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Armada of Antares

Dray Prescot #11

Armada of Antares by Alan Burt Akers
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Kregen! That marvelous world circling the double-star Antares in the Constellation Scorpio has been the scene of many an exciting event as its myriad human and non-human races struggle with each other for ascendency. But for Dray Prescot, Earthman and Prince of Vallia, all of the electrifying aspects of his adventurous life on Kregen were to climax when the armies of Havilfar made their move toward his adopted homeland before he had fully solved the secret of their mysterious air fleets.

Armada of Antares is the culmination of all his experiences on Kregen so far -- a peril-pitched novel, complete in itself, of an alien world stirred up to a life-or-death frenzy.

Mushroom Publishing; March 2006
ISBN 9781843194170
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Title: Armada of Antares
Author: Alan Burt Akers

A Note on 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, the Everoinye, 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 dread 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 Djangs. But Hamal, the greatest power in Havilfar, ruled by Queen Thyllis, is bent on conquest; Prescot acting as a spy under cover of the alias of Hamun ham Farthytu, has discovered half the secrets of the airboats that give Hamal so much of her power. Now Prescot must bend every effort into thwarting the egomaniacal plans of Queen Thyllis and her iron Empire of Hamal with whatever weapons he can find . . .

This volume, Armada of Antares, sees the conclusion of the second cycle in the saga of Dray Prescot, the “Havilfar Cycle.” With the next book, tentatively titled The Tides of Kregen, we are launched onto the third cycle of Prescot’s adventures under the Suns of Scorpio which, because of the locale and the mystic order of which Prescot is so valued a member, I have called the “Krozair Cycle.”

Alan Burt Akers



Chapter 1

Swordplay in a garden

“Drak!” said the Princess Majestrix of Vallia, walking unhurriedly across the grass to the pool’s edge. “If you insist on climbing the tree I shall be cross.” She put one bare toe into the water and shook her head, looking so gorgeously lovely that I marveled anew at her beauty. “Of course, Drak, if you fall in I shall be more than cross. You are wearing your best clothes.”

“I’m not wearing my best clothes,” said Lela, higher in the tree. She looked down at her brother, giggled, and threw a leafy twig at him. “Silly boy! All dressed up to see his soldiers.”

“I will climb up,” said Drak, with the solemn ferociousness of extreme youth. “And pull your hair.”

Delia’s smile vanished. Her face took on a most purposeful look as she stared up into the missal tree which overhung this small private pool in a walled garden of Esser Rarioch. The garden rioted with flowers, their colors and scents filling the air with brilliant beauty and sweet perfumes. And, over all, the high blue sky of Kregen smiled down, fluffed with cloud. From that sky shone the twin suns, the Suns of Scorpio, Zim and Genodras, the red and the green, streaming down their glorious mingled opaz radiance.

Well, I was home. Home in my island Stromnate of Valka, off the coast of Vallia, and my Delia had very quickly led me to understand that bringing up twins, a boy demon and a girl demoness, was a far cry from racing off into adventure with my red cloak flaring and the glitter of a rapier in my eyes.

I looked up at young Drak, whose vigorous body swung from the tree branch as he hauled himself up with a determination of which I approved despite his mother’s stern admonishments about his best clothes. “Drak,” I said, speaking in my relaxed at-home voice. “Drak, my lad. If you fall into the water you will not please your mother. If you fall at all you will not please me. And, anyway, if you fall into the water you will hardly be ready to present the standards to your regiment.”

“I will not fall, Father.”

“Humph,” I said. But he was right. The little devil could climb like a grundal, one of those rock-apes of the inner sea.

No doubt some deep realization that his mother meant what she said penetrated at last, making him heed her rather than his desire to scare his sister. For I had noticed that for all the bloodthirsty threats young Drak made against Lela, he did not carry them out — or not many of them and only very briefly. I had, like any parent, a deep concern and apprehension over the relationship of my children and, thank Zair, I saw they loved each other. Now he began to shinny down the tree, with a careless, casual abandonment that masked his exquisite care over his bright buff clothes and the red and white sash.

I smiled.

Delia, I saw, contained a tremble at the corner of her mouth, that mouth which in its soft ripe redness held the whole universe of beauty, and she half turned away so that her twins should not see how easily they could move her. She wore a brief white tunic, flowing free, and I would have stepped forward and taken her in my arms.

The little wicket gate in the angle of the old red brick wall, drowned in white and purple flowers, opened with a smash. A Valkan archer stumbled through. He wore the usual Vallian buff, bedecked with the brave red and white Valkan favor. His bow was broken in two, dangling by the string. He had lost his wide-brimmed hat and his fair hair tumbled about his face. He opened his mouth and tried to speak, one hand groping before him, the fingers outspread. Speaking was difficult, for a thick spear had passed between his ribs, and I did not think he had long to live. But, before he died, this guard tried to cry out his warning.

