The Leading eBooks Store Online 4,173,809 members ⚫ 1,357,844 ebooks

New to eBooks.com?

Learn more

Suns of Scorpio

Suns of Scorpio by Alan Burt Akers
Buy this eBook
US$ 2.99
(If any tax is payable it will be calculated and shown at checkout.)

The second book of the Dray Prescot series.

Slave of the colossus builders or scourge of the Inland Sea?

Both roles awaited Dray Prescot on his return to Kregen. Torn between two contending forces, the Star Lords and the Savanti, Prescot himself wanted only to find his beloved, the Princess Delia of the Blue Mountains. But the powers that had drawn him across interstellar space to the world that orbited the red and green suns in the Constellation Scorpio had set him a task, the nature of which even he could not fully comprehend...

Mushroom Publishing; December 2005
ISBN 9781843193456
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: Suns of Scorpio
Author: Alan Burt Akers
 
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Summons of the Scorpion

Once before I had been flung out of paradise.

Now as I tried to gather up the broken threads of my life on this Earth, I, Dray Prescot, realized how useless mere pretense was. Everything I held dear, all I wanted of hope or happiness, still existed on Kregen under the Suns of Scorpio. There, I knew, my Delia waited for me. Delia! My Delia of the Blue Mountains, my Delia of Delphond — for the Star Lords had contemptuously thrust me back to Earth before Delia could become Delia of Strombor. There on Kregen beneath Antares all I desired was denied to me here on Earth.

My return to this Earth brought me one unexpected experience.

Peace had broken out.

Since the age of eighteen I had known nothing but war, apart from that brief and abortive period of the Peace of Amiens, and even then I had not been completely free. What the new peace meant to me was simple and unpleasant.

The details of my wanderings after I managed to escape the inquiries after my arrival, naked, on that beach in Portugal are not important, for I confess I must have been living in shock. I had vanished overboard as far as the deck watch was concerned, that night seven years ago, disappearing forever from Roscommon’s quarterdeck the night after we had taken that French eighty-gun ship. Had I, as far as the navy was concerned, still been alive I would in the normal course of events have expected to be promoted to commander. Now, with the peace, with a seven-year lapse of life to explain, with ships being laid up and men cast adrift to rot on shore, what chance had I, plain Dray Prescot, of achieving the giddy heights of command?

Through chance I was in Brussels when the Corsican escaped from Elba and aroused France for the final dying glory of the Hundred Days.

I imagined I knew how Bonaparte felt.

He had had the world at his feet, and then he had nothing but a tiny island. He had been rejected, deposed, his friends had turned against him — he, too, in a way, had been kicked out of his paradise.

It had been my duty to fight Bonaparte and his fleets; so it was without any sense of incongruity that I found myself at Waterloo on that fateful day of the eighteenth of June, 1815.

The names are all familiar now — La Belle Alliance, La Haye Sainte, Hougoumont; the sunken road, the charges, the squares, the cavalry defeats, the onslaught of the Old Guard — all have been talked about and written about as no other battle in all this Earthly world. Somehow in the smashing avalanches of the British volleys as the Foot Guards hurled back the elite Old Guard, and I charged down with Colborne’s 52nd, and we saw the sway and the recoil of the Guard and then were haring after the ruined wreck of the French army, I found a powder-tasting, bitter, unpleasant anodyne for my hopeless longings.

In the aftermath of battle I was able to render some assistance to an English gentleman who, being inopportunely pressed by a swearing group of moustached grenadiers of the Old Guard, was happy to allow me to drive them off. This meeting proved of no little importance; indeed, had my life been led as are ordinary people’s lives — that is, decently, on the planet of their birth until their death — it would have marked a most momentous day. Our friendship ripened during the days he was nursed back to full health and on our return to London he insisted I partake of his hospitality. You will notice I do not mention his name, and this I do for very good and sound reasons. Suffice it to say that through his friendship and influence I was able to place my little store of money into good hands, and I mark the beginning of my present Earthly fortune as originating on the field of Waterloo.

But it is not of my days on Earth that I would tell you.

Feeling the need once more of wide horizons and the heel of a ship beneath my feet I shipped out — as a passenger — and traveled slowly in the general direction of India, where I hoped to find something, anything, I knew not what, to dull the ever-present ache that made of all I did on this Earth pointless and plodding and mere routine existence.

