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Avenger of Antares

Dray Prescot #10

Avenger of Antares by Alan Burt Akers
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For a brief but wonderful moment it seemed as if Dray Prescot was on the road to victory, for he was aboard a Vallian ship bound for home with the secret of Vallia's enemies in his possession. But Dray, the Earthman sent to the planet Kregen of the double-star Antares in Scorpio, had not fulfilled the mission of the unseen Star Lords, and until he did there could be no escape from peril!

And peril came, in the form of hideous sea raiders, in the sharp edges of the dueling blades of a swordsman enemy, and in the horrid rites of the underground cult of the Silver Leem.

Dray Prescot's saga has been aclaimed as the best planetary adventure series since Burroughs stopped writing about Barsoom, and a legion of devoted readers will find that Avenger of Antares holds high the standard.

Mushroom Publishing; March 2006
ISBN 9781843194095
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: Avenger of Antares
Author: Alan Burt Akers

Dray Prescot

Dray Prescot is a man above medium height, with straight brown hair and brown eyes that are level and 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 educated in the inhumanly harsh conditions of the late eighteenth century English 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 under the Suns of Scorpio many times. On that savage and beautiful, marvelous and terrible world he rose to become Zorcander of the Clansmen of Segesthes, and Lord of Strombor in Zenicce, and a member of the mystic and martial Order of Krozairs of Zy.

Against all odds Prescot won his highest desire and in that immortal battle at The Dragon’s Bones claimed his Delia, Delia of Delphond, Delia of the Blue Mountains. And Delia claimed him in the face of her father the dead Emperor of Vallia. Amid the rolling thunder of the acclamations of “Hai Jikai!” Prescot became Prince Majister of Vallia, and wed his Delia, the Princess Majestrix. One of their favorite homes is in Valkanium, capital city of the island of Valka, of which Prescot is Strom.

Prescot is plunged headlong into fresh adventures on Kregen in the continent of Havilfar. Outwitting the Manhounds of Antares, ghastly parodies of humans used as hunting dogs, and fighting as a hyr-kaidur in the arena of the Jikhorkdun in Huringa in Hyrklana, he becomes King of Djanduin, idolized by his incredibly ferocious four-armed warrior Djangs. But, Hamal, the greatest power in Havilfar, is bent on conquest and Prescot must discover the well-guarded secrets of their airboats. Knowing half the information he is condemned to death by a jealous king. Over the sea he escapes and destroys two huge Hamalian skyships and saves a Vallian galleon. The galleon’s crew pluck him from the water and they set sail home for Vallia . . .

Alan Burt Akers




The leem lovers demand Jikai

“Blow the winds! Roar the gales!” I had shouted, exulting in my newly won freedom. “Bear me on to Valka and my high fortress of Esser Rarioch! Blow, winds, carry me home to my Delia, my Delia of the Blue Mountains, my Delia of Delphond!”

The lie to my boastful shouts was given by that ominous scrap of sail, striped black and amber, intermittently lifting over the horizon rim to the eastward. As our galleon bore on northward so that sail dogged us. I fancied I knew what beings manned her, what devils they were, and I went down to the armory and sharpened up a sword and saw most carefully to the harness of armor Captain Lars Ehren had laid out for me.

“By Vox, Prince!” said Captain Lars, his square spade beard thrusting from his blunt chin like the ram of a swifter. “We will send them scurrying back to their filthy dens with their tails between their legs!”

“Aye, Captain Lars.” I looked at him, there in the armory of his galleon Ovvend Barynth, the iron harness cold in my hands. “Have you fought the leem lovers before?”

“No, Majister.”

Concerned lest my tone lead him to suspect all the disquiet with which I faced the prospect of an action with these reiving ships from the Southern Ocean, I hastened to add: “I have. We exposed enough of their tripes to find out they are diffs like any other human being.”

He laughed hugely. The galleon surged through the swell, her timbers creaking, the rush of water echoing along her stout lenken sides, the snap of blocks and the rattling of rigging distant but ever-present sounds. It is not easy to disconcert a galleon captain of Vallia, that proud island empire of Kregen.

“I have heard of them, Majister. Can you speak of your fight?”

I thought of Viridia the Render, and of how that pirate lady and I, as a member of her render crew, had fought off one of those reiving ships from the Southern Ocean. Here, south of the equator off the eastern coast of the continent of Havilfar, the sea was known as the Ocean of Clouds. Viridia and her crew had escaped from the leem lovers’ ship only under the cover of a sudden gale. We had got away, but it had been a near thing.

