As the sound of the tolling clock died out across the Plains of Ofrid, a ma_pened his eyes on the planet far away and saw for the first time the place i_hich he had spent one hundred years.
He awoke with neither fright nor surprise but rather with a sense of wonder.
He arose slowly from the great bed upon which he had lain and allowed hi_ttention to roam about the strange place in which he found himself.
In the wall opposite the bed there was set a full length mirror and as the ma_urned he saw himself for the first time; a tall, broadly-muscled figure o_eroic proportions. Completely naked, his body was reflected as masculin_erfection in every detail.
For a few moments, the man stared at the body as though it belonged to someon_lse. Then he spoke musingly. "You did your work well, Portox, my friend."
The sound of his own voice startled him but not so much so as the content o_he words. A baffled expression touched his handsome face. Who was Portox? An_hat work had he done? What place was this—and for that matter, who was h_imself, this naked figure which looked back at him from the glitterin_irror?
The questions were annoying because he felt that he knew the answers. Yet the_ould not come within reach of his conscious mind.
He had little time to ponder this enigma however because at that moment h_ecame aware of a second presence in the room. He turned. A man stood jus_nside the open door.
The naked one stared at the other with an interest that left no room for self-
consciousness nor shame. "Who are you?" he asked.
"My name is John Pride," the man answered. He was a man of erect bearing an_hough there was wonder and surprise in his voice he bore himself with a quie_ignity. "And now," he added, "may I ask you the same question?"
* * *
The naked man looked down at his own body and for the first time seeme_onscious of its nudity. He glanced around the room and saw a robe of roya_urple lying across a chair by the bed. He stepped over and lifted the rob_nd put it on. As he was tying the rich purple cord around his waist he looke_rankly back at John Pride and said, "I do not know. I honestly do not know."
John Pride said, "I have wondered what I would find in this cavern—wondere_hrough the years. Only in my wildest fancies did I tell myself that a fello_uman—or even a living creature—awaited me here. But now I find this is true."
The younger man regarded his visitor with a calmness that belied any warines_etween them. John Pride noted this with admiration and respect. The young ma_aid, "Won't you be seated?" and when his guest was comfortable, regarded hi_ith a smile. "Perhaps there are some things we should talk over."
"Perhaps there are. You say you do not know your own name?"
"That only begins to sum up my ignorance. I am not only unaware of my identit_ut I haven't the faintest notion of what this place is—where it is—or how _ame here."
It was John Pride's turn to stare. While doing so, he analyzed the younger ma_eenly. He saw honesty and an inner warmth that attracted him. There wa_omething almost godlike in the clean lines of the body he had seen and in th_ace. These things coupled with what he already knew, intrigued him mightil_nd he resolved to approach this strange affair with an open mind and not pla_he role of the unbelieving cynic. It was time to go ahead.
John Pride said, "First, are you aware that there is another in thi_ansion—or was?"
"I did not even know this was a mansion. It seems only one room."
"It is an enormous structure set deep in the forest."
"This other one—?"
"A very old man. He died as I arrived here tonight."
"You do not know his name or how came he here?"
"I have a vague idea."
The young man's dazzling blue eyes narrowed in thought. "A while ago you sai_ou have wondered through the years as to what you would find in this room.
That indicates you were aware of its existence."
"True. Perhaps at this point I had better tell you the complete story—as muc_f it as I know."
"I would be in your debt."
"No, I will merely be discharging the last of a very old obligation."
With that, John Pride took from his pocket a small leather covered book. H_andled it gently, almost with affection, and said, "This was my father'_otebook. In it, is an account of this remarkable affair, put down by my grea_randfather and handed down through the line. When my father died he placed i_n my hand saying it entailed an obligation both business and personal and i_as my obligation as well as his.
"I have read the account of what transpired many times and with you_ermission I will put it into my own words. Then, when I am done, I will giv_ou the book and the affair will be over so far as I and my family ar_oncerned."
John Pride had settled back in his chair and was just ready to begin when th_oung man held up a sudden hand. "Just one moment—please," he said, and a loo_f concentration came upon his face. Then he went on and his words took th_orm of a rhyme:
> "An ape, a boar, a stallion,
> A land beyond the stars.
> A virgin's feast, a raging beast,
> A prison without bars."
He flushed and added: "I don't know why I was possessed to recite tha_oggerel at just this moment but there is something strange about it. Strang_n that I have a feeling it was taught to me at some long distant time in th_ast. I sense that it is very important to whatever destiny awaits me. Yet _now not who taught me the verse nor what it means."
"That verse is inscribed in this book and I believe I know how it entered you_ind and memory. I believe too, that I understand how you are able to convers_ith me though you know nothing of this land or even this room," John Prid_aid quietly.
"Then please tell me!"
"I think it better that I start at the beginning rather than give you th_tory piece-meal. That way, your mind will be better able to assimilate and t_udge."
"I await your pleasure," the young man said with impatience he strove t_onceal.
"Very well," John Pride said, his eyes growing vague with a far-away look.