Copyright ? 1974, 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 1974.
This Edition published in 2005 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 means
without the prior written permission of the publisher.
ISBN 1843193647 Prince of Scorpio
Dray Prescot #5
Alan Burt Akers
Thisi the Fair borrows my Savanti sword
I, Dray Prescot, of Earth and of Kregen, once more trod the beautiful and brutal planet of myadoption, and in the engaging way of the Star Lords who had brought me here, was facedinstantly with headlong action and deadly danger.
A bulky man in black leathers ran full tilt upon me, seeking to pin me to the ground with hisrapier. The slender blade glistened redly in the mingled light from the twin suns of Scorpio. Ido not argue when a man tries to kill me.
The guttural shouts and hoarse screams in my ears, the flickering impression of frenzied actionall about me, and the black galvanic forms of men contorted in violent conflict running andstabbing and caught up in a confused melee washed around me; but the burly man with the bushybrown moustaches and the eyes of a killer lunged down fiercely upon me.
He cursed and dragged his blade free of the thin earth that dribbled over bare rock, swunghimself forward for another essay at mounting me like a butterfly in a glass case. Nothing elsemattered in the world — either this world or the world of Earth distant four hundred light-years — beside that professional killer and his blade.
“You panval cramph!” he said as he advanced, with a little more wariness this time, a trifleof cunning evident in his clear wish to spit me as I rolled.
I shoved up on my hands, getting my feet under me, not rising on hands and knees. I was, asalways when I landed on Kregen, stark naked. There were no handy weapons — a sword, a spear, ahelmet —
just me, Dray Prescot, naked as the day I was born.
A shrieking man ran past, his matted hair streaming, pursued by another of the killers in hisblack leather uniform. This screaming wretch, too, was naked, and so I reasoned that no one wassurprised at my absence of clothes.
“Rast of a panval!” The killer lunged and I sprang, attempting to slip beneath the blade andso grasp him in my arms and break his back.
But he was quick. He eluded me, and a line of bright red wealed up along my thigh. Now it wasmy turn to curse.
Normally I never bother to shout and curse when in action; it wastes breath and I do not needmy morale boosted in this way.
“By the Black Chunkrah!” I yelled. “I’ll take your Makki-Grodno infested tripes out andwrap them around your diseased neck!”
He was coming in again as I shouted and he looked at my face. He hadn’t bothered to lookbefore; all slaves look alike to their indifferent guards. Now he looked. He checked. Hefaltered in his attack in so obvious a way that I knew I was wearing that old ugly powerfullook, the facial expression men say gives me the look of the devil, and I did not waste mychance.
I fended off with my left hand and sent his rapier skewering empty air skyward. I took histhroat in my right hand and squeezed, then I brought my left fist down and around and under andhit him in the belly. He would have shrieked, but no air could get past my constrictingfingers. He wriggled and flailed and tried to shorten his blade to stab me in the back, but Iglared into his eyes with what I know is a wild and maniacal stare habitual to me when someoneis trying to kill me, and I choked him and flung him down like a harvested sheaf of grain. Itook his rapier. His left-hand dagger swung still at his waist; of what need had he of main-gauche against an unarmed slave?
With the weapons in my fists I sprang up, and at a half-crouch, ready for the next fool to showup, I surveyed the scene.
The bare rocks, with their thin scattering of dirt cover in which straggly beach-grasses andthorn-ivy struggled to grow here and there, led down to a shaly beach. Scattered along thebeach an enormous mass of timbers, bales, bundles, ropes, and spars indicated a shipwreck. Atfirst I thought the naked, screaming running men and women had been oar-slaves, but what wasleft of the vessel did not match my knowledge either of a swifter of the Eye of the World or aswordship of the Sunset Sea. A fellow rolling with muscle, vociferous, authoritarian, yelledand waved his rapier. “Round ’em all up, you calsanys! Every last one of the Pandrite-benighted panvals.”
