“I’m not an “American First” (and maybe because I read science fiction) I’m a “Terran First”. I’m a human being first. And I have this sympathy for other human beings no matter what side of the giant ice wall they happen to be born on”– George R.R. Martin
Hellooo and welcome to the book club. Like each book club story on this blog, the reading and commenting is done at your own pace. I have added a few notes that can be used as talking points if you like, or skipped over all together. Up to you. Have fun and enjoy!
What’s the deal?
Ah, football. The great galaxy-wide olive branch that brings harmony to the worlds.
Run to Starlight is not part of the Thousand Worlds Universe, but it does share many details that GRRM will pick up again as he developed his 1994 TV series Starport, which is more of an alternative/altered Earth concept. If I were to guess, even though these two stories were written 20 years apart, chronologically Starport seems to come first, then Run to Starlight. I recently made a quick trip to NY to pickup a copy of the Starport graphic novel and attend a signing with both George R.R. Martin and artist Raya Golden. Read about it here.
As for the football aspect, it is no secret that George R.R. Martin is New York Jets and Giants fan. He once compared rivals the New England Patriots to the White Walkers: “But it was against the New England Patriots, the Horror Out of Boston, the Blue-and-White Walkers from Beyond the Wall, led by Evil Little Bill [Belichick] himself.” Belichick appears in the form of Belicho, a “Volantene patriot” and once Triarch, or one of three elected rulers, of the free city Volantis whose tales are told in The Life of the Triarch Belicho.
The red and gold of House Lannisters could be a nod to the red and gold San Fransico 49ers who are gold miners, wink, wink. I would have to check footbal history to see how this lines up with GRRM’s favorite teaams. However, GRRM did give a football move to Daenerys as she is about to make a heavy move in the game of thrones. Dragons work in the ”Hrangan” realm, not necessarily greenseeing. When Dany has this football interaction (the offense) with Quaithe, her starry wisdom guide, Dany is about to make a decision that Viserys would have made in regards to tking the Unsullied with fire-coin.
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys III
That night she dreamt that she was Rhaegar, riding to the Trident. But she was mounted on a dragon, not a horse. When she saw the Usurper’s rebel host across the river they were armored all in ice, but she bathed them in dragonfire and they melted away like dew and turned the Trident into a torrent. Some small part of her knew that she was dreaming, but another part exulted. This is how it was meant to be. The other was a nightmare, and I have only now awakened.
She woke suddenly in the darkness of her cabin, still flush with triumph. Balerion seemed to wake with her, and she heard the faint creak of wood, water lapping against the hull, a football on the deck above her head. And something else.
Someone was in the cabin with her.
Then there is Ser Clayton Suggs, a Queen’s Man (= bad guy), is a mashup of Baltimore Ravens players Terrell Suggs and Mark Clayton, and his house sigil is a flying pig (as in pigskin-football… get it). He’s a cruel man who enjoys torturing and is known as the crony to Godry the Giantslayer; the Ravens were the only team to have defeated the Giants in the Super Bowl. Speaking of Giants…
And many already know the story of Ser Patrek of King’s Mountain, but just in case:
- Ser Patrek himself, Parick St. Denis, tells his funny, friendly tale here.
- And much more detail here with commentary by GRRM: MARTIN: So I invented a character called Ser Patrek of King’s Mountain and described his heraldry as looking somewhat like the heraldry of the Dallas Cowboys with the silver star on a white field. And then I had him ripped apart by a giant.
- That giant that killed Ser Patrek is none other than Wun Wun who is named after Phil Simms, a quarterback for the New York Giants who wore jersey #11.
And in A Clash of Kings – Arya IV, he has Yoren give Arya and the Night’s Watch recruits directions for battle (a football game) drawn out in the dirt as they try to save themselves from their fiery hunters:
- It was midday when the others returned. Woth reported a wooden bridge half a mile downstream, but someone had burned it up. Yoren peeled a sourleaf off the bale. “Might be we could swim the horses over, maybe the donkeys, but there’s no way we’ll get those wagons across. And there’s smoke to the north and west, more fires, could be this side o’ the river’s the place we want to be.” He picked up a long stick and drew a circle in the mud, a line trailing down from it. “That’s Gods Eye, with the river flowing south. We’re here.” He poked a hole beside the line of the river, under the circle. “We can’t go round west of the lake, like I thought. East takes us back to the kingsroad.” He moved the stick up to where the line and circle met. “Near as I recall, there’s a town here. The holdfast’s stone, and there’s a lordling got his seat there too, just a towerhouse, but he’ll have a guard, might be a knight or two. We follow the river north, should be there before dark. They’ll have boats, so I mean to sell all we got and hire us one.” He drew the stick up through the circle of the lake, from bottom to top. “Gods be good, we’ll find a wind and sail across the Gods Eye to Harrentown.” He thrust the point down at the top of the circle. “We can buy new mounts there, or else take shelter at Harrenhal. That’s Lady Whent’s seat, and she’s always been a friend o’ the Watch.”
Written in 1974, Run to Starlight found its life around the time that author George R.R. Martin was working on other stories such as :
- A Peripheral Affair (1973)- The Peripheral Affair is the story of Admiral Jefferson Mandel, a space captain who is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a ship from the fleet of humans. This disappearance can be taken almost like a declaration of war of other alien races, and no sexy times.
- Slide Show (1973)
- With Morning Comes Mistfall (1973)
- Fast-Friend (1973) Some sources say this story was written in 1976, but the copy I have says 1973.
- F.T.A. (1974)
- A Song for Lya (1974, Hugo Award winner)- We do get the very clear idea for the first time that to touch someone creates a better psi-link bond, and to have sex with someone creates the strongest psi-link bond of all.
- …And Seven Times Never Kill Man (1975) This is about religious and racial superiority of the Steel Angel dragons coming in with fire and burning out the indigenous, and the pyramids with Bakkalon having mind control over its worshipers. Read about Bakkalon here.
I am going to try my best to keep my notes to a minimum, but right from the first sentence in the story readers of A Song of Ice and Fire will notice many repeating themes right off the bat. Gravity grids connected to ‘talent’, Hill/hills, games played between “gods”, out-world ‘otherized’ characters, the might of one overpowering the many, evolving past “traditionalism”, certain numbers etc, etc…
Run to Starlight by George R.R. Martin
Hill stared dourly at the latest free-fall football results from the Belt as they danced across the face of his desk console, but his mind was elsewhere. For the seventeenth time that week, he was silently cursing the stupidity and shortsightedness of the members of the Starport City Council.
The damn city councilmen persisted in cutting the allocation for an artificial gravity grid out of the departmental budget every time Hill put it in. They had the nerve to tell him to stick to “traditional” sports in planning his recreational program for the year.
The old fools had no idea of the way free-fall football was catching on throughout the system, although he’d tried to explain it to them God knows ow many times. The Belt sport should be an integral part of any self-respecting recreational program. And, on Earth, that meant you had to have a gravity grid. He’d planned on installing it beneath the stadium, but now–
The door to his office slid open with a soft hum. Hill looked up and frowned, snapping off the console. An agitated Jack De Angelis stepped through.
“What is it now?” Hill snapped.
“Uh, Rog, there’s a guy her I think you better talk to,” De Angelis replied. “He wants to enter a team in the City Football League.”
“Registration closed on Tuesday,” Hill said, “We’ve already got twelve teams. No room for any more. And why the hell can’t you handle this? You’re in charge of the football program.”
“This is a special case,” De Angelis said.
“Then make an exception and let the team in if you want to,” Hill interrupted. “Or don’t let them in. It’s your program. It’s your decision. Must I be bothered with every bit of trivia in this whole damned department?”
“Hey, take it easy, Rog,” De Angelis protested. “I don’t know what you’re so steamed up about. Look, I — hell, I’ll show you the problem.” He turned and went to the door, “Sir, would you step in here a minute,” he said to someone outside.
Hill started to rise from his seat, but sank slowly back into the chair when the visitor appeared in the doorway.
De Angelis was smiling. “This is Roger Hill, the director of the Starport Department of Recreation,” he said smoothly. “Rog, let me introduce Remjhard-nei, the head of the Brish-diri trade mission to Earth.”
Hill rose again, and offered his hand numbly to the visitor. The Brish-dir was squat and grotesquely broad. He was a good foot shorter than Hill, who stood six four, but he still gave the impression of dwarfing the director somehow. A hairless, bullet-shaped head was set squarely atop the alien’s massive shoulders. His eyes were glittering green marbles sunk deep in the slick, leathery grey skin. There were no external ears, only small holes on either side of the skull. The mouth was a lipless slash.
