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Manhounds of Antares

Dray Prescot #6

Manhounds of Antares by Alan Burt Akers
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The sixth book of the Dray Prescot series.

Would Dray Prescot be able to remain a prince of proud Vallia or become just another human victim of the hunters and manhounds of the mysterious Southern Continent? For that was the enigmatic fate that the Star Lords had suddenly confronted him with. They wanted someone freed from the terrified pack of human prey among whom Prescot found himself. But who it was and how it was to be done, they left to him to work out...

Mushroom Publishing; January 2006
ISBN 9781843193777
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: Manhounds of Antares
Author: Alan Burt Akers


With this volume of his Saga, Dray Prescot is launched headlong into a brand-new series of adventures upon the planet of Kregen, that marvelous and beautiful, mystical and terrible world four hundred light-years away beneath the Suns of Scorpio.

Dray Prescot is a man above medium height, with straight brown hair and brown eyes that are level and oddly dominating. His shoulders are immensely wide and there is about him an abrasive honesty and a fearless courage. He moves like a great hunting cat, quiet and deadly. Born in 1775 and learning about life in the inhumanly cruel and harsh conditions of the late eighteenth-century wooden navy, he presents a picture of himself that, the more we learn of him, grows no less enigmatic.

Through the machinations of the Savanti nal Aphrasöe, mortal but superhuman men dedicated to the aid of humanity, and of the Star Lords, he has been taken to Kregen many times. In his early years he rose to become Zorcander among the Clansmen of Segesthes, and Lord of Strombor in Zenicce, and then a member of the mystic and martial Order of Krozairs of Zy. Against all odds Prescot won his way to the attainment of his single highest desire upon Kregen and in that immortal battle at The Dragon’s Bones he claimed his Delia, Delia of Delphond, Delia of the Blue Mountains, as his own. And — Delia claimed him, in the face of her father, the dread Emperor of the Empire of Vallia, and before the rolling thunder of Prescot’s men and comrades in the acclamations of Hai Jikai.

As Prince Majister, Prescot sailed aboard the Emperor’s airboat back to Vondium, capital of Vallia, and his eyes and imagination were filled with the glories to come, for he has no need to tell us that he felt all his dreams had come true. Under his old scarlet and yellow flag, standing proudly at his side, with him sailed Delia, Princess Majestrix.

Thus ends “The Delian Cycle.” This volume, Manhounds of Antares, opens “The Havilfar Cycle,” and, as you will discover in the following pages, a new life does open for Dray Prescot on Kregen beneath the Suns of Scorpio; but that new life is cruelly different from all he expected and dreamed, hurling him into fresh adventure and danger among peoples and places far removed from those he knows and loves.

Alan Burt Akers

Chapter One


Delia and I were married.

Delia of Delphond, Delia of the Blue Mountains, Princess Majestrix of Vallia, and I, Dray Prescot, were married.

If that sounds to you like the end of the story, then you are as deceived as I was. Many and many foolish young lovers have imagined, on Kregen no less than on Earth, that in the merry ringing of wedding bells lies the happy end of their adventures.

Oh, I knew the shadowy presence of the Star Lords might again manifest itself in the scarlet and golden shape of a mighty raptor, the Gdoinye, or the Savanti might decide out of their mortal but superhuman wisdom to make use of my services again.

But that was of the future, the might-be. Who reckons of the future when he is in love and newly wedded and all of Kregen glows and beckons before him?

But, just before we could be married, there was one other item of unfinished business. All the way back to the capital I felt strongly that I was moving into a new era of my life. That this was so, although not in the way I expected, you shall hear.

After we had returned from that immortal battle at The Dragon’s Bones and life took its new turn, I felt I might be able to relax. The idea that Dray Prescot could ever relax may strike you as strange. But sometimes I can, and occasionally I have been able to throw off the cares of the world for a short time and follow my own inclinations. My relationship with the Emperor would remain on a strange footing, and I know that for all his own intemperate hauteur and pride, he feared me a little, even with armed men of his own choosing about him.

We flew down to land in the square before the Emperor’s palace. So impatient had he been to return that he had driven his airboat ahead of those following. I jumped down onto the hot stones of the square and looked about, surprised at the absence of people where normally one could see chattering citizens, Koters about their business, strings of calsanys, zorca chariots with their tall wheels flickering, all the brilliant hurly-burly of everyday life in Vondium.