“They fight dirty, Captain. I always look for the good in a man, and tolerate anyone until he proves himself evil or traitorous; I fancy I would have to look rather too long to find any decent humanity in these leem lovers.”

“I have heard stories, Majister. Unpleasant stories.” Captain Ehren buckled up his armor with the help of young Gil, one of the armorer’s apprentices. He grunted with the effort of drawing in his stomach beneath the cuirass. “These shants carry their aura of evil about with ’em.”

There are many names for these marauding ships and people from around the curve of the world; “shant” was merely one. We stood up, and stretched and wriggled until we were comfortable, then we clambered up the ladders and so came out onto the quarterdeck. The mingled streaming lights of the Suns of Scorpio blazed down, that glorious twinned fusion of opaz radiance, the emerald and the ruby, pouring in molten floods upon the sea and the ship. By Zair! It was good to be alive on such a day! I did not forget that I carried in my head half the secrets of the airboats that were going to prove of such great value to Vallia, my home on Kregen, in the inevitable war with the hostile empire of Hamal. That information must reach Vallia. I drew dark mental pictures of the holocausts of horror that would follow if Hamal attacked Vallia, suddenly, treacherously, fleets of skyships raining from the skies in steel and fire and destruction.

The first lieutenant, a Hikdar, saluted.

“She stays above the horizon longer, sir,” he said to Captain Ehren.

To cheer them, I said: “It is certain she recognizes us as Vallian. That, my friends, gives pause to her cramph of a captain. It makes him think twice, does that, before he attacks a galleon of Vallia!”

There was a little rumbling of oaths from the officers on the quarterdeck, not a few puzzled and half-recriminating glances in my direction. But I had given Captain Ehren strict orders. We were not to put our helm over and go roaring down to tangle with the shant. I had forbidden these proud men of Vallia, seadogs all, to do what they would naturally have done. This, alone, made them uneasy.

There was certain vital information about the fliers I had to take back to Vallia. Yes, I could see that. But, also, I could see that in the next bur or so I would be solely concerned with the immediate situation. Hopeful plans for the future were not going to be of the slightest use when that Opaz-forsaken leem lover at last decided to attack. Everything, then, for us all would be concentrated into the immediate present.

Captain Lars Ehren knew his business. This galleon had been on her way to the island realm of Hyrklana, farther south, to attempt to buy airboats there when the supply had stopped from Hamal. The Hamalians had reacted by sending two of their tremendous skyships to sink the two Vallian galleons. They had sunk one: Nikvove of Evir had burned. Though I’d been treacherously drugged and hauled aboard to be flung down as a flaming human torch upon the Vallians, I had managed to gain control of one of the skyships, Hirrume Warrior. By using Hirrume Warrior I had contrived to ram the other Hamalese skyship, Pride of Hanitcha and wreck and sink them both.

When Ovvend Barynth, commanded by Lars Ehren, had picked me out of the sea I had managed to convince his passengers, the deputation to Hyrklana, that our true salvation lay back home in Vallia, where with the information I had we could ourselves manufacture the airboats.

Recalling that fight in the Hamalese skyship I supposed it to be just another battle through which I had gone, willy-nilly. I had fought hard, yes, like a battle-crazed maniac, you might think; but the reasons for my conduct were clear and self-evident. Now, again, I faced a challenge. I bear no man, be he apim like myself or diff like so many others on Kregen, any grudges. Alone, I reserve the right to defend myself and my loved ones, and if this makes me a sinner — as, indeed, it does, it does — then I remain condemned never to roam the Plains of Mist with my clansmen when the last days come.

“She’s hoisting more canvas!” yelled the lookout.

I shaded my eyes and stared across the tumbled blue water, glittering in the glorious light from the Suns of Scorpio.

That ominous sail had increased in size, grown taller, doubled into two, and now showed with perfect clarity the horizontal bands of black and amber. Each panel could be folded down or up, like a concertina, to make or hand sail.

The tall, finlike twin sails foreshortened, drew into one. I frowned. The shant was now heading directly at us, which meant that with our own onward progress it would cut our wake a good few cables’ lengths aft. It was up to something, that was clear.