- Jogos Nhai– Jogos Nhai are as a rule, a head shorter than the Dothraki and are described as squat, bowlegged, and swarthy, with large heads, small faces, and sallow-colored skin. Men and women both have pointed skulls. They are a proud, warlike race who prize freedom above all and are never content to remain in once place for long.
Diplomatically ignoring Hill’s openmouthed stare, Remjhard bared his teeth in a quick smile and crushed the director’s hand in his own. “I am most pleased to meet you, sir,” he said in fluent English, his voice a deep bass growl. “I have come to enter a football team in the fine league your city so graciously runs.”
- The best I can find regarding the name Remjhard, it either means “wrestle” or “ranger” depending on the language it might have come from. Actually, either fits.
Hill gestured for the alien to take a seat, and sat down himself. De Angelis, still smiling at his boss’s stricken look, pulled another chair up to the desk for himself.
“Well, I –” Hill began, uncertainly. “This team is, is it a-a Brish’diri team?”
Remjhard smiled again. “Yes,” he answered. “Your football, it is a fine game. We of the mission have many times watched it being played on the 3-V wallscreens. your people were so kind to install. It has fascinated us. And now some f the half-men of our mission desire to try to play it.” He reached slowly into the pocket of the black-and-silver uniform he wore, and pulled out a folded sheet of paper.
“This is a roster for our players,” he said, handing it to Hill. “I believe the newsfax said such a list is required to enter your league.”
Hill took the paper and glanced down at it uncertainly. It was a list of some fifteen Brish-diri names, neatly typed out. Everything seemed to be in order, but still–
“You’ll forgive me, I hope,” Hill said, “But I’m somewhat unfamiliar with the expression of your people. You said– half-men? Do you mean children?”
Remjhard nodded, a quick inclination of his bulletlike head. “Yes, Male children, the sons of the mission personnel. All are aged either eight or nine Earth seasons.”
Hill silently sighed with relief. “I’m afraid it’s out of the question, then,” he said. “Mr. De Angelis said you were interested in the City League, but that league is for boys eighteen and up. Occasionally we’ll admit a younger boy with exceptional talent and experience, but never anyone this young.” He paused briefly. “We do have several leagues for younger boys, but they’ve already begun to play. It’s much too late to add another team at this point.”
“Pardon, Director Hill, but I think you misunderstand,” Remjhard said. “A Brish-diri male is fully mature at fourteen Earth years. In our culture, such a person is regarded as a full adult. A nine-year-old Brish-dir is roughly equivalent to an eighteen-year-old Terran male in terms of physical and intellectual development. That is why our half-man wish to register for this league and not one of the others, you see.”
“He’s correct, Rog,” De Angelis said. “I’ve read a little about the Brish’diri, and I ‘m sure of it. In terms of maturity, these youngsters are eligible for the City League.”
Hill threw De Angelis a withering glance. If there was one thing he didn’t need at the moment, it was a Brish’diri football team in one of his leagues, and Remjhard was arguing convincingly enough without Jack’s help.
“Well, all right,” Hill said, “Your team may well be of age, but there are still problems. The Red Department sports program is for local residents only. We simply don’t have room to accommodate everyone who wants to participate. And your home planet is, as I understand, several hundred light-years beyond Starport city limits.” He smiled.
“True,” Remjhard said. “But our trade mission has been in Starport for six years. An ideal location due to your city’s proximity to Grissom Interstellar Spaceport, from which most of the Brish’diri traders operate while on Earth. All of the current members of the mission have been here for two Earth years, at least. We are Starport residents, Director Hill. I fail to understand how the location of Brishun enters into the matters at hand.”
Hill squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, and glared at De Angelis, who was grinning. “Yes, you’re probably right again,” he said. “But I’m still afraid we won’t be able to help you. Our junior leagues are touch football, but the City League, as you know, is tackle. It can get quite rough at times. State safety regulations require the use of special equipment. To make sure no one is injured seriously. I’m sure you understand. And the Brish’diri…”
He groped for words, anxious not to offend. “The-uh-physical construction of the Brish’diri is so different from the Terran that our equipment couldn’t possibly fit. Chances of injury would be too great, and the department would be liable. No. I’m sure it couldn’t be allowed. Too much risk.”
“We would provide special protective equipment,” Remjhard said quietly. “We would never risk our own offspring if we did not feel it was safe.”
Hill started to say something, stopped, and looked to De Angelis for help. He had run out of good reasons why the Brish’diri couldn’t enter the league.
Jack smiled. “one problem remains, however,” he said,coming to the director’s rescue. “A bureaucratic snag, but a difficult one. Registration for the league closed Tuesday. We’ve already had to turn away several teams, and if we make a exception in your case, well–” De Angelis shrugged. “Trouble. Complaints. I’m sorry, but we must apply the same rules to all.”
Remjhard rose slowly from his seat, and picked up the roster from where it lay on the desk. “Of course,” he said gravely. “All mus follow the regulations. Perhaps next year we will be on time.” He made a formal half-bow to Hill, turned, and walked form the office.
When he was sure the Brish’dir was out of earshot, Hill gave a heartfelt sigh and swiveled to face De Angelis. “That was close,” he said. “Christ, a Baldy football team. Half the people in this town lost sons in the Brish’diri War, and they still hate then. I can imagine the complaints.”
Hill frowned. “And you! Why couldn’t you just get rid of him right away instead of putting me through that?”
De Angelis grinned. “Too much fun to pass up,” he said. “I wondered if you’d figure out the right way to discourage him. The Brish’diri have an almost religious respect for the laws, rules, and regulations. They wouldn’t think of doing anything that would force someone to break a rule. In their culture, that’s just as bad as breaking a rule yourself.”
Hill nodded. “I would have remembered that myself if I hadn’t been so paralyzed at the thought of a Brish’diri team in one of our leagues,” he said limply. “And now that that’s over with, I want to talk to you about that gravity grid. Do you think there’s any way we could rent one instead of buying it outright The Council might go for that. And I was thinking…”
A little over three hours later, Hill was signing some equipment requisitions when the office door slid open to admit a brawny, dark-haired man in a nondescript suit.
“Yes?” the director said, a trifle impatiently. “Can I help you?”
The dark-haired man flashed a government ID as he took a seat. “Maybe you can. But you certainly haven’t so far, I’ll tell you that much. My name’s Tomkins. I’m from the Federal E.T. Relations Board.”
- ‘Balerion’ the black, half an ear, feral tomcat?
- You will also notice that Tomkins, and then Ramjhard-nei, is an envoy between the two sides, a role that GRRM put Val into for ASOIAF, as well as the many other times he added a “Val” character in his other stories. Jon and Val are the ‘new’ Nymeria pairing.
Hill groaned. “I suppose it’s about that Brish’diri mess this morning,” he said, shaking his head in resignation.
“Yes,” Tomkins cut in at once. “We understand that the Brish’diri wanted to register some of their youngsters for a local football league. You forbade it on a technicality. We want to know why.”
“Why?” said Hill incredulously, staring at the government man. “Why? For God’s sakes, the Brish’diri War was only over seven years ago. Half of those boys on our football teams had brothers killed by the Bulletbrains. Now you want me to tell them to play football with the subhuman monsters of seven years back? They’d run me out of town.”
Tomkins grimaced, and looked around the room. “Can that door be locked?” he asked, pointing to the door he had come in by.
“Of course,” Hill replied, puzzled.
“Lock it then,” Tomkins said. Hill adjusted the appropriate control on his desk.
“What I’m going to tell you should not go beyond this room,” Tomkins began.
Hill cut him off with a snort. “oh, come now, Mr. Tomkins. I may be only a small-time sports official, but I’m not stupid. You’re hardly about to impart some galaxy-shattering top secret to a man you met a few seconds ago.”
Tomkins smiled. “True. The information’s not secret, but it is a little ticklish. We would prefer that every Joe in the street doesn’t know about it.”
“All right, I’ll buy that for now. Now what’s this all about? I’m sorry if I’ve got no patience for subtlety, but the most difficult problem I’ve handled in the last year was the protest in the championship game in the Class B Soccer League. Diplomacy just isn’t my forte.”
“I’ll be brief,” Tomkins said. “We– E.T. Relations, that is– we want you you to admit the Brish’diri team into your football league.”
“You realize the furor it would cause?” Hill asked.
“We have some idea. In spite of that, we want them admitted.”
“Why, may I ask?”
“Because of the furor if they aren’t admitted.” Tomkins paused to stare at Hill for a second, then apparently reached a decision of some sort and continued. “The Earth-Brishun Was was ghastly, bloody deadlock, although our propaganda men insist on pretending it was a great victory. No sane man on either side wants it resumed. But not everyone is sane.”
The agent frowned in distaste. “There are elements among us who regard the Brish’diri– or the Bulletbrains, or Baldies, or whatevr you want to call them– as monsters, even now, seven years after the killing has ended.”