The comfortable little family scene had been ripped apart.

“Largan!” cried Delia, and her hand went not to her mouth but groped emptily at her side. She was not wearing a belt and there was no long slender dagger scabbarded there.

“Go up into the tree, Drak!”

I spoke quickly. I must have used something of that old command voice, for Drak jumped and instantly began to climb again.

“Do not worry about your clothes, Drak! Climb up high, with Lela. Hide in the leaves! Climb quickly, my son.”

“We will buy you new clothes if you tear them, Drak!” Delia spoke firmly, but I heard the choked sob in her voice.

“And you, too, wife,” I said. “Get inside and—”

“There is no time, Dray.”

They walked into the cool scented garden, arrogant, confident, vicious. There were four of them. They came like executioners into a schoolroom.

I put my hand to my waist. I wore a white shirt and buff Vallian breeches and black boots. I did not wear a sword. I cursed then, deep in my throat. Here. Here! In my own walled garden of Esser Rarioch overlooking my capital city Valkanium and the Bay! This was incredible. It was obscene.

The four carried rapiers in their right hands, and left-hand daggers, and they walked forward without haste. They were men who knew their work. They had been hired to do this. They were men accustomed to the quick and efficient dispatch of their business.

Each of the assassins wore a steel domino-mask beneath the wide Vallian hat. Their clothes were unremarkable: good solid Vallian buff. They spread out a little as they advanced. I wondered how much they knew of me, how much they had been told.

Delia began to shout. She did not scream. She shouted, a high ringing call that should bring attendants, guards, and friends running.

The first assassin’s mouth widened beneath the mask.

“You are too late, lady,” he said. His voice sounded perfectly normal. To me, he said: “You are the Strom of Valka?”

“It is clear you do not know me,” I said. “Else a mere four of you, with rapiers and daggers, only, would never have taken the gold.”

He laughed.

“Brave words, from a man about to die.”

He was clever in his trade. Even as he spoke he sprang. He thought he would catch me completely unprepared.

The rapier lunged for my midriff. I leaned to my left and I swayed; I thrust my leg forward and struck him a cruel blow between wind and water. As his face turned green and his eyes popped I took the rapier away, jumped his collapsing body, and circled number two, spitting him through the guts. I saw number three’s dagger spin and glitter and extend into a streaking silver blaze as he hurled it at me. The old Krozair disciplines brought the rapier up; the dagger chingled against the blade and flew to splash into the pool.

Number four yelled in a shocked voice: “The man is a devil!”

Number three tried to meet my attack, but fell away with his face slashed open. I knocked him down, and I said to this number four, who backed away, the rapier circling: “Yes, you poor onker. I am a very devil!”

He tried to run and I thrust him through his kidneys. There is no chivalry in me when a man tries to slay my Delia. None whatsoever.

Number one was holding himself and trying to get enough breath to gasp, making a most distressing groaning and hissing. I hit him on the head, enough to put him to sleep, and then the little garden filled with servants and guards.

I shouted so that at once everyone fell silent.

‘Take this offal away. Chain up the one who lives. I shall question him later. See to poor Largan.”

Delia was halfway up the tree. I tilted my head back and called up: “Take your time, my Delia.”

“Yes, Dray. But the little devils will have seen all, through the leaves—”

“Yes.” This was true. “They live on Kregen. The quicker they understand what that means, the better.” But I felt a soreness at my heart. Innocence of youth should be continued for as long as possible, in an ideal world. Kregen, under the Suns of Scorpio, is not ideal, even if there is much in that beautiful and terrible world I prefer to my own Earth, four hundred light-years away.

Delia glanced down, about to say something, but called up to the children instead.

I knew I had spoken thoughtlessly, even after all the time I had lived on Kregen under Antares. How do you explain to your wife that you were never born on the world she was born on, that you came from a distant speck among the stars of heaven?

Like any weakling I had been putting off and putting off the time when I must explain to Delia. I had been brought from Earth to Kregen many times through the agency of the Scorpion, through that mysterious blue radiance that encompassed everything and which transported me from one world to another. The Star Lords, those unknown, aloof, supernal beings manipulated me from time to time, to carry out their wishes. Certainly I had been able to manufacture a crazy kind of strength that had given me some opposition to them; but I was always conscious that their purposes, dark and unknowable at that time, demanded more from me than I was prepared to give. As for the Savanti, those mortal but superhuman men and women of Aphrasöe, the Swinging City, their purposes were altogether more direct, for they wished to make the world of Kregen a fit place for men and women to live, in friendship and peace, with dignity and honor.