Like the other guards he was clad in black leathers, and tall black boots. Like them he worebeneath the leather tunic a garment whose sleeves covered his arms with bands of red and black.He wore a helmet, narrow-brimmed at the sides and curled up at the fore and aft brim, after thefashion of a morion. His face was congested, bloated, full of annoyance that his command hadbroken down in what to him was clearly a most messy business.
I looked at the sea — to me, then, an unknown sea — and felt the deep longing for the freshsweep of the breeze and the clean feel of a keel beneath me scudding through the waves. Then Iadvanced on this man, this leader of men who slaughtered unarmed men and women as they shriekedand begged for mercy.
The jagged boulders beneath my feet felt decidedly uncomfortable after my sojourn on Earthwearing decent shoes, but I have spent most of my life barefoot, and I took little notice. TheStar Lords, this time, evidently had asked a very great deal of me. As always I had been dumpeddown on Kregen naked and defenseless, and as always a crisis situation was presented to me.This time I had been flung headfirst right slap into the middle of the action.
I jumped down off the rocks onto the beach and for a moment the big ruffian was hidden from meby contorting bodies. A girl screamed right at my feet and I looked down and to my left. Shesprawled on the shaly beach, and I saw that the chains between the fetters on her ankles hadtripped and brought her down. A black-clad guard was quite callously, quite intentionally,preparing to drive his rapier through her stomach.
I bent and with the main-gauche slewed a scatter of the shale into his face. He cursed andsprang back. He saw me. His main-gauche came out with the practiced ease of the fighting-man,and I knew I would have to take him first.
He tried to circle me. That was a waste of time — of my time, for his was going to finish hereand now. A second guard ran across with a four-foot-long javelin and hurled it at me. I swayedand the missile hissed past. The second drew both his blades. The girl lay, staring up withwide eyes; fear had drugged her emotions, so that she could no longer weep or cry out.
I wanted to get over this fight quickly. There were well over a hundred naked men and women inchains, and something like fifteen or twenty guards methodically butchering them. The two splitup, to take me from left and right.
I have fought many times, and no doubt will fight many more times. These two were fair tomiddling examples of rapier men, which meant that, combined, they added up to a combinationthat could always take the better single man. I just had to be better than both.
They both succumbed, one after the other, to timed thrusts.
The shipwreck, the black shale beach, the susurrations of that unknown sea, the black rocks,and the evil thorn-ivy bushes coalesced into the backdrop for wild action and devilish murder.I dispatched two more guards. I could hear a roaring and a raging nearer the scattered timbersof the wreck and I ran toward the focus of the sounds, dropping another guard as I ran.
On the beach the big bull-roarer of a guard captain was down. He sat on the black shale lookingstupidly at the stump of his left arm. The red and black sleeved arm lay on the ground at hisside, still with the hand clutching his dagger.
Three other guards were backtracking rapidly. I looked at the man facing them, and I felt apainful and thrilling thump of blood from my heart tingle all through my body.
Oh, yes, I recognized who that young man must be!
Fair and open of face, with smooth blond hair, and eyes of an icy-blue, he fought with a graceand a delicacy that warmed my heart. Young, strong, confident, bold, he weaved a net ofglittering steel before him, and, one, two, three, down went those guards, gouting blood.
He wore soft leathers cincturing his waist and drawn up between his legs, the whole held inposition by a wide belt the buckle of which gleamed dully gold. On his left arm he wore a stoutleather bracer. He wore soft leather gloves. On his feet he wore leather hunting boots. I hadworn that gear once, myself, in the long ago. . .
And his sword. . .
Oh, yes, I felt all the strife and evil of two worlds flowing out and away from me and thebeginnings of a new and altogether glorious promise. Here, before me, was my passport toparadise!
“Hai!” shouted this gallant young man, and he charged headlong for a group of guards whowithdrew their reeking blades from the corpses of their victims and sprang up to face him.Before me, half crouched on the beach, a naked man clasped a woman close, the black iron oftheir chains harsh against their skin. They were middle-aged, with faces lined with care, andyet for all that, the man could look up at the young man with eyes wide with wonder.
“Now in the name of the twins! Where did he come from?”
