Copyright ? 1979, Kenneth Bulmer
Alan Burt Akers has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, to beidentified as the Author of this work.
First published by Daw Books, Inc. in 1979.
This Edition published in 2007 by Mushroom eBooks, an imprint of Mushroom Publishing, Bath, BA1
4EB, United Kingdom
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any meanswithout the prior written permission of the publisher.
A Sword for Kregen
Alan Burt Akers
Dray Prescot presents an enigmatic picture of himself; reared in the inhumanly harsh conditionsof Nelson’s Navy, he has been transported by the Scorpion agencies of the Star Lords, theEveroinye, and the Savanti, the superhuman yet mortal people of Aphrasöe the Swinging City, tothe demanding and fulfilling world of Kregen orbiting Antares, four hundred light years fromEarth, where he has made his home.
He is a man above middle height, with brown hair and level brown eyes, brooding and dominating,with enormously broad shoulders and superbly powerful physique. There is about him an abrasivehonesty and indomitable courage, he moves like a savage hunting cat, quiet and deadly. He hasstruggled through triumph and disaster and has acquired a number of titles and estates, and nowthe people of the island of Vallia, which has been ripped apart by ambitious and mercenaryinvaders, have called on him to lead them to freedom as their emperor.
His story, which he records on cassettes, is arranged so that each volume may be read ascomplete in itself. There have been many questions about the role of Prescot on Kregen andparticularly about the nature and purpose of his antagonists. I am firmly convinced he does seefar further ahead than perhaps he is given credit for. His words inspire our belief,particularly in what he has to say about the Star Lords. He implies they are not as malefic asat one time we might have been led to believe. Whatever the outcome for Dray Prescot, we areaware that he is conscious that he struggles against a far darker and more profound fate thanis revealed in anything he has so far told us. Alan Burt Akers
Jaidur is Annoyed
“Do you bare the throat?”
“Aye, my love. I bare the throat.”
The brightly painted pieces were swept up and returned to the silver-bound box. I had beencomprehensively defeated. The game had been protracted and cunning and fiercely contested,filled with shifts and stratagems on Delia’s part that wrecked my cleverest schemes. I leanedover the board awkwardly from the bed and picked up my right-wing Chuktar. He was the onlypiece of high value my remorseless antagonist had failed to take.
“You held him back too long,” she said, decisively, her face half-laughing and yet filledwith concern for the instinctive wince I failed to quell as that dratted wound stabbed my neck.
He was a marvelously fashioned playing piece, a Chuktar of the Khibil race of diffs, his fox-like face carved with a precision and understanding that revealed the qualities of the Khibilsin a way that many a much more famous sculptor might well miss. Delia took the Chuktar from myfingers and placed him carefully in his velvet-lined niche within the box. When you playJikaida, win or lose, you develop a rapport with the little pieces that, hard to define or evento justify coherently, nevertheless exists.
“You will not play again?” I leaned back on the plumped-up pillows and found that smile thatalways comes from Delia. “I am mindful to develop a new ploy with the Paktuns—”
“No more games tonight.” The tone of voice was practical. There is no arguing with Delia inthis mood.
“Your wound is troubling you and you need rest. We have won this battle but until you are fitagain I shall not rest easy.”
“Sink me!” I burst out. “There is so much to do!”
“Yes. And it will not get done if you do not rest.”
The invasion of the island of Vallia by the riff-raff of half a world, and the onslaught by thedisciplined iron legions of Hamal, Vallia’s mortal enemy, had been checked. But only that. Weheld Vondium the capital and much of the northeast and midlands; from the rest of the empireour enemies pressed in on us. I’d collapsed after this last battle in which we hadsuccessfully held that wild charge of the vove-mounted clansmen — I’m no superman but just amere mortal man who tries to do the best he can. Now Delia looked on me, the lamps’ gleamlimning her hair with those gorgeous chestnut tints, her face wonderfully soft and concerned,leaning over me. I swallowed.
“You rest now. Tomorrow we can strike camp and fly back to Vondium—”
“Rather, fly after the clansmen and try to—”
“The wind is foul for the northeast.”