Captain Ehren couldn’t understand why his galleon couldn’t outrun the shant. He scratched his massive beard, cursing.

“The old Ovynth,” he said, giving his command her nickname, “is the fastest craft out of Ovvend. Aye,” he added with a flash of pride, “and there are mighty fewer faster galleons out of Vondium itself! That’s why I was chosen for this journey, to bypass the black devils of Hamal. And this rast of a leem lover overhauls me as a sixteen-oar overhauls a six-oar!”

“Look at his canvas, Lars,” I said, pointing. “Just a single tall sail, all in one piece, like the wing of a seed pod from a herm tree, or a fish’s fin, or a bird’s wing.”

“Aye, I see. Heathen ways!”

Vallian galleons are rigged much as an Earthly galleon of the Elizabethan Age would have been rigged, with course and topsail on the foremast, course and topsail on the main, but, instead of lateens on the mizzen and bonaventura mizzen, the Vallians set a square course on their crossjack. To men used to this system, the idea of a tall, narrow battened lugsail would come as strange. But I knew of the powerful sailing qualities of this rig. When the shant came hull up, and I could take a closer look, I felt even more concern over the coming conflict.

“May he rot forever in the Ice Floes of Sicce!” raged Nalgre Sultant, Vad of Kavinstok. He was a hard-faced man, with those thin lips and arrogant eyes of your true noble, for a Vad is a high rank, and his rich clothing proclaimed a man who owned more than a sufficiency of this world’s wealth. He was the leader of the Vallian deputation to Hyrklana. Now he favored me with a haughty and hostile look. “Had we not turned back but continued on to Hyrklana, we would not be in this humiliating position, Prince.”

I did not bother to answer him. I had not failed to notice the small black and white favor pinned by an ornate gold and opaz brooch to his shoulder cloak. This man, this powerful Vad, was an avowed member of the Racter party, and it was the most powerful political party in Vallia. The racters, as I well knew, had no great love for the emperor, my father-in-law. I’d had my differences with the old devil in the past, too, and I would not lightly forget his intemperate bellow to his guards to “Take off his head, now!” But he’d changed and mellowed since then, and I would prefer him to the racters.

“Prince!” called Vad Nalgre. “You do not answer!”

The way I turned around, slowly, was done not to insult him, but so I might compose myself.

“You wear a rapier, Vad Nalgre,” I said in a quiet and gentle voice. “Put your armor on and take up a stouter sword or a boarding spear for the work to come.”

He spluttered. But my meaning was plain. He turned away from me and went below, and I caught the tail end of a comment about a hairy barbarian, a wild clansman, marrying the emperor’s daughter and thinking he could lord it over loyal Vallians. Because we faced an action I let the comment pass. Later, as I then thought, I would take the matter up with this Nalgre Sultant, the Vad of Kavinstok.

The only member of the Vallian deputation to Hyrklana of whom I had any knowledge came up to me. This was Lorgad Endo, a shrewd merchant like all Lamnias, that race of diffs with pale-tinted fur and expressions of an honesty eternally mixed with surprise at the world. He wore neat Vallian clothes, those buff breeches and jacket over a white shirt, and the typical Vallian hat with the two square slots in the trim over the eyes. But, being a merchant and a Lamnia, he did not wear a jaunty feather in his hat. Neither, I noticed, did he wear a sword, although a short, stout cudgel of balass swung by a golden chain at his waist.

“What, then, Lorgad,” I said, feeling suddenly much more cheerful. “Will you fight, then, merchant?”

“Yes, Prince. If I must. It never seems to turn an honest ob’s profit for me, all this fighting; but fight I would, rather than a shtarkin should slit my throat”

“Well spoken, Koter Endo,” said I, feeling it desirable that a little formality should be allowed here. “Then please go down to the armory and pick a likely weapon or two, and a harness, and right glad we are to have you with us.”

He favored me with his shrewd little Lamnia smile, and, his laypom-colored fur aglow in the glory of the suns, he went below.