“Hush, Jeniu, hush!” His wife dragged him down into the black shale, burrowing for shelter. Ijumped over them, and because it seemed the right thing to do, as I leaped I shouted down tothem.
“Remain quiet and you will be safe.”
“Opaz the all-glorious preserve us!”
So far I had seen no beings other than humans among these guards and the slaves they werebutchering to prevent their escape. There were no representatives of the half-men half-beastsof Kregen, those other races of intelligent beings who share the planet with human men andwomen. The young man — I had the fleeting wonder if he might not also come from the planetEarth — had engaged nobly with the guards, and in pressing them back, was displaying fineswordsmanship. As I fought, indeed, as I do almost anything, I kept a weather eye open andalert. If a fighting-man sought to leap on me from the rear he more often than not found mesuddenly facing him with a naked brand in my fist.
If you tread dangerous paths that is an essential to staying alive — on Earth as on Kregen. Soit was that I had to stop twice more to deal with inopportunely-pressing men in black leather,with their red and black sleeves, and their morionlike helmets. I observed a naked man, with ashaggy mop of brown hair and brown hair on his body so that he resembled a great brown bear,wrapping his chains about the neck of a guard and apparently on the point of severing head frombody. This huge man, as thick in the chest as the barrels in which palines are shipped for seause, roared his delight. I saw the suns-light glisten and gleam along the hairy muscles of hisforearms as he leaned back. He saw me as I stepped outside a guard’s lunge, dazzle him withwhat — I confess — was a flamboyant flourish of my dagger, and bring the rapier in for theterminal thrust; and Brown Bear yelled, hugely delighted. “Hai, Jikai!”
“Hai, Jikai!” I roared back. “We will finish them all very soon — and then I will strikeoff your irons.”
“Not until I am done with using them. Never, by Vaosh, would I have believed I could love mychains so much! Ha!”
All over the beach and the soil-covered rocks just above, the bodies of slain men and womensprawled. But many more had reached some kind of sanctuary among the rocks, and among the deadlay many more guards than any of the escaping slaves had any right to expect. Brown Bear hadaccounted for his share, and I, mine — and this glorious youngster to whose aid I now spranghad fought right well and nobly.
Perhaps he was too noble; certainly, for all his skill and training he lacked experience. TwiceI had dodged flung javelins. I saw it all. I shouted — uselessly, vainly, stupidly. There wasnothing else I could do but shout and hurl my dagger; but long before the dagger found its markin the javelin-thrower’s throat, the cruel steel head of the flung spear smashed bloodily redout through the chest of the gallant young fighter.
It is not easy for me to speak of that moment. I can clearly remember that sharp steel javelin-head sprouting from the lad’s chest. I can recall with exact clarity the way the twinstreaming mingled light of Zim and Genodras cast sharp ugly shadows down over the muscles ofhis chest and the smooth tanned stomach, before he doubled up and fell sideways, drew his legsin, and began to cough up blood. After that my next memory is of drawing my rapier from theleather-clad body of a guard, and looking around for more, and finding them all lying dead inthe abandoned postures of complete destruction along the beach. Evidently, at the end, they hadtried to flee from me.
I looked back up the beach.
A small clump of naked men and women had gathered, and more were creeping out from their hidingplaces among the rocks and boulders and thorn-ivy bushes.
The huge brown bear of a man stood a little way in front.
All stared at me.
None would approach.
I ignored them.
I went back to the dying youngster.
He lay still on his side, for the javelin prevented him lying in another posture. He wasconscious and his eyes followed me as I approached. Those blue eyes were still bright andbrilliant, but the face had drained of blood.
“Llahal, Jikai,” he said painfully, dribbling blood. “You fight right merrily.”
I did not reply with the rolling double-L of the nonfamiliar greeting of “Llahal” of Kregen;instead I said:
“Lahal,” which is used only to those one knows.
He looked surprised, but his weakness made him incurious and unable to ponder the matteroverlong. I knelt by his side. There was nothing material I could do for him.
I looked at him, and I waited until I felt a light of intelligence in those eyes, struggling uppast the engulfing waves of blackness seeking to drag him down forever.
