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´╗┐Title: The Wind People
Author: Bradley, Marion Zimmer
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Wind People" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            THE WIND PEOPLE

                       BY MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY

                 _Inhabited only by whispering winds,
                 Robin's World was a paradise for the
                wrong two people--Eve and her son...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, February 1959.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


It had been a long layover for the _Starholm's_ crew, hunting heavy
elements for fuel--eight months, on an idyllic green paradise of a
planet; a soft, windy, whispering world, inhabited only by trees and
winds. But in the end it presented its own unique problem.

Specifically, it presented Captain Merrihew with the problem of Robin,
male, father unknown, who had been born the day before, and a month
prematurely, to Dr. Helen Murray.

Merrihew found her lying abed in the laboratory shelter, pale and calm,
with the child beside her.

The little shelter, constructed roughly of green planks, looked out
on the clearing which the _Starholm_ had used as a base of operations
during the layover; a beautiful place at the bottom of a wide valley,
in the curve of a broad, deep-flowing river. The crew, tired of being
shipbound, had built half a dozen such huts and shacks in these eight
months.

Merrihew glared down at Helen. He snorted, "This is a fine situation.
You, of all the people in the whole damned crew--the ship's doctor!
It's--it's--" Inarticulate with rage, he fell back on a ridiculously
inadequate phrase. "It's--criminal carelessness!"

"I know." Helen Murray, too young and far too lovely for a ship's
officer on a ten-year cruise, still looked weak and white, and her
voice was a gentle shadow of its crisp self. "I'm afraid four years in
space made me careless."

Merrihew brooded, looking down at her. Something about ship-gravity
conditions, while not affecting potency, made conception impossible; no
child had ever been conceived in space and none ever would. On planet
layovers, the effect wore off very slowly; only after three months
aground had Dr. Murray started routine administration of anticeptin to
the twenty-two women of the crew, herself included. At that time she
had been still unaware that she herself was already carrying a child.

Outside, the leafy forest whispered and rustled, and Merrihew knew
Helen had forgotten his existence again. The day-old child was tucked
up in one of her rolled coveralls at her side. To Merrihew, he looked
like a skinned monkey, but Helen's eyes smoldered as her hands moved
gently over the tiny round head.

He stood and listened to the winds and said at random, "These shacks
will fall to pieces in another month. It doesn't matter, we'll have
taken off by then."

Dr. Chao Lin came into the shack, an angular woman of thirty-five. She
said, "Company, Helen? Well, it's about time. Here, let me take Robin."

Helen said in weak protest, "You're spoiling me, Lin."

"It will do you good," Chao Lin returned. Merrihew, in a sudden surge
of fury and frustration, exploded, "Damn it, Lin, you're making it all
worse. He'll die when we go into overdrive, you know as well as I do!"

Helen sat up, clutching Robin protectively. "Are you proposing to drown
him like a kitten?"

"Helen, I'm not proposing anything. I'm stating a fact."

"But it's not a fact. He won't die in overdrive because he won't be
aboard when we go into overdrive!"

Merrihew looked at Lin helplessly, but his face softened. "Shall
we--put him to sleep and bury him here?"

The woman's face turned white. "No!" she cried in passionate protest,
and Lin bent to disengage her frantic grip. "Helen, you'll hurt him.
Put him down. There."

Merrihew looked down at her, troubled, and said, "We can't just abandon
him to die slowly, Helen--"

"Who says I'm going to abandon him?"

Merrihew asked slowly, "Are you planning to desert?" He added, after a
minute, "There's a chance he'll survive. After all, his very birth was
against all medical precedent. Maybe--"

"Captain--" Helen sounded desperate. "Even drugged, no child under
ten has ever endured the shift into hyperspace drive. A newborn would
die in seconds." She clasped Robin to her again, and said, "It's the
only way--you have Lin for a doctor, Reynolds can handle my collateral
duties. This planet is uninhabited, the climate is mild, we couldn't
possibly starve." Her face, so gentle, was suddenly like rock. "Enter
my death in the log, if you want to."