There seemed to me then little rhyme or reason for the malicious pranks played on me by the Star Lords. I had no clear conception of who or what they were — I didn’t give a damn then, either, just so long as they returned me to Kregen beneath Antares. I had seen that gorgeous scarlet and golden-feathered hunting bird, greater than either hawk or eagle, the Gdoinye, circling above me during moments of crisis. And, too, I had seen the white dove that had up to then ignored the scarlet and golden raptor. There were forces in play I did not and didn’t want to understand as the Star Lords battled for what they desired in their mysterious unhuman ways with whatever forces opposed them; and the Savanti — mere human men after all — looked on appalled and attempted to move the pieces of destiny in ways that would benefit mere mortal humanity.

The forces that moved destiny chose to transport me to Kregen under the Suns of Scorpio during my first night ashore in Bombay.

The heat, stifling and intense, the smells, the flies, the cacophony of noise, all these things meant nothing to me. I had experienced far worse. And on that night, so long ago now, the stars above my head flung down a sheening light that coalesced and fused into a burning patina mocking me and closing me in. I had reached that point of despair in which I believed that never again would I tread the fields of Kregen, never again look out from the walls of my palace of Strombor in Zenicce, never again hold in my arms Delia of Delphond.

From the balcony, I looked up at the stars, with the night breeze susurrating great jagged leaves and the insects buzzing in their millions, and picked out, not without some difficulty, that familiar red fire of Antares, the arrogant upflung tail of the constellation of Scorpio. I stared longingly, sick with that inner crumbling of spirit that recognized with loathing that I did, indeed, despair.

In my agony and my desperation I had thought that India might provide a scorpion — as it had bred the one that killed my father.

Clearly, that long-ago night, I was light-headed. When I looked up at the stars, at the red fire of Antares, and the familiar blue lambency grew, swelling and bloating into the blue-limned outlines of a giant scorpion, I was drained of all the exultation that had uplifted me the last time this had happened.

I simply lifted up my arms and let myself be carried wherever the Star Lords willed, happy only that I should once again tread the earth of Kregen, under the Suns of Scorpio.

* * * *

Without opening my eyes I knew I was on Kregen.

The stinking heat of a sweltering Bombay night was gone. I felt a cooling breeze on my forehead. Also, I felt a peculiar scrabbling tickling sensation on my chest. Slowly, almost languorously, I opened my eyes.

As I had half expected to be, I was naked.

But, sitting on my chest and waving its tail at me, a large, reddish, armor-glinting scorpion poised on its squat legs.

Without being able to help myself, moving with a violence entirely beyond my control, I leaped to my feet with a single bound. I yelled. The scorpion, dislodged, was flung out and away. It fell among a rocky outcrop and, regaining its legs with an ungraceful waddle, vanished into a crack among the rocks.

I took a deep breath. I remembered the scorpion that had killed my father. I remembered the phantom scorpion who had crewed for me aboard the leaf boat on that original journey down the sacred River Aph. I remembered too the scorpion that had appeared as my friends laughed and I had sat with Delia, my Delia of the Blue Mountains, with the red sunshine of Zim flooding the chamber and the greenish light of Genodras just creeping into the corner of the window, as we made the bokkertu for our betrothal, just before I had been flung out of Kregen. I remembered these times of terror and despair when I had previously seen a scorpion — and I laughed.

Yes, I, Dray Prescot, who seldom smiled, laughed!

For I knew I was back on Kregen. I could tell by the feeling of lightness about my body, the scent on the wind, the mingled shards of light falling about me in an opaline glory from the twin suns of Antares.

So I laughed.

I felt free, rejuvenated, alive, gloriously alive, the blood singing through my body and ready for anything this savage, beautiful, vicious, and beloved world of Kregen might offer. With a strange exalted kind of curiosity, I looked about me.

That blessed familiar pink sunshine bathed the landscape in glory. A grove of trees before me, bending in the wind, showed the white and pink blossoms of the missal. Grass as green and luscious as any that ever grew on Earth spread beneath my feet. Far away on the horizon, so far that I knew I stood upon a lofty eminence, the line of the sea cut cleanly into the brilliant sky. I breathed in deeply, expanding my chest. I felt more alive than at any time since I had been snatched away from my palace of Strombor in Zenicce. Once again I was on Kregen. I was home!

