Savage Scorpio

By Christine Cox,2014-11-04 17:00
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Somewhere in the unmapped regions of Kregen, beneath the two suns of Antares, alpha star of the Constellation Scorpio, lies the hidden city of the Savanti. The Savanti were the ones responsible for tearing Dray Prescot away from his native Earth for their struggle against the Star Lords. And Dray had long sought the locale of his original landing because it would help solve the mystery of his transition. Now the time had come when the search must be completed without delay, for the father of his beloved Delia was a victim of assassins, and only the Savanti could undo the evil that could shatter all that Dray held dear in his second planetary homeland. Savage Scorpio is the thrilling novel of a mission that would involve powerful forces far beyond all Prescot's personal desires. Published by DAW Books on 1978/01/01

Copyright ? 1978, 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 1978.

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.

    ISBN 1843195593

    Savage Scorpio

    Alan Burt Akers

    Mushroom eBooks

    Dray Prescot

     Savage Scorpio chronicles the headlong adventures of Dray Prescot on the marvelous andmystical, beautiful and terrible world of Kregen, beneath the Suns of Scorpio, four hundredlight years from Earth. Dray Prescot himself is an enigmatic figure. Reared in the inhumanlyharsh conditions of Nelson’s Navy, he has been transported to Kregen many times through theagencies of the Star Lords and also of the Savanti nal Aphrasöe, mortal but superhuman men andwomen of the Swinging City. There is a discernible pattern underlying all his breathtakingadventures, he is sure of that; but the pattern and its meanings remain veiled and unguessable.

    His appearance as described by one who has seen him is of a man above middle height, with brownhair and level brown eyes, brooding and dominating, with enormously broad shoulders andpowerful physique. There is about him an abrasive honesty and an indomitable courage and hemoves like a savage hunting cat, quiet and deadly. On the dangerous and exotic world of Kregenhe has at various times and for various reasons become a Vovedeer and Zorcander of his wildClansmen of Segesthes, the Lord of Strombor, Strom of Valka, Prince Majister of Vallia, King ofDjanduin — and a member of the Order of Krozairs of Zy, a plethora of titles to which heconfesses with a wryness and an irony I am sure masks much deeper feelings at which we can onlyguess.

    The volumes chronicling his life are arranged to be read as individual books. Now Dray Prescotis plunged headlong into fresh adventures beneath the hurtling Moons of Kregen, in thestreaming mingled lights of Antares, under the Suns of Scorpio.

     Alan Burt Akers

    Chapter One

    The Brotherhood Rides Out.

    Shrill laughter broke excitedly over the Fair of Arial. The deep hum of many voices bartering,chaffering, driving hard bargains mingled with the roars and snarls from the wild-beast cages,the yells of barkers fronting their gaudily striped stalls, the tinkling of bells, the brayingof calsanys. The exotic smells of a myriad different foods being cooked and served, thepervasive aromas of wines, the pungent fumes of dopa, coiled above the sweating happy throngsamong the stalls and booths in the broad open space cresting Arial’s Mound. A living breathingtapestry of noise and movement and color proclaimed the holiday atmosphere of the Fair.

    The two half-naked ragamuffins, scratched by briars and panting from a long run, who ranfleetly from the forest into the outskirts of the throngs where hundreds of people haggled anddrank and sweated and enjoyed themselves, attracted no attention.

