The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Eight

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Eight

He offered his arm with a reasonably grand air and went limping with her down to the courtyard just inside the gate. Two of Don Loris’ retainers staggered into view as they arrived, piling up plunder which ranged from a quarter keg of wine to a mass of frothy stuff which must be female garments. They went away and other men arrived loaded down with their own accumulations of loot. Some of the local inhabitants looked on with uneasy indignation.Hoddan found a bench and sat down. He conspicuously displayed one of the weapons which had captured the castle. Ghek’s defeated retainers looked at him darkly.

“Bring me something to eat,” commanded Hoddan. “Then if you bring fresh horses for my men, and one extra for each to carry his plunder on, I’ll take them away. I’ll even throw in the Lord Ghek, who is now unharmed but with his life in the balance. Otherwise–“

He moved the pistol suggestively. The normal inhabitants of Ghek’s castle moved away, discussing the situation in subdued voices.

The Lady Fani sat down proudly on the bench beside him.

“You are wonderful!” she said with conviction.

“I used to cherish that illusion myself,” said Hoddan.

“But nobody before in all Darthian history has ever fought twenty men, and then thirty men, and destroyed an ambush, and captured a castle, all in one day!”

“And without a meal,” said Hoddan darkly, “and with a lot of blisters!”

He considered. Somebody came running with bread and cheese and wine. He bit into the bread and cheese. After a moment he said, his mouth full:

“I once saw a man perform the unparalleled feat of jumping over nine barrels placed in a row. It had never been done before. But I didn’t envy him. I never wanted to jump over nine barrels in a row! In the same way, I never especially wanted to fight other men or break up ambushes or capture castles. I want to do what I want to do, not what other people happen to admire.”

“Then what do you want to do?” she asked admiringly.”I’m not sure now,” said Hoddan gloomily. He took a fresh bite. “But a little while ago I wanted to do some interesting and useful things in electronics, and get reasonably rich, and marry a delightful girl, and become a prominent citizen on Walden. I think I’ll settle for another planet, now.”

“My father will make you rich,” said the girl proudly. “You saved me from being married to Ghek!”

Hoddan shook his head.

“I’ve got my doubts,” he said. “He had a scheme to import a lot of stun-pistols and arm his retainers with them. Then he meant to rush the spaceport and have me set up a broadcast-power unit that’d keep them charged all the time. Then he’d sit back and enjoy life. Holding the spaceport, nobody else could get stun-weapons, and nobody could resist his retainers who had ’em. So he’d be top man on Darth. He’d have exactly as much power as he chose to seize. I think he cherished that little idea,–and I’ve given advance publicity to stun-pistols. Now he hasn’t a ghost of a chance of pulling it off. I’m afraid he’ll be displeased with me.”

“I can take care of that!” said Fani confidently. She did not question that her father would be displeased.

“Maybe you can,” said Hoddan, “but though he’s kept a daughter he’s lost a dream. And that’s bereavement! I know!”

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