Poul Anderson: The Day of Their Return

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Poul Anderson The Day of Their Return
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Aeneas is the powder keg of the universe, a frontier planet where rebellion is a way of life—and death. Smarting under the thumb of the Terran Empire after an almost successful war against Imperial rule, the Aeneans are swept up in a fanatical religious movement that promises the return of the Elder Race.

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The Day of Their Return

by Poul Anderson


On the third day he arose, and ascended again to the light.

Dawn gleamed across a sea which had once been an ocean. To north, cliffs lifted blue from the steel gray of its horizon; and down them went a streak which was the falls, whose thunder beat dim through a windless cold. The sky stood violet in the west, purple overhead, white in the east where the sun came climbing. But still the morning star shone there, the planet of the First Chosen.

I am the first of the Second Chosen, Jaan knew: and the voice of those who choose. To be man is to be radiance.

His nostrils drank air, his muscles exulted. Never had he been this aware. From the brightness of his face to the grit below his feet, he was real.

—O glory upon glory, said that which within him was Caruith.

—It overwhelms this poor body, said Jaan. I am new to resurrection. Do you not feel yourself a stranger in chains?

—Six million years have blown by in the night, said Caruith. I remember waves besparkled and a shout of surf, where now stones lie gaunt beneath us; I remember pride in walls and columns, where ruin huddles above the mouth of the tomb whence we have come; I remember how clouds walked clad in rainbows. Before all, I seek to remember—and fail, because the flesh I am cannot bear the fire I was—I seek to remember the fullness of existence.

Jaan lifted hands to the crown engirdling his brows.

—For you, this is a heavy burden, he said.

—No, sang Caruith. I share the opening that it has made for you and your race. I will grow with, you, and you with me, and they with us, until mankind is not only worthy to be received into Oneness, it will bring thereunto what is wholly its own. And at last sentience will create God. Now come, let us proclaim it to the people. He/they went up the mountain toward the Arena. Above them paled Dido, the morning star.


East of Windhome the country rolled low for a while, then lifted in the Hesperian Hills. Early summer had gentled their starkness with leaves. Blue-green, gray-green, here and there the intense green-green of oak or cedar, purple of rasmin, spread in single trees, bushes, widely spaced groves, across an onyx tinged red and yellow which was the land’s living mantle, fire trava.

A draught blew from sunset. Ivar Frederiksen shivered. Even his gunstock felt cold beneath his hand. The sward he lay on had started to curl up for the night, turning into a springy mat. Its daytime odor of flint and sparks was almost gone. A delphi overarched him: gnarled low trunk, grotto of branches and foliage. Multitudinous rustlings went through it, like whispers in an unknown tongue. His vision ranged over a slope bestrewn with shrubs and boulders, to a valley full of shadow. The riverside road was lost in that dusk, the water a wan gleam. His heart knocked, louder than the sound of the Wildfoss flowing.

Nobody. Will they never come?

A flash caught his eye and breath. An aircraft out of the west?

No. The leaves in their restlessness had confused him. What rose above Hornbeck Ridge was just Creusa. Laughter snapped forth, a sign of how taut were his nerves. As if to seek companionship, he followed the moon. It glimmered ever more bright, waxing while it climbed eastward. A pair of wings likewise caught rays from the hidden sun and shone gold against indigo heaven.

Easy! he tried to scold himself. You’re nigh on disminded. What if this will be your first battle? No excuse. You’re ringleader, aren’t you?

Though born to the thin dry air of Aeneas, he felt his nasal passages hurt, his tongue leather. He reached for a canteen. Filled at yonder stream, it gave him a taste of iron.

“Aah—” he began. And then the Imperials were come.

They appeared like that, sudden as a blow. A part of him knew how. Later than awaited, they had been concealed by twilight and a coppice in his line of sight, until their progress brought them into unmistakable view. But had none of his followers seen them earlier? The guerrillas covered three kilometers on both sides of the gorge. This didn’t speak well for their readiness.

Otherwise Ivar was caught in a torrent. He didn’t know what roared through him, fear, anger, insanity, nor had he time to wonder. He did observe, in a flicker of amazement, no heroic joy or stern determination. His body obeyed plans while something wailed, How did I get into this? How do I get out?

He was on his feet. He gave the hunting cry of a spider wolf, and heard it echoed and passed on. He pulled the hood of his jacket over his head, the nightmask over his face. He snatched his rifle off the ground and sprang from the shelter of the delphi.

Every sense was fever-brilliant. He saw each coiled blade of the fire trava whereon he ran, felt how it gave beneath his boots and rebounded, caught a last warmth radiated from a giant rock, drank in the sweetness of a cedar, brushed the roughness of an oak, could have counted the petals a rasmin spread above him or measured the speed at which a stand of plume trava folded against the gathering cold—but that was all on the edge of awareness, as was the play inside of muscles, nerves, blood, lungs, pulse—his being was aimed at his enemies.

They were human, a platoon of marines, afoot save for the driver of a field gun. It hummed along on a gravsled, two meters off the road. Though helmeted, the men were in loose order and walked rather than marched, expecting no trouble on a routine patrol. Most had connected the powerpacks on their shoulders to the heating threads in their baggy green coveralls.

The infrascope on Ivar’s rifle told him that. His eyes told of comrades who rose from bush and leaped down the hillsides, masked and armed like him. His ears caught raw young voices, war-calls and wordless yells. Shots crackled. The Aeneans had double the number of their prey, advantage of surprise, will to be free.

They lacked energy weapons; but a sleet of bullets converged on the artillery piece. Ivar saw its driver cast from his seat, a red rag. We’ve got them! He sent a burst himself, then continued his charge, low and zigzag. The plan, the need was to break the platoon and carry their equipment into the wilderness.

The cannon descended. Ivar knew, too late: Some kind of dead-man switch. The marines, who had thrown their bodies flat, got up and sought it. A few lay wounded or slain; the rest reached its shelter. Blaster bolts flared and boomed, slugthrowers raved. The Aenean closest to Ivar trembled, rolled over and over, came to a halt and screamed. Screamed. Screamed. His blood on the turf was outrageously bright, spread impossibly wide.

A new Imperial took the big gun’s controls. Lightning flew across the river, which threw its blue-whiteness back like molten metal. Thunder hammered. Where that beam passed were no more trees or shrubs or warriors. Smoke roiled above ash.

Blind and deaf, Ivar fell. He clawed at the soil, because he thought the planet was trying to whirl him off.

After a fraction of eternity, the delirium passed. His head still tolled, tatters of light drifted before his vision, but he could hear, see, almost think.

A daggerbush partly screened him. He had ripped his right sleeve and arm on it, but was otherwise unhurt. Nearby sprawled a corpse. Entrails spilled forth. The mask hid which friend this had been. How wrong, how obscene to expose the guts without the face.

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