A group of men rushed from the open gateways leading into the outer palace courtyards.

They wore garish green and purple rosettes pinned to their buff leather tunics, and flaunting green and purple feathers in their wide-brimmed Vallian hats.

With a curse I ripped out my rapier and dagger and thrust myself forward to stand before Delia.

She pushed me aside in the shoulder, and stepped up to stand boldly alongside me.

“Third party!” she said. “So there are more of them.”

“Aye, my love,” I said. “And you get back aboard the flier and take off — you and your father.”

“If you think just because we are to be married I will meekly take orders from you, Dray Prescot, you hairy great graint, and fly away and leave you in peril—”


“Come away, daughter! Let the warriors fight—”

“Yes, my father. Here is one warrior who will never run away, and I will never run from his side.”

Well, that is my Delia. I had no time to argue with her. The men of the third party who had in secret infiltrated the other political parties of Vallia and sought to overthrow the Emperor rushed down upon me.

With a breath-wasting shout — for I wished to draw all their attention to me — I leaped forward, brandishing my weapons. You who have listened to my story this far will know I ordinarily never shout in action, and as for brandishing weapons, that is a waste of energy. But as I ran headlong at these oncoming killers I knew I must meet them and keep them in play well away from Delia until the remainder of our fliers arrived bringing with them my men of Felschraung and Longuelm, of Strombor, and Delia’s Blue Mountain Boys.

Footsteps and the rasp of weapons at my back told me the handful of men aboard our flier had run to join me.

That made the odds a little better, but it was still something like a hundred to twenty.

That we should be thus caught up in this petty struggle right at the end! We had been victorious and had crushed the third-party conspiracy and now Naghan Furtway, Kov of Falinur, and his nephew Jenbar, who had aspired to Delia’s hand, had fled the country. And now this! Truly, I cursed at the stupid and senseless danger my Delia had run into here in the great square outside her own palace.

In a screech of blades the two parties met.

I fought. I had been fighting on and off for many burs past. I had been wounded — slightly, it is true — and now despite all those years of Earthly sailor training, the years with my clansmen of the plains, and as a swifter captain on the Eye of the World, I felt that I was tired.

But while hostile men sought to slay Delia, tiredness in my rapier arm and fatigue in my dagger arm and rubbery feebleness in my legs were sins, all sins, mortal sins!

So I fought and my rapier slashed down faces, and spitted guts, and my main-gauche weaved its silver net of protection, and I held the front cluster of whooping men racing in for the kill. The crew from the airboat joined in, and, for a space, we halted that fierce onward surge.

But I knew we could not hold out very much longer.

These men attacking us with their flaunting green and purple third-party colors wore in banded rings about their sleeves the colors of yellow and blue.

Now blue is a most unusual color to be found in insignia in Vallia, for blue is the color of the nations of Pandahem, and between Pandahem and Vallia lay an old enmity.

But I knew these colors of blue and yellow belonged to a certain Kov of Zamra, one Ortyg Larghos, a relative of Nath Larghos, who had tried to suborn me into the ranks of the third party, and whose eye I had put out with a stone, and who had now, presumably, run overseas with his accomplices.

I could see Ortyg Larghos leaping about at the rear of his men, urging them on. He was a fat paunchy man, with a saturnine face in which all the healthy brown hair had fallen away to leave a greasy ring of fuzz around his head and a face as smooth as a loloo’s egg.

There was no opportunity for me to bring my great Lohvian longbow into action, which was a pity, for I fancied if I feathered the rast his men might run away. As it was, they looked to be a bunch of mercenary desperadoes, fighting for money. Among them there were Rapas and Ochs, a Brokelsh, even a Womox, but I saw no Chuliks. From this I took heart. It is notorious that the Chuliks, regarding themselves as the most expensive of mercenaries, are choosy as to their employers.

“Hai!” I yelled, and pressed, and nicked crimson drops from my rapier across the faces of a bunch that sought to rush me together. They blinked as the blood splashed them, and in that blinking I spitted them, one, two, three, and the fourth took my dagger through his heart.

A screaming lifted at my back.

Letting the Kov of Zamra go hang I swung about, jumping agilely the while in a frantic zigzag, and stared back at the flier.