The four corpses and the unconscious would-be assassin had been removed. As stikitches these four must have been high in their trade. They had successfully penetrated the high fortress of Esser Rarioch overlooking Valkanium, and managed to make their evil way right to the target. It had been their misfortune that their potential victim had been a ruffian called Dray Prescot.

No stikitche would go around wearing a special kind of fancy dress proclaiming him an assassin, of course, for his days would be smartly numbered if he was so foolish. I bent and picked up one of the steel dominoes. There was blood clotting around the milled edges. This came from the fellow who, before he died, must have pondered the lack of half a face. The metal was still warm. It was merely an artifact, a lump of metal, fashioned into a mask with two eye-pieces, a swell for the nose, with straps to secure it in place. I had worn a similar steel domino during that fracas in Smerdislad.

At once impatient urgings closed on me. I threw the mask to the grass. Today a newly raised regiment of archers was to be given new standards. The important thing to remember here was that in Valka, an island Stromnate which prided itself on its own Valkan archers, armed with the compound reflex bow, this new regiment had been raised and armed with the great Lohvian longbow. The men had practiced religiously with this great bow and I had received tremendous help and encouragement from that master bowman, Seg Segutorio, the Kov of Falinur.

He had said in his feckless way: “To make a longbowman you must start training with his grandfather!”

To which I had replied. “But these Valkans of mine, Seg, are used to drawing the bow. They only have to draw that extra notch, to snug the string under their ear, and to feel the extra power across their shoulders. They will grow into it far quicker than you would credit.”

And he had said, “I’ll train ’em for you, Dray. Aye, by the Veiled Froyvil! I’ll run ’em in little circles until they can shoot out the chunkrah’s eye!”

He had been as good as his word. But then, I never expect anything less from Seg Segutorio, a good companion and a friend.

So, with the honor of Hyr-Jiktar going to my son Drak, the regiment would receive the new standards today.

I bellowed up: “Come on, Drak! You must learn never to keep honest soldiers waiting on parade. Least of all bowmen, who are a rough lot at best.”

“I am coming down, Father.”

And down he came. He did not come down as he had expected.

Delia let out a little ladylike shriek. Lela let rip an enormous laugh from so dainty a little maid. For Drak went down headlong from his high branch, a fluttering, yelling bundle that hit the water with an almighty splash.

We stood on the poolside as he swam across and climbed out, lily pads hanging around his ears.

“Drak!” said his mother.

Lela giggled.

Drak tried to get at his sister to push her into the water; but I took him up into my arms, all wet as he was, and carried him off for one of the fastest dryings and changings of clothes he had ever endured.

The urgency in me was not just to have the standards presented to the longbow regiment. Thoughts of Smerdislad, where I had overheard much that still puzzled me, thoughts of the airboats that my country of Vallia must acquire for the coming struggle with the overweening Empire of Hamal — these were the imperatives urging me on.

Quite simply Hamal, the greatest power on the continent of Havilfar, which lay south of us below the equator, was bent on a road of conquest; abandoning her attempts to fight on three fronts simultaneously, she had concentrated her strength for the thrust north against Pandahem. Pandahem was the island to the north of Havilfar and to the south of us in Vallia. Vallia and Pandahem were old-time adversaries on the oceans of Kregen. If all the countries of Pandahem went down in ruin there was nothing to stop the ambitions of Hamal from turning against us in Vallia. And Hamal possessed fleets of superb flying ships, airboats which they manufactured, which we did not. I had discovered some of the secrets of the air-boats and I wished to put through a big program of building. The Emperor of Vallia, Delia’s father, had promised to make up his mind. The parade this afternoon would provide a good opportunity to force him to give his consent, I had thought, for he was flying in to see his daughter and his son-in-law and, no doubt, to find out what I had been up to in Havilfar.

“Who were those men, Father?”

“They were foolish fellows, Drak, paying a visit without telling us first they were arriving.”

“But you hit them — you hit them hard.”

By the lice-infested scaled hair of Makki-Grodno! How did you tell a little boy that men had come to slay his father, and his father had slain them instead? In cold words? Drak had seen. Maybe he thought this was a game in which one thumped a playmate over the head and fell down, shouting out that he was dead, and the next minute jumped up ready for further mischief.

I said, “Sometimes you have to do that, and you will find out when to do it and when not to do it. I promise you, Drak, you will know. For now, you must always listen to your mother and do as she says—”

“I know, I know! But, Father, why do you have to go away? Dray’s father doesn’t.”

“And if you don’t hurry up Dray’s father will not be pleased.” That was true. Like myself, Seg Segutorio, the father of young Dray, intensely disliked keeping bowmen waiting on parade.

