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"Yes, milord." I could barely hear her. It occurred to me that it was a long way back to Nice. But it didn't worry me.

"All right, let's forget it."

"Yes, milord." She added quietly, "But may I explain why I spoke as I did?"


"Yes, milord."

A long silent time later Rufo returned. He stopped out of earshot, I motioned him to join us.

We ate silently and I didn't eat much but the beer was good. Rufo tried once to make chitchat with an impossibility about another of his uncles. It couldn't have fallen flatter in Boston.

After lunch Star turned her mount—those "horses" have a small turning circle for their wheelbase but it's easier to bring them full circle in a tight place by leading them. Rufo said, "Milady?"

She said impassively, "I am returning to the Doral."

"Milady! Please not!"

"Dear Rufo," she said warmly but sadly. "You can wait up at that house—and if I'm not back in three days, you are free." She looked at me, looked away. "I hope that milord Oscar will see fit to escort me. But I do not ask it. I have not the right." She started off.

I was slow in getting Ars Longa turned; I didn't have the hang of it. Star was a good many bricks down the road; I started after her.

Rufo waited until I was turned, biting his nails, then suddenly climbed aboard and caught up with me. We rode knee to knee, a careful fifty paces behind Star, Finally he said, "This is suicide. You know that, don't you?"

"No, I didn't know it."

"Well, it is."

I said, "Is that why you are not bothering to say ‘sir'?"

"Milord?" He laughed shortly and said, "I guess it is. No point in that nonsense when you are going to die soon."

"You're mistaken."


" ‘Huh, milord,' if you please. Just for practice. But from now on, even if we last only thirty minutes. Because I am running the show now—and not just as her stooge. I don't want any doubt in your mind as to who is boss once the fighting starts. Otherwise turn around and I'll give your mount a slap on the rump to get you moving. Hear me?"

"Yes, milord Oscar." He added thoughtfully, "I knew you were boss as soon as I got back. But I don't see how you did it. Milord, I have never seen Her meek before. May one ask?"

"One may not. But you have my permission to ask her. If you think it is safe. Now tell me about this ‘suicide' matter—and don't say she doesn't want you to give me advice. From here on you'll give advice any time I ask—and keep your lip buttoned if I don't."

"Yes, milord. All right, the suicide prospects. No way to figure the odds. It depends on how angry the Doral is. But it won't be a fight, can't be. Either we get clobbered the instant we poke our noses in...or we are safe until we leave his land again, even if he tells us to turn around and ride away." Rufo looked very thoughtful. "Milord, if you want a blind guess—Well, I figure you've insulted the Doral the worst he has ever been hurt in the course of a long and touchy life. So it's about ninety to ten that, two shakes after we turn off the road, we are all going to be sprouting more arrows than Saint Sebastian."

"Star, too? She hasn't done anything. Nor have you." (Nor I, either, I added to myself. What a country!)

Rufo sighed. "Milord, each world has its own ways. Jock won't want to hurt Her. He likes Her. He's terribly fond of Her. You could say that he loves Her. But if he kills you, he has got to loll Her. Anything else would be inhumane by his standards—and he's a very moral bloke; he's noted for it. And kill me, too, of course, but I don't count. He must kill Her even though it will start a chain of events that will wipe him out just as dead once the news gets out. The question is: Does he have to kill you? I figure be has to, knowing these people. Sorry...milord."

I mulled it over. "Then why are you here, Rufo?"


"You can cut the ‘sirs' down to one an hour. Why are you here? If your estimate is correct, your one sword and one bow can't affect the outcome. She gave you a fair chance to chicken out. So what is it? Pride? Or are you in love with her?"

"Oh, my God, no!"

Again I saw Rufo really shocked. "Excuse me," he went on. "You caught me with my guard down." He thought about it. "Two reasons, I suppose. The first is that if Jock allows us to parley—well. She is quite a talker. In the second place"—he glanced at me—"I'm superstitious, I admit it. You're a man with luck. I've seen it. So I want to be close to you even when reason tells me to run. You could fall in a cesspool and—"

"Nonsense. You should hear my hard-luck story."

"Maybe in the past. But I'm betting the dice as they roll." He shut up.

A bit later I said, "You stay here." I speeded up and joined Star. "Here are the plans," I told her. "When we get there, you stay out on the road with Rufo. I'm going in alone."

She gasped. "Oh, milord! No!"



"Star, do you want me back? As your champion?"

"With all my heart!"

"All right. Then do it my way."

She waited before answering. "Oscar—"

"Yes, Star."

"I will do as you say. But will you let me explain before you decide what you will say?"

"Go on."

"In this world, the place for a lady to ride is by her champion. And that is where I would want to be, my Hero, when in peril. Especially when in peril. But I'm not pleading for sentiment, nor for empty form. Knowing what I now know I can prophesy with certainty that, if you go in first, you will die at once, and I will die—and Rufo—as soon as they can chase us down. That will be quickly, our mounts are tired. On the other hand, if I go in alone—"


"Please, milord. I was not proposing, it. If I were to go in alone, I would be almost as likely to die at once as you would be. Or perhaps, instead of feeding me to the pigs, be would simply have me feed the pigs and be a plaything of the pig boys—a fate merciful rather than cold justice in view of my utter degradation in returning without you. But the Doral is fond of me and I think he might let me live...as a pig girl and no better than pigs. This I would risk if necessary and wait my chance to escape, for I cannot afford pride; I have no pride, only necessity." Her voice was husky with tears.

"Star, Star!"

"My darling!"

"Huh? You said—"

"May I say it? We may not have much time. My Hero...my darling." She reached out blindly, I took her hand; she leaned toward me and pressed it to her breast.

Then she straightened up but kept my hand. "I'm all right now. I am a woman when I least expect it. No, my darling Hero, there is only one way for us to go in and that is side by side, proudly. It is not only safest, it is the only way I would wish it—could I afford pride. I can afford anything else. I could buy you the Eiffel Tower for a trinket, and replace it when you broke it. But not pride."

"Why is it safest?"

"Because he may—I say ‘may'—let us parley. If I can get in ten words, he'll grant a hundred. Then a thousand. I may be able to heal his hurt."

"All right. But—Star, what did I do to hurt him? I didn't! I went to a lot of trouble not to hurt him."

She was silent a while, then—"You are an American."

"What's that got to do with it? Jock doesn't know it."

"It has, perhaps, everything to do with it. No, America is at most a name to the Doral for, although he has studied the Universes, he has never traveled. But—You will not be angry with me again?"

"Uh...let's call a King's-X on that. Say anything you need to say but explain things. Just don't chew me out. Oh, hell, chew me out if you like—this once. Just don't let it be a habit...my darling."