    The boys were shouting. Above the din only a few grizzled zorcahandlers near them heard much,and these men, anxious about selling to a credulous fop a zorca whose single spiral horn hadcracked and been expertly pinned and varnished over, shooed the boys away impatiently. Quicklythe boys ran on and tried to attract the attention of others; but everyone was too intent aboutthe business of the pleasures of the Day, too self-engrossed to pay any heed to two dirtyragged lads, acting up a mischief. A group of men who by their equipment and rugged looks weretazll mercenaries, men at the moment without employment, gawped and joked before a brillianttent where feather-clad maidens swayed and danced, clinking silver bells, flashing white teeth,kohled eyes very inviting as their puce-faced barker waved his arms and shouted hoarsely,jingling silver coins, wheedling the tazll mercenaries to enter and enjoy the dancing. Themercenaries sent the boys off with fleas in their ears. Along the rows of stalls where all thevaried produce of the Czarin Sea was displayed for sale the boys rushed, grabbing tunics,pulling decorated sleeves, shouting, and being cuffed and pushed away. Through the packedthrongs and the noise moved vendors carrying heaped trays of delicacies, steaming mouth-wateringly. Cutpurses were active and a man must lief keep his eyes open and a hand closed overhis purse. A few late Elders, solemn and grave with the importance of the coming ceremony,moved toward the central dais. Priests of many cults and religions walked sedately in theblended gorgeous suns shine of Antares, moving in spaces that opened magically for them andclosed as magically after they had passed by. Mostly they were priests of Opaz. There was notone priest of the Great Chyyan, for the last apostle of the Black Feathers had been hanged,very high and very thoroughly from the tallest tree on the island of Nikzm, two of the monthsof the Maiden with the Many Smiles ago. The Fair of Arial on the island of Nikzm in the CzarinSea was, in this guise, only a recent institution. Previously it had been the marketplace forthe pirates who thronged the busy sea-lanes. From the island of Zamra just over the horizon tothe north through the islands fringing Vallia to the west, from past the twin islands of Arltonand Meltzer to the south and Vetal to the east, the people sailed for this seasonal event. Nowmost of the renders had been destroyed, the pirates rendered harmless. Now the hullabaloo ofcommerce and pleasure gave joy and holidays to the good folk of the Czarin Sea. Even from southof Arlton and Meltzer, from Veliadrin and from Valka, the people would sail in a grotesquevariety of ships and unseaworthy boats to the Fair of Arial. Then, when this fair was over forthe season, the folk who followed the Fairs would pack up and travel to the next venue, hopingfor richer pickings, perhaps, for more adventure, for a fresh zest and spice to life. For notall of Kregen, that mysterious and ominous planet four hundred light years from Earth is grimand cruel; among the beauty and the splendor there is room and more for fun and frolic and theenjoyment of living.

    The two boys, bare of foot, scratched of legs and arms, red of face, continually tried toattract attention and were as continually rejected. A fat woman in a red skirt and blackbodice, all wobbling chins and bust and stomach, dropped a wicker basket of loloo’s eggs, wellpacked with straw and moss. Her hands flew up in horror as the two boys caught at her redskirt, shrieking in her ear, dragging her forcibly to make her listen.

    The straw and moss proved woefully insufficient. Loloo’s eggs rolled and cracked and splashedunder the feet of the crowds. The woman threw her apron over her head, concealing herglistening face, and although her face was thus hidden and her screams lost in the merryuproar, by her lurching movements it was clear the boys had caused her the utmost terror. Shestaggered away. The corner tent pole into which she blundered supported an awning givingwelcome shade from the twin suns. The awning collapsed. It billowed inward upon rows of men,dedicated drinkers all assiduously practicing their craft, quaffing good Vallian ale fromglazed ceramic jugs.

    Through all the bedlam of the Fair, belching out like an erupting volcano, the furious uproarfrom the devotees of Beng Dikkane, the patron saint of all the ale drinkers of Paz, bellowedand burst with the impassioned fervor of men interrupted at their worship. Flushed-faced menfought the tangles of cloth. Billows and humps of the gaudy material disgorged men raging withfury. Ale jugs flew, cascading their foaming contents over the drinkers, over passersby, overthe trampled grass indiscriminately, in a wanton paroxysm of involuntary libations. The twoboys, who made no attempt to run away and who —

    amazingly — did not laugh, would be chastised now for a certainty.

    Seg nudged me.

