The colony ship Farreacher
reached the rim planet Ariel in the year 2276, with five thousand colonists
and the makings of a Terra-stock resupply outpost aboard. Native flora and
fauna proved rather remarkably compatible with Earth-native species, with,
initially, strict oversight to avoid indiscriminate ecological damage. In the
end, Terran cats and deer happily roamed Ariel's wilds, equally happily eaten
by the likes of Arielan norwolves and blue vultures.
Within a hundred years the planet was exporting Terran
grains, cattle, horses, and a number of other more exotic creatures bred by
enterprising xenobiologists, such as the genetically engineered nightwings, an
intelligent native bird enhanced to serve as reliable messengers. The colony
occupied a pleasant river basin dubbed Sevak's Land, after the captain of the
good ship Farreacher. Yarom, the spaceport, stood upon a rocky plateau
cut by the great river Tanis, down which came foodstuffs grown farther inland,
and up which ran agile rivercraft which handily undercut the price of
transport by flitter.
Gradually, far-flung farmsteads lost their taste for the
technological wonders of Yarom, more interested in the rich soil and the price
of grain on the galactic market. And so Ariel was defenseless when disaster
fell, a disaster―though Ariel's frantic citizens did not yet know it―which had
already overtaken the comforting web of worlds of which Earth was the heart.
Pleas to the Fleet went unanswered. The Fleet was already fighting a losing
war of its own.
The ships came without warning or mercy, descending on
peaceful Ariel like a swarm of locusts. Hadí―the Anointed―stormed across the
face of Ariel as Mohammed's desert warriors had swarmed across Africa
seventeen hundred years before―and for the same reason. Religious zeal,
spawned on a world most Arielans had never heard of, yet died cursing with
their last breath. Phaser cannon against colonial rifles, atmospheric craft
against horses, zealotry against bewildered anger; though the Arielans fought
bravely, Hadí fanaticism was literally stunning. Instead of being daunted by
traps set in Ariel's harsh southern wastes, the Hadí seemed to thrive on them,
coming back out of the red sands with the name of their god on their lips
and―it was rumored by shocked survivors―his image at their backs. The colony
fell in a month.
What followed was a collective nightmare. The Hadí were not
interested in converts. Their god demanded obedience, not worship. Ariel's
easygoing democracy vanished into a tight-fisted theocracy few of Arielan
blood were good enough to join. Dissenters were executed without trial. There
was no street corner without its watchful soldier-priest, no merchant daring
enough to attempt to bribe one to overlook a shipment not approved by the Hadí
god, a snarling idol with an appetite for blood. Hadí law governed every
aspect of life down to the times and places it was appropriate for a husband
to make love to his wife, and priests were empowered to invade a home without
notice to enforce them. Aberrations were punished by a public repetition of
the offense before execution. No one protested; Hadí seemed linked to their
god somehow. Even the least among them could conjure pain at will. The great
could kill with a thought. Men feared even to walk through a Hadí's shadow for
fear of what might follow them out.
Bewildered Arielans huddled in their scattered farmsteads
and tried not to attract notice. They hid their children when the Anointed
came through, for it was not unknown for families to be ripped apart, wives
torn from husbands, children from parents, taken to the Temple and never seen
again. It was rumored the Hadí used the women for breeding, and the children.
. . some reappeared. And they too, could kill with a thought.
Rebellion bred quietly, as rebellions do. The wrong child
was taken, and an angry farmer, Sarah Linden, rose from the redstone desert of
Mosain to rally the scattered settlements. Farm by town by province, she
wrested Ariel from the invaders, took back her daughter, and sent the Hadí
fleet to fiery death in the heart of Falal, Ariel's sun. It took forty years.