“Happy Swinging,” I said. My voice was not my own; it was hoarse, strange, harsh. “HappySwinging.”
He looked at me with the same shock his face had shown when the javelin pierced him through.
“Tell me, dom. Where lies Aphrasöe, the Swinging City?”
He coughed and blood dribbled from his mouth, for he was almost gone.
“Aphrasöe!” He tried to move and could not. “I was there — there in Aphrasöe — onlymoments ago. I talked with Maspero and bid him Remberee — and then I was here. And—”
“Maspero is my friend. He was my tutor. Where lies Aphrasöe?”
The cords in his throat moved and shuddered, and I saw he was trying to shake his head. Hisvoice was faint.
“I do not know. The transition was made — cold and darkness — and then — here. . .”
I had to know where Aphrasöe, the Swinging City, was situated on the planet of Kregen. Next tomy concern for my Delia, Delia of Delphond, Delia of the Blue Mountains, next to my love forher, I must know the whereabouts of Aphrasöe. For Aphrasöe was paradise.
He was trying to speak again.
“Tell Maspero — tell him — Alex Hunter tried — tried—”
“Rest easy, Alex Hunter. You have come a long way from Earth, but now you are with friends.”
He looked up into my ugly face with its gargoyle-look strong upon it, and the bright bluenessof his eyes faded and he sighed, very softly. His blood-smeared mouth smiled — he smiled,looking upon me, Dray Prescot — and then he died.
I stood up.
I turned to face the gathered naked people.
“Are any guards left alive?” I called. My voice rose harshly, bitter and cutting. The bigbrown bear of a man shouted back. “They are all dead.”
“As well for them they are. By dying they escape my wrath.”
Then I turned and looked out to that unknown sea and I did not weep. For many memories hadpoured upon me and I could face no one until I had purged myself of weakness.
Sweet and refreshing is canalwater of Vallia
The released prisoners wanted to build the cooking fires into conflagrations of joy, and I hadto explain to them as gently as I could — and, Zair knows, I am a gentle enough man when theoccasion calls for it
— that as no one of them knew where we were, and I did not, the night would almost certainlycontain hostile eyes. We must cook our supper carefully, and post watches, and be ready withthe gathered-up weapons to defend our newly-won freedom.
They all seemed to think I had been in the prison ship with them. On her way to the PenalIslands, a gale had driven her off course. No one knew where we were — but they all knew fromwhence they had come.
I was on an island off the southeast coast of Vallia. Somewhere over that sea lay the islandempire ruled by the despotic father of my beloved. Over there lay my target, Vallia, the islandI had vowed to reach and storm, bare-handed if necessary, and claim my Delia before all theworld. Prosaic matters obtruded themselves now, however. The released prisoners were far tooweak to march, and we had espied not a sign of life or a habitation of any sort. The prisonerscould not march; I could not stay here.
The big brown bear of a man — Borg — said, when I queried him: “Prisoners, dom? Aye, we areprisoners, truly enough. Politicals.”
At a guess, I said, “The Racter party?”
He glowered. “Aye! The racters, may Gurush of the Bottomless Marsh take them all.”
I have spoken of the Racter party, those great lords, landowners, and wealthy tycoons who werebitterly opposed to the wedding between myself and Delia. These people were almost all of thePanval party, a more popular front, although containing many folk, I suspected, who had joinedtogether in mere opposition to the ractors as through any common ideology.
Borg was a canalman. The canals of Vallia are one of the wonders of Kregen, spreading out overthe entire island, fed by the awe-inspiring Mountains of the North, which have various names intheir various districts. The canalfolk are a people apart and a way of life apart. Borg’s namewas Ven Borg nal Ogier. Ven is a title applicable only to canalmen, as Vena for the
canalwomen. Ogier was his canal, the Ogier Cut, from which he took his patronymic. That thecanal was upward of six hundred miles long, with many branches and loops, spreading across manycounties of Vallia, meant nothing. Mere land area was of no account to a canalman; he markedout his lineage in the canal his parents traversed.