    “Brassud, my old dom! Here comes the Chief Elder.” Seg shot me a wary glance from those feyblue eyes of his, his strong tanned face beneath the mop of dark hair very merry as he preparedto mock me in his usual way. “Where are your wits wandering? This is the islanders’ greatmoment, and here you are, gawping into the air like a loon.”

    “I was watching those two lads, Seg. They’ve disappeared in the confusion — but they’re infor a bit of stick, I fancy. Anyone who gets between an ale-drinker’s ale and his stomach hasonly himself to blame.”

    “I’ll allow that,” said Inch, standing up so that his full seven feet of height gave himsome advantage in peering over the heads of the jostling thousands. “They’re havingthemselves a good time down there. The tent’s right over now and there are ale barrels a-rolling every which way.”

    The confusion really was rather splendid. But my attention had to be directed to the portly,stiff, embarrassed form of doughty old Dolan Pyvorr. The Chief Elder, caparisoned in a blaze offinery, glistening and glittering in the mingled rays of the twin suns, advanced ponderouslyupon the steps leading up to the dais. He carried his Balass Rod with great ceremony. The Rodwas all of two feet in length, banded by nine silver rings, and topped by a silver hirvel head,all fashioned superbly in Vandayha, the city of silversmiths in Valka.

    Seg and Inch and the others of my friends and comrades upon the dais stood up to welcome theChief Elder of Nikzm. I, too, stood up, for the protocol of princes means less than nothingbeside the simple virtues of good manners.

    A little scuffle of shoe leather at my rear took my attention. Turko the Shield used always tostand solidly at my back, in peace as in war. Now I heard his voice, low, saying: “By Morrothe Muscle, Tarek, tread with care—”

    And Tarek Dredd Pyvorr’s answering voice, low, passionate: “You think I seek to harm theprince, Turko the Shield? Are you mad? Have you lost your senses? I, who owe everything to him?He meets my father, and he has asked that I stand with him at that time.”

    I took no notice. Turko might be overly officious about caring for my person — that is a greatcomfort on Kregen, believe me.

    A little more shuffling and arrangements went on, and Balass the Hawk and Oby would have toshift along, I guessed. I killed my smile. Yes, we were a real bunch of tearaways, rightvillains all, comrades in arms, and here we were, dressed up like popinjays and standing on anoverly-ornately decorated dais beneath a pavilion of cloth of silver, the focus of attentionand — as they say — the cynosure of all eyes, waiting for the great moment, a great inauguralmoment, in the Fair of Arial. Among that group on the dais were others of my friends, some of

    whom you have met before in my narrative, others who, comrades in arms, have not yet found apersonal mention. We were here expressly at the invitation of the Elders and People of Nikzm totake part in the ceremony about to begin. That was the official explanation for our presence.The true reason we were here was to meet in privacy, away from the prying eyes and ears of thecapital — from which, anyway, I was banished — and all other teeming cities, to take furthersteps in the formation of the new Brotherhood. Dredd Pyvorr stood a half-pace to the rear andto my left. He was garbed resplendently, as we all were, out of honor to the Elders and Peopleof this tiny island of Nikzm. Now as his father climbed the steps to the dais, Dredd Pyvorrwhispered his thanks anew to me.

    “You have made me a Tarek, my prince. My father has been raised to become an Elder of ourisland, and to be Chief Elder—”

    “I did not make him Chief Elder, Dredd. That he achieved himself, elected by his peers, out ofhis honesty and courage.”

    The Pyvorrs were hard-working, simple folk, the salt of the Earth — or of Kregen — and oncethe pirates had been cleared away and their markets closed to make way for the Fair of Arial,the island needed to be handled afresh. Situated just south of the island of Zamra, of which Iam kov, Nikzm needed a council of Elders. Also, because he had fought well for us, and becausehe pleased me in his forthrightness and gallantry, Dredd Pyvorr had been made a Tarek, a rankof the minor nobility and within the gifting of a kov. Seg had made his Tareks in his kovnateof Falinur, and Inch his in his kovnate of the Black Mountains, both in Vallia.