A group had brushed past the Emperor’s bodyguards, those few men who had descended with us on the bloody ropes from the shattered tower in the circle of The Dragon’s Bones, and were carrying him off. I could not see Delia. My heart thumped so that I had to fight for breath.

Not now! Not so close to the end!

The way back lay over spilled blood and cumbering bodies.

At the flier I saw Delia.

She stood with a sword in her hand, a Rapa at her feet coughing his guts out, with his beaked bird’s head all twisted askew. She waved the sword at me.

“My father! Dray — they’ve taken my father!”

“Stay here, Delia!” I yelled it at her with a force that drove her back as she started to run with me. “Go back!” Now I could see, slanting down into the square, the welcome sight of fliers planing in. “Here come Seg and Inch! Get them, my heart, for the sake of your father!”

She knew exactly what I meant.

I did not mean that she would run to the fliers and fetch Seg and Inch and Hap Loder and Varden and Vomanus for the sake of her father the Emperor at all. I meant that she should run there for my sake, for our sakes.

She would have none of it.

I couldn’t stop.

The descending fliers had been spotted by the men of Kov Ortyg of Zamra, and they yelled in fear, and scattered, and ran. The group with the Emperor hared off away from the palace, and running with them, angling in from the side, ran Ortyg Larghos himself.

I ran.

That faintness overpowering me must not be allowed to interfere now. I loved Delia and Delia loved me, but if her father died now and my aid proved ineffectual there would be a shadow between us, a shadow never mentioned, never alluded to, but a shadow nevertheless.

The hot stones of the square burned up at me.

I caught them easily enough, for the Emperor was struggling. He was still a powerful man, and well-fed, and filled with the innate majesty of his position, so that he gave them some trouble. I truly believe that this manhandling with its attendant physical exercise changed something about that man, that dread Emperor, the father of Delia. He had never been handled so for years. So that when I caught them and laid about me, he could snatch up a sword and stand at my side.

He was no great shakes as a swordsman, and I had my work cut out to guard him as well as myself, but he kept pressing on, shouting fiercely, through his teeth: “Vallia! Vallia! By the Invisible Twins!” and, when a deflected lunge from me toppled a hapless wight into his path and he could slash down, he yelled: “Opaz the all-glorious! Vallia! Vallia! Drak of Vallia!”

Kov Larghos shrieked at his men.

‘Take him, you fools! Cut down the barbarian! Take the Emperor!”

I could understand what Kov Larghos must be thinking. He had been a party to the plots hatched by his relative, Nath Larghos, the Trylon of the Black Mountains, and I guessed Naghan Furtway had promised him the position of Pallan of Vondium itself. Now, with no knowledge of the utter defeat of the third party, he sought to capture the Emperor and use him as a bargaining counter.

“Keep behind me, Majister,” I said. “I’ll spit you by mistake if you insist on skipping out ahead of me.”

I did not speak overpolitely to this emperor.

“This is warm work, Dray Prescot—” He slashed at an Och and the little four-armed halfling interposed his shield and the rapier bounced and clanged. The Och thrust with his lower right arm wielding a spear and I had to skip and slice and jump to avoid the sweep of the sword in his upper right. But he went down, screeching.

“By the Black Chunkrah!” I said. “Emperor, get back or I’ll drag you back by your hair!”

“By Vox!” he yelped, swishing his sword about. “I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in years!”

He had no idea of the number of times he ought to have been killed. Left to his own devices he would have rolled on the stones of the square with a half dozen rapier thrusts in his belly or his head hanging off by gristle. I beat down a fresh attack and reached out my left hand, thrust the dagger all bloody as it was between my teeth, and took a good grip of the Emperor’s hair.

I yanked.

He yelled, as much in pain and injured dignity as fear, and toppled back, whereat I pushed myself in front of him, took the dagger back into my left hand, smashed away a fresh developing attack, and so flung forward with my rapier nickering in and out, very evilly, like the tongues of risslaca.

The Emperor was growing annoyed,

“Just like all my Pallans, Dray Prescot!” he shouted at my back. “Denying me any fun in life.”

I had time to yell back, most savagely: “If you think fighting and killing is fun, then you’re still a child!”

Ortyg Larghos, Kov of Zamra, had not given up.