Merrihew looked from Helen to Lin, and said, "Helen, you're insane!"

She said, "Even if I'm sane now, I wouldn't be long if I had to
abandon Robin." The wild note had died out of her voice, and she spoke
rationally, but inflexibly. "Captain Merrihew, to get me aboard the
_Starholm_, you will have to have me drugged or taken by force; I
promise you I won't go any other way. And if you do that--and if Robin
is left behind, or dies in overdrive--just so you will have my services
as a doctor--then I solemnly swear that I will kill myself at the first
opportunity."

"My God," said Merrihew, "you _are_ insane!"

Helen gave a very tiny shrug. "Do you want a madwoman aboard?"

Chao Lin said quietly, "Captain, I don't see any other way. We
would have had to arrange it that way if Helen had actually died in
childbirth. Of two unsatisfactory solutions, we must choose the least
harmful." And Merrihew knew that he had no real choice.

"I still think you're both crazy," he blustered, but it was surrender,
and Helen knew it.

Ten days after the _Starholm_ took off, young Colin Reynolds,
technician, committed suicide by the messy procedure of slicing his
jugular artery, which--in zero gravity--distributed several quarts of
blood in big round globules all over his cabin. He left an incoherent
note.

Merrihew put the note in the disposal and Chao Lin put the blood in the
ship's blood-bank for surgery, and they hushed it up as an accident;
but Merrihew had the unpleasant feeling that the layover on the green
and windy planet was going to become a legend, spread in whispers by
the crew. And it did, but that is another story.

       *       *       *       *       *

Robin was two years old when he first heard the voices in the wind. He
pulled at his mother's arm and crooned softly, in imitation.

"What is it, lovey?"

"Pretty." He crooned again to the distant murmuring sound.

Helen smiled vaguely and patted the round cheek. Robin, his infant
imagination suddenly distracted, said, "Hungry. Robin hungry. Berries."

"Berries after you eat," Helen promised absently, and picked him up.
Robin tugged at her arm.

"Mommy pretty, too!"

She laughed, a rosy and smiling young Diana. She was happy on the
solitary planet; they lived quite comfortably in one of the larger
shacks, and only a little frown-line between her eyes bore witness
to the terror which had closed down on her in the first months, when
every new day had been some new struggle--against weakness, against
unfamiliar sounds, against loneliness and dread. Nights when she lay
wakeful, sweating with terror while the winds rose and fell again
and her imagination gave them voices, bleak days when she wandered
dazedly around the shack or stared moodily at Robin. There had
been moments--only fleeting, and penanced with hours of shame and
regret--when she thought that even the horror of losing Robin in those
first days would have been less than the horror of spending the rest
of her life alone here; when she had wondered why Merrihew had not
realized that she was unbalanced, and forced her to go with them ... by
now, Robin would have been only a moment's painful memory.

Still not strong, knowing she had to be strong for Robin or he would
die as surely as if she had abandoned him, she had spent the first
months in a somnambulistic dream. Sometimes she had walked for days
at a time in that dream; she would wake to find food that she could
not remember gathering. Somehow, pervasive, the dream-voices had taken
over; the whispering winds had been full of voices and even hands.

She had fallen ill and lain for days sick and delirious, and had
heard a voice which hardly seemed to be her own, saying that if she
died the wind voices would care for Robin ... and then the shock and
irrationality of that had startled her out of delirium, agonized and
trembling, and she pulled herself upright and cried out "No!"

And the shimmer of eyes and voices had faded again into vague echoes,
until there was only the stir of sunlight on the leaves, and Robin,
chubby and naked, kicking in the sunlight, cooing with his hands
outstretched to the rustle of leaves and shadows.

She had known, then, that she had to get well. She had never heard the
wind voices again, and her crisp, scientific mind rejected the fanciful
theory that if she only believed in the wind voices she would see their
forms and hear their words clearly. And she rejected them so thoroughly
that when she heard them speak she shut them away from her mind, and
after a time heard them no longer, except in restless dreams.