    “My loyalty to you is unshakable, my prince. And my gratitude eternal.” In some mouths thesewords would have raised my hackles, made me think, created suspicion. They did nothing of thekind when spoken by Dredd Pyvorr.

    His father climbed up the last few steps, puffing, broad and scarlet, and he bowed. He knewenough of my ways not to go into the incline or the full incline. I bowed in return and heldout my hand.

    “Well met, Elder Pyvorr. The Fair is a great success.” We could hear ourselves speak, up hereon the dais, with the bumblebee murmuring of the crowds around us. The fun over at the upsetale tent continued, and I fancied two small ragged forms would be, eel-like, squirming to avoidcapture and chastisement.

    “Lahal, my prince! Lahal and Lahal! Indeed—!” and here Pyvorr turned himself ponderouslyaround to survey the magnitude of the Fair with the noise and color and jollity. “Indeed thisis an auspicious day.”

    I did not know why the invitation to attend this Fair had been sent me in the form it had. ButSeg and Inch and the others seemed to know, and had prevailed upon me to attend. Anyway, Iwanted to know how the island was prospering, now that it no longer had piracy to depend on fora living. The economy ran well, and the crops grew and the fishermen reported bumper catches,and copper had been discovered in the rolling hills that centered the tiny island. A tinybreeze licked in and flicked lazily at the banners and guidons, at the standards and flags. Myold scarlet and yellow flag flew up there, and the red and white of Valka, and the red andyellow of Vallia, and the blue and yellow of Zamra. And, surrounded by panoply, we stood likepeacocks in our glittering clothes. Pyvorr gestured to his Council of Elders, all standinggravely to one side, waiting for the proceedings to open. The few guards needed to keep themore importunate of the crowds away from the railed off space at the foot of the dais had notrouble. They were Pachaks, and they were every one a picked man, and they were the firstbodyguard of the Brotherhood, not as yet fully inducted into the secrets of the Order; butdevoted and loyal and soon to become acolytes. They were not mercenaries, having homes andsteadings on Zamra.

    The Council Elders all lifted their right hands.

    Pyvorr turned heavily back to face me and lifted his own right hand. He glanced across at therank of nine Womox trumpeters. Their horns were gilded and garlanded with roses above the

    fierce bull-like faces. Their tabards shone with silver thread. They lifted the long straightsilver trumpets. Each massive chest expanded with air sucked into powerful lungs. The trumpetscaught the streaming mingled lights of the suns and glittered with silver starpoints.

    The trumpeters pealed their fanfare. High and ringing, shrill, imperative, demanding, thesilver notes pierced above the hubbub.

    Silence did not fall at once. Rather, gradually and with ebbing and flowing disturbances, theuproar slowly faded. People ceased what they were doing — bargaining, buying, selling, eating,drinking, skylarking, testing their strength, having their fortunes told — and drifted outfrom the booths and tents into the open spaces and alleyways where they might see and hear whatwent on upon the high dais. The noise persisted as the people settled down in the suns shinefor the ceremony. Two dirty, raggedy figures darted out from the mass, pushing and shoving tomake their way through to the front where the Pachaks stood on guard with the steel winking intheir tail hands, upflung past their shoulders.

    The boys shouted; but their shouts were lost in the bellows of outraged anger from some of thecrowd. Others in the crowd began to shout, but in a different key, and to push and shove away,trying to escape the pressing throngs.

    The boys burst out into the little cleared space at the foot of the dais. The Pachaks, veteransall, eyed them cautiously.

    Amid the confusion of shout and counter shout some words jumped up from those in the crowdtrying to push away.

    “. . . all riding sleeths!” and “. . . leaving us defenseless, open to massacre orenslavement!”