I walked slowly toward the demarcated edge of the grass near to me on my left hand, at right angles to that distant prospect of the sea. I was naked. If it had been the Star Lords who had brought me here this time, or the Savanti, those dispassionate, near-perfect men of the Swinging City of Aphrasöe, then I would not expect otherwise. Truth to tell, I think they understood how less in my estimation they would stand had they thought to provide me with clothing, with weapons, a sword, a helmet, a shield, or spear. I was brought to this planet of Kregen beneath Antares, as I believed, for a purpose, even though as yet I might not divine what that purpose might be. I understood something of the way of those forces that had snatched me across four hundred light-years of interstellar space.

The grass felt soft and springy beneath my feet and the wind blew through my hair. At the lip of the precipice I stood looking out and down on a sight at once incredible and beautiful in its insolent power. However beautiful that sight might be and however incredible, I did not care. I was back on Kregen. Just whereabouts on the surface of the planet I had been placed I had no way of knowing, and I didn’t care. I knew only that whatever faced me in the days ahead I would find my way back to Strombor in Zenicce, that proud city of the continent of Segesthes, find my way back to clasp Delia in my arms once more. If she had left Strombor, where she would still regard herself as in a foreign land, and had returned to her home by the Blue Mountains in Vallia and to her father, the emperor of the unified island empire, then I would follow her there too. I would go to the ends of this world as I would my own to find Delia of the Blue Mountains.

Below me extended a rocky shelf cut from the side of the cliff. Below that another extended. Each shelf was about a hundred yards wide. They descended like a dizzyingly disorienting giant’s staircase, down and down, until the last shelf vanished beneath the calm surface of a narrow ribbon of water. Opposite me the shelves rose again from the water, up and up, stepped up and back and back, rising until I could look across five miles of clear air to the opposite lip. Here and there smaller stairways threaded the rock faces. I turned and looked inland. The perspectives dwindled away and were lost in the distance.

The supposition appeared extraordinary — ridiculous, even — but from the order of the level steps, the block facings, and the uniformity of appearance, I judged this Grand Canal to be man-made. Or, if not entirely man-made, then certainly the hand of man had been laid on what was originally a canal linking the outer wave-tossed ocean with the calmer and smoother waters of an inland sea.

I could see no sign of any living thing. However, I felt that a projecting mass perched on the topmost level directly opposite me, a rocky edifice squared and minutely distinct in the clean air, must be some form of habitation. A tremor of smoke arose from its summit, black and thin at the distance, trailing away in the wind.

The last time I had arrived on Kregen I had heard Delia’s scream ringing in my ears. This time, also, I heard a scream; but I knew instantly that it was not Delia’s.

Running toward the bluff from which the breeze blew and the gentle sound of the sea could now be heard susurrating murmurously in the warm air, I saw a figure break through a screen of trees and, staggering a few steps forward, fall full-length on the sward.

As I reached him I saw he was not a man.

He was a Chulik, one of those beast-humans born like men with two arms and legs, with a face that might also have been human but for the twin three-inch long upward-reaching tusks, and who in nothing else resembled humanity. His skin was a smooth oily yellow. His eyes small, black, and round like currants. He was strong and powerful, a mercenary warrior, with his mail coif from which the ventail hung open, and a hauberk that reached down to mid-thigh. He carried no weapons that I could see. His strength and power was attested to by the fact that he had screamed at all, with the red pudding that was his face all pulpy, lacerated, and bloody.

A silence descended.

I had no idea as yet which one of the many hostile and savagely ferocious predators of Kregen might have so ravaged his face. But I felt a familiar thrill of blood thump along my veins — and then I truly knew I had returned to Kregen beneath the Suns of Scorpio.

The only previous occasion on Kregen I had seen mail had been when the Princess Natema Cydones had tempted me. In an alcove a giant mail-clad man had stood, silent and motionless, bearing a rapier of such marvelous workmanship and balance, that same rapier I had captured and used in that final victorious fight in Strombor. Armor of any kind was a useful sort of clothing to wear on Kregen. Around the Chulik’s waist was a white garment striped with green.

At sight of the green-striped material I frowned.

However, as you will have gathered by now, I am not overly squeamish about the small things of life, and so I stripped off the garment of green-striped white cloth and wrapped it about myself into a kind of breechclout.