By now she had accepted the isolation and the beauty of their world,
and begun to make a happy life for Robin.

For lack of other occupation last summer--though the winter was
mild and there was no lack of fruits and roots even then--Helen had
patiently snared male and female of small animals like rabbits, and
now she had a pen of them. They provided a change of diet, and after
a few smelly unsuccessful experiments she had devised a way to supple
their fur pelts. She made no effort at gardening, though when Robin was
older she might try that. For the moment, it was enough that they were
healthy and safe and protected.

... Robin was _listening_ again. Helen bent her ear, sharpened by the
silence, but heard only the rustle of wind and leaves; saw only falling
brightness along a silvered tree-trunk.

Wind? When there were no branches stirring?

"Ridiculous," she said sharply, then snatched up the baby boy and
squeezed him before hoisting him astride her hip. "Mommy doesn't mean
_you_, Robin. Let's look for berries."

But soon she realized that his head was tipped back and that he was
listening, again, to some sound she could not hear.

       *       *       *       *       *

On what she said was Robin's fifth birthday, Helen had made a special
bed for him in another room of the building. He missed the warmth of
Helen's body, and the comforting sound of her breathing; for Robin,
since birth, had been a wakeful child.

Yet, on the first night alone, Robin felt curiously freed. He did
something he had never dared do before, for fear of waking Helen; he
slipped from his bed and stood in the doorway, looking into the forest.

The forest was closer to the doorway now; Robin could fuzzily remember
when the clearing had been wider. Now, slowly, beyond the garden patch
which Helen kept cleared, the underbrush and saplings were growing
back, and even what Robin called "the burned place" was covered with
new sparse grass.

Robin was accustomed to being alone, during the day--even in his first
year, Helen had had to leave him alone, securely fastened in the house,
or inside a little tight-fenced yard. But he was not used to being
alone at night.

Far off in the forest, he could hear the whispers of the other people.
Helen said there were no other people, but Robin knew better, because
he could hear their voices on the wind, like fragments of the songs
Helen sang at bedtime. And sometimes he could almost see them in the
shadowy spots.

Once when Helen had been sick, a long time ago, and Robin had run
helplessly from the fenced yard to the inside room and back again,
hungry and dirty and furious because Helen only slept on the bed with
her eyes closed, rousing up now and then to whimper like he did when
he fell down and skinned his knee, the winds and voices had come into
the very house; Robin had hazy memories of soothing voices, of hands
that touched him more softly than Helen's hands. But he could not quite
remember.

Now that he could hear them so clearly, he would go and find the other
people. And then if Helen was sick again, there would be someone else
to play with him and look after him. He thought gleefully, _won't Helen
be surprised_, and darted off across the clearing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Helen woke, roused not by a sound but by a silence. She no longer heard
Robin's soft breaths from the alcove, and after a moment she realized
something else:

The winds were silent.

Perhaps, she thought, a storm was coming. Some change in air pressure
could cause this stillness--but Robin? She tiptoed to the alcove; as
she had suspected, his bed was empty.

Where could he be? In the clearing? With a storm coming? She slid her
feet into hand-made sandals and ran outside, her quivering call ringing
out through the silent forest:

"Robin--oh, Robin!"

Silence. And far away a little ominous whisper. And for the first
time, since that first frightening year of loneliness, she felt lost,
deserted in an alien world. She ran across the clearing, looking around
wildly, trying to decide which way he could have wandered. Into the
forest? What if he had strayed toward the river bank? There was a place
where the bank crumbled away, down toward the rapids--her throat closed
convulsively, and her call was almost a shriek:

"Oh, Robin! Robin, darling! Robin!"

She ran through the paths worn by their feet, hearing snatches of
rustle, winds and leaves suddenly vocal in the cold moonlight around
her. It was the first time since the spaceship left them that Helen had
ventured out into the night of their world. She called again, her voice
cracking in panic.