He made a last and as he thought final effort to take the Emperor. A solid wedge of his remaining men hurled themselves upon me. I had to use all my skill with the Jiktar and the Hikdar to fend them off. Two Rapas there were, very fierce, with their predatory beaked faces leering down upon me, who hurled themselves forefront of the others. They were not to be dismissed and spitted as easily as those who were coughing their guts out on the dusty stones around the fight.

While engaged with them I saw the Emperor, with his rapier up and out in a most ungainly stance, run at the bunch of men from the side. His face looked then — and Zair forgive me if I felt a tiny spark of joy — very much as my Delia’s looked when she stood by me, shoulder to shoulder, against ravening foemen.

Larghos saw his chance. His final chance.

“Take him!” he screeched.

Green and purple feathers bobbed above the Emperor. Yellow and blue arms reached out for him.

I yelled.

The Rapas before me whickered their rapiers about in most professional passes, making me use skill and strength on them, and I could feel my strength slowly seeping away.

Ortyg Larghos was jubilant.

“Stick him, Rapas!” he was yelling.

I fended a thrust on my main-gauche, essayed a pass, took the other rapier rather too low and so had to give and bend to let the blade hiss past my side. I brought my wrist around for the next pass and a steel-tipped clothyard shaft sprouted clear through the Rapa’s long roosterish neck. His companion had no time to make a sound as a second arrow feathered itself through his own scrawny neck.

Without turning around I shouted and I leaped for the men surrounding the Emperor.

I shouted just one word: “Seg!”

And then followed as marvelous an exhibition of shooting as any man can ever have performed and any man can have had the privilege of witnessing. For as I fought those remaining third-party men in their green and purple, slicing them, spitting them, so Seg shot out anyone who sought to close with me. His arrows sped silently above my shoulders and feathered themselves into the breasts of the men facing me. They could not stand against this whispering death, and they turned, and ran, and they were all dead men, for now the shorter arrows from my clansmen’s bows fell among them.

Ortyg Larghos, Kov of Zamra, staggered across the stones of the square to fall at his Emperor’s feet. His chest and back sprouted the steel heads and the bright feathers of many arrows.

“You pulled my hair, Dray Prescot.”

“Aye,” I said viciously. “And I’ll pull it again if you rush upon naked steel like that again!”

He lowered his strong square face upon me. “I am the Emperor,” he said, but he was not boasting, he was not trying to overawe me. Come to that, he had crawled out of the thicket of dinosaur bones to face my victorious men, and so he could never really boast of being emperor in quite the same way again. He was trying to explain something that saddened him. “I am never allowed to enjoy myself,” he said. “Never. It is always inexpedient, bad politics, unsafe.”

This was the man who had intemperately ordered my head cut off. I was to marry his daughter, and so that must have made some change in his attitude. I could understand him a little now, and, anyway, some emperors feel that ordering heads cut off is all a part of their function.

I turned away from him, not smiling, letting him see I was not impressed, to greet my men.

Seg had collected arrows from the battlefield as any frugal bowman does, and he and my wild clansmen marched up with all the swing and panache of the immortal fight at The Dragon’s Bones still clinging to them. Inch swung his long Saxon ax with an air. Korf Aighos swung his Great Sword of War of the Blue Mountains and I caught some of the pride he and his Blue Mountain Boys felt in thus resurrecting their ancient weapon. Varden stared about with a city-bred eye.

Hap Loder and Vomanus were talking together, and I wondered what deviltry they were cooking up. Vomanus was handling Hap’s broadsword, and I hazarded a guess Vomanus was telling my Zorcander of the longswords of the inner sea, the Eye of the World.

Delia said: “If you do that again, Dray Prescot, I may be a widow before I’m married!”

I held her right arm with my left, and turned her, and so, together, side by side, we walked through the main entrance-way of the Emperor’s palace in Vondium, capital of Vallia.

“I may do anything for you, Delia,” I said. “Anything.”

On that beautiful and terrible world of Kregen under Antares there exist a number of forms of contract by which a man and a woman may agree to marry. When the bokkertu for our betrothal and marriage was being drawn up, Delia and I, without really having to discuss the matter, instinctively chose that form by which the two, the man and the woman, are bound the closest together. There were three separate ceremonies. The first two, the religious and the secular, were essentially private in character. I will say little of these, apart from the undeniable fact that I was profoundly moved. They took place a Kregan week — what I translate out as a sennight, for all that it is six days — after our arrival back in the capital. We were, after the two ceremonies, man and wife.