Infinitely more important than clothes on Kregen are weapons, more important even than armor. This Chulik carried no weapon. This was exceedingly strange. Carefully, walking with that light springy tread that carried me soundlessly over the grass, I approached the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea.

The wind sported in my hair. I looked over and down.

The sea heaved gently a long way down the jagged cliffs. I could barely make out a curving beach of yellow sand where waves broke which I could barely hear. A few gulls and other seabirds wheeled; but they were strangely silent. That sea shone a refulgent blue. The seas that washed the shores of the continent of Segesthes were green, or gray, sometimes blue with a hardness and coldness about that blueness; this sea moved languidly, smoothly, and its blueness struck back at the eye. I had seen that blueness of water in the Mediterranean. With a sailor’s eye I studied the scene, and I took particular notice of a vessel half-drawn up on that narrow curve of yellow sand.

She was a galley. Her ram beak, her pencil-thin lines, the oars now drawn inboard, all proclaimed that clearly. But she was not like that galley that had welcomed me to Aphrasöe, the Swinging City, after my inaugural journey down the sacred River Aph.

I looked about the edge of the cliff, rooting among the bushes that lined the crest. I did not find any weapon the Chulik might have dropped.

I looked further along the cliff edge, seeking the probable path the mercenary would have ascended. I became very still.

A group of creatures squatted there half-hidden by the bushes. The bushes were thorn-ivy, thickets to be avoided by those with tender skin. These creatures snuggled within the thick thorn-encrusted loops, squatting on all sixes, their coarse gray pelts matted with dirt, leaves, and excrement, their heads all turned to look down the ascending pathway up the face of the cliff.

Now I knew what manner of creature it was who had torn out the Chulik’s face.

They were not unlike the Segesthan rock-ape, the grundal, some five feet in height when standing erect, with thin spiderish limbs that in their agility could take them swinging with nonchalant ease across rocks that would defeat a mountain goat. I had seen them on occasion among the distant mountains bordering the Great Plains of Segesthes, when I had hunted with my Clansmen; these fellows were of a land: vicious, cowardly, deadly when hunting in packs. Their heads were all turned away from me, yet I knew what they would be like from a frontal view. Their mouths were incredibly large, closing in folds of flesh, and when open round and armed with concentric rows of needle-like teeth. They looked not unlike some of those single-minded predatory fish dredged up from the deep seas, all mouth and fangs.

Something like ten or a dozen waited in the bushes.

Sounds broke on the still air. The scuffle of feet, the rattle of stones, the quick chatter of people in animated careless conversation. Listening with ears trained as a warrior with the Clansmen of Felschraung, I did not hear the sound I wanted to hear. I could hear no chink of weapons.

Now the voices were close enough for me to understand what was being said. The language was a form of Kregish so close to what I knew that I was convinced Segesthes could not be far removed from wherever I was now.

“When I catch you, Valima,” puffed a light eager boy’s voice, “you know what to expect, I trust?”

“Catch me?” The girl’s voice was filled with laughter, clear, trilling, carefree, hugely enjoying herself and the moment. “Why, I declare, Gahan Gannius, you could not catch a fat greasy merchant at his prayers!”

“You will be at your prayers in a moment!”

Now I could see them as they laughed, puffing and toiling up the slope. The explanation for their words and the young man’s clear exasperation was simple. He pursued the girl up the trail zigzagging in the cliff face, and she, a laughing sprite, danced on ahead. She carried a twisted bundle of clothing over her head. From the bundle loops of pearls hung down over her ears, a leather belt, a corner of a green and white cloth, a golden buckle. Both she and the boy were naked; and despite her burden she was able to keep him at any distance she desired. She bounded ahead with a gay laugh that sounded by far too reckless for a young naked girl on a cliff face with a dozen grundals lying in wait.

Their guard, the Chulik, lay with his face ripped out.

I picked up the first stone. It lay near the edge, a large, jagged stone, satisfactorily heavy in my hand.

A man, weaponless among a world of predators, must find what he can to defend himself. It is in his nature not to let himself die easily. I had proved that, many times.

I stood up.

“Hai!” I shouted. And, again, “Hai!”

I threw the stone. I did not stop to check its flight but bent immediately, seized another from the crumpled outcrop, and hurled it. The first stone, as I threw the second, cracked into the head of the nearest grundal. When the third was on its way I saw the second smite the next grundal a glancing blow, upon that round teeth-filled muzzle so like that of a deep sea fish.