“I shall go and find help,” I told Borg. “These people must be cared for.”
He had taken a guard’s leather tunic, but his arms and legs were bare. He carried the rapierand left-handed dagger as though he knew how to use them. He nodded in agreement.
“Good. Then, Koter Drak, I will come with you.”
Koter is pure Vallian, equivalent to our Earthly “mister.”
“No, Ven Borg. If you will, you would do best to look after these people. And withoutdisrespect to you, I can travel faster alone.”
He glowered at me, and fingered the plain steel hilt of the rapier, but he saw my face, andagreed.
“By Vaosh the all-glorious! You are a hard man.”
“Sometimes I have need to be.”
My feelings after Alex Hunter had died revealed another facet, but I would not discuss that.The thought occurred to me to wonder if the Star Lords had brought me here because they knewAlex Hunter would fail? But that would indicate a prophecy, a power to foretell what would
happen. I put nothing past the Star Lords in those days, but the idea made me prickle a littleup the backbone. Then the further thought came to me that the Savanti had sent Alex Hunter on amission similar to those I would have been sent on had I passed all the stringent tests ofAphrasöe, instead of having the Savanti boot me out of paradise. I still bore them no ill willfor that. They had their nature as I had mine. Whatever the truth of the business, I was hereon Kregen and — given I could avoid too obvious a collision with either the Savanti or theStar Lords — here I intended to stay and reach Vallia and claim Delia as my bride. And suchwas my mood, I was beginning to feel to hell with her father. So far, the thought that I mustin some measure demean him in her eyes had halted me, had checked my footsteps, had held meback from the headlong rush to Vallia and the arrogant barging into Vondium I knew I wouldhave, one day, to make.
I gently unwrapped and unstrapped Alex Hunter’s Savanti hunting leathers from him, before Iburied him with solemnity and two prayers. Then I washed the leathers in a stream of clearwater — how marvelously supple is the hunting leather of the city of Aphrasöe! — and donnedthem, pulling the end up through my legs and buckling up the wide belt. I hesitated beforepulling on the boots, but I might need them if the going became rough. After my march acrossthe Owlarh Waste and through the Klackadrin I felt my foot soles could march across hellwithout flinching.
And the sword.
The Savanti sword!
It was a beautiful specimen, with that subtle straight blade that in some alchemical waycombines all the best features of a rapier’s flexibility with a shortsword’s harsh thrustingaction, together with the slashing capabilities of a broadsword. I felt, then, handling thatsuperlative weapon with its basket hilt, that even a Krozair longsword could not compare withthe Savanti sword. I suppose, in mundane weapons, it most resembled an English basket-hiltedsword of about 1610 with that cunning Savanti curve to the hilt to enable rapier work to be putin. The blade retained a brilliant sharpness of edge without continuous honing. I had noconception of how it could be done, then, and even today I am sure that no metallurgists ofEarth could reproduce that exact mix of metals, that fantastic alloy. But then, as I knew to mycost, the Savanti, although mere mortal men, were capable of superhuman powers.
“Well, Koter Drak,” said Borg, proffering a rapier and left-handed dagger. “You had best goprepared.”
I slung the baldric of the Savanti scabbard over my right shoulder and let the sword dangle atmy left hip.
“I will take this sword, Ven Borg.”
“It is a strange blade, and yet a useful one, as I judge.”
I took the baldric off. I had grown accustomed to having my sword scabbards attached to my beltin such a way that all my upper body was free from strappery. I fabricated a sling, and thelockets would serve. Borg watched me, critically.
“On the canals we use the rapier and the dagger, the Jiktar and the Hikdar, but rarely, theybeing weapons not easily come by.”
“You have used them before, Ven Borg.”
He chuckled. The camp fire threw his mass of brown hair into deep tangled shadows across hisface. He bit hugely into the thigh of a bosk — a rather less stupid and smaller relative ofthe vosk — from the provisions we had taken from the wreck. “Aye. I was accounted a fairswordsman, along the Ogier Cut, Koter Drak.”
