The Eagles Gather

Continues the story of the Bouchard family begun in "Dynasty of death."

Genre: Fiction
Year:
1940
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There were no stars. The ruined landing field was lit by dancing shadows from a huge bonfire. With forlorn, hollow eyes the broken towers looked down upon the field, the leaping flames, and the one battered space boat. Beyond the dancing fire the night waited threateningly. In the shadow of one of the rickety towers a man huddled before a tiny flame and now and then turned his attention to a bubbling pot that hung from a forked stick above the coals. He was lean and broad-shouldered. The flickering coals occasionally lit up his thin face--the somber, gray eyes, the high cheekbones, the wide, sensitive mouth and the yellow curls that fell across a high forehead. The man seemed to be lost in thought, only turning his gaze away from the coals long enough to look up at the dark sky or to stir the pot of stew. When he moved to throw more wood upon the fire it was with the lithe grace of a cat, and even his tattered uniform took on a trim, military look from its wearer. As the man stared into the fire he was listening to the sound of an approaching ship, half-heard, far above him in the dark sky. The noise of a descending ship increased, changed from a whine to a scream, and from a scream to a roar. There was a roar and a gush of flame. A long, billowing jet of fire swept over the landing field like a scythe, and another space boat glided across the weed-strewn field. It stopped near the silent space craft. Both the boats were small, battered, patched and repatched--little one-man boats that had gone buzzing about space like wasps--as though the planets and the asteroids were golden fruit ripe for the taking. The man before the fire made no movement other than to hitch his belt around so that a lean bronzed hand rested upon the worn butt of a pistol. He sat there looking into the fire, though he could hear the sound of feet stumbling through the underbrush. The night was chill, and with his free hand he pulled his patched leather jacket across his chest. "Hello." The visitor stood before him smiling a cold smile--a little man with wide, drooping shoulders and eyes as blue as chilled steel. The man before the fire grunted and motioned with his head for the newcomer to be seated. "Smells good," said the visitor as he sat down and looked into the steaming pot. "That was white of you to build the fire. I'd never've landed without it. Not much power left, either." He sighed. "That's O. K. I figured there would be more boats along. They're coming home now--those that have power enough in their engines to make the trip. My name's Duane, Jim Duane." "They call me Captain," said the little man. "I've got other names, but mostly I answer to Captain. I'm a professional soldier." He added with a trace of a cold smile, "Like you." "Yeah," Duane said wearily, "that's my work. Fightin' for the highest bidder. But when the war lords ran short of uranium they sent me home." He added with a malicious grin, "Like you." "And damned lucky to get home. Plenty of boys marooned up there." Captain jerked his chin upward toward the dark, mist-swept sky. "But they'll find more uranium. They'll call us back. Twenty years of fightin' can't end this way. The war lords aren't satisfied. There'll be more power for those crates, and guys like us will be gentlemen again, drawin' monthly wages in four figures." Duane shook his head. "It's gone. They've hunted everywhere. Oh, they found plenty--enough for centuries. But they burned it up in twenty years. They blasted the worlds apart. They fought like mad dogs. An' now it's gone. An' I'm damned glad." Captain's eyes narrowed. "You don't talk like a fightin' man." Duane's hand tightened upon his gun. "A man don't talk fight. Want to see how I fight?" The little man shrugged his broad shoulders. "I only fight for money. Perhaps we'll fight for different war lords some day." * * * * * The scuffling of boots through the undergrowth eased the tension between the two. Two figures stumbled toward the fire. Two men in tattered leather coats and ragged pants and worn boots stopped as one, and stood there with downcast eyes as though awaiting an invitation. "Space-nuts," said Captain none too softly. One of the men looked up and patted a bulge in his coat. "I got a can of tomatoes." He smiled timidly. He was a thin little man with a sunken chest and a long pointed nose. His sunken eyes were black and dull. Duane had seen hundreds like the two. There were men who cracked up out there in space, men who broke under the strain of the screaming, bellowing, fire-blasting wars. "Throw the tomatoes in the pot," he said carelessly. "Sit down and warm. My name's Duane. This is Captain--that's his name, he's not my captain." The man drew a can opener from his pocket and produced the tin of tomatoes. As he sawed at the lid he said listlessly, "I'm Ted Shafer. Used to have my own ship. But I lost it. 'Bout a year ago I was shippin' on a freighter an' they marooned me here. Said I was nuts. I'm not nuts. You can see that I ain't nuts. Well, I been livin' around here for about a year--livin' off what I could find. There's a ruined town over there. Then I run into this feller about a week ago. His name is ... say, what's your name? I keep forgettin'." The fourth man, a squat, paunched fellow with a red nose and a thick unkempt beard, snorted. "The name's Belton. Bill Belton. You're gettin' crazier and crazier. I been around here for about six months. Only I wasn't marooned. I jumped ship. You guys got anything to drink?" Captain swore. "Just a couple of bums. I oughta give 'em the toe of my boot--" Duane's eyes narrowed. "It's my fire," he said softly. "O. K., O. K. But they're full of lice, I bet--" Shafer and Belton sat by the fire, their shoulders slumped forward.
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Taylor Caldwell

Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell was a British-born American novelist and prolific author of popular fiction, also known by the pen names Marcus Holland and Max Reiner, and by her married name of J. Miriam Reback. In her fiction, she often used real historical events or persons. more…

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