“Is there no arguing with you?”
“Rather seek to argue with Whetti-Orbium, of Opaz.”
I made a face. Whetti-Orbium, as the manifestation of Opaz responsible for the weather andunder the beneficent hand of that all-glorious godhood, the giver of wind and rain, had notbeen treating us kindly of late. The Lord Farris’s aerial armada had played little part in thebattle, the wind being dead foul, and only his powered airboats had got themselves into theaction.
“Then the cavalry must—” I began.
“Seg has that all under control.”
Good old Seg Segutorio. But— “And there is—”
And then I smiled, a gently mocking, sympathetically triumphant smile, as with a stir and arattle of accoutrements, the curtains of the tent parted and Prince Jaidur entered. He saw onlyDelia in the lamplit interior with its canvas walls devoid of garish ornament, with the weaponsstrapped to the posts, the strewn rugs, the small camp tables, the traveling chests. Deliaturned and rose, smooth, lovely, inexpressibly beautiful.
“Mother,” said Jaidur. He sounded savage. “That rast found himself some flying beast andescaped.”
Jaidur, young and lithe and his face filled with the passions of youth and eagerness, took offhis helmet and slung it on the floor. Through the carpets the iron rang against the beatenearth.
“Mirvols, I think they were. Flying beasts that cawed down most mockingly at us as they rose.I shot —
but the shafts fell short.” His fingers were busily unbuckling his harness as he spoke, andthe silver-chased cuirass dropped with a mellower chime upon the floor. Armed and accoutredlike a Krozair of Zy, Pur Jaidur, Prince of Vallia. He scowled as Delia handed him a plaingoblet of wine, a bracing dry Tardalvoh, tart and invigorating. Taking it, he nodded his thanksperfunctorily, and raised the goblet to his lips.
“Prince Jaidur,” I said in my old gravel-shifting voice. “Is this the way you treat yourmother? Like a petulant child? Or a boor from the stews of Drak’s City?”
He jumped so that the yellow wine leaped, glinting over the silver.
“You chased after Kov Colun and Zankov. Did they both escape?”
His brown fingers gripped the goblet.
“Then,” I said, and I gentled my voice. “They will run upon their judgment later, all inOpaz’s good time.”
“I did not know you were here—”
My pleasure at his arrival, because it meant I could go on taking an interest in affairsinstead of going to sleep at Delia’s orders, was severely tempered by this news. There was ablood debt, now, between Kov Colun and my friends. For a space I could not think of BartyVessler. Barty — so bright and chivalrous, so ingenuous and courageous — had been struck downby Kov Colun. And Zankov, his companion in evil, had murdered the emperor, Delia’s father.But, all the same, vengeance was a road I would not willingly follow. The welfare of Delia, ofmy family, and of my friends and of Vallia — they were the priorities.
“I will leave you,” said Jaidur with a stiffness he cloaked in formality. He bent to retrievehis harness. He made no move to don the cuirass and the helmet dangled by its straps.“Tomorrow—”
“Tomorrow!” The surprise and scorn in my voice braced him up, and sent the dark blood intohis face.
“Tomorrow! I recall when you were Vax Neemusjid. What harm has the night done you that youscorn to use it?”
Delia put her hand on my arm. Her touch scorched.
Jaidur swung around toward the tent opening.
“You are the Emperor of Vallia, and may command me. I shall take a saddle-bird. You will notsee me again, I swear, until Kov Colun and Zankov are—”
I spat the word out. “Do not make so weighty a promise so lightly. As for Kov Colun, there isJilian to be considered. You would do her no favor by that promise.”
He looked surprised. “She still lives?”
“Thanks to Zair and to Nath the Needle.”
“I am glad, and give thanks to Zair and Opaz.”
“Also, I would like you to tell me of your doings since you returned from the Eye of theWorld.”
“I see you humor me, for whenever have you bothered over my doings?”
“Jaidur!” said Delia.
“Let the boy speak. I knew him as Vax, and took the measure of his mettle. I own to a foolishpride.”