“And you think a Brish’diri football team would help to overcome the leftover hates?” Hill interrupted.
“Parially. But that’snot the important part. You see, there is also an element among the Brish-diri that regards humans as subhuman– vermin to be wiped away from the galaxy. They are a virile, competitive race. Their whole culture stresses combat. The dissent element I mentioned will seize on your refusal to admit a Brish’diri team as a sign of fear, an admission of human inferiority. They’ll use it to agitate for a resumption of war. We don’t want to risk giving them a propaganda victory like that. Relations are too strained as it is.”
“But the Brish’dir I spoke to–” Hill objected. ” I explained it all to him. A rule. Surely their respect for the law–”
“Remjhard-nei is a leader of the Brish’diri peace faction. He personally will defend your position. But he and his son were disappointed by the refusal. They will talk. They already have been talking. And that means that eventually the war faction will get hold of the story and turn it against us.”
“I see. But what can I do at this point? I’ve already told Remjhard that registration closed Tuesday. If I understand correctly, his own morality would never permit him to take advantage of an exception now.”
Tomkins nodded. “True. You can’t make an exception. Just change the rule. Let in all the teams you refused. Expand the league.”
Hill shook his head, wincing. “But our budget– it couldn’t take it. We’d have more games. We’d have more time, more referees, more equipment.”
Tomkins dismissed the problem with a wave of his hand. “The government is already buying the Brish’diri special football uniforms. We’d be happy to cover all your extra costs. You’d get a better recreational program for all concerned.”
- Tycho Nestoris with Jon as they plan to ways to save the Night’s Watch, the Free Folk, and the rest of Westeros during the upcoming Long Night.
Hill still looked doubtful. “Well…”
“Moreover,” Tomkins said, “we might be able to arrange a government grant or two to bolster other improvements in your program. Now how about it?”
Hill’s eyes sparkled with sudden interest. “A grant? How big a grant? Could you swing a gravity grid?”
“No problem,” said Tomkins. A slow grin spread across his face.
Hill returned the grin. “Then, mister, Starport’s got itself a Brish’diri football team. But, oh, are they going to scream!” He flicked on the desk intercom. “Get Jack De Angelis in here,” he ordered. “Ive got a little surprise for him.”
- At this point I want to add that Jack De Angelis’ character is quite a bit like the Angel in the GRRM story Fast-Friend. They have a rather similar supporting role to the main, although this first “angel” is a bit more active in the story. Not to be confused with a Steel Angel that comes later in GRRM’s works.
The sky above Starport Municipal Stadium was bleak and dreary on a windy Saturday morning a week later, but Hill didn’t mind it at all. The stadium force bubble kept out the thin, wet drizzle that had soaked him to the bones on the way to the game, and the weather fitted his mood beautifully.
Normally, Hill was far too busy to attend any of his department’s sporting events. Normally everyone was too busy to attend the department’s sporting events. The Rec Department leagues got fairly good coverage in the local newspaper, but they seldom drew many spectators. The record was something liek four hundred people for a championship game a few years ago.
Or rather, that was the record, Hill reminded himself. No more. The stadium was packed today, in spite of the hour, the rain, and everything else. Municipal Stadium was never packed except for the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game between Starport High and its archival, Grisson City Prep. But today it was packed.
- Bowen Marsh against Jon at the crowded mutiny attempt. What will happen to Bowen Marsh?
Hill knew why. It had been drilled into him the hard way after he made the damn-fool decision to let the Brish-diri into the league. The whole city was up in arms. Six local teams had withdrawn from the City League rather than play with the “inhuman monsters.” The office switchboard had been flooded with calls daily, the vast majority of them angry denunciations of Hill. A city council member had called for his resignation.
The World of Ice and Fire – The Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch
The history of the Night’s Watch is a long one. Tales still tell of the black knights of the Wall and their noble calling. But the Age of Heroes is long done, and the Others have not shown themselves in thousands of years, if indeed they ever existed.
And so, year by year, the Watch has dwindled. Their own records prove that this decline has been in progress even before the age of Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters. Though the black brothers of the Watch still guard the realms of men as nobly as they may, the threats they face no longer come from Others, wights, giants, greenseers, wargs, skinchangers, and other monsters from children’s tales and legend, but rather, barbaric wildlings armed with stone axes and clubs; savages to be sure, but only men, and no match for disciplined warriors.
And that, Hill reflected glumly, was probably what it would come to in the end. The local newspaper, which had always been hard-line conservative on foreign affairs, was backing the drive to force Hill out of office. One of its editorials had reminded him gleefully that Starport Municipal Stadium was dedicated to those who has given their lives in the Brish’diri War, and had screamed about “desecration.” Meanwhile, on its sports pages, the paper had taken to calling the Brish’diri team “the Baldy Eagles.”
Hill squirmed uncomfortably in his seat on the fifty-yard line, and prayed silently that the game would begin. He could feel the angry stares on the back of his neck, and he had the uneasy impression that he was going to be hit with a rock any second now.
Across the field, he could see the camera installation of one of the big 3-V networks. All five of them were here, of course; the game had gotten planetwide publicity. The newsfax wires had also sent reporters, although they had seemed a little confused about what kind of a story this was. One had sent a political reporter, the other a sportswriter.
- This is very much like the A Dance with Dragon – Jon V, Jon VII scenes when then mountains clans of Flint and Norrey are there at Castle Black interrogating Jon to test if he the truest man to lead the north. Here is a small section of text:
- ADWD- Jon V: Old Flint and The Norrey had been given places of high honor just below the dais. Both men had been too old to march with Stannis; they had sent their sons and grandsons in their stead. But they had been quick enough to descend on Castle Black for the wedding. Each had brought a wet nurse to the Wall as well. The Norrey woman was forty, with the biggest breasts Jon Snow had ever seen. The Flint girl was fourteen and flat-chested as a boy, though she did not lack for milk. Between the two of them, the child Val called Monster seemed to be thriving.
For that much Jon was grateful … but he did not believe for a moment that two such hoary old warriors would have hied down from their hills for that alone.
ADWD – Jon VII: “I hear it.” Jon moved back from the edge.
First to make the ascent were the clan chiefs Flint and Norrey, clad in fur and iron. The Norrey looked like some old fox—wrinkled and slight of build, but sly-eyed and spry. Torghen Flint was half a head shorter but must weigh twice as much—a stout gruff man with gnarled, red-knuckled hands as big as hams, leaning heavily on a blackthorn cane as he limped across the ice. Bowen Marsh came next, bundled up in a bearskin. After him Othell Yarwyck. Then Septon Cellador, half in his cups.
“Walk with me,” Jon told them. They walked west along the Wall, down gravel-strewn paths toward the setting sun. When they had come fifty yards from the warming shed, he said, “You know why I’ve summoned you. Three days hence at dawn the gate will open, to allow Tormund and his people through the Wall. There is much we need to do in preparation.”
- ADWD- Jon V: Old Flint and The Norrey had been given places of high honor just below the dais. Both men had been too old to march with Stannis; they had sent their sons and grandsons in their stead. But they had been quick enough to descend on Castle Black for the wedding. Each had brought a wet nurse to the Wall as well. The Norrey woman was forty, with the biggest breasts Jon Snow had ever seen. The Flint girl was fourteen and flat-chested as a boy, though she did not lack for milk. Between the two of them, the child Val called Monster seemed to be thriving.
Out on the stadium’s artificial grass, the human team was running through a few plays and warming up. Their bright-red uniforms were emblazoned with KEN’S COMPUTER REPAIR in white lettering, and they wore matching white helmets. They looked pretty good, Hill decided from watching them practice, although they were far from championship caliber. Still, against a team that never played football before, they should mop up.
A Dance with Dragons – Jon VIII
“—is mine, Lord Snow. And I am no southron lady but a woman of the free folk. I know the forest better than all your black-cloaked rangers. It holds no ghosts for me.”
I hope not. Jon was counting on that, trusting that Val could succeed where Black Jack Bulwer and his companions had failed. She need fear no harm from the free folk, he hoped … but both of them knew too well that wildlings were not the only ones waiting in the woods. “You have sufficient food?”
“Hard bread, hard cheese, oat cakes, salt cod, salt beef, salt mutton, and a skin of sweet wine to rinse all that salt out of my mouth. I will not die of hunger.”
A Dance with Dragons – Jon XI
“Did you follow me as well?” Jon reached to shoo the bird away but ended up stroking its feathers. The raven cocked its eye at him. “Snow,” it muttered, bobbing its head knowingly. Then Ghost emerged from between two trees, with Val beside him.