Captain Ehren had given his orders, and the ship had been cleared for action and the men had beaten to quarters. The varters were fully manned, and the gros-varters, those super-ballistae of peculiarly Vallian manufacture, snouted hungrily over our bulwarks. Parties of hands stood ready to deal with all the complexities of sail-trimming orders that would follow once the maneuvering began. Again I looked at the shant — the Lamnia had called these malignant diffs “shtarkins,” just one more of their multifarious names, for no one knew the name they gave themselves — and again I frowned. The tall, narrow black and amber sails had opened out again, so that the vessel once more paralleled our course, but at a distance much closer than before. We had traveled a good distance to the northward since Ovvend Barynth had picked me up, and were approaching the northeastern corner of the continent of Havilfar, where the Risshamal Keys stretch their spiky fingers out to the northeast. One of those fingers of islands and cays and desolate outcrops terminates in the island of Piraju. That made me ponder. The leem lover, it seemed to me, was trying to stay to windward of us and pen us in to leeward of the Keys. We would have to tack soon and make a good offing to escape the deadly reefs as well as the sure observation of our enemies of Hamal. The next time we made a board we would be struggling up to the shant, and if we did not do so we would go piling up helter-skelter on the rocks.

As the one-time first lieutenant of a seventy-four I did not much care to be to leeward of my opponent, not, that is, until after we had shattered through his line and could rake him as we broke through and then come to leeward of him and so prevent his escape. Well, there were no stately lines of battleships here. There was a swift and deadly ship from those unknown lands around the curve of the world, and there was a not-quite-so-swift Vallian galleon. It would remain to be seen which of the two was the more deadly.

With that in mind I called for ink and paper. A desk of sturm-wood was set up on the wide quarterdeck, for I had no wish to go below at this juncture, and I set about putting down everything I knew concerning the secrets of the fliers, and the constituents and proportions of the minerals that went into the silver boxes called vaol. I looked up at Captain Ehren.

“Captain, tell me. Have you heard of anything called cayferm?”

“Cayferm, Prince?” He considered. Then he shook that heavy head so his plumes rustled. “No, Majister. The word means nothing.”

“To you and to me, by Vox! But not, I trust, to the wise men of Vallia.”

Cayferm was supposed to be a kind of steam, and cayferm was the mysterious thing — air, immaterial substance, gas, odor — that went into the silver boxes called paol. With a pair of silver boxes, the vaol and the paol, secured in their spherical sliding orbits of wood and bronze, one had complete control over gravity and motion, and could fly an airboat until the chunkrah tired, as my clansmen would say.

Putting all I knew down in cold words brought home to me the sparseness of the hard-won information I had gathered in my days of spying in Ruathytu, capital city of Hamal.

It seemed fitting to me not to use the swift, graceful cursive script of Kregen, and I eschewed the slightly more formal uncial-type lettering. Instead, I wrote in the hyr form, that solemn, dignified, utterly beautiful script of Kregen one finds in the old books. There are many kinds of books on Kregen, as on our Earth, but when reading a lif, that is, an important book, or a hyr-lif, a very important book, one expects and is not disappointed to find that high beauty of lettering.

The paper was carefully placed within a covering of oiled silk and then, sealed by Captain Ehren’s seal, into a leather pouch. “If anything happens to me, Captain, that must reach the emperor. It is vital to Vallia.”

“As to that, Prince, nothing will happen to you and you will carry this vital pouch to the emperor yourself!”

Well, it sounded fine. I clapped Ehren on the shoulder and went away to stare broodingly upon that cramph of a shant.

The leem lover’s vessel cut through the water with little fuss, and I suspected her underwater lines were finer than the somewhat square-cut outlines of her hull and upperworks suggested. The hull had been painted a deep, rich brown. I could see people moving about its decks, the snouts of varters and catapults, the twinkle and gleam of weapons. Quite content to parallel our course, it hung off there, dogging us. Neither of its battened lugs with their tall and slender outlines had been fully unfolded and hoisted to the trucks of its pole masts.

I rubbed my chin. Well, that sea-leem out there represented the many others of his kind who took an ever-increasing toll of shipping from the sea-lanes of the lands I knew, who descended in red horror upon peaceful fishing villages, and who, one day, must be met and challenged by us all. Still rubbing my chin, I pondered if I had carried caution too far in ordering Ehren to run and not to fight. We were in for a fight, for when we tacked the shant would be down on us without delay. I did not think he would conform to our movements and tack with us. He had his scheme working, and that scheme visualized Ovvend Barynth plundered, its people slain, and the ship itself sunk without trace. No, there was only one answer to this chin-rubbing.

“Captain! We will tack now, while we still have sea room. Stand to your arms! We go into the attack! We strike for Vallia, for honor and our lives! Hai Jikai!”

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