"Ro-bin!"

A sudden stray gleam revealed a glint of white, and a child stood in
the middle of the path. Helen gasped with relief and ran to snatch up
her son--then fell back in dismay. It was not Robin who stood there.
The child was naked, about a head shorter than Robin, and female.

There was something curious about the bare and gleaming flesh, as if
she could see the child only in the full flush of the moonlight. A
round, almost expressionless face was surrounded by a mass of colorless
streaming hair, the exact color of the moonlight. Helen's audible gasp
startled her to a stop: she shut her eyes convulsively, and when she
opened them the path was black and empty and Robin was running down the
track toward her.

Helen caught him up, with a strangled cry, and ran, clasping him to her
breast, back down the path to their shack. Inside, she barred the door
and laid Robin down in her own bed, and threw herself down shivering,
too shaken to speak, too shaken to scold him, curiously afraid to
question. I had a hallucination, she told herself, a hallucination,
another dream, a dream....

       *       *       *       *       *

A dream, like the other Dream. She dignified it to herself as The
Dream, because it was not like any other dream she had ever had. She
had dreamed it first before Robin's birth, and been ashamed to speak of
it to Chao Lin, fearing the common-sense skepticism of the older woman.

On their tenth night on the green planet (the _Starholm_ was a dim
recollection now) when Merrihew's scientists had been convinced that
the little world was safe, without wild beasts or diseases or savage
natives, the crew had requested permission to camp in the valley
clearing beside the river. Permission granted, they had gone apart in
couples almost as usual, and even those who had no enduring liaison at
the moment had found a partner for the night.

_It must have been that night...._

Colin Reynolds was two years younger than Helen, and their attachment,
enduring over a few months of shiptime, was based less on mutual
passion than a sort of boyish need in him, a sort of impersonal
feminine solicitude in Helen. All her affairs had been like that,
companionable, comfortable, but never passionate. Curiously enough,
Helen was a woman capable of passion, of great depths of devotion; but
no man had ever roused it and now no man ever would. Only Robin's birth
had touched her deeply-pent emotions.

But that night, when Colin Reynolds was sleeping, Helen stayed
restlessly awake, hearing the unquiet stirring of wind on the leaves.
After a time she wandered down to the water's edge, staying a cautious
distance from the shore--for the cliff crumbled dangerously--and
stretched herself out to listen to the wind-voices. And after a time
she fell asleep, and had The Dream, which was to return to her again
and again.

Helen thought of herself as a scientist, without room for fantasies,
and that was why she called it, fiercely, a dream; a dream born of some
undiagnosed conflict in her. Even to herself Helen would not recall it
in full.

There had been a man, and to her it seemed that he was part of the
green and windy world, and he had found her sleeping by the river. Even
in her drowsy state, Helen had suspected that perhaps one of the other
crew members, like herself sleepless and drawn to the shining water,
had happened upon her there; such things were not impossible, manners
and mores being what they were among starship crews.

But to her, half-dreaming, there had been some strangeness about him,
which prevented her from seeing him too clearly even in the brilliant
green moonlight. No dream and no man had ever seemed so living to her;
and it was her fierce rationalization of the dream which kept her
silent, months later, when she discovered (to her horror and secret
despair) that she was with child. She had felt that she would lose the
haze and secret delight of the dream, if she openly acknowledged that
Colin had fathered her child.

But at first--in the cool green morning that followed--she had not been
at all sure it was a dream. Seeing only sunlight and leaves, she had
held back from speaking, not wanting ridicule; could she have asked
each man of the _Starholm_, Was it you who came to me last night?
Because if it was not, there are other men on this world, men who
cannot be clearly seen even by moonlight--

Severely she reminded herself, Merrihew's men had pronounced the world
uninhabited, and uninhabited it must be. Five years later, hugging
her sleeping son close, Helen remembered the dream, examined the
content of her fantasy, and once again, shivering, repeated, "I had a
hallucination. It was only a dream. A dream, because I was alone...."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Robin was fourteen years old, Helen told him the story of his
birth, and of the ship.