The third ceremony, the public festival and procession about the capital city, pleased me little.

“Oh, Dray, you great grizzly graint! I am supremely fortunate that the people of Vallia love me. And they will love you, too! So they want to see us happy, they want to see us drive in procession to all the temples and the holy places and the various districts of the city. You’ll—”

“I’ll become used to it all, I suppose. But being a Prince Majister is something I didn’t count on.”

“Oh, you’ll learn.”

After the attempted coup had been put down there was a considerable amount of clearing up to be done. Kov Furtway had stirred up as part of his plan one county or province to attack its neighbor. I was not settled in my mind until I had had a flier message from Tharu ti Valkanium that my Stromnate of Valka was safe. Led by my old freedom fighters they had successfully held off the treacherous attack mounted from the neighboring island to the west, Can-thirda, by its inhabitants, the porcupine-like Qua’voils. Tharu said they’d had to invade after they’d smashed the first attacks, and march to the north to help the colony of Relts there, who had remained loyal to the Emperor. I told the Emperor that Can-thirda should be settled properly, and, to my amazement, he simply said: “Then settle it, Dray, and have done with it.”

Later, Delia said: “You silly woflo!” Which is, as we might say on Earth: “You silly goose.”

“How so?”

“Why — that is how the great lords manipulate my father. He just assumed since you are now a most powerful and puissant lord in Vallia — the Prince Majister no less! — that you wished to add Can-thirda to your holdings. He has given the island to you.”

“Can he do that? I mean, just like that?”

“Why not? He is the Emperor.”

“Um,” I said, and went off to sort out one or two items that had annoyed me.

Seg Segutorio, than whom no man ever had a finer comrade on two worlds, had been made a Hikdar of the Crimson Bowmen of Loh.

This infuriated me.

I said: “Look, Emperor: who was it stuck loyally by you in the ruins in The Dragon’s Bones? Who fought for you? Who feathered those rasts of Kov Zamra’s men when they were about to do you a mischief? Seg Segutorio, that’s who.”

He was slowly coming back to his usual pomp and mystique of being the Emperor, and I knew I must strike quickly before he took once again the full reins into his hands. With the dispatch of his enemies, or their flight abroad, he was now in a stronger position than he had ever been. If he wanted to repudiate all the bargains he had struck with me, he might seek to do so, and slay me, as he had once ordered. From Seg and Inch I knew I could count on absolutely dedicated loyalty. Hap Loder and my clansmen and Gloag with the men of Strombor would have to return home soon, although they were staying on for the great public ceremonies marking my wedding. I was safe for a time. I did not forget the way King Nemo of Tomboram in Pandahem had served me.

I never did trust kings and emperors, and I was not about to begin now, for all that this emperor was the father of Delia of Delphond.

“What is it you want of me, Dray?”

“Me? It’s Seg Segutorio I am talking of! Of your personal bodyguard, the Crimson Bowmen of Loh, half betrayed you, with their Chuktar in the lead. The other half fought to the end and a remnant now serve you—”

“I have sent to Loh for more Bowmen mercenaries.”

“Very well and fine. And who is to lead them?”

“I have asked for a certain Chuktar Wong-si-tuogan. I am told he is a most excellent officer.”

“Fine, just fine.” We were seated in a private chamber of the palace, and the Emperor sipped a purple wine of Wenhartdrin, a small island off the south coast. The Emperor offered me a glass. It was exceedingly good, and I guessed he drank it as much for its quality as through any nationalistic pride. The wines of Jholaix are very hard to excel. “If you believe you are doing the right thing, then so be it. But I would have thought that Seg Segutorio, as a master Bowman, could not be bettered as Chuktar of your Crimson Bowmen of Loh.”

The Emperor sipped. On the morrow Delia and I would drive about the city in a gaily decorated zorca chariot, and the bands would play and the flags fly and the twin suns would shed their opaline radiance upon us, and all would be merriment and laughter and joy. This night sitting closeted with the Emperor, I had the conviction I must saddle a few zhantils before it was too late.

