Dom Herculeu and I, we have already discuss your requirements. You will need some rough clozes for ze outdoors, and formal costumes for presentation at ze court of Dur . . .”
Because of lack of space, the tourists had brought few changes of clothes. For most sightseeing, Terran garments would do; but it was thought that, for the court of Dur, it was better to follow local custom.
“Is this one of those courts,” said Silvester Pride, “where the dames go around with bare tits? Boy, I can’t wait to see that!”
“You are mistaken, Mr. Pride,” said Castanhoso coldly. “That is the custom at Rosid and Hershid, but Baianch is nearly a thousand kilometers north of here. I must warn all of you that you will need to dress more warmly. It is like going from your Philadelphia to—to—what would be an example, Mr. Reith?”
Reith thought. “Montreal.”
For formal outfits, most of the party chose sober costumes. But the two tanned, muscular young men, Considine and Turner, who jingled with jewelry and kept to themselves, would out-peacock the peacock. The handsome Venezuelan couple named Guzmán-Vidal also chose colorful garb. Valerie Mulroy, a tall, angular, but good-looking woman, wanted a bare-breasted gown. It took the combined efforts of Sivird and Castanhoso to dissuade her. Reith was relieved; as he had reason to know, her assets were modest
Next morning, Castanhoso greeted Reith:
“Bom dia, Senhor Dom Fergus! Como vai?”
“Bem, obrigado. E o Senhor?”
“Good! Now I take you to the
where you will be trained.”
“How about my tourists?”
“We have some little local tours planned to keep them happy while you enjoy the ministrations of the Senhor Heggstad.”
In the gym, Reith found a stocky, bald, blue-eyed, burly man flinging himself about on the parallel bars.
“Senhor Dom Fergus,” said Castanhoso, “this is Ivar Heggstad, in charge of physical survival.
“How do you do, Mr. Haystack?” said Reith.
Heggstad felt Keith’s biceps.
Too skinny. How do you expect to survive in a vorld where everything is depending on the physical?”
“Please! I didn’t ask for this job, but now I’ve got to make the best of it.”
“You are not a regular tourist guide?”
“No sir! I was assistant office manager at Magic Carpet, in Philadelphia. The courier assigned to this tour got married. Naturally, his bride wouldn’t stand for his going off for a quarter-century, objective time. That’s why people who make these trips are nearly always without close family ties on earth: the difference between objective and subjective time. His back-up man was in the hospital, and all our other regular couriers were out on tour, or pregnant, or something. We couldn’t find a freelance guide to take over; so, being single without close kin, I was drafted.”
“They couldn’t have made you go. You could have quit your yob, unless America has changed.”
“I know. I suppose I didn’t fight very hard because in all the science fiction novels I read as a kid, the hero goes to some distant planet, has thrilling adventures, and marries a beautiful native princess. One fellow, Otis Burroughs or some such name, wrote a lot of stories like that . . . But none of these old romancers tells about the practical difficulties.”
“Who vants to read a story about practical difficulties? Vell, have you had
“Some local guiding around historic Philadelphia, and one little Latin American tour. That didn’t turn out very well. One couple got lost in Bogotá and weren’t found for days. Another man, taking a picture at Machu Picchu, backed off a cliff and was killed.”
“Those things happen. But let us get to business. Do you ride? Sail? Fence? Shoot the bow? Have you had military experience?”
Reith shook his head. “None of these things. If somebody had told me a year ago that I’d need these medieval skills, I might have done something about it. As it is, I’m just an ex-schoolteacher and office manager—a paper-shuffler—who plays a little golf and was put here by happenstance.”
Heggstad sighed. “Ah, vell, in a year I could maybe make a real man of you. In a mere fifteen days—but ve shall see. Firsht, see how many times you can chin yourshelf on that bar.”
Later, Reith sat in the Nova Iorque Bar, trying out kvad, the local tipple. With him was Castanhoso. Reith groaned. “After a day with that Norse physical-culture fanatic, I haven’t been so stiff and sore in my life.”
But I, too, have had troubles. That Schwerin! Every time it is time to go, he is off somewhere, taking one more photo. And I think the Senhora Mulroy would strike up an intrigue with any big Krishnan male she sees, if she could get him alone for ten minutes.”