He was a tall, silent boy, strong and hardy but not talkative; he
heard the story almost in silence, and looked at Helen for a long time
in silence, afterward. He finally said in a whisper, "You could have
died--you gave up a lot for me, Helen, didn't you?" He knelt and took
her face in his hands. She smiled, and drew a little away from him.

"Why are you looking at me like that, Robin?"

The boy could not put instant words to his thoughts; emotions were not
in his vocabulary. Helen had taught him everything she knew, but she
had always concealed her feelings from her son. He asked at last, "Why
didn't my father stay with you?"

"I don't suppose it entered his head," Helen said. "He was needed on
the ship. Losing me was bad enough."

Robin said passionately, "I'd have stayed!"

The woman found herself laughing. "Well--you did stay, Robin."

He asked, "Am I like my father?"

Helen looked gravely at her son, trying to see the half-forgotten
features of young Reynolds in the boy's face. No, Robin did not look
like Colin Reynolds, nor like Helen herself. She picked up his hand
in hers; despite his robust health, Robin never tanned; his skin was
pearly pale, so that in the green sunlight it blended into the forest
almost invisibly. His hand lay in Helen's palm like a shadow. She
said at last, "No, nothing like him. But under this sun, that's to be
expected."

Robin said confidently, "I'm like the _other_ people."

"The ones on the ship? They--"

"No," Robin interrupted, "you always said, when I was older you'd tell
me about the other people. I mean the other people _here_. The ones in
the woods. The ones you can't see."

Helen stared at the boy in blank disbelief. "What do you mean? There
are no other people, just us." Then she recalled that every imaginative
child invents playmates. _Alone_, she thought, _Robin's always alone,
no other children, no wonder he's a little--strange._ She said,
quietly, "You dreamed it, Robin."

The boy only stared at her, in bleak, blank alienation. "You mean," he
said, "you can't _hear_ them either?" He got up and walked out of the
hut. Helen called, but he didn't turn back. She ran after him, catching
at his arm, stopping him almost by force. She whispered, "Robin, Robin,
tell me what you mean! There isn't anyone here. Once or twice I thought
I had seen--something, by moonlight, only it was a dream. Please,
Robin--please--"

"If it's only a dream, why are you frightened?" Robin asked, through a
curious constriction in his throat. "If they've never hurt you--"

No, they had never hurt her. Even if, in her long-ago dream, one of
them had come to her--_and the sons of God saw the daughters of men
that they were fair_--a scrap of memory from a vanished life on another
world sang in Helen's thoughts. She looked up at the pale, impatient
face of her son, and swallowed hard.

Her voice was husky when she spoke.

"Did I ever tell you about rationalization--when you want something to
be true so much that you can make it sound right to yourself?"

"Couldn't that also happen to something you wanted _not_ to be true?"
Robin retorted with a mutinous curl of his mouth.

Helen would not let go his arm. She begged, "Robin--no, you'll only
waste your life and break your heart looking for something that doesn't
exist--"

The boy looked down into her shaken face, and suddenly a new emotion
welled up in him and he dropped to his knees beside her and buried his
face against her breast. He whispered, "Helen, I'll never leave you,
I'll never do anything you don't want me to do, I don't want anyone but
you--"

And for the first time in many years, Helen broke into wild and
uncontrollable crying, without knowing why she wept.

Robin did not speak again of his quest in the forest. For many months
he was quiet and subdued, staying near the clearing, hovering near
Helen for days at a time, then disappearing into the forest at dusk. He
heard the winds numbly, deaf to their promise and their call.

Helen too was quiet and withdrawn, feeling Robin's alienation through
his submissive mood. She found herself speaking to him sharply for
being always under foot; yet, on the rare days when he vanished into
the forest and did not return until after sunset, she felt a restless
unease that set her wandering the paths herself, not following him, but
simply uneasy unless she knew he was within call.