    And, coinciding with the two boys’ impassioned shrieks as they darted past the Pachaks andhalfway up the steps, a word that grew and rolled about the Fairground and drew into itselfmuch of the dark evil that festers on Kregen—

    “Katakis! Katakis!”

    “Slavers! Slavers!”

    Somehow, my sword was in my fist.

    Not all slavers are Katakis, that tailed race of devils, but almost all Katakis are slavers —given half a chance.

    I swung about to face that band of brothers there on the high dais. Resplendent nincompoops welooked, decked out in all our finery. But each man wore a sword — except Turko — and each manwas a comrade in arms, a bonny fighter, a veteran.

    “Brothers!” I bellowed. I lifted the sword in a deliberately theatrical gesture, the longslender rapier blade glittering high. “This is work for the Order! For this we are created.”I yelled at Turko direct.

    “Turko — fetch me up those two lads — and treat them gently. Oby — the zorcas. Seg, Inch,Balass—”

    But my friends were already running, leaping down the steps four at a time, pouring out to beltacross the flattened grass to the zorca lines. And Young Oby raced ahead of them all. Turkoappeared with a squirming tattered figure under each arm.

    “And keep silent until the prince speaks to you, you Imps of Sicce!”

    They slammed onto their feet, and Turko held a scruff of the neck in each ferociously powerfulfist. I bent down.

    “You have done well,” I said. I spoke evenly but firmly, well knowing the kind of impressionI could make if I was clumsy. “Where away are these Opaz-forsaken Katakis? You will lead us?”

    “Yes, koter—”

    Turko shook them.

    Koter is the equivalent of gentleman, mister, and it was clear these two ragamuffins hadencountered koters as the highest form of life. Not that I put store by ranks and titles, asyou know, except as artifices to get things done.

    “Address the prince as prince, famblys!”

    “Yes, prince—”

    As useful to ask these two if they could ride a zorca as ask them if they had a pocket full ofgolden talens.

    “You take one, Turko. I’ll take this rascal.”

    Seizing up my lad, who had a shock of brown hair that was probably more alive than many alanguid noble of the court, I leaped off down the steps. Turko followed. Tom Tomor ti Vulheimreined past on his zorca, kicking dust as he slewed around and so pushed back the crowd. Vangarti Valkanium did the same on the other side. Dredd Pyvorr appeared leading a zorca and Turkowould have given her to me; but I waved him on and caught at the reins Oby flung at me. Up wentmy urchin across the saddle, my left boot went into the stirrup, and with a flick of my hand Iwas seated. My lad squirmed around, for the zorca may be the most beautiful of mounts, withfour tall spindly legs, a marvel of grace and stamina; but the zorca is remarkably close-coupled and there is barely room for two.

    “Your name, lad?”

    “Tim, if it please you, ko— prince.”

    “Right, Tim. Which way?”

    He pointed.

    The wide expanse of Arial’s Mound covered with the booths and stalls and wild-beast pens andstabling lines, with the now more than a little ludicrous high dais at the center, was rapidlyclearing of people. They were running off in all directions. Some, at least, must be headingstraight for the viciously-waiting arms of the Kataki slavers.

    Tim pointed to the east, a direction that paralleled the coast, distant some two ulms. DreddPyvorr reined across, his face furious, highly colored, intense.

    “Briar’s Cove, lad? Am I right?”

    “Yes, prince, you are right!” sang out the lad with Turko.

    “Fambly!” said Turko, incensed. “Only the prince is the prince.”

    “For the Order!” I bellowed. As of its own volition, it seemed, my rapier had appeared in atwinkling at the first mention of the Katakis, and had scabbarded itself when the lads had runup, so now, once more, the glittering blade snapped out. I waved it high and pointed forward. “Ride!”