They look as though they belong together. Val was clad all in white; white woolen breeches tucked into high boots of bleached white leather, white bearskin cloak pinned at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face, white tunic with bone fastenings. Her breath was white as well … but her eyes were blue, her long braid the color of dark honey, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. It had been a long while since Jon Snow had seen a sight so lovely.
“Have you been trying to steal my wolf?” he asked her.
De Angelis, wearing a pained expression and a ref’s striped shirt, was out on the field talking to officials. Hill was still taking no chances with bad calls in this game. He made sure the department’s best men were on hand to officiate.
Tomkins was also there, sitting in the stands a few sections away from Hill. But the Brish’diri were not. Remjhard wanted to attend, but E.T. Realtions, on Hill’s advice, had told him to stay at the mission. Instead, the game was being piped to him over closed-circuit 3-V.
Hill suddenly straightened in his seat. The Brish’diri team, which called itself the Kosg-Anjehn after a flying carnivore native to Brishun, had arrived, and the players were walking slowly out onto the field.
There was a brief instant of silence, and then someone in the crowd started booing. Others picked it up. Then others. The stadium was filled with the boos. Although, Hill noted with relief, not everyone was joining in. Maybe there were some people who saw things his way.
The Brish’diri ignored the catcalls, Or seemed to, at any rate. Hill had never seen an angry Brish’diri, and was unsure how one would go about showing his anger.
The Kosg-Anjehn wore tight-fitting black uniforms, with odd-looking elongated silver helmets to cover their bullet-shaped heads. They looked like no football team Hill had ever seen. Only a handful of them stood over five feet, but they were all as squat and broad as a tackle for the Packers. Their arms and legs were thick and stumpy, but rippled with muscles that bulged in the wrong places. The helmeted heads, however, gave an impression of frailty, like eggshells ready to shatter at the slightest impact.
A Clash of Kings – Bran II
That night Bran prayed to his father’s gods for dreamless sleep. If the gods heard, they mocked his hopes, for the nightmare they sent was worse than any wolf dream.
“Fly or die!” cried the three-eyed crow as it pecked at him. He wept and pleaded but the crow had no pity. It put out his left eye and then his right, and when he was blind in the dark it pecked at his brow, driving its terrible sharp beak deep into his skull. He screamed until he was certain his lungs must burst. The pain was an axe splitting his head apart, but when the crow wrenched out its beak all slimy with bits of bone and brain, Bran could see again.
Two of the Brish’diri detached themselves from the group and walked over to De Angeli. Evidently they felt they didn’t need a warm-up, and wanted to start immediately. De Angelis talked to them for an instant, then turned and beckoned the captain of the human team.
“How do you think it’ll go?”
Hill turned. It was Tomkins. The E.T. agent had struggled through the crowd to his side.
“Hard to say,” the director replied. “The Brish’diri have never really played football before, so the odds are they’ll lose. Being from a heavy-gravity planet they’ll be stronger than the humans, so that might give them an edge. But they’re also a lot slower, from what I hear.”
“I’ll have to root them home,” Tomkins said with a smile. “Bolster the cause of interstellar relations and all that.”
Hill scowled. “You root them home if you like. I’m pulling for the humans. Thanks to you, I’m in enough trouble already. If they catch me rooting for the Brish’diri they’ll tear me to shreds.”
He turned his attention back to the field. The Computermen had won the toss, and elected to receive. One of the taller Brish’diri was going back to kick off.
“Tuhgayh-dei,” Tomkins provided helpfully. “The son of the mission’s chief linguist,” Hill nodded.
Tuhgayh-dei ran forward with a ponderous , lumbering gallop, nearly stopped when he finally reached the football, and slammed his foot into it awkwardly but hard. The ball landed in the upper tier of the stands, and a murmur went through the crowd.
“Pretty good,” Tomkins said, “Don’t you think?”
“Too good,” replied Hill. He did not elaborate.
The humans took the ball on their twenty. The Computermen went into a huddle, broke it with a loud clap, and ran to their positions. A ragged cheer went up from the stands.
The humans took the ball on their twenty. The Computermen went into a huddle, broke it with a loud clap, and ran to their positions. A ragged cheer went up from the stands.
The humans went down into the three-point stance. Their Brish’diri opponents did not. The alien linemen just stood there, hands dangling at their sides, crouching a little.
“They don’t know much about football,” Hill said. “But after that kickoff, I wonder of they have to.”
The ball was snapped, and the quarterback for Ken’s Computer Repair, a rangy ex-high-school star named Sullivan, faded back to pass. The Brish’diri rushed forward in a crude blitz, and crashed into the human linemen.
An instant later, Sullivan was lying face down in the grass, buried under three Brish’diri. The aliens had blown through the offensive line as if it didn’t exist.
That made it second-and-fifteen. The humans huddled again, came out to another cheer, not quite so loud as the first one. The ball was snapped. Sullivan handed off to a beefy fullback, who crashed straight ahead.
One of the Brish’diri brought him down before he went half a yard. It was a clumsy tackle, around the shoulders. But the force of the contact knocked the fullback several yards in the wrong direction.
When the humans broke from their huddle for the third time the cheer could scarcely be heard. Again Sullivan tried to pass. Again the Brish’diri blasted through the line en masse. Again Sullivan went down for a loss.
Hill groaned, “This looks worse every minute.” he said.
Tomkins didn’t agree. “I don’t think so. They’re doing fine. What difference does it make who wins?”
Hill didn’t bother to answer that.
There was no cheering when the humans came out in punt formation. Once more the Brish’diri put on a strong rush, but the punter got the ball away before they reached him.
It was a good, deep kick. The Kosg-Anjehn took over their own twenty-five yard line. Marhdain-nei, Remjhard’s son, was the Brish’diri quarterback. On the first play from scrimmage, he handed off to a halfback, a runt built like a tank.
The Brish’diri blockers flattened their human opponents almost effortlessly, and the runt plowed through the gaping hole, ran over two would-be tacklers, and burst into the clear. He was horribly slow, however, and the defenders finally brought him down from behind after a modest thirty-yard gain. But it took three people to stop him.
On the next play, Marhdain tried to pass. He got excellent protection, but his receivers, trudging along at top speed, had defensemen all over them. And the ball, when thrown, went sizzling over the heads of Brish’diri and humans alike.
Marhdain returned to the ground after that, and handed off to a runt halfback once more. This time he tried to sweep around end, but was hauled to the ground after a gain of only five yards by a quartet of human tacklers.
That made it third-and-five. Marhdain kept to the ground. He gave the ball to his other halfback, the brawny Brish’dir smashed up the middle. He was a little but faster than the runt. When he got in the clear, only one man managed to catch him from behind. And one wasn’t enough. The alien shrugged off the tackle and lumbered across the goal line.
The extra point try went under the crossbar instead of over it. But it still nearly killed the poor guy in the stands who tried to catch the ball.
Tomkins was grinning. Hill shook his head in disgust. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go,” he said. “They’ll kill us if the Brish’diri win.”
The kickoff went out of the stadium entirely this time. On the first play from the twenty, a Brish’diri lineman roared through the line and hit Sullivan just as was handing off. Sullivan fumbled.
Another Brish’diri picked up the loose ball and carried it into the end zone while most of the humans were still lying on the ground.
“My god,” said Hill, feeling a bit numb. “They’re too strong. They’re too damn strong. The humans can’t cope with their strength. Can’t stop them.”
“Cheer up,” said Tomkins. “It can’t get much worse for your side.”
But it did. It got a lot worse.
On offense, the Brish’diri were well-nigh unstoppable. Their runners were all short on speed, but made up for it with muscle. On play after play, the smashed straight up the middle behind a wall of blockers, flicking tacklers aside like bothersome insects.
And then Marhdain began to hit on his passes. Short passes, of course. The Brish’diri lacked the speed to cover much ground. But they could outjump any human, and they snared pass after pass in the air. There was no need to worry about interceptions. The humans simply couldn’t hand on to Marhdain’s smoking pitches.
On defense, things were every bit as bad. The Computermen couldn’t run against the Brish’diri line. And Sullivan seldom had time to complete a pass, for the alien rushers were unstoppable. The few passes he did hit on went for touchdowns; no Brosh’diri could catch a human from behind. But those were few and far between.
When Hill fled the stadium in despair at the half, the score was Kosg-Anjehn 37, Ken’s Computer Repair 7.
The final score was 57 to 14. The Brish’diri had emptied their bench in the second half.
Hill didn’t have the courage to attend the next Brish’diri game later in the week. But nearly everyone else in the city showed up to see if the Kosg-Anjehn could do it again.
They did. In fact, they did better. They beat Anderson’s Drugs by a lopsided 61 to 9 score.
After the Brish’diri won their third contest, 43 to 17, the huge crowds began tapering off. The Starport Municipal Stadium was only three quarters full when the Kosg-Anjehn rolled over the Stardusters, 38 to 0, and a mere handful showed up on a rainy Thursday afternoon to see the aliens punish the United Veterans Association, 51 to 6. ANd no one came after that.