Here Delia turned sharply to look at me, and I had to make myself go on. “Jaidur is a Krozairof Zy, a Prince of Vallia. I do not think there can be much else to better those felicities.”I deliberately did not mention the Kroveres of Iztar, for good reasons. “His life is his own,his life which we gave to him. I, Jaidur, command you in nothing, save one thing. And I do notthink I need even say what that thing is, for it touches your mother, Delia, Empress ofVallia.”
“You do not. I would give my life, gladly—”
I said the words, and they cut deeply.
“Aye, Prince Jaidur. You and a host of men.”
The color rushed back to his bronzed cheeks. With a gesture as much to break the thrall of hisown black thoughts as to slake his thirst, he reached for the silver goblet and took a longdraught.
“Aye. You are right. And that, by Vox, is as it should be.”
Delia wanted to say something; but I ploughed on.
“Go after Kov Colun and after Zankov. Both are bitter foes to Vallia. But do not be tooreckless. They are cunning rogues, vicious and cruel.” My voice trailed away. On Earth we talkabout teaching our grandmothers to suck eggs. On Kregen we talk about teaching a wizard tocatch a fly. And here was I, prattling on about dangers and cunning adversaries to a Krozair ofZy. Jaidur saw something of that belittling thought in me, for his brows drew down in a look Irecognized and with recognition the same familiar ache. How Delia puts up with me and threehulking sons is a miracle beyond question. And, thinking these useless thoughts, the tent spunabout me, going around and around, ghostly and transparent. I fell back on the bed, all thestuffing knocked out of me.
“That Opaz-forsaken arrow,” said Delia, leaning across, wiping my face with a scented towel.I felt the coolness. I must be in fever. My throat hurt; but not enough to stop me fromspeaking; but the weakness made the tent surge up and down and corkscrew like a swifter in astorm.
“I — shall — be — all — right,” I said.
“I will fetch Nath the Needle.” With that Jaidur ran from the tent, dropping his gear andcasting the wine goblet from him.
“All this fuss — for a pesky arrow.”
“It drove deeply, my heart. Now — lie still!”
I lay still.
Fruitless to detail the rest of that night’s doings. Nath the Needle, looking as he alwaysdid, fussing and yet steadily sure with his acupuncture needles and his herbal preparations,fixed up my aches and pains in the physical sense. But my brain was afire with schemes,
stratagems I must set afoot at once, so as further to discomfort the damned invading clansmen.Our enemies pressed us sorely, and they must be dealt with as opportunity offered. The chancesof success here must be balanced against defeat there. The campaign against Zankov’s importedclansmen had been waged with fierceness. But it was all to do. I, a clansman by adoptionmyself, knew that no single battle would decide the issue. The Clansmen of Segesthes are amongthe most ferocious and terrible of fighting men of Kregen. That we had put a check on theiradvance must have hit them hard, hit them with shock. But they were clansmen. They wouldretire, regroup, and then they’d be back, thirsting for vengeance. And here I lay, lolling inbed like a drunkard in the stews.
There were able captains among the Army of Vallia. Many of them bore names not unfamiliar toyou, many there were who have not so far been mentioned in this narrative. Delia told me, witha firmness made decisive by the crimp in those seductive lips, that I must leave it to Seg andthe others. For now, she told me severely, they could handle any emergencies.
So, because Delia of Delphond, Delia of the Blue Mountains, who was now Delia, Empress ofVallia, willed it, I was immured. The fate of the island empire was, for that space, taken frommy hands. Phu-Si-Yantong, one of the chief architects of the misery in which Vallia now foundherself, would not rest, either. His schemes had for a time been thwarted. But he held thesouthwest and unknown areas of the southeast and many of the islands. His partnership— andthen I paused. Yantong was too egomaniacal a figure ever to acknowledge anyone his peer or toadmit them to an equality suggested by a partnership. Yantong wished to rule the roost, thewhole roost, and he wished to rule alone. First things first. Our tenuous hold on the linkthrough the eastern midlands between Vondium and the imperial provinces around the capital andthe Hawkwa Country of the northeast had to be strengthened. We must attempt to relieve thepressure on the western mountains where people devoted to Delia, as to myself, still grimlyheld out. And there was always the far north, Evir and the other provinces beyond the Mountainsof the North, where his self-styled King of North Vallia held sway. The north had to beforgotten for now. First things first.
