Unaccountably, a sacerdote is found in the inner sanctum of Joaz Banbeck, lord and master of Banbeck Vale, breeder of dragons, and direct descendant of Kergan Banbeck, who had successfully withstood a previous raid from the reptilian “basics.” On the planet Aerlith, the sacerdotes are a mysterious hermetic culture living in secluded caves and bound to a creed of noninterference in human affairs. Joaz rushes to his study to find that the sacerdote has vanished through a concealed door.
The Banbecks have been vying with the Carcolo family for domination of the region for several generations. The planet is a marooned outpost of humanity, a residual of a galactic struggle that has destroyed the human empire. Ervis Carcolo, lord of the neighboring and relatively poorer Happy Valley, meets with Joaz to discuss preparations in the event of invasion. Joaz has studied history and the stars, and he believes that another attack from the basics is imminent because of the optimal proximity of one of their worlds. Ervis, a brutish and vengeful man, has spent all of his resources in attempts to breed new dragons, whereas Joaz has been diligently adding tunnels and escape routes for his people. Instead of aiding the preparations, Ervis proposes forcing the sacerdotes into service and perhaps having them reveal the secrets of star travel.
Soon after this conference, Ervis tries to launch a surprise attack on Joaz but instead is ambushed and routed. Joaz is...
(The entire section is 535 words.)