    As a group we rode out, past the last scattering fugitives, screaming and wailing, out alongthe narrow track that led through this neck of the forest, to curve down to Briar’s Cove. Itappeared to me the Katakis, with the Fair as cover, had struck inland to take the chief town ofNikzm by surprise. Once they had possession of that, they could sweep up the people as theyarrived. Long memories of pirate raids, of slavers and aragorn snatching away whole families,dictated that only those villages that needs must, say by reason of the fishing, would be builton the coast. In this, this section of the Outer Oceans resembled the Inner Sea, the Eye of theWorld of Kregen. As we rode furiously along, a fresh thought rose to torment me. The Katakisare a race strong and powerful, with a tail that, equipped with bladed steel, makes of themformidable opponents. They are also low-browed, dark, with thick black hair, oiled and curled,with gape-jawed mouths fanged with snaggly teeth, and generally of an evil, pestiferous nature.But we had met and bested them before. The thought that occasioned me some agony was simplythis; no force of Kataki slavers would raid here, in the very shadow of the puissant empire ofVallia, for all the empire’s internal problems, unless they raided in strength. They must be astrong and determined band.

And we were few.

    I led my men into a battle that could easily end with us all dead or enslaved. Yet no one hadthought to count the cost. No one had thought to reck the consequences. Katakis had had thenerve to land on one of my islands to raid and enslave; therefore my band of brothers followedme into headlong action.

    Through the coldness of these thoughts the warmth flowed that we were a band of brothers, wefought together as comrades in arms. This would be the first real test of the Order, for everyman who rode with me had been invited to become a member, and had joyfully accepted. He hadaccepted the strictures laid on him, the demands that membership of the Order would entail. Thesimple, pure-minded and naive chivalry of the first rules of the Order may make me smile now;but they remain as true as ever, despite all that has happened since. We were idealistic,believing that too much violence on Kregen was being used by the wrong people, that we shoulddo what we could to redress the balance. And these Opaz-forsaken Kataki slavers had turned up,right on our doorstep, to present us with our first challenge, our first test.

    Certainly, as we thundered along the forest trail, kicking dust and twigs, a bright andcolorful company, I did not count the discomfiture of the Black Feathers of the Great Chyyan.That evil creed had been bested in Vallia, for the time being, and the beating of it had notbeen at the hands of the Order as an Order. If I am a credulous man, that is understandable,seeing the marvels I have witnessed in my life. But I detected a fundamental and powerfulcurrent of fate in this meeting between slavers and the Brotherhood.

    Ahead the track twisted around a giant lenk, the oak-like tree growing to an enormous girth andshedding a deep and somber shadow upon the trail. We roared around the angle and beyond a sharpdeclivity the trees ended and a long greensward opened up. I reined in, my hand upflung, myzorca skidding and sliding.

    Slowly, I cantered out into the open.

    The others followed.

    We stared.

    The ground was littered with color, with steel, with bodies and with blood. Slowly, we walkedour zorcas through the shambles, the animals restive, not liking the stink of fresh-spilledblood, but obedient and going on, well-trained to the stark realities of war.

    “So here are your Katakis, Tim.”

    Tim was being sick.

    The ground was littered with bodies and with blood — Kataki bodies and Kataki blood. Idismounted. As I looked up I saw for the first time that Young Oby had snatched up the scarletflag with the great yellow cross upon it, my flag, the battle flag that fighting men call OldSuperb. It shone in the mingled suns-light.

    “These devils have been killed handsomely,” observed Seg. He bent over a corpse, kicking thelimp tail away so that the bladed steel strapped to the tip clinked against a fallen helmet. Hepicked up a bow. Oh, it was not a great Lohvian long bow; being of a compound reflexconstruction; but in Seg Segutorio’s hands any bow is a deadly weapon par excellence. Hesmiled up at me. “I feel only half naked now.”

    The Katakis had fought hard. They lay in windrows at the end, piled high. Their wounds were allin front. But they were all dead, methodically butchered.