As soon as I was deemed fit to travel Delia had me carted back to Vondium. During that periodthere were many visitors, representatives of the churches, the state, the army, the air serviceand the imperial provinces. The navy and merchant service also showed up; but they were dealingnow almost entirely with flying ships of the air. The once-mighty fleet of galleons of Valliawas being rebuilt; but slowly, slowly.
These men and women who came to see me spoke all in soft voices, even the gruff old Chuktars ofthe army mellowed their habitual gruff barks. Always I was conscious of the presence of Delia,hovering protectively, and I guessed she had given strict injunctions on the correct sick-roombehavior. And, by Zair, when Delia spoke it behooved everyone to heed, and heed but good. So,as you will see, I must have been much sicker than I realized. Seg Segutorio, that masterBowman of Loh, kept his reckless face composed as he sat at the bedside to tell me of thefortunes of the army. I had peremptorily thrust command on him at the height of the battle
— that engagement men called the Battle of Kochwold — when Jilian had reported in the news ofthe desperate affray involving Delia at the Sakkora Stones. We had brought her safely out ofthere, from that miasmal place of ages-old decay and present evil. But our daughter Dayra, shewho flaunted her steel talons as Ros the Claw, had once more disappeared. I did not know if shewas with Zankov, who had slain her grandfather. Truth to tell, I did not know how to view thatsituation, just as I did not know how to contain within myself the ghastly news of Seg’s wife,Thelda. I made myself agreeable to Seg, which is not a difficult task, and did not summon upthe courage to tell him that his wife, whom he thought dead and sorrowed for, believed himdead, also, and had married another upright and honest man, Lol Polisto. So we talked of thearmy.
“The clansmen fight hard, and, by the Veiled Froyvil, my old friends, they led us a merrychase. They regroup now up past Infathon in Vazkardrin. We chivvy ’em and give ’em no rest.Nath is foaming to get at them with his Phalanx, but—”
“They may be amenable to an attack in their rear from the Stackwamors.” I pondered this.“Certainly we must keep them off balance. But reports indicate we may need the Phalanxelsewhere.”
Seg fired up at this. All the fey and reckless nature of his fiery race suddenly burst out,subduing the shrewd practicality.
“Where, my old dom? We will march — the men are in wonderful heart—”
“I am sure,” I said, somewhat drily. “With a victory under their belts.”
These audiences — if that is not too pompous a word to use of these discussions between theEmperor of Vallia and his ministers and generals — were conducted in a neat little withdrawingroom off the old wing once inhabited by Delia and myself in the imperial palace of Vondium.There was a bed, in which I spent far too much time, tables and chairs and wine and food, witha bookcase stuffed with the life of Vallia. And, also, many maps adorned the walls. As a matterof course and scarce worth remarking, an arms rack stood handy. Handiest of all was the greatKrozair longsword, scabbarded to the bedpost. Now I pointed at the map which showed thesouthwest of Vallia.
“There, Seg, again. The army which Fat Lango brought has been seen off. But others arelanding. It seems that some countries of Pandahem are still desirous of carving a helping ofgood Vallian gold for themselves.”
“Vallia has something they deserve and which they will receive,” quoth Seg, without flourish.“Something that will last them through all the Ice Floes of Sicce.”
He referred, quite clearly, to the six feet of Vallian soil each one of her invaders would bedumped into. I smiled. Very dear to my heart is my blade comrade, Seg Segutorio. He and I havebattled our way through some hairy scrapes since he first hurled a forkful of dungy straw in myface. And, by Zair, that seemed a long long time ago.