For Hill, the Brish’diri win over the UVA-sponsored team was the final straw. The local paper made a heyday out of that, going on and on about the “ironic justice” of having the UVA slaughtered by the Brish’diri in a stadium dedicated to the dead veterans of the Brish’diri War. And Hill, of course, was the main villain in the piece.
- It should be clear by now that there is a prototyping for the free folk trying it get south of the wall against the current Night’s Watch that think they are the enemy, the “aliens”, and it is Jon who ends up becoming caught in the middle after he realizes they are just people trying to survive. The flip side of this being the Dothraki, who are the actual warrior, raping, hordes who constantly attack for their own gain and are paid-off to try and keep them from ruining cities.
The phone calls had finally let up by that point. But the mail had been flowing into his office steadily, and most of it was not very comforting. The harassed Rec director got a few letters of recommendation and support, but the bulk of the flood speculated crudely about his ancestry or threatened his life and property.
Two more city councilmen had come out publicly in favor of Hill’s dismissal after the Brish’diri defeated UVA. Several others on the council were wavering, while Hill’s supporters, who backed him strongly in private, were afraid to say anything for the record. The municipal elections were simply too close, and none were willing to risk their political skins.
- Again we have a similar situation with Jon and the conspirators against him; Thorne, Yarwyck, the highly prejudice Janos Slynt, and the pomegranate Bowen Marsh. As discussed in the Fourth Hand at Jon’s Mutiny Attempt page, this betrayal and plotting is discovered in A Storm of Swords – Jon VII.
And of course the assistant director of recreation, next in line for Hill’s job, had wasted no time in saying he would certainly never have done such an unpatriotic thing.
With disaster piling, it was only natural that Hill reacted with something less than enthusiasm when he walked into his office a few days after the fifth Kosg-Anjehn victiry and found Tomkins sitting at his desk waiting for him.
“And what in the hell do you want now?” Hill roared at the E.T. Relations man.
Tomkins looked slightly abashed, and got up from the director’s chair. He had been watching the latest free-fall football results on the desk console while waiting for Hill to arrive.
“I’ve got to talk to you,” Tomkins said. “We’ve got a problem.”
“We’ve got lost of problems,” Hill replied. He strode angrily to his desk, sat down, flicked off the console, and pulled a sheaf pf papers from the drawer.
“This is the latest of them,” he continued, waving papers at Tomkins. “One of the kids broke his leg in the Starduster game. It happens all the time. Football’s a rough game. You can’t do anything to prevent it. On a normal case, the department would send a letter of apology to the parents, our insurance would pay for it, and everything would be forgotten.
“But not in this case. Oh, no. This injury was inflicted while the kid was playing against the Brish’diri. So his parents are charging negligence on our part and suing the city. SO our insurance company refuses to pay up. It claims the policy doesn’t cover damage by inhuman, superstrong, alien monsters. Bah! How’s that for a problem, Mr. Tomkins? Plenty more where that came from.”
Tomkins frowned. “Very unfortunate. But my problem is a lot more serious than that.” Hill started to interrupt, but the E.T. Realtions man waved him down. “No, please, hear me out. This is very important.”
He looked around for a seat, grabbed the nearest chair, and pulled it up to the desk. “Our plans have backfired badly,” he began. “There has been a serious miscalculation– our fault entirely. I’m afraid. E.T. Relations failed to consider all the ramifications of the Brish’diri football team.”
Hill fixed him with an iron stare. “What’s wrong now?”
“Well,” Tomkins said awkwardly, “we knew that refusal to admit the Kosg-Anhjehn into your league would be a sign of human weakness and fear of the Brish’diri war faction. But once you admitted them, we thought the problem was solved.
“It wasn’t. We went wrong when we assumed that winning or losing would make no difference to the Brish’diri team. To us it was just a game. Didn’t matter who won. After all, Brish’diri and Terrans would be getting to know each other, competing harmlessly on even terms. Nothing but good could come of it, we felt.”
“So?” Hill interrupted. “Get to the point.”
Tomkins shook his head sadly. “The point is, we didn’t know the Brish’diri would win so big. And so regularly.” He paused. “We– uh– we got a transmission last night from one of our men on Brishun. It seems the Brish’diri war faction is using the one-sided football scores as propaganda to prove the racial inferiority of the humans. They seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of it.”
Hill winced. “So it was all for nothing. So I’ve subjected myself to this abuse and endangered my career for absolutely nothing. Great! That was I needed, I tell you.”
“We still might be able to salvage something,” Tomkins said. “That’s why I cam eot see you . If you can arrange it for the Brish’diri to lose, it would knock holes in that superiority yarn amd make the war faction look like fools. It would discredit them for quite a while.”
“And just how am I supposed to arrange for the to lose, as you so nicely put it? What do you think I’m running here anyway, professional wrestling?”
Tomkins shrugged lamely. “I was hoping you’d have some ideas,” he said.
Hill leaned forward, and flicked on his intercom. “Is Jack out there?” he asked. “Good. Send him in.”
The lanky sports official appeared less than a minute later. “You’re on top of this City football mess,” Hill said. “What’s the chances the Kosg-Anjehn will lose?”
De Angelis looked puzzled. “Not all that good, off hand,” he replied. “They’ve got a damn fine team.”
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a notebook. “Let me check their schedule,” he continued, thumbing through the pages. He stopped when he found the place.
“Well, the league’s got a round-robin schedule, as you know. Every team plays every other team once, best record is champion. Now the Brish’diri are currently five to zero, and they’ve beaten a few of the better teams. We’ve got ten teams left in the league, so they’ve got four games left to play. Only, two of those are with the weakest teams in the league, and the third opponent is only mediocre.”
“And the fourth?” Hill said hopefully.
“That’s your only chance. An outfit sponsored by a local tavern, the Blastoff Inn. Good team. Fast, strong. Plenty of talent. They’re also five to zero, and shoudl give the Brish’diri some trouble.” De Angelis frowned. “But, to be frank, I’ve seen both teams, and I’d still pick the Brish’diri. That ground game of theirs is just too much.” He snapped the notebook shut and pocketed it again.
“Would a close game be good enough?” Hill said, turning to Tomkins again.
The E.T. Relations man shook his head. “No. They have to be beaten. If they lose, the whole season’s meaningless. Proves nothing but that the two races can compete on roughly equal terms. But f they win, it looks like they’re invincible, and our stature in Brish’diri eyes takes a nose dive.”
A Dance with Dragons – Jon V
And then Halleck. “I don’t like you, crow,” he growled, “but I never liked the Mance neither, no more’n my sister did. Still, we fought for him. Why not fight for you?”
The dam broke then. Halleck was a man of note. Mance was not wrong. “Free folk don’t follow names, or little cloth animals sewn on a tunic,” the King-Beyond-the-Wall had told him. “They won’t dance for coins, they don’t care how you style yourself or what that chain of office means or who your grandsire was. They follow strength. They follow the man.”
“Then they’ll have to lose, I guess,” Hill said. His gaze shifted back to De Angelis. “Jack, you and me are going to have to do some hard thinking about how the Kosg-Anjehn can be beaten. And then we’re going to call up the manager of the Blastoff Inn team and give him a few tips. You have any ideas?”
De Angelis scratched his head thoughtfully. “Well–” he began. “Maybe we –”
During the weeks that followed, De Angelis met with the Blastoff Inn coach regularly to discuss plans and strategy, and supervised a few practice sessions. Hill, meanwhile, was fighting desperately to keep his job, and jotting down ideas n how to beat the Brish’diri during every spare moment.
Untouched by the furor, the Ksg-Anjehn won its sixth game handily, 40 to 7, and then rolled a devastating victories over the circuit’s two cellar-dwellers. The margins were 73 to 0 and 62 to 7. That gave them an unblemished 8 to 0 ledger, with one game left to play.
But Blastoff Inn team was also winning regularly, although never as decisively. It too would enter the last game of the season undefeated.
The local paper heralded the showdown with a sports-page streamer on the day before the game. The lead opened, “The stakes will be high for the entire human race tomorrow at Municipal Stadium, when Blastoff Inn meets the Brish’diri Baldy Eagles for the championship of the Department of Recreation City Football League.”
The reporter who wrote the story never dreamed how close to the truth he actually was.
The crowds returned to the stadium for the championship game, although they fell far short of a packed house. The local paper was there too. But the 3-V networks and the newsfax wires were long gone. The novelty of the story had worn off quickly.
Hill arrived late, just before game time,and joined Tomkins on the fifty-yard line. The E.T. agent seemed to have cheered up somewhat. “Our guys looked pretty good during the warm-up,” he told the director. “I think we’ve got a chance.”