    “Who could have done this?” said Dredd Pyvorr. He looked pinched of face. “Katakis arenotorious —


    Chuliks and Pachaks command the highest fees as mercenaries, for different reasons. Our smallguard of Pachaks remained mounted, instinctively carrying out soldier’s work, scouting ahead,sniffing out the devils who had slain devils.

    The body of one Kataki intrigued me. He was a big fellow, although Katakis are as a rule notoverly tall. His helmet had fallen off. His face reminded me of that of Rukker. The arrow hadpunched through his bronze-studded scaled corselet.

    At my side, Seg whistled.

    “A goodly shaft. . .”

    He bent to pull it out.

    I said: “You’ll find it will come hard. As a wager, I’ll venture there are six or sevenbarbs a side. That’s no Lohvian shaft, Seg.”

    “But it is as long — what bow is there that — oh!”

    “Yes,” I said. And I nodded and felt the anger in me, and the despair, the sorrow, and thevengeful fury.

    “I have never met an archer who can best a Bowman of Loh,” said Seg Segutorio, speakingsoftly. “But you have told me of these devils, and it seems we are to meet them, now.”

    “They must be devils indeed to destroy these Katakis, who are devils spawned from Cottmer’sCaverns,” said Dredd Pyvorr, feelingly.

    “From around the curve of the world,” I said. “From whence no man knows. They sail in theirswift, magical ships, raiding, destroying, looting, burning. They are diffs unlike any in thewhole of Paz. They are not men like us. They are the Shanks, the Shants, the Shtarkins, LeemLovers, vile, to be destroyed, vermin — and yet, and yet, I know they are courageous to sailtheir ships all those untold dwaburs across the open seas. They are not men like us; but theyare men.”

    “And they’ll slay us all as soon as look,” said Inch, sourly.

    Dredd Pyvorr gripped onto the hilt of his rapier. His pinched mouth shook; then he had controlof himself.

    “I know of whom you speak, prince. We call them Shkanes — they have many names, all vile.Fish-Heads — yes, their horror goes before them.”

    I turned to young Tim, who had recovered and was now busily plundering the dead bodies, a mostsensible occupation.

    “You said they rode sleeths, Tim.”

    “So they did, prince,” Tim looked up, his hands full of rings and chains and brooches, with awicked-looking dagger stuck into his breechclout. I winced. He could do himself a permanent andmost unfortunate injury if he were injudicious.

    “There are no sleeths here, you imp of Sicce!” roared Balass the Hawk. He was prowling aboutlooking for a sword more to his liking than a rapier, and hoping vainly to come across ashield. “Sleeths are stupid reptiles, at best, but they’d stick to their dead masters.”

    “That means, brothers, that the Shanks have ridden off on the Katakis’ sleeths.”

    Oby ran off.

    The sleeth is a saddle dinosaur, variously scaled and marked, which runs on two legs, the foreclaws stunted and in a way pathetically stupid, and with the long thick tail outstretched tothe rear to provide balance. They are an uncomfortable ride and I have nothing to do with them.I am a Zorca and a Vove man. I ride a Nikvove when I cannot saddle a Vove, and I like thesuperb joats of my Djangs, and I have some time for a few other of the riding mounts of Kregen.But sleeths — no, I do not fancy them. From just over the brow of the slope Oby screeched andwaved his arms, so we trotted over there. He pointed down.

    The unmistakable tracks of sleeth claws showed in a muddy patch where water trickled past thegrasses. The tracks pointed downslope and to the farther side of the greensward where theforest closed in again. The forest did not, at that moment, look in the least inviting.

    “Find yourselves battle weapons more suitable than rapiers,” I shouted. “Then we ride todeal with the Fish-Heads.”

    No one passed a comment on our riding to deal with men who had already dealt with the Katakisfor us. For all their horrific reputation, the Katakis were small beer beside the Shanks, theFish-Heads, from over the curve of the world.