With that old memory in mind I said, and my voice, weak as it was, sounded altogether too muchlike a sigh: “If only Inch was here. Inch and all the others—”
Seg looked swiftly at me. He was not reassured by what he saw. He put a spread of fingers upunder his ear and scratched his jaw. A very tough and craggy jaw, that jaw of Seg Segutorio’s.
“Aye, Dray, aye. But I think Inch will not forget Vallia, or that he is the Kov of the BlackMountains. His taboos — for my money Inch has been eating too much squish pie.”
That made me smile.
“When we were all slung back to our homelands by that sorcerous Vanti,” Seg went on, half-musing, his eyes bright on me, his hand rubbing his jaw. “I felt no doubt that every singleone of us would make every effort to get back to Valka or Vallia as soon as humanly possible.”His voice betrayed nothing of the agony he must still suffer over his belief in the death ofThelda. I had pondered that problem. For all the news we had, Thelda and Lol Polisto might bedead by now. They were leading a precarious existence fighting our foes as guerillas. Theycould so easily be dead. Until Thelda was proved still to be alive, why torture Seg with afresh burden that was so different and yet so much the same as his belief his wife was trulydead?
“My son Drak is still down there in Faol trying to find Melow the Supple.” I spoke fretfully,for I wanted Drak back here in Vallia, with me, so that he could take over this business ofbeing Emperor of Vallia.
“But I think you have something else on your mind?”
“Aye. You have found a new marvel in Korero. He is indeed remarkable with his shields. So...”
“You don’t think I haven’t wondered what I’m going to say to Turko?”
His rubbing hand stilled. “What will you say?”
That was another poser for my poor aching head. The yellow bandage around my throat seemed toconstrict in to choke me with problems. Turko the Shield stood always at my back with his great
shield uplifted in the heat of battle. But, now, Korero the Shield, with his four arms andhanded tail, stood always at my back with his shields upraised in the heat of battle... I saidsourly, “I’ll make Turko a damned Kov and find him a province and get him married to raisestout sons for Vallia and beautiful daughters to grace the world. That’s what I’ll do.”
“He, I think, would prefer to stand at your back with his shield.”
“D’you think I don’t know that!”
“Hum, my old friend, a very large and ponderable hum.”
That was Seg Segutorio for you, able to cut away all the nonsense with a word. But he wassmiling. By Vox! What it is to have comrades through life!
We talked for a space then about our comrades and wished them with us, and eventually returnedto the subject of the army to be sent to the southwest and the knotty problem of choosing acommander. Seg said, “I still have a rapier to sharpen with those rasts of clansmen. And, yes,before you ask me, I can spare a Phalanx, although preferring not to. Filbarrka’s zorcamenmake life a misery for them. And I am slowly becoming of the opinion that perhaps, one day, Ishall manage to make bowmen of the fellows I have under training.”
Well, if Seg Segutorio, in my opinion the finest archer of all Kregen, couldn’t fashion abattle-winning missile force, then no one could.
We looked at the maps and pondered the likeliest routes the invading armies from Pandahem mightchoose. I would have to delegate responsibility in that area of the southwest, and make up mymind as to the numbers and composition of the army we would send. That would be the Army of theSouthwest. Presently I placed my hand on the silver-bound balass box.
Seg shook his head.
“Much as I would love to rank Deldars against you, my old friend, and thrash you utterly, Ihave another zhantil to saddle.”
“There is never enough time,” I said. And added, under my breath, “In two worlds.”
“Anyway,” he said, standing up and shifting his sword around more comfortably. “Delia tellsme you have been playing Master Hork.”
“Aye. Katrin Rashumin recommended him, although he has been famous as a master gamesman inVondium for many seasons.”
Once, I had interrupted a proposed lesson that Katrin was to have taken from Master Hork. Hehad returned to the capital city, and had, I knew, played his part in our victory. As forKatrin, the Kovneva of Rahartdrin, Opaz alone knew what had happened to her. Her island kovnatewas situated far to the southwest and messengers we had sent had not returned. Perhaps our newArmy of the Southwest might succeed in gaining news of her and her people.