Once, in the shadows just before sunset, she thought she saw a man
moving through the trees, and for an instant, as he turned toward her,
she saw that he was naked. She had seen him only for a second or two,
and after he had slipped between the shadows again, common sense told
her it was Robin. She was vaguely shocked and annoyed; she firmly
intended to speak to him, perhaps to scold him for running about naked
and slipping away like that; then, in a sort of remote embarrassment,
she fore-bore to mention it. But after that, she kept out of the forest.

Robin had been vaguely aware of her surveillance and knew when it
ceased. But he did not give up his own pointless rambles, although
even to himself he no longer spoke of searching, or of any dreamlike
inhabitants of the woods. At times it still seemed that some shadow
concealed a half-seen form, and the distant murmur grew into a voice
that mocked him; a white arm, the shadow of a face, until he lifted his
head and stared straight at it.

One evening toward twilight he saw a sudden shimmer in the trees,
and he stood, fixedly, as the stray glint resolved itself first into
a white face with shadowy eyes, then into a translucent flicker of
bare arms, and then into the form of a woman, arrested for an instant
with her hand on the bole of a tree. In the shadowy spot, filled only
with the last ray of a cloudy sunset, she was very clear; not cloudy
or unreal, but so distinct that he could see even a small smudge or
bramble-scratch on her shoulder, and a fallen leaf tangled in her
colorless hair. Robin, paralyzed, watched her pause, and turn, and
smile, and then she melted into the shadows.

He stood with his heart pounding for a second after she had gone; then
whirled, bursting with the excitement of his discovery, and ran down
the path toward home. Suddenly he stopped short, the world tilting and
reeling, and fell on his face in a bed of dry leaves.

He was still ignorant of the nature of the emotion in him. He felt only
intolerable misery and the conviction that he must never, never speak
to Helen of what he had seen or felt.

       *       *       *       *       *

He lay there, his burning face pressed into the leaves, unaware of the
rising wind, the little flurry of blown leaves, the growing darkness
and distant thunder. At last an icy spatter of rain aroused him, and
cold, numbed, he made his way slowly homeward. Over his head the boughs
creaked woodenly, and Robin, under the driving whips of the rain, felt
their tumult only echoed his own voiceless agony.

He was drenched by the time he pushed the door of the shack open, and
stumbled blindly toward the fire, only hoping that Helen would be
sleeping. But she started up from beside the hearth they had built
together last summer.

"Robin?"

Deathly weary, the boy snapped, "Who _else_ would it be?"

Helen didn't answer. She came to him, a small swift-moving figure in
the firelight, and drew him into the warmth. She said, almost humbly,
"I was afraid--the storm--Robin, you're all wet, come to the fire and
dry out."

Robin yielded, his twitching nerves partly soothed by her voice. _How
tiny Helen is_, he thought, _and I can remember that she used to carry
me around on one arm. Now she hardly comes to my shoulder._ She brought
him food and he ate wolfishly, listening to the steady pouring rain,
uncomfortable under Helen's watching eyes. Before his own eyes there
was the clear memory of the woman in the wood, and so vivid was Robin's
imagination, heightened by loneliness and undiluted by any random
impressions, that it seemed to him Helen must see her too. And when she
came to stand beside him, the picture grew so keen in his thoughts that
he actually pulled himself free of her.

The next day dawned gray and still, beaten with long needles of rain.
They stayed indoors by the smoldering fire; Robin, half sick and
feverish from his drenching, sprawled by the hearth too indolent to
move, watching Helen's comings and goings about the room; not realizing
why the sight of her slight, quick form against the gray light filled
him with such pain and melancholy.