His enthusiasm was not catching, however. “Blastoff Inn might have a chance, but I sure don’t,” Hill said glumly. “The city council is meeting tonight to consider a motion for calling for my dismissal. I have a strong suspicion that it’s going to pass, no matter who wins this afternoon.”
“Hmmmm,” said Tomkins, for want of anything better to say. “Just ignore the old fools. Look, the game’s starting.”
Hill muttered something under his breath and turned his attention back to the field. The Brish’diri had lost the toss once more, and the kickoff had once again soared out of the stadium. It was first-and-ten for Blastoff Inn on its own twenty.
And at that point the script suddenly changed.
The humans lined up for their first play of the game but with a difference. Instead of playing immediately in back of the center, the Blastoff quarterback was several yards deep, in a shotgun formation.
The idea, Hill recalled, was to take maximum advantage of human speed, and mount a strong passing offense. Running against the Brish’diri was all but impossible, he and De Angelis had concluded after careful consideration. That meant an aerial attack, and the only way to provide that was to give the Blastoff quarterback time to pass. Ergo, the shotgun formation.
The hike from center was dead on target and the Blastoff receivers shot off downfield, easily outpacing the ponderous Brish’diri defensemen. As usual, the Kosg-Anjehn crashed through the line en masse, but they had covered only half the distance to the quarterback before he got off the pass.
It was a long bomb, a psychological gambit to shake up the Brish’diri by scoring on the first play of the game. Unfortunately, the pass was slightly overthrown.
It was now second-and-ten. Again the humans lined up in a shotgun offense,and again the Blastoff got the pass in time. It was a short, quick pitch to the sideline, complete for a nine-yard gain. The crowd cheered lustily.
Hill wasn’t sure what the Brish’diri would expect on third-and-one. But whatevr it was, they didn’t get it. With the aliens still slightly off balance, Blastoff went for the bomb again.
This time it was complete. All alone in the open, the fleet human receiver snagged the pass neatly and went all the way in for the score. The Brish’diri never laid a hand on him.
The crowd sat in stunned silence for a moment when the pass was caught. Then, when it became clear that there was no way to prevent the score, the cheering began, and peaked slowly to an ear-splitting roar. The stadium rose to its feet as one, screamingly wild.
For the first time all season, the Kosg-Anjehn trailed. A picture-perfect place kick made the score 7 to 0 in favor of the Blastoff Inn.
Tomkins was on his feet, cheering loudly. Hill, who had remained seated, regarded him dourly. “Sit down,” he said. “The game’s not over yet.”
- Dolorous Edd:
- A Clash of Kings – Jon II: Two men went through each house, to make certain nothing was missed. Jon was paired with dour Eddison Tollett, a squire grey of hair and thin as a pike, whom the other brothers called Dolorous Edd. “Bad enough when the dead come walking,” he said to Jon as they crossed the village, “now the Old Bear wants them talking as well? No good will come of that, I’ll warrant. And who’s to say the bones wouldn’t lie? Why should death make a man truthful, or even clever? The dead are likely dull fellows, full of tedious complaints—the ground’s too cold, my gravestone should be larger, why does he get more worms than I do . . .”
The Brish’diri soon underlined that point. No sooner did they take over the ball than they came pounding back upfield, smashing into the line again and again. The humans alternated between a dozen different defensive formations. None of them seemed to doo any good. The Brish’diri steamroller ground ahead inexorably.
The touchdown was an anticlimax. Luckily, however, the extra point try failed. Tuhgayh-dei lost a lot of footballs, but he had still not developed a knack for putting his kicks between the crossbars.
The Blastoff offense took the field again. They looked determined. The first play from scrimmage was a short pass over the middle, complete for fifteen yards. Next came a tricky double pass. Complete for twelve yards.
On the following play, the Blastoff fullback tried to go up the middle. He got creamed for a five-yard loss.
“If they stop our passing, we’re dead,” Hill said to Tomkins, without taking his eyes off the field.
Luckily, the Blastoff quarterback quickly gave up on the idea of establishing a running game. A prompt return to the air gave the humans another first down. Three plays later, they scored. Again the crowd roared.
Trailing now 14 to 6, the Brish’diri once more began to pound their way upfield. But the humans, elated by their lead, were a little tougher now. Reading the Brish’diri offense with confident precision, the defensemen began gang-tackling the alien runners.
The Kosg-Anjehn drive slowed down, then stalled. They were forced to surrender the ball near the fifty-yard line.
Tomkins started pounding Hill on the back. “You did it,” he said. “We stopped the on offensive too. We’re going to win.”
“Take it easy,” Hill replied. “That’s a fluke. Several of our men just happened to be inthe right palce at the right time. It’s happened before. No one ever said the Brish’diri scored every time they got the ball. Only most of the time.”
Back on the field, the Blastoff passing the attack was still humming smoothly. A few accurate throws put the humans on the Kosg-Anjehn’s thirty.
And then the aliens changed formations. They took several men off the rush, and put them on pass defense. They started double-teaming the Blastoff receivers. Except it wasn’t normal double-teaming. The second defender was playing far back of the line of scrimmage. By the time the human had outrun the first Brish’diri, the second would be right on top of him.
“I was afraid of something like this,” Hill said. “We’re not the only ones who can react to circumstances.”
The Blastoff quarterback ignored the shift in the alien defense, and stuck to his aerial game plan. But his first pass from the thirty, dead on target, was batted away by a Brish’diri defender who happened to be right on top of the play.
The same thing happened on second down. That made it third-and-ten. The humans called timeout. There was a hurried conference on the sidelines.
When action resumed, the Blastoff offense abandoned the shotgun formation. Without the awesome Brish’diri blitz to worry about, the quarterback was relatively safe in his usual position.
There was a quick snap, and the quarterback got rid of the ball equally quickly, an instant before a charging Brish’diri bore him to the ground. The halfback who got the handoff streaked to the left in an end run.
The other Brish’diri defenders lumbered towards him en masse to seal shut the sideline. But just as he reached the sideline, still behind the line of scrimmage, the Blastoff halfback handed off to a teammate streaking right.
A wide grin spread across Hill’s face. A reverse!
The Brish’diri were painfully slow to change directions. The human swept around right end with ridiculous ease and shot upfield, surrounded by blockers. The remaining Brish’diri closed in. One or two were taken out by team blocks. The rest found it impossible to lay their hands on the swift, darting runner. Dodging this way and that, he wove a path neatly between them and loped into the end zone.
Once more the stadium rose to its feet. This time Hill stood up too.
Tomkins was beaming again. “Ha!” he said. “I thought you were the one who said we couldn’t run against them.”
A Storm of Swords – Jon X
No sooner had he started out than a lone rider emerged from the wildling camp and came toward him. He wondered if Mance was coming out to parley in no-man’s-land. That might make it easier, though nothing will make it easy. But as the distance between them diminished Jon saw that the horseman was short and broad, with gold rings glinting on thick arms and a white beard spreading out across his massive chest.
“Har!” Tormund boomed when they came together. “Jon Snow the crow. I feared we’d seen the last o’ you.”
“I never knew you feared anything, Tormund.”
“Normally we can’t,” the director replied. “There’s no way to run over or through them, so runs up the middle are out. End runs are better, but of they’re in their formal formation, that too is a dreary prospect. There is no way a human runner can get past a wall of charging Brish’diri.
‘However, when they spread out like they just did, they gave us an open field to work with. We can’t go over or through them, no, but we sure as hell can go between them when they’re scattered all over the field. And Blastoff Inn has several excellent open field runners.”
The crowd interrupted him with another to herald a successful extra-point conversion. It was now 21 to 6.
The game was far from over, however. The human defense was not nearly as successful on the next series of downs. Instead of relying exclusively on the running game, Marhdain-nei kept his opponents guessing with some of his patented short, hard pop passes.
To put on a more effective rush, the Blastoff defense spread out at wide intervals. The offensive line thus opened up, and several humans managed to fake out slower Brish’diri blockers and get past them to the quarterback. Marhdain was even thrown for a loss once.
But the Blastoff success was short-lived. Marhdain adjusted quickly. The widely spread human defense, highly effective against the pass, was a total failure against the run. The humans were too far apart to gang-tackle. And there was no way short of mass assault to stop a Brish’dir in full stride.
After that there was not stopping the Kosg-Anjehn, as Marhdain alternated between the pass and the run according to the human defensive formation. The aliens marched upfield quickly for their second touchdown.
This time, even the extra point was on target.
The Brish’diri score has taken some of the steam out of the crowd, but the Blastoff Inn offense showed no signs of being disheartened when they took the field again. With the aliens back in their original blitz defense, the human quarterback fell back on the shotgun once more.