So, spruced up, young Drak was hauled off to do his part in the presentation of the standards to the First Regiment of Valkan Longbowmen.

We met this same Seg Segutorio riding up at breakneck speed as we wound down the narrow path from Esser Rarioch. The fortress pile reared stark above our heads, dominating Valkanium with its ordered streets of neat houses, the parks, the boulevards, the shops, the docks, all spread out below. The industrial sections were over on the other side. Seg reined his zorca in, so that the animal scattered sparks from his four dainty steel-shod hooves. Seg looked extremely upset.

“Dray! Delia! By the Veiled Froyvil, my old dom! I heard — I thought—”

“We do not yet know who it was. But one did not die.”

“I give thanks to Erthyr the Bow you are unharmed.”

The streaming mingled light of the twin suns cast those familiar and dear double shadows as we trotted on, going down from the high fortress and out onto the paved kyro with colonnaded shops all around. People there were, honest Koters and Koteras of Valka, who set up a shout as their Strom appeared. I waved a hand to them, knowing some of them by sight, able to recall the lusty days when together we had fought the slavers and the aragorn for this rich and beautiful island Stromnate of Valka. Seg and my other friends, Inch in particular, had learned to accept the puzzling aspects of my life, and I had made a half-promise to tell them all one day. We trotted on, a brave cavalcade, out through the new walls and so over the ditches and onto the wide and dusty plain called Vorgar’s Drinnik. This Mars Field now held a splendid array of bowmen, lined up in impeccable and yet not rigid ranks. Despite all our attempts at knocking some kind of discipline into these rough and hairy fighters of Valka they set up a hullabalooing cheer as their Strom rode out onto the field.

A knot of zorcamen waited at the saluting base, and many orderlies stood ready. The new standards, cased, stood planted by the piled drums. Colors and panoply blazed everywhere. A trumpet blew and flags and banners unfurled from staffs set in ranks along the edge of Vorgar’s Drinnik.

Among that small group of waiting zorcamen I saw Lykon Crimahan staring at me beneath the brim of his helmet. I did not much care for the expression on his face. This Crimahan was the Kov of Forli — often called the Blessed Forli — and he had been one of that company with whom I had supped when first presenting myself as the Strom of Valka to his Majister the Emperor of Vallia. During the time of troubles Lykon Crimahan had been fortuitously absent on his estates of Forli, which lay on one of the eastern tributaries of Vallia’s marvelous central water, She of Fecundity. His allegiances might lie with the powerful Racter party, with the panvals, with any other of the many smaller political and territorial parties. I did not know. He had managed to retain both his head and his estates. Now he stared at me with a bright and merry look of evil that made my back go up and made me sit straighter in the saddle.

“Lahal, Prince Majister.”

“Lahal, Kov Lykon.”

Others of the group made their greetings, and Lykon Crimahan sidled his zorca closer. The zorca, with that close-coupled muscled body and those four spindly tall legs of wind-blown fleetness, is a superb animal; I did not much care for the tightness of rein, the curb, the whole way this Crimahan had harnessed his animal — a superb specimen, full of fire and spirit.

“The Emperor is delayed,” said this Lykon Crimahan. His whole demeanor showed the zest he took from conveying this news to me, Dray Prescot, the upstart barbarian clansman who had dared to woo and win the Emperor’s daughter. This Kov Lykon’s face grew a thin fuzz of dark beard beneath his jaws, and his mouth rat-trapped shut when he stopped speaking. He was gaunt with prominent cheekbones and eyes as malicious as those of any pagan idol of Balintol. He kicked his zorca and instantly kicked again as the animal objected.

“Quiet, you rast of a beast!” he said. Then, to me, and as though the words were a mere continuation of his thoughts: “The Emperor will arrive late, after the ceremony.”

About to blast and curse, I halted as Kov Lykon went on, speaking smoothly, with the expressive pleasure he might feel as he drove his rapier into the guts of an opponent.

“There has been much discussion in the Presidio about your plans to build a great fleet of fliers. Your information from Havilfar has been laid before our wisest men. They express doubts—”

“Doubts! By Vox! There is no time for doubts.”

“Nevertheless, Prince, the Emperor is not convinced. There will be no program to build an air fleet.”

Give the rast his due. He probably believed what he was doing was for the good of his country. But his country was my country now. And I knew a damn sight more than he did. I could say that in all humility, knowing it to be true.

“Vallia must have an air fleet!”

“You may shout and bluster all you will, Prince, but it will avail you nothing. The Presidio is firm on this decision. You must resign yourself.”

He could not leave well alone.

“After all, Prince, a clansman from the wastes of Segesthes is hardly in a position to understand the high politics of a great empire like Vallia.”

I did not hit him.