The storm lasted four days. Helen exhausted her household tasks and sat
restlessly thumbing through the few books she knew by heart--they had
allowed her to remove all her personal possessions, all the things she
had chosen on a forgotten and faraway Earth for a ten-year star-cruise.
For the first time in years, Helen was thinking again of the life,
the civilization she had thrown away, for Robin who had been a pink
scrap in the circle of her arm and now lay sullen on the hearth, not
speaking, aimlessly whittling a stick with the knife (found discarded
in a heap of rubbish from the _Starholm_) which was his dearest
possession. Helen felt slow horror closing in on her. _What world,
what heritage did I give him, in my madness? This world has driven us
both insane. Robin and I are both a little mad, by Earth's standards.
And when I die, and I will die first, what then?_ At that moment Helen
would have given her life to believe in his old dream of strange people
in the wood.

She flung her book restlessly away, and Robin, as if waiting for that
signal, sat upright and said almost eagerly, "Helen--"

Grateful that he had broken the silence of days, she gave him an
encouraging smile.

"I've been reading your books," he began, diffidently, "and I
read about the sun you came from. It's different from this one.
Suppose--suppose, if there were actually a kind of people here, and
something in this light, or in your eyes, made them invisible to you?"

Helen said, "Have you been seeing them again?"

He flinched at her ironical tone, and she asked, somewhat more gently,
"It's a theory, Robin, but it wouldn't explain, then, why _you_ see
them."

"Maybe I'm--more used to this light," he said gropingly. "--And anyway,
you said you thought you'd seen them and thought it was only a dream."

Halfway between exasperation and a deep pity, Helen found herself
arguing, "If these other people of yours really exist, why haven't they
made themselves known in sixteen years?"

The eagerness with which he answered was almost frightening. "I think
they only come out at night, they're what your book calls a primitive
civilization--" He spoke the words he had read, but never heard, with
an odd hesitation. "They're not really a civilization at all, I think,
they're like--part of the woods."

"A forest people," Helen mused, impressed in spite of herself, "and
nocturnal. It's always moonlight or dusky when you see them--"

"Then you _do_ believe me--oh, Helen," Robin cried, and suddenly found
himself pouring out the story of what he had seen, in incoherent
words, concluding "--and by daylight I can hear them, but I can't see
them--Helen, Helen, you have to believe it now, you'll have to let me
try to find them and learn to talk to them--"

Helen listened with a sinking heart. She knew they should not discuss
it now, when five days of enforced housebound proximity had set their
nerves and tempers on edge, but some unknown tension hurled her sharp
words at Robin. "You saw a woman, and I--a man. These things are only
dreams. Do I have to explain more to you?"

Robin flung his knife sullenly aside. "You're so blind, so stubborn--"

"I think you are feverish again." Helen rose to go.

He said wrathfully, "You treat me like a child!"

"Because you act like one, with your fairy tales of women in the
wind...."

Suddenly Robin's agony overflowed and he caught at her, holding her
around the knees, clinging to her as he had not done since he was a
small child, his words stumbling and rushing over one another.

"Helen, Helen darling, don't be angry with me," he begged, and caught
her in a blind embrace that pulled her off her feet. She had never
guessed how strong he was; but he seemed very like a little boy, and
she hugged him quickly as he began to cover her face with childish
kisses.

"Don't cry, Robin, my baby, it's all right," she murmured, kneeling
close to him. Gradually the wildness of his passionate crying abated;
she touched his forehead with her cheek to see if it were heated with
fever, and he reached up and held her there. Helen let him lie against
her shoulder, feeling that perhaps after the violence of his outburst
he would fall asleep, and she was half asleep herself when a sudden
shock of realization darted through her; quickly she tried to free
herself from Robin's entangling arms.

"Robin, let me go."

He clung to her, not understanding. "Don't let go of me, Helen.
Darling, stay here beside me," he begged, and pressed a kiss into her
throat.

Helen, her blood icing over, realized that unless she freed herself
very quickly now, she would be fighting against a strong, aroused young
man not clearly aware of what he was doing. She took refuge in the
sharp maternal note of ten years ago, almost vanished in the closer,
more equal companionship of the time between:

"No, Robin. Stop it, at once, do you hear?"