- Just a quick note that I’m getting a skosh bit of Abner Marsh of Fevre Dream and Randi Wade of The Skin Trade with the gun imagery right now.
His first pass was overthrown, but the next three in a row were dead on target and moved Blastoff to the Kosg-Anjehn forty. A running play, inserted to break the monotony ended in a six-yard loss. Then came another incomplete pass. The toss was perfect, but the receiver dropped the ball.
That made it third-and-ten, and tremor of apprehension went through the crowd. Nearly everyone in the stadium realized that the humans had to keep scoring to stay in the game.
The snap from center was quick and clean. The Blastoff quarterback snagged the ball, took a few unhurried steps backward to keep at a safe distance from oncoming Brish’diri rushers, and tried to pick out a receiver. He scanned the field carefully. Then he reared back and unleashed a bomb.
It looked like another touchdown. The human had his alien defender beaten by a good five yards and was still gaining ground. The pass was a beauty.
But then, as the ball began to spiral downward, the Brish’diri defender stopped suddenly in midstride. Giving up his hopeless chase, he craned his head around to look for the ball, spotted it, braced himself– and jumped.
Brish’diri leg muscles, evolved for the heavy gravity of Brishun, were far more powerful than their human counterparts. Despite their heavier bodies, the Brish’diri could easily outjump any human. But so far they had only taken advantage of the fact that to snare Marhdain’s pop passes.
But now, as Hill blinked in disbelief, the Kosg-Anjehn defensemen leaped at least five feet into the air to meet the descending ball in midair and knock it aside with a vicious backhand slap.
The stadium moaned.
Forced into a punting situation, Blastoff Inn suddenly seemed to go limp. The punter fumbled the snap from center, and kicked the ball away when he tried to pick it up. The Brish’diri who picked it up got twenty yards before he was brought down.
The human defense this time put up only token resistance as Marhdaim led his team downfield on a series of short passes and devastating runs.
It took the Brish’diri exactly six plays to narrow the gap to 21 to 19. Luckily, Tuhgayh missed another extra point.
There was a loud cheer when the Blastoff offense took the field again. But right from the first play after kickoff, it was obvious that something had gone out of them.
The human quarterback, who had been giving a brilliant performance, suddenly became erratic. To add to his problems, the Brish’diri were suddenly jumping all over the field.
The alien kangaroo-pass defense had several limitations. It demanded precise timing and excellent reflexes on the part of the jumpers, neither of which was a Brish’diri forte. But it was a disconcerting tactic that the Blastoff quarterback had never come up against before. He didn’t know quite how to cope with it.
The humans drove to their own forty, bogged down, and were forced to punt. The Kosg-Anjehn promptly marched the ball back the other way and scored. For the first time in the game, they led.
The next Blastoff drive was a bit more successful, and reached the Brish’diri twenty before it ground to a halt. The humans salvaged the situation with a field goal.
The Kosg-Anjehn rolled up another score, driving over the goal line just seconds before the half ended.
The score stood at 31 to 24 in favor of the Brish’diri. And there was no secret about the way the tide was running.
It had grown very quiet in the stands.
Tomkins, wearing a worried expression, turned to Hill with a sigh.
“Well, maybe we’ll make a comeback in the second half. We’re only down seven. That’s not so bad.”
“Maybe,” Hill said doubtfully. “But I don’t think so. They’ve got all the momentum. I hate to say so, but I think we’re going to get run out of the stadium in the second half.”
Tomkins frowned. “I certainly hope not. I’d hate to see what the Brish’diri was faction would do with a really lopsided score. Why, they’d–” He stopped, suddenly aware that Hill wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention. The director’s eyes had wandered back to the field.
“Look,” Hill said, pointing. “By the gate. Do you see what I see?”
“It looks like a car from the trade mission,” the E.T. agent said, squinting to make it out.
“And who’s that getting out?”
Tomkins hesitated. “Remjhard-nei,” he said ta last.
The Brish’dir climbed smoothly from the low-slung black vehicle, walked a short distance across the stadium grass, and vanished through the door leading to one of the dressing rooms.
“What’s he doing here?” Hill asked. “Wasn’t he supposed to stay away from the games?”
Tomkins scratched his head uneasily. “Well, that’s what we advised. Especially at first, when hostility was at its highest. But he’s not a prisoner, you know. There’s no way we could force him to stay away from the games if he wants to attend.”
Hill was frowning. “Why should he take your advice all season and suddenly disregard it now?”
Tomkins shrugged. “Maybe he wanted to see his son win a championship.”
“Maybe. But I don’t think so. There’s something funny going on here.”
By the time the second half was ready to begin, Hill was feeling even more apprehensive. The Kosg-Anjehn had taken the field a few minutes earlier, but Remjhard had not reappeared. He was s till down in the alien locker room.
Moreover, there was something subtly different about the Brish’diri as they lined up to receive the kickoff. Nothing drastic. Nothing obvious. But somehow the atmosphere was changed. The aliens appeared more carefree, more relaxed. Almost if they had stopped taking their opponent seriously.
Hill could sense the difference. He’d seen other teams with the same sort of attitude before, in dozens of other contests. It was the attitude of a team that already knows how the game is going to come out. The attitude of a team that knows it is sure to win– or domed to lose.
The kickoff was poor and wobbly. A squat Brish’dir took it near the thirty and headed upfield. Two Blastoff tacklers met him at the thirty-five.
The crowd roared. For a second that ball rolled loose on the stadium grass. A dozen hands reached for it, knocking it this way ad that. Finally, a brawny Blastoff lineman landed squarely on top of it and trapped it beneath him.
And suddenly the game turned around again.
“I don’t believe it,” Hill said. “That was it. The break we needed. After that touchdown pass was knocked aside, our team just lost heart. But now, after this, look at them. We’re back in this game.”
The Blastoff offense raced onto the field, broke the huddle with an enthusiastic shout, and lined up. It was first-and-ten from the Brish’diri twenty-eight.
The first pass was deflected off a bounding Brish’diri. The second, however, went for a touchdown.
The score was tied.
The Kosg-Anjehn held on to the kickoff this time. They put the ball in the play near the twenty-five.
Marhdain opened the series of downs with a pass. No one, human or Brish’diri, wa within ten yards of where it came down. The next play was a run. But the Kosg-Anjehn halfback hesitated oddly after he took the handoff. Given time to react, four humans smashed into him at the line of scrimmage. Marhdain went back tot he air. The pass was incomplete again.
The Brish’diri were forced to punt.
Up in the stands, Tomkins was laughing wildly. He began slapping Hill on the backside again. “Look at that! Not even a first down. We held them. And you said they were going to run us out of the stadium.”
A strange half-smile danced across the director’s face. “Ummm,” Hill said. “So I did.” The smile faded.
It was a good, solid punt, but Blastoff’s deep man fielded it superbly and ran it back to the fifty. From there, it took only seven plays for the human quarterback, suddenly looking cool and confident again, to put the ball back in the end zone.
Bouncing Brish’diri had evidently ceased to disturb him. He simply threw the ball through the spots where they id not happen to be bouncing.
This time the humans missed the extra point. But no one cared. The score was37 to 31. Blastoff Inn was ahead again.
And they were ahead to stay. No sooner had the Kosg-Anjehn taken over again that Marhdain threw an interception. It was the first interception he had thrown all season.
Naturally, it was run back for a touchdown.
After that, the Brish’diri seemed to revive a little. They drove three quarters of the way down the field, but then they bogged down as soon as they got within the shadow of the goal posts. On the fourth-and-one from the twelve-yard line, the top Brish’diri runner slipped and fell behind the line of scrimmage.
Blastoff took over. And scored.
From then on, it was more of the same.
The final score was 56 to 31. The wrong team had been run out of the stadium.
Tomkins, of course, was in ecstasy. “We did it. I knew we could do it. This is perfect, just perfect. We humiliated them. The war faction will be totally discredited now. They’ll never be able to stand up under the ridicule.” He grinned and slapped Hill soundly on the back once again.
Hill winced under the blow, and eyed the E.T. man dourly. “There’s something funny going on here. If the Brish’diri had played all season the way they played in the second half, they never would have gotten this far. Something happened in the locker room during half-time.”
Nothing could dent Tomkins grin, however. “No, no,” he said. “it was the fumble. That was what did it. It demoralized them, and they fell apart. They just clutched, that’s all. It happens all the time.”
“Not to teams this good it doesn’t,” Hill replied. But Tomkins wasn’t around to hear. The E.T. agent had turned abruptly and was weaving his way through the crowd, shouting something about being right back.
Hill frowned and turned back to the field. The stadium was emptying quickly. The Rec director stood there for a second, still looking puzzled. Then suddenly he vaulted the low fence around the field, and set off across the grass.