“Beware!” I took breath to yell. “Grundal!”

Six stones I threw, six hard jagged bolts of pulverizing rock, before the grundals were on me.

They were not like the Segesthan rock-apes I had known before. Each one ran on his lower pair of limbs, claws scrabbling, and his upper pair reached out to grasp me and draw my face into that grinning orbit of teeth so that it might be bitten off. But, surprising me, each one carried in his middle limbs’ hands a stout stick, a cudgel perhaps three feet long.

Had they known it, that was their mistake.

Claws and cudgels and needle-sharp teeth raked for me. I sprang sideways, took the first upraised cudgel, turned, and twisted and bent, and the cudgel was mine.

A grundal screeched and leaped in from the side and I in my turn leaped and kicked him alongside his head, feeling the needle-fangs’ pressure through those folds of skin. The cudgel broke the skull of the one in front.

“Your back!” a voice screamed from somewhere.

I bent and rolled and the lunging grundal went over me and the cudgel helped him on his way. I could not dispatch him for the next two who attacked; these I treated separately thus: the first was caught by his cudgel and pulled forward, the second was beaten over the shoulders and, also, stumbled forward and I, with a gliding motion at once graceful and very unpleasant to them in its consequences, removed my body from the point of impact. They smashed into each other and went down screeching.

I took two quick strokes to beat in their skulls and was facing the next when a Chulik, his yellow skin extraordinarily sweaty and shiny from the run up, smote downward with a sword and split a grundal down to his shoulders.

The rest turned, screeching, beginning to drop their cudgels and to dance on their four lower limbs, a dance of rage and frustration, a reversion to their near-savage ancestry.

Not many of them were left.

Another Chulik appeared and the two semi-humans charged the grundals. The rock-apes spat defiance, but retreated and then dived over the cliff edge, swinging in fantastic overhand leaps across the rock face, disappearing into cracks and crannies and shadow-shrouded holes.

As a welcome to Kregen, I decided, staring at the girl and boy who were now hurriedly clothing themselves, at the sweaty Chuliks, and the dead grundals, this had been a fair old party. The boy, as soon as he was dressed, was cursing the Chulik guard commander. I took little notice, letting the old, familiar, hated tones of harsh authority flow over my head. Truth to tell, the Chuliks should have done their job better. They were regarded as among the best of mercenary semi-human guards, and they charged a higher premium for their services as a result. The dead one beyond the trees was no advertisement for them.

Looking at the girl was a much more rewarding occupation. She had very dark hair, not quite black, and a pleasant, open face with dark eyes. She was somewhat full about the jaw and her figure, for I had seen that whether I wished it or not, had been full, too, plump, almost; but this I suspected was merely youth and would trim off in a few years. The boy was slender, strong in his movements and gestures, with dark hair and eyes; but there was in his face a certain expression, a cast of character, a shadow I coldly felt upon me. At that time I did not brood upon him, this Gahan Gannius, for I had just come to Kregen and needed information.

He was giving orders now, harshly, meanly, the horror of what might have occurred to him still fresh in his mind. The girl, Valima, looked at me. I remained standing, the cudgel still grasped in my hand. No one had spoken to me since that swift warning shout that a grundal was about to attack my back.

“We cannot picnic here, that is certain,” Gahan Gannius was saying, very disgruntled, almost sulky. “I suppose we had best go back to the shore.”

“If you command, Gahan.”

“I do so command! Is there any doubt?”

The Chuliks, a few more had now appeared, puffing, stood stolidly by. Their place as hired mercenaries obviated any form of inhibition from these young people, the master and the mistress. And still they had taken no notice of me.

The young master shouted at the servants who had been struggling up laden with food and wines, with tables and tablecloths, with chairs, with awnings, with rugs. Now they turned back to shore again, these men and women clad in brief gray garments with broad green borders. With the contents of a ship’s stateroom upon their shoulders, they trudged up the cliff and now down, so as to fulfill the whim of these insensitive young people for a foolhardy picnic.

When they had all gone down again I was left alone.

I stood at the summit of the cliff, abandoned, and I marveled. I marveled that I had done nothing about their bad manners.

More Fiction
ISBNs
1843193418
9781843193418
9781843193456