Automatically he let her go, and she rolled quickly away, out of his
reach, and got to her feet. Robin, too intelligent to be unaware of her
anger and too naive to know its cause, suddenly dropped his head and
wept, wholly unstrung. "Why are you angry?" he blurted out. "I was only
loving you."

And at the phrase of the five-year-old child, Helen felt her throat
would burst with its ache. She managed to choke out, "I'm not angry,
Robin--we'll talk about this later, I promise--" and then, her own
control vanishing, turned and fled precipitately into the pouring rain.

She plunged through the familiar woods for a long time, in a daze of
unthinking misery. She did not even fully realize that she was sobbing
and muttering aloud, "No, no, no, no--"

She must have wandered for several hours. The rain had stopped and the
darkness was lifting before she began to grow calmer and to think more
clearly.

She had been blind, not to foresee this day when Robin was a child;
only if her child had been a daughter could it have been avoided.
Or--she was shocked at the hysterical sound of her own laughter--if
Colin had stayed and they had raised a family like Adam and Eve!

But what now? Robin was sixteen; she was not yet forty. Helen caught at
vanishing memories of society; taboos so deeply rooted that for Helen
they were instinctual and impregnable. Yet for Robin nothing existed
except this little patch of forest and Helen herself--the only person
in his world, more specifically at the moment the only woman in his
world. _So much_, she thought bitterly, _for instinct. But have I the
right to begin this all over again? Worse; have I the right to deny its
existence and when I die, leave Robin alone?_

She had stumbled and paused for breath, realizing that she had
wandered in circles and that she was at a familiar point on the river
bank which she had avoided for sixteen years. On the heels of this
realization she became aware that for only the second time in memory,
the winds were wholly stilled.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her eyes, swollen with crying, ached as she tried to pierce the gloom
of the mist, lilac-tinted with the approaching sunrise, which hung
around the water. Through the dispersing mist she made out, dimly, the
form of a man.

He was tall, and his pale skin shone with misty white colors. Helen sat
frozen, her mouth open, and for the space of several seconds he looked
down at her without moving. His eyes, dark splashes in the pale face,
had an air of infinite sadness and compassion, and she thought his lips
moved in speech, but she heard only a thin familiar rustle of wind.

Behind him, mere flickers, she seemed to make out the ghosts of other
faces, tips of fingers of invisible hands, eyes, the outline of a
woman's breast, the curve of a child's foot. For a minute, in Helen's
weary numbed state, all her defenses went down and she thought: _Then
I'm not mad and it wasn't a dream and Robin isn't Reynolds' son at all.
His father was this--one of these--and they've been watching me and
Robin, Robin has seen them, he doesn't know he's one of them, but they
know. They know and I've kept Robin from them all these sixteen years._

The man took two steps toward her, the translucent body shifting
to a dozen colors before her blurred eyes. His face had a curious
familiarity--_familiarity_--and in a sudden spasm of terror Helen
thought, "I'm going mad, it's Robin, _it's Robin_--"

       *       *       *       *       *

His hand was actually outstretched to touch her when her scream cut icy
lashes through the forest, stirring wild echoes in the wind-voices, and
she whirled and ran blindly toward the treacherous, crumbling bank.
Behind her came steps, a voice, a cry--Robin, the strange dryad-man,
she could not guess. The horror of incest, the son the father the lover
suddenly melting into one, overwhelmed her reeling brain and she fled
insanely to the brink. She felt a masculine hand actually gripping her
shoulder, she might have been pulled back even then, but she twisted
free blindly, shrieking, "No, Robin, no, no--" and flung herself down
the steep bank, to slip and hurl downward and whirl around in the
raging current to spinning oblivion and death....

       *       *       *       *       *

Many years later, Merrihew, grown old in the Space Service, falsified
a log entry to send his ship for a little while into the orbit of the
tiny green planet he had named Robin's World. The old buildings had
fallen into rotted timbers, and Merrihew quartered the little world for
two months from pole to pole but found nothing. Nothing but shadows and
whispers and the unending voices of the wind. Finally, he lifted his
ship and went away.





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