I was not absolutely sure how these people had my name as Drak. Drak is the name of a legendaryfigure, part-human, part-god, who figures largely in the three-thousand-year-old myth-cycle the
Canticles of the Rose City. Culture is widespread on Kregen, and the old legends and
stories travel the world, and are repeated over and over again. Also, Drak had been the name ofthe Emperor’s father when he ascended the throne. I had a dim memory of saying, in response to
a query, “I am Dra—” and then of a shout or a scream interrupting me. I believe it was thewomen called the Theladours; they had found a guard half alive, and had finished him off with
Dray and the instant associations with Drak had namedtheir hands. Anyway, the beginning of
me. I did not care, then, what they called me, for I intended to leave them in the morning whenthe twin suns rose, and after finding help for them, see about taking myself across the stretchof sea to Vallia to the west.
Also, I did not fail to realize that the continent of Segesthes, and the enclave city ofZenicce, lay across the Sunset Sea to the east. In Zenicce stood my own proud enclave ofStrombor. I was the Lord of Strombor. But Strombor and all my friends there would have to wait— as they had waited for years —
until I had won my Delia finally.
From the shattered remnants of the wrecked prison ship we took what we could of food and wineand I saw that the survivors, about a hundred and twenty or so of them, men and women, wouldnot suffer from starvation before help could reach them. For what Borg said, I judged that hewould be very careful how they accepted help; for as political prisoners their fate woulddepend much on the tendencies of their rescuers.
The political situation in Vallia was complex and finely balanced, the racters and the panvalsin their eternal struggling for power, the Emperor now strong, now weak, eternally seeking helpfrom one side, now the other, always asserting his own power and demanding absolute obediencefrom the citizenry. To hell with all that! Vallia, Vondium, and Delia!
Much banging and ringing of iron finally fell quiet and the last of the fetters had been cutoff. I found a snug hole down between two boulders, and with a scrap of cloth from the ship toserve as padding and cover, went to sleep. On the morrow, after a great dish of fried boskrashers and a jar of some sweet rose wine — a vintage of western Vallia, so Jeniu told me — Iwas ready to leave. They waved to me as I set off. They were a starveling crew, eating properlyfor the first time in many a day, their nakedness covered as best they could manage. I wavedback, and I confess, to my shame, that I scarcely thought more of them except as people to whomI owed the duty of what help I could give. Beyond that — Delia!
“Remberee, Koter Drak!”
“Remberee,” I shouted back, striding on. “Remberee!”
Many times I have marched through country completely new to me, alone or with companions.Memories ghosted up — but I would not think of them now. I studied the land critically. Itlooked bleak, bare, somehow tired and dispirited. Clumps of thorn-ivy grew along the way and, adismal prospect on Kregen, no palines. No palines! Not a country for me, I decided, andthereby, as you will hear, made a stultifying mistake.
The Suns of Scorpio cast down their opaz beams and the weather, although warm, was in no wisestifling. If what the prisoners had told me was true — and their ideas of where we might bewere almost as chancy as mine — we must be on a latitude sixty or seventy dwaburs north of thesouthern coast of Vallia. That, as far as I could judge, would be on a latitude about the samedistance south of Zenicce. I marched on and soon I walked through the remains of a village. Thehouses had been constructed of wood, and they had burned. There were bones among the ashes. Thesad relics of an abandoned living-site passed to either side as I walked through what had oncebeen a bustling main street. No birds waited to scavenge. This had happened some time ago, forthe dusty vegetation was creeping back. The prospect opened up beyond this dismal scene andhills closed in on my left, so that I walked for a space beside a stream. Here vegetation hadtaken a hold and I saw many varieties of the myriad growths that flourish so freely on Kregen.Here, too, I came across paline bushes and so could pick a handful and munch them as Itraveled.
Far away on my right and ahead, obscured occasionally by cloud and by intervening rises, thetall blue outlines of mountains jagged against the sky. Snow glistened on their peaks, so theywere of a size. The forests thickened, and I saw lenk and sturm, an occasional sporfert, and