“Rank your Deldars,” said the Emperor, referring to an opening move in Jikaida which can be translated out something like our “put your cards on the table,” although with the suggestion that this is an opening bet of a protracted bargaining session.

I duly ranked my Deldars.

“You should forthwith make Seg your personal bodyguard Chuktar. He is intensely loyal, to you and to Delia. You should reward him and Inch — and I suggest you bestow on them the titles and estates of the men who so foully betrayed you. You can have suitable presents made up for others of the men who saved your throne — aye! — and saved your life, too.”

“And for yourself?”

“I need nothing beyond Delia. It seems I’ve acquired Can-thirda . . . I shall rename it, for that name has baleful associations to my people of Valka, and it will serve as a useful sister state to Valka.”

“Nothing else?”

“We are talking of other people—”

“Your friends.”

He sipped more wine, and looked at me. He had mellowed. I’ll give the old devil that. He was the most powerful man in this part of Kregen, make no mistake about that. I had a hold on him only through his daughter. For all that I had done for him personally he would discount, put it down to what any person ought to do, must do, to preserve the life of the Emperor. But — he had fleshed out a little, he had lost that abstracted look, as though waiting for the dagger thrust in his back. I had made him far more secure than he had ever been.

“Aye. My friends.”

“So they will become powerful. And loyal to you. But I—”

“Do you think I could possibly countenance — let alone take a part in — any plan or plot that would harm you? You are Delia’s father. Although,” I said, and, Zair forgive me, took a pleasure in the saying, “your wife, Delia’s mother, must have been a wonderful person. No, Majister, from me you are safer than if you wore armor even a gros-varter could not penetrate.”

I think, looking back, that he half believed me.

Being a prudent man, he would never wholly trust another person. I am prudent, or I think I am, yet I have committed the folly of trusting other people wholly. As you have heard — and if these cassettes last out will hear more — sometimes I have paid for that folly of trust, paid for it in agony and blood and slavery. But I did trust Seg, and Inch, and Gloag, and Varden, and Hap Loder, and having removed valuables from his reach, I trusted Korf Aighos. Trusting these men meant I trusted the men under their command. I had no doubts of Valka.

And, too, now that I knew Vomanus was Delia’s half-brother, I could trust Vomanus again, too.

“I believe you, Dray.” He had already made up his mind what he would do. “I shall make Seg Segutorio Chuktar of the Crimson Bowmen of Loh. In addition, the estates of Kov Furtway have been confiscated. I shall give them to Seg and create him Kov of Falinur.”

“That is indeed munificent—” I began. He held up a hand.

“Furthermore, since the long man Inch roused the Blue Mountains on our behalf, and the Black Mountains are now vacant, by reason of Nath Larghos’ treason, I shall give them to Inch and create him Trylon of the Black Mountains.”

Now I had to think about this. There are many ranks in the nobility of Vallia which are not at all complicated once one grasps the essential pecking order. A Kov approximates out to a duke, as I have said, and a Strom to a count. Between these there come a number of ranks — some I know I have already mentioned. A Vad, a Trylon. By creating Seg and Inch of unequal ranks, I felt unease.

I said: “I think Kov of the Black Mountains sounds a richer note.”

He chuckled and poured wine.

“You will find titles are grabbed after and fought for, Dray. They mean nothing. It is land that counts. Land! Canals, corn, cattle, wine, timber, minerals. Make Inch Kov, if it pleases you.”

“It will please Seg.” That was true.

Seg and Inch had become firm friends. I own I felt a thump of relief at that.

The Emperor drank and swallowed and wiped his lips. He cocked his head at me. “As for you, Dray Prescot. My poor daughter has caught a tartar in you.” He said “clansman,” but his meaning was as I have translated it out. “You mentioned Valka and Can-thirda. That fool Kov Larghos of Zamra set himself up as Pallan of Vondium. He is dead. Zamra is yours, and the title of Kov, if you want it, Prince Majister.”

The old devil could be sarcastic, too, when he liked.

I thanked him. I did not stutter in surprise this time. I had an eye to the future.

He said: “With all the titles you have collected, Dray Prescot, I think we will need an extra-special sheet of vellum to write them all down on the marriage contract.”

Face-to-face, I said: “All I want is to be the husband of Delia.”

Then I retired for the night. Tomorrow was the great day.