“That nympho!” said Reith. “She kept us busy on the
First me—an education, you might say. Then we quarreled when I stopped her from smoking a cigarette. So she took up with Afonso, the steward. Maybe you noticed Afonso looking a little pale and wan.”
“Yes, I suppose that little old professor, her husband, is no longer able to keep her stoked.”
“She’s got the money.”
But does he tolerate these games?”
“He seems to turn a blind eye, as we say. I guess he needs all the help he can get in that department.”
Castanhoso shrugged. “Tell me about the others.”
“Well, the middle-aged black woman is Miss Shirley Waterford, a retired schoolteacher who inherited money.”
“She seems nice, except when she wants to argue with everybody about racism. Go on.”
“The stout French couple are Aimé and Mélanie Jussac; he’s a retired jeweler. The two young men in extreme clothes—the dear boys, Valerie calls them—are Maurice Considine and John Turner. The big, muscular one is Considine; the shorter, plumper one is Turner. They’re
way.” Reith flipped a limp wrist. “Turner hasn’t given any trouble, but Considine is always complaining. He’s a sculptor or something; throws his weight around and likes his bottle. Turner seems to have the money.
“The real old lady is Mrs. Whitney Scott. She could buy all the rest of us. Be careful with her; she’s well over two hundred and fragile. That clown who wears funny hats and tells bad jokes is Silvester Pride—”
An uproar arose outside. When Reith and Castanhoso got out; Santiago Guzmán-Vidal was chasing his wife with a knife. Reith tripped him, and Castanhoso jumped on his back. Between them, they got the knife away from him. He sputtered:
“I kill them both! She was making eyes at that big Russian
Pilar Guzmán came back when she saw it was safe. Santiago Guzmán sank to his knees in front of her, crying:
she said, folding him in her arms. They had a passionate reconciliation, with tears and kisses, until Guzmán suggested that they go back to their quarters.
she said, and departed. Guzmán looked dreamily after her.
“After the esstorm, the sunshine,” he said.
Castanhoso asked: “Do you do this sort of thing often?”
“Bery often! All the time, in fact!”
“It sounds strenuous, Senhor.”
“It is the esspice of life. And now my adored one awaits.
Off went Guzmán-Vidal.
“Whew,” said Castanhoso. “Did you have that, too?”
“Oh, yes,” said Reith. “One time Santiago hid in my cabin when his wife was looking for him to brain him with a camera tripod. Valerie Mulroy had made passes at him, and he didn’t discourage her. If that’s married life, I’m glad I’m single.”
“In your business you practically have to be, because of the time lag. How do you make that ass Pride shut up?”
“Short of hitting him with a club, I don’t know. There’s at least one in every group.” Reith yawned. “Now I have to eat with my lambs. Then I’m supposed to study a couple of your foul Krishnan languages, but I’m so tired I’ll probably fall asleep in the first declension.”
“Gozashtandou and Durou are not too hard. They are as much alike as, say, Spanish is like Portuguese, and they have fewer irregularities than most European tongues. Katai-Jhogorai is something else; it belongs to another language family.”
“We’re to depend on Prince Tashian’s man as interpreter there.”
“Watch yourself; I mistrust that Tashian.”
“What’s the matter with him?” asked Reith.
“I do not know. It is just a feeling. In police work, we tend to get suspicious of everybody.”
“Where are you taking them tomorrow?”
“Through the Hamda’. They can unload some of their ill-gotten wealth on the vendors of trinkets, all of whom are salivating in anticipation. Krishnans think all Terrans as rich as Dezful the pirate king.”
“They have to be pretty well fixed to make the trip,” said Reith, yawning again.
Ivar Heggstad said: “So what if you are stiff? A little vork-out vill soon fix that. Come on, now: deep knee bends. Down! Up! Down! . . .”
When Reith thought himself on the verge of collapse, Heggstad produced an armful of fencing masks and padding. “Put these on. Now take this.”
He handed Reith a fencing saber with a blunt point and a big bowl-shaped guard. Reith looked dubious, saying: “In the stories, the hero goes to work with a skinny little épée and skewers the villains while they’re waving big cutting swords around.”