The victors stood among ashes when it was done. The Hadí
had fought savagely and, at the last, without regard for anything but
destroying what they could not have. The spaceport was gone, blasted to
rubble. Communications were dead. Farreacher was scrap and the Hadí
starships captured by Sarah Linden doomed to slow death for lack of spare
parts. Metal-poor Ariel had never achieved industry; there was no hope of
manufacturing the means to rejoin the galaxy beyond Falal. Whole towns had
disappeared. Refugees clogged the roads and crammed every ship left afloat.
The euphoric sense of brotherhood shared by the survivors quickly faded in the
reality that there was nothing left to share. Savage riots rocked Yarom when
word spread that even the harvests had failed. Fumbling attempts to recreate
planetary government using the highly efficient Hadí bureaucracy resulted in
The backlash against the religious taint was as vicious as
the Hadí themselves. Collaborators and suspected Hadí sympathizers were
murdered in the streets; families of priests died to the last infant. Only the
grim competence of Sarah Linden's militia prevented wholesale slaughter.
Those who dreamed of a return to life-as-it-was were
bitterly disappointed. The long-awaited day of freedom, with its looked-for
revival of tolerance for older traditions, came and went on a tide of rawer
memories. Advocates of a kinder God stepped forth to share his blessing with
their fellow survivors―and died of the outrage of citizens who did not
appreciate the notion of trading one set of priests for another. The very
mention of God sparked bloodshed.
The believers fled, south to the barren wastes of Nemistak.
Sevak's Land, now known as Sevakand, turned a contemptuous back on them and
fought to rebuild itself. But the land was too wide, the resources too few.
The long-promised advent of civil government never came. A succession of
military governors turned the control dome high above Yarom into the Citadel,
a soaring bastion of military might. Year after year they fought to stave off
disaster; little by little power solidified in the hands of a few commanders
tasked with keeping order and distributing Sevakand's precious food. Sarah
Linden's proud militia degenerated to a ruling caste with hereditary rank.
Three generations later, a scrambling quest for power began among disgruntled
officers who saw no chance for promotion. Commanders withdrew whole regiments
of marines and fought to carve themselves fiefdoms. Once again the harvests
failed, trampled under the feet of invading armies.
What remained of Arielan society dissolved into a bloody
struggle for land, resources, fiercely hoarded technology. Great Houses that
had begun as defended farmsteads rose to rule nations, climbing on the
strength of private armies and knowledge ruthlessly guarded from the
neighbors. House Mreens held off invaders; House tongues weeded out the spies
of other Houses. The strongest ruled, and anyone caught outside the pale of
the Houses died, or fled to the Crizani tribes in the desert and learned to
A thrice-great grandson of Sarah Linden's ended the chaos.
One by one the warring chieftains went down to Aravon's army, uniformly
cursing the fabled luck at war that seemed bred into her bloodline. From
anarchy he forged an iron autocracy supported by eleven provincial governors,
the strongest of the warlords who remained. But even he could not hold
single-handed what he had won. Years of rebellion finally resulted in a
difficult compromise, a Golden Charter thrust upon House Aravon by a
consortium of lords too weak individually to challenge its rule. It was a
Magna Carta of sorts, creating a permanent autocracy rather than the roots of
a democracy. But it was law, a central government overseeing what in essence
had become a dozen separate countries. The abiding competence of House Aravon
kept them from each others' throats, reducing the bloodshed to occasional
flare-ups of arrogance and the never-ending chase after will-'o-the-sand
Crizan raiding into the southern marches after food and horses.
Three hundred years after the Hadí, the galaxy beyond Falal was all but
forgotten, the technology of the Founders reduced to archaic remnants marveled
at by children. Knowledge was a trade item, cautiously proffered by rival
Houses, or jealously hoarded within the thinly-tolerated temples of the
thousand gods which had risen to replace the Hadí One. Men scarcely realized
what they did not know, but it is man's nature to quest for knowledge.
Priests, having no respect save that earned by what they knew, thirsted after
knowledge and power together. An obscure cult venerating an obscurer god went
looking for his heartplace among the queer trembling red rocks of An-Utah―and
thereby changed the world.