He walked briskly across the stadium and down into the visitors’ locker room. The Brish’diri were changing clothes in sullen silence, and filing out of the room slowly to the airbus that would carry them back to the trade mission.
Remjhard-nei was sitting in the corner of the room.
The Brish’diri greeted him with a slight nod. “Director Hill. Did you enjoy the game? It was a pity our half-men failed in their final test. But they still performed creditably, do you not think?”
Hill ignored the question. “Don’t give me the bit about failing, Remjhard. I’m not as stupid as I look. Maybe no one else int he stadium realized what was going on out there this afternoon, but I did. You didn’t lose that game. You threw it. Deliberately. And I want to know why!”
Remjhard stared at Hill for a long minute. Then, very slowly, he rose from the bench on which he was seated. His face was blank and expressionless, but his eyes glittered in the dim light.
Hill suddenly realized that they were alone in the locker room. Then he remembered the awesome Brish’diri strength, and took a hasty step backwards away from the alien.
“You realize,” Remjhard said gravely, “that it is a grave insult to accuse the Brish’dir of dishonorable conduct?”
The emissary took another careful look around the locker room to make sure the two of them were alone. Then he too another step towards Hill.
And broke into a wide smile when the director, edging backwards, almost tripped over a locker.
“But, of course, there is no question of dishonor here,” the alien continued. “Honor is too big for a half-man’s play. And, to be sure, in the rules that you furnished us, there was no provisions requiring participants to–” He paused. “–to play at their best, shall we say?”
Hill, untangling himself from he locker, sputtered. “But there are unwritten rules, traditions. This sort of thing is simply not sporting.”
Remjhard was still smiling. “To a Brish’dir, there is nothing as meaningless as an unwritten rule. It is a contradiction in terms, as you say.”
“But, why?” said Hill. “That’s what I can’t understand. Everyone keeps telling me your culture is virile, competitive, proud. Why should you throw the game? Why should you make yourself look bad? Why?”
Remjhard made an odd gurgling noise. Had he been human, Hill would have htought he was choking. Instead, he assumed he was laughing.
“Humans amuse me,” the Brish’dir said at last. “You attach a few catch phrases to a culture, and you think you understand it. And, if something disagrees with your picture, you are shocked.
“I am sorry, Director Hill. Cultures are not that simple. They are very complex mechanisms. A word like ‘pride’ does not describe everything about the Brish’diri.
“Oh, we are proud. Yes. And competitive. Yes. But we are also intelligent. And our values are flexible enough to adjust to the situation at hand.”
Remjhard paused again, and looked Hill over carefully. The he decided to continue. “This football of yours is a fine game, Director Hill. I told you once before. I mean it. It is very enjoyable, a good exercise of mind and body.
“But it is only a game. Competing in games is important, of course. But there are larger competitions. More important ones. And I am intelligent enough to know which ones get out first priority.
“I received word from Brishun this afternoon about the use to which the Kosg-Anjehn victories were being put. Your friend form Extraterrestrial Relations must have told you that I rank among the leaders of the Brish’diri peace party. I would not be here on Earth otherwise. None of our opponents is willing to work with humans, whom they consider animals.
“Naturally I came at once to the stadium and informed our half-men that they must lose. And they, of course, complied. They too realize that some competitions are more important than others.
A Dance with Dragons – Jon VII
“The spearwives will be so happy. You might do well to bestow a castle on the Magnar.”
Jon’s smile died. “I might if I could trust him. Sigorn blames me for his father’s death, I fear. Worse, he was bred and trained to give orders, not to take them. Do not confuse the Thenns with free folk. Magnar means lord in the Old Tongue, I am told, but Styr was closer to a god to his people, and his son is cut from the same skin. I do not require men to kneel, but they do need to obey.”
“For in losing, we have won. Our opponents on Brishun will not survive the humiliation. In the next Great Choosing many will turn against them. And I, and others at the mission, will profit. And the Brish’diri will profit.
“yes, Director Hill,” Remjhard concluded, still smiling. “We are a competitive race. But competition for control of a world takes precedence over a football game.”
Hill was smiling himself by now. Then he began to laugh. “Of course,” he said. “And when I think of the ways we pounded our heads out to think of strategies to beat you. When all we had to do was tell you what was going on.” He laughed again.
Remjhard was about to add something when suddenly the locker-room door and Tomkins stalked in. The E.T. agent was still beaming.
“Thought I’d find you here, Hill,” he began. “Still trying to investigate those conspiracy theories of yours, eh?” He chuckled and winked at Remjhard.
“Not really,” Hill replied. “It was a harebrained theory. Obviously it was the fumble that did it.”
“Of course,” Tomkins said. “Glad to hear it. Anyway, I’ve got good news for you.”
“Oh? What’s that? That the world is saved? fine. But I’m still out of a job tonight.”
“Not at all,” Tomkins replied. “That’s what my call was about. We’ve got a job for you. We want you to join E.T. Relations.”
- Again, this is more hint that Jon is going to be Jon Snow King of Winter, and coexistence between the free folk and southroners will be in the works… and Val the she-bear will be involved. Bran will be the next Three-eyed Crow, a title for the highest ranking Sea Lord/Watcher/Knight of the Mind over Westeros.
Hill looked dubious. “Come, now,” he said. “Me and E.T. agent? I don’t know the first thing about it. I’m a small-time local bureaucrat and sports official. How am I supposed to fit into E.T. Relations?”
“As a sports director,” Tomkins replied. “Ever since the Brish’diri thing broke, we’ve been getting dozens of requests from other alien trade missions and diplomatic stations on Earth. They all want a crack at it too. So, to promote goodwill and all that, we’re going to set up a program. And we want you to run it. At double your present salary, of course.”
Hill thought about the difficulties of running a sports program for two dozen wildly different types of extraterrestrials.
Then he thought about the money he’d get for doing it.
Then he thought about the Starport City Council.
“Sounds like a fine idea,” he said. “But tell me. That gravity grid you were going to give Starport– is that transferable too?”
“Of course,” Tomkins said.
“Then I accept.” He glanced over at Remjhard. “Although I may live to regret it when I see what the Brish’diri can do on a basketball court.”
Run to Starlight by George R.R. Martin, 1974
Thanks for reading along. Aside from being a chess-wiz, GRRM is a well known lover of football. As such, this is not his only football-SciFi crossover story. He also wrote The Last Superbowl which is where we see how GRRM writes the battles in ASOIAF as his own type of fantasy football game.
Interested on other works by GRRM? Try one of these…
- Remembering Melody– A ghost tale written by GRRM in 1981 that tells of long nights, bloodbaths, and pancakes.
- Fast-Friend transcribed and noted. Written in December 1973, this story is a precursor to skinchanging, Bran, Euron, Daenerys, and ways to scheme to reclaim lost love.
- The Steel Andal Invasion– A re-read of a partial section of The World of Ice and Fire text compared to the story …And Seven Times Never Kill Man. This has to do with both fire and ice Others in ASOIAFa swell as Daenerys’ return to Westeros.
- A Song for Lya– A novella about a psi-link couple investigating a fiery ‘god’. Very much a trees vs fire motif, and one of GRRM’s best stories out there.
- For A Single Yesterday– A short story about learning from the past to rebuild the future.
- This Tower of Ashes– A story of how lost love, mother’s milk, and spiders don’t mix all too well.
- A Peripheral Affair (1973)– When a Terran scout ship on a routine patrol through the Periphery suddenly disappears, a battle-hungry admiral prepares to renew the border war.
- The Stone City– a have-not surviving while stranded on a corporate planet. Practically a GRRM autobiography in itself.
- Slide Show– a story of putting the stars before the children.
- Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark– rubies, fire, blood sacrifice, and Saagael- oh my!
- A Night at the Tarn House– a magical game of life and death played at an inn at a crossroads.
- Men of Greywater Station– Is it the trees, the fungus, or is the real danger humans?
- The Computer Cried Charge!– what are we fighting for and is it worth it?
- The Needle Men– the fiery hand wields itself again, only, why are we looking for men?
- Black and White and Red All Over– a partial take on a partial story.
- Fire & Blood excerpt; Alysanne in the north– not a full story, but transcribed and noted section of the book Fire & Blood, volume 1.
The reason I have started transcribing the older works of George R.R. Martin to be able to share my notes and works with anyone interested, or those who may not have access to some of the more rare material. The full list of GRRM stories outside of the A Song of Ice and Fire series that I have read can be found on this page here.
If you want to browse my own thoughts and speculations on the ASOIAF world using GRRM’s own work history, use the drop-down menu above for the most content, or click on the page that just shows recent posts -> Recent Posts Page.
Thank you for reading the jambles and jumbles of the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire, by Gumbo!