Hugo Award nominee 1979, Nebula Award nominee 1978.
They were the mri, the People, and Kesrith was their home.
Outsiders, the tsi'mri (literally, not people), believed them to be a warrior species because outsiders rarely, if ever, met the scholar or child-raiser castes, only members of the Kel caste... and the Kel were warriors of exceptional ability.
For centuries the Kel had hired themselves out as mercenaries to the regul – tsi'mri merchants native to another planet – to help protect one regul company's business interests against the ambitions of another. True, it meant that mri fought mri; yet it had been good for the People, this testin gof the Kel of a certain service against the Kel of a rival service in proper and traditional combat. Such trails-at-arms refined the strength of the entire mri race, eliminating the weak, the unfit, and giving due honor to the strong.
But for the last forty years, the mri had served all regul combined against all humans... a bitter struggle completely without honor. While the Kel were professionals who took pride in meeting the challenge of one-to-one combat, humans were mass fighters, incapable of understanding any form of warfare except their onw: total destruction.
Mri had died by the thousands, for honor's sake, valiantly trying to win the hopeless war. Now, on Kesrith, there were only thirteen of them left, and they had just learned that after so many years of fighting, so many Kel deaths, the regul had surrendered Kesrith for the sake of their own lives – and their precious material possessions.
To Niun, youngest of the remaining mri [sic], the very idea of surrender was unendurable. He was a fll-fledged member of the Kel, and the fact that his elders had never permitted him to fight offworld was a source of gnawing frustration. His skill was great in all the areas a mri warrior must master: he knew mathematics; he could sing the name-chants of the People from memory; he spoke four languages fluently; above all, he was expert in the use of weapons. Wasted accomplishments now. He was being robbed of his Kel birthright because the regul, whose language had no word for courage, had asked the humans for peace.
For him, peace on human terms simply could not exist. As the last of the Kel, Niun was prepared to confront his enemies alone, be they human or regul. And as fate would have it, his private war would bring about the only peace the mri could ever accept
Fascinating in its depiction of two vastly different alien cultures, bristling with high excitement, this newest novel from the author of Brothers of Earth is top-flight SF, first page to last!
C. J. Cherryh (born 1942) is the pen name of Carolyn Janice Cherry, a multiple-award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer. She currently resides in Spokane County, Washington.
Cherryh is pronounced ”Cherry”. The author appended a silent ”h” to her real name because her first editor felt that ”Cherry” sounded too much like a romance writer.
The asteroid 77185 Cherryh has been named in her honour.