“Master Hork has a great command of the Chuktar’s right-flank attack,” said Seg.“Personally, I incline to the left wing.”
“Mayhap that is because an archer must have something of a squint—”
“And Seg, do you take great care. Your back is healed, well and good; but I don’t wantyou—”
“I know, my old dom. May Erthyr the Bow have you in his keeping, along with Zair and Opaz andDjan.” Then Seg, turning to go, paused and swung back. “And, I think, may the lady Zena Iztaralso approve of our ventures. The Kroveres of Iztar do little, to my great frustration; but wetry—”
“There is a great work set to our hands with the Kroveres.” That sounded fustian; but it wastrue. “We must continue as we are, recruiting choice spirits, and remain steadfast. As theGrand Archbold, you have a double duty.”
So I bid farewell to Seg and ached to see him go, and presently in came Master Hork with hisown bronze-bound box of playing pieces and we set the board, ranked our Deldars, and opened the
play. Master Hork held within himself that remote and yet alive inner sense of being that marksthe Jikaidast. A Jikaidast is a man or woman who plays Jikaida on a professional level. Becauseof the enormous popularity of the game on Kregen such a person can make a handsome living andreceive the respect that is due. I was most polite with Master Hork, a slender, well-manneredman with brown Vallian hair and eyes, and a face that one felt ought to be lined and wrinkledand which was smooth and untrammeled. His movements were neat and precise. He wasted not asingle scrap of energy. But he could play Jikaida, by Krun!
There was no point in my attempting to play an ordinary game against his mastery, so we wentthrough the moves of a famous game played five hundred seasons or so ago. Outstanding games areusually recorded for posterity, and many books of Jikaida lore exist. The notations are simpleand easily read. This game was that remarkable example of high-level Jikaida played betweenMaster Chuan-lui-Hong, a Jikaidast then in his hundred and twentieth year, and Queen Hathshi ofMurn-Chem, a once-powerful country of Loh.
A Jikaidast will not deliberately lose a game, not even against so awesome a personage as afabled Queen of Pain of Loh. But Chuan-lui-Hong had had to play with extraordinary skill, forQueen Hathshi might, had she not been a queen, have been a Jikaidast herself.
From the impeccable written record on the thick pages of Master Hork’s ponderous leather-boundtome we re-created that famous game. It was, indeed, a marvel. The queen swept all before her,using her swods and Deldars to push on and deploying her more powerful pieces with artistry. Atthe end, Master Chuan-lui-Hong had played the masterstroke. By using a swiftly developed fileof his own pieces, by placing a swod, that is, the Kregan pawn, into the gap between his ownfile and that of the queen’s and so closing the gap, he was able to vault his left-flankChuktar over the conjoined files into a threatening position that offered check. Check injikaidish is kaida. That spectacular vaulting move is unique to Jikaida. A piece may travelover a line of other pieces, either orthogonally or diagonally, using them as stepping-stones,and alight at the far end. The jikaidish word for vault is zeunt. The Chuktar moves in asimilar fashion to the Queen of our Earthly chess. Master Hork read out the next move.
“A beautiful response.” I felt the pleasure inherent in a neat move. “Hathshi avoids theChuktar’s attack and places her Queen on the only square the Chuktar cannot reach.”
Although Vallians call the piece a King, many countries use the names Rokveil, Aeilssa,Princess, and in Loh, much as you would expect, the piece is called a Queen. The object of thegame is to place this piece in such a position that it cannot avoid capture. In the jikaidish,this entrapment is called hyrkaida.
“And if the Chuktar moves to place the Queen in check, he will be immediately snapped up byher Hikdars or Paktuns. Although,” I said a little doubtfully, “her position is a triflecramped.”
A Jikaidast lives his games, and lives vicariously through the games of his long-dead peers.Master Hork allowed a small and satisfied smile to stretch his lips. Deliberately, he closedthe heavy leather cover of the book. The pages made a soft sighing sound and the smell of oldpaper wafted. I looked at Master Hork across the board where the pieces stood in their frozenmarch.