    Our Pachaks trotted in from their scouting duty and dismounted to search for weapons. Thechoices were plentiful. If the Shanks had taken any weapons from the shambles of thebattlefield it made little impression on the numbers remaining. I selected a good stout cut andthruster, a version of the Havilfarese thraxter or the Vallian clanxer, and buckled it onscabbarded to its own belt. Its owner no longer possessed a face, besides now losing his sword.

    Because I had steeled myself to go through with the ceremony at the Fair of Arial, a functionwhose purpose appeared to be known to all my friends and not to myself, I had donned the brightfoppish clothes and had forced myself to ignore them, to grow accustomed to them. Now, and, Iconfess, with some relief and also somewhat pettishly, I stripped off the belts and ripped awaythe gaudy silks and sensils, threw down the brocaded pelisse and the feathered mazilla — thething had been irritating and itching at me all day — and so stood forth clad only in the oldscarlet breechclout. In a battle a man needs protection from the blow he does not see. Withresignation, then, I found pieces of armor that would fit and so donned a semblance of a breastand back, finding a reasonable fit over a padded vest. The scaled armor was flexible enough,the bronze studs barbaric against the black. Also, I took up a bow and four quivers, fillingthem from other, half-emptied quivers. As for the helmets of the Katakis, these are small andround and completely without embellishment, save for what may be painted on or engraved. ThePachaks are the same about their helmets. No fighting man who uses a bladed tail wants gaudyornaments in his helmet to interfere with the lean lethal sweep of that deadly tail. Findingone that fit I strapped it up. At the least, it might save my old vosk-skull from a terminalcrack. Inch appeared in high delight, tempered only by the fact that the axe he had found wasnot a true danheim axe, being double-bitted and short in the haft; but, as he said, it wouldserve to lop a few Fish-Heads’ heads, it would serve. . .

    There were no shields, for, as you know, the fighting men of this part of Kregen regarded theshield as a coward’s accoutrement, a stupidity that Balass and I had been doing something torectify. So Balass had to content himself with a good cut and thruster, and a powerful main-gauche built to mammoth proportions. As for Turko, the Khamster who could rip a warrior apartwith his bare hands, the Khamorro who disdained all edged and pointed weapons, he still had hisbalass and steel parrying stick, a decadence of belief shocking and yet reassuring to me, forhe, too, Turko the Shield, could not carry his great shield into battle at my back.

    Oby took up Old Superb, and with the old battle flag floating above us, we rode from that sceneof destruction and plunged into the gloomy defiles of the forest.

    Turning in my saddle I saw the two lads, Tim and his friend, still hard at work. I sighed.Children learn the facts of life hard on Kregen — a phenomenon not unfamiliar to children onthis Earth — but the facts they learn on Kregen are altogether more harsh and lurid. Turned inmy saddle I noticed the tall whipcord tough body of the tazll mercenary who had been the onlyone to ride with us when we’d galloped from the Fair. He was a diff, a Khibil, with the hard,sharp, fox-like face of that people, with bristling whiskers and proud dark eyes. He had notdismounted to collect weapons. He carried a long lance, a rapier and main gauche and a cut andthruster. I had not failed to notice the silver mortil-head looped on its silver silken cord athis throat. He was a Paktun, a famed mercenary. He was not of the Order, not one of theBrotherhood, and so I had been wrong when I had so enthusiastically enjoined on us all as aband of brothers that we rode about the Order’s business. But, all the same, he lookedcompetent and tough and a useful man to have in such a fight as we would soon encounter.

    Just ahead of him rode half a dozen of the minor nobility created by Seg and Inch, Tareks all,young men devoted to their lords and to the ideals of the Order.

    Foleanor Arc, the young Strom of Meltzer, rode next ahead, brilliant, laughing, his guitarslung to his saddle bow and, I knew, causing him great anguish that he could not strum thestrings and then give us a rousing song to help us on our way. With him rode Kenli ti

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