But suddenly the breeze brought a familiar reek to his nostrils. He had not scented that since the night at the Cos fort. Kana threw himself down behind a bush and Soong landed beside him a moment later. Almost directly across the river a tall Llor rode out on a sand spit. He carried no lance but balanced an air rifle across his saddle, thus proclaiming his rank as a regular of the royalist guard, rather than a warrior-follower of some provincial noble. The trooper dismounted to approach the water gingerly, inspecting the ripples before he struck down into them with the butt of his weapon. Plainly he was aware of the tif. But safe on the sand he sat cross-legged, taking out a length of purple cane to chew while he waited. The Terrans flattened themselves every time the Llor’s glance swung carelessly across their too-thin cover. There was no hope of withdrawing unseen now. The Llor spat pieces of pulped cane into the water and once or twice threw stones at the clustering tif. More and more ripples headed for that tongue of gravel as beneath the surface the small masters of the river gathered. Now and then the Llor watched them and gave birth to that snorting sound which served his race for laughter. But, Kana noted, he was careful to stay away from the water. A mewling cry brought the trooper to his feet. Out of the woods came a party of riders. The one in the van wore a short scarlet cloak lined with ttsor fur and carried before him on a perch attached to his saddle a trained hork – thus identifying himself as a member of the Gatanu’s own household. But among the other riders was the hooded, robed figure of a Ventur. The noble did not dismount, but his guard did, pulling the trader with them. For, astonishingly enough, the Venture was a prisoner, his hands lashed at his back. The Llor held a conference with their scout, their leader going so far as to ride out on the spit to peer curiously into the water, while the guards urged their captive to the bank. Then, to the horror of the watching Terrans, they calmly picked up the smaller trader and flung him into the stream where the water was now whipped to a foam by the swarming tif. Kana’s first avenging shot snapped the noble out of his saddle – to plunge into the river headfirst. Methodically the Terrans fired in volleys, picking off the murderers on the far bank. Five of the party were down before the other three fled for the protection of the trees. But none of the fugitives reached that grove. There was a continued flurry in the water where the tif greeted this rare abundance of meat. Kana dared not look at the place where the helpless Ventur had fallen. Death in battle was commonplace – he had been trained to believe that it would be his own end. But the callous cruelty he had just witnessed was to him a terrifying thing. “By Klem and Kol.” Soong twitched at his sleeve and pointed to the river. Something struggled there, flopping about – hampered by the sodden robe and bound hands. And in an ever-widening circle about the Ventur floated tif, limp and belly up. Kana leaped to the top of the nearest rock and then to the next. A stripped Llor skull snarled up at him as he jumped the water gap which cradled it. The Ventur was on his feet, wading toward the sand spit where a moment later Kana and Soong joined him.