“See, majister,” he said, and reached far back into Chuan-lui-Hong’s Neemu drin. His slenderfingers closed on the Pallan.
The Pallan is the most powerful piece on the board. He combines in himself moves that includethose of the chess Queen and Knight, plus other purely Jikaidish possibilities. Chuan-lui-Hongwas playing Yellow.
His Pallan stood in such a position that he could be moved up to the end of the long file ofyellow and blue pieces — and vault.
The instant Master Hork touched the Pallan I saw it.
“Yes,” I said, and my damned throat hurt with that confounded arrow wound. “Oh, yesindeed!”
For the Pallan vaulted that long file and came down on the square occupied by his own Chuktar.The Pallan has the power to take a friendly piece — excepting the Queen, of course. Chuan-lui-Hong used his Pallan to remove his Chuktar from the game. Now the Pallan stood there, animposing and glittering figure, and with the moves at his disposal he trapped, snared,detained, entombed Queen Hathshi’s own Queen.
“Hyrkaida!” said Master Hork. And, then, as Chuan-lui-Hong must have done all those dustyseasons ago, he said: “Do you bare the throat?”
“I fancy Hathshi bared her throat with good grace, Master Hork; for it is a pretty ploy.”
“Pretty, yes. But obvious, and one that she should have foreseen three moves ago when Hong’sPallan made the crucial move to place him on the correct square within the correct drin.”Master Hork screwed his eyes up and surveyed me. “As majister, you should have seen, also.”
With Seg, I said, “Hum.”
Casually, Master Hork said, “Jikaida players say I am the master of the right-wing Chuktar’sattack. This is so. But in my last ten important games, against Jikaidasts of great repute, Ihave not employed that stratagem. Not in the opening, the middle or the end game. There is alesson there, majister.”
I was perfectly prepared — happy — to be instructed by a master of his craft. But what MasterHork was saying was basic to cunning attack. Be where you are not expected.
“You are right, Master Hork. More wine — may I press this Tawny Jholaix?” From this you willsee the truly high regard in which we of Kregen hold Jikaidasts, for Jholaix is among thefinest and most expensive wines to be obtained. As Master Hork indicated his appreciation, Iwent on: “I have likened all Vallia to a Jikaida board. But how you would denominate thePhalanx I do not know for sure, for where they are they are, and there they stand.”
“I saw the Phalanx, majister, at the Battle of Voxyri.” He drank, quickly at his memories,too quickly for Jholaix, which should be savored. But I understood. When the Phalanx sent uptheir paean and charged at Voxyri it was, I truly think, a sight that would send either theshuddering horrors or the sublimest of emotions through a man until the day he died.
We talked on, mostly about Jikaida, and it was fascinating talk, filled with the lore of thegame. As ever, when in contact with a Jikaidast, my memories flew back to Gafard, the King’sStriker, Sea Zhantil. Well, he was dead now, following our beloved Velia, and, I know, happy togo where she led, now and for ever.
“Many a great Jikaidast,” Master Hork was saying, “set store by the larger games, JikshivJikaida and the rest. But I tend to think that there is a concentration of skill required inthe use of the smaller boards. Poron Jikaida demands an artistry quite different in style.”
“Each size of board brings its own joys and problems,” I said, sententiously, I fear. But myhead was ringing with sounds as though phantom bells tolled in my skull. I felt the weaknessstealing over me, and growing, and pulling at me.
Master Hork started up. “Majister!”
There was a blurred impression of the Jikaida board spilling the bright pieces to the floor.That resplendent Pallan toppled and tumbled into a fold of the bedclothes. Master Hork made noattempt to save the scattering pieces. He turned, his face distraught, and ran for the door,yelling for the doctors. His voice reached me as a thin and ghostly whisper, faint with thedust of years. That Opaz-forsaken arrow wound! That was my immediate thought. By theunspeakably foul left armpit of Makki-Grodno! There was much to do, and all I could turn myhand to, it seemed, was playing Jikaida and lolling in bed.
And then I saw a shimmer of insubstantial blueness.
The radiance broadened and deepened.
So I knew.