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When the mountain shook, p.1
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       When the Mountain Shook, p.1

           Robert Abernathy
 
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When the Mountain Shook


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  WHEN THE MOUNTAIN SHOOK

  By Robert Abernathy

  Illustrated by Kelly Freas

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of ScienceFiction March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence thatthe U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _Dark was the Ryzga mountain and forbidding; steep were itscliffs and sheer its crevasses. But its outward perils could not comparewith the Ryzgas themselves, who slept within, ready to wake andconquer...._]

  At sunset they were in sight of the Ryzga mountain. Strangely it toweredamong the cliffs and snow-slopes of the surrounding ranges: an immenseand repellently geometric cone, black, its sides blood-tinted by thedying sun.

  Neena shivered, even though the surrounding cold could not reach her.The ice-wind blew from the glacier, but Var's love was round her as awarming cloak, a cloak that glowed softly golden in the deepeningtwilight, even as her love was about him.

  Var said, "The Watcher's cave should be three miles beyond this pass."He stood rigid, trying to catch an echo of the Watcher's thoughts, butthere was nothing. Perhaps the old man was resting. From the otherdirection, the long way that they two had come, it was not difficult tosense the thought of Groz. That thought was powerful, and heavy withvengeance.

  "Hurry," said Neena. "They're closer than they were an hour ago."

  She was beautiful and defiant, facing the red sunset and the blackmountain. Var sensed her fear, and the love that had conquered it. Hefelt a wave of tenderness and bitterness. For him she had come to this.For the flame that had sprung between them at the Truce of New Grass,she had challenged the feud of their peoples and had left her home, tofollow him. Now, if her father and his kinsmen overtook them, it wouldbe death for Var, and for Neena living shame. Which of the two was worsewas no longer a simple problem to Var, who had grown much older in thelast days.

  "Wait," he commanded. While she waited he spun a dream, attaching it tothe crags that loomed over the pass, and to the frozen ground underfoot.It was black night, as it would really be when Groz and his henchmenreached this place; lurid fire spewed from the Ryzga mountain, andstrange lights dipped above it; and for good measure there was anavalanche in the dream, and hideous beasts rushed snapping and raveningfrom the crevices of the rock.

  "Oh!" cried Neena in involuntary alarm.

  Var sighed, shaking his head. "It won't hold them for long, but it's thebest I can do now. Come on."

  There was no path. Now they were descending the steeper face of thesierra, and the way led over bottomless crevasses, sheer drops and sheerascents, sheets of traitorous glare ice. Place after place had to becrossed on the air, and both grew weary with the effort such crossingscost. They hoarded their strength, helping one another; one alone mightnever have won through.

  It was starry night already when they saw the light from the Watcher'scave. The light shone watery and dim from beneath the hoary back of theglacier, and as they came nearer they saw why: the cave entrance wassealed by a sheet of ice, a frozen waterfall that fell motionless fromthe rocks above. They heard no sound.

  The two young people stared for a long minute, intrigued and fearful.Both had heard of this place, and the ancient who lived there to keepwatch on the Ryzga mountain, as a part of the oldest legends of theirchildhood; but neither had been here before.

  But this was no time for shyness. Var eyed the ice-curtain closely tomake sure that it was real, not dream-stuff; then he struck it boldlywith his fist. It shattered and fell in a rain of splinters, sparklingin the light that poured from within.

  * * * * *

  They felt the Watcher rouse, heard his footsteps, and finally saw him--ashrunken old man, white-haired, with a lined beardless face. The sightof him, more marred by age than anyone they had ever seen before, wasdisappointing. They had expected something more--an ancient giant, atower of wisdom and strength. The Watcher was four hundred years old;beside him even Groz, who had always seemed so ancient, was like a boy.

  The Watcher peered at them in turn. "Welcome," he said in a crackedvoice. He did not speak again; the rest of his conversation was inthought only. "Welcome indeed. I am too much alone here."

  "You were asleep!" said Var. Shock made his thought accusing, though hehad not meant to be.

  The old man grinned toothlessly. "Never fear. Asleep or awake, I watch.Come in! You're letting in the wind."

  Inside the cave it was warm as summer. Var saw with some surprise thatall the walls were sheathed in ice--warm to the touch, bound fastagainst melting by the Watcher's will. Light blazed in reflections fromthe ice walls, till there was no shadow in the place. Behind them begana tinkling of falling water, thawed from the glacial ridges above todescend sheet-wise over the cave mouth, freezing as it fell intolengthening icicles. The old man gazed at his work for a moment, thenturned questioningly to the young pair.

  "We need a little rest out of the cold," said Var. "And food, if you canspare it. We're pursued."

  "Yes, yes. You shall have what I can give you. Make yourselvescomfortable, and in one minute.... Pursued, eh? A pity. I see the worldis as bad as it was when I was last in it."

  Hot food and drink were before them almost at once. The Watcher regardedthem with compassion as their eyes brightened and some of the shadow ofweariness lifted from them. "You have stolen your enemy's daughter, nodoubt, young man? Such things happened when I was young."

  Warming to the old man now, Var sketched his and Neena's historybriefly. "We should have been safe among my people by now. And beforevery long, I'm sure, I would have performed some deed which Groz wouldrecognize as a worthy exploit, and would thus have healed the feudbetween our families. But our flight was found out too soon. They cut usoff and forced us into the mountains, and now they are only a few hoursbehind us."

  "A pity, indeed. I would like to help you--but, you understand, I am theMountain Watcher. I must be above feuds and families."

  Var nodded somberly, thinking that an old recluse would in any case beable to do little for them against Groz and his violent kinsfolk.

  "And what will you do now?"

  Var grinned mirthlessly. "We haven't much choice, since they'reovertaking us. I have only one idea left: we can go where Groz may fearto follow us."

  "To the mountain, you mean."

  "And into it, if need be."

  The Watcher was broodingly silent; his eyes shifted to Neena, where shenestled by Var's side. He asked, "And you--are you willing to followyour lover in this?"

  Neena returned his gaze without flinching; then she looked sidelong atVar, and her lips curled with a proud and tender mockery. "Follow? Why,I will lead, if his courage should fail him."

  * * * * *

  The old man said, "It is no part of my duty to dissuade you from thisthing. You are free persons. But I must be sure that you know what youare doing. That is the second part of the law the First Watcher made: toguard lest the unwary and the ignorant should bring harm on themselvesand on all men."

  "We know the stories," Var said brusquely. "In the hollow heart of theirmountain the Ryzgas sleep, as they chose to do when their worldcrumbled. But if they are wakened, the mountain will tremble, and theRyzgas will come forth."

  "Do you believe that?"

  "As one believes stories."

  "It is true," said the Watcher heavily. "In my youth I penetratedfarther into the mountain than anyone before, farther even than did theFirst Watcher. I did not see the sleepers, nor will any man until theycome again,
but I met their sentries, the sentinel machines that guardthem now as they have for two thousand years. When I had gone that far,the mountain began to shake, the force that is in the Earth rumbledbelow, and I returned in time." Now for the first time Var sensed thepower in the old man's look, the power of four hundred years' wisdom.Var stared down at his hands.

  "The Ryzgas also were men," said the Watcher. "But they were such a raceas the world has not seen before or since. There were tyrannies beforethe Ryzgas, there was lust for power, and atrocious cruelty; but suchtyranny, power, and cruelty as theirs, had never been known. They ruledthe Earth for four generations, and the Earth was too little for them.They laid the world waste, stripped it of metals and fuels and bored toits heart for energy, poisoned its seas and its air with
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