Authors: Alan Burt Akers
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy
Alan Burt Akers
is the first book of Dray Prescot’s adventures in the Vallian Cycle on that marvelous and exotic world of Kregen he has made his home.
Dray Prescot himself is an enigmatic figure. Reared in the inhumanly harsh conditions of Nelson’s Navy, he has been transported to Kregen, many times through the agency of the Star Lords and of the Savanti nal Aphrasöe, those mortal but superhuman men and women of the Swinging City. There is a discernible pattern underlying all his breathtaking adventures — he is sure of that — but the pattern and its meanings remain veiled and unguessable.
His appearance as described by one who has seen him is of a man of above middle height, with brown hair and level brown eyes, with enormously broad shoulders and powerful physique. There is about him an abrasive honesty and an indomitable courage and he moves like a great hunting cat, quiet and deadly. On the savage and beautiful world of Kregen he has at various times and for various reasons risen to become a Vovedeer and Zorcander of his Clansmen of Segesthes, the Lord of Strombor, Strom of Valka, Prince Majister of Vallia, King of Djanduin and a Krozair of Zy, a plethora of titles to which he confesses with a wryness and an irony I am sure masks much deeper feelings at which we can only guess.
Now a new page of action turns in his life. The volumes chronicling his life are arranged to be read as individual books. Now he is plunged headlong into fresh adventures beneath the hurtling moons of Kregen, in the streaming mingled lights of Antares, under the Suns of Scorpio.
Alan Burt Akers
Black Feathers of the Great Chyyan
A foot scraped in the shadows. Instantly we seven came to a dead halt in the blackness of the alley. Ahead the darkness lowered down as mufflingly as in the alleyway, for massy clouds covered the night sky of Kregen, concealing the glitter of the stars and the radiance of the moons.
My left hand gripped Roybin’s shoulder and I could feel the fine tremble as he waited, poised like a wild leem, savage, suspicious, ready to leap out in perfect and deadly silence if that scraping foot heralded a murderous enemy.
In single file we seven stood, half-crouched, stock-still, invisible. The foot scuffed the slimy cobbles again and then the disappearing patter of feet told us that the wayfarer of the night was about his business. Seg’s left hand on my shoulder pressed, but in the same instant Roybin moved ahead again. We followed, silently. Behind Seg, Turko the Shield fretted, I knew, that he did not stand at my back, a place he considered his by right. Inch, stooped to bring his great height beneath the evil-smelling brick overhang, prowled after Turko, and our rear was brought up by Young Oby, young and a boy no more, who perforce clasped Inch’s belt, and by Balass the Hawk whose dark skin blended perfectly with the shadows.
In single file we stole out from the mouth of the alley, aware of the vanishment of the pressing walls and the feeling of greater space about us. The tiny square lay shrouded about us. Yes, I suppose on reflection, we were a pretty ferocious bunch. I know I would not like to stumble upon such a crew as that on a pitchy night when all manner of deviltries are afoot.
Roybin led. We were experienced enough to know when to follow a man who had knowledge of the terrain. This alley led around the back of the fish market in the town of Autonne, on the island of Veliadrin that had lately been Can-Thirda, and our objective lay across the fish-scaled cobbles of the square.
No one spoke. Here, in the pressing darkness before the first of Kregen’s seven moons made an appearance, there was no need for words to know what we were about.
Soundlessly we emerged from the mouth of the alleyway, feeling that cloying pressure of pent-up air give way to the freer sense of the square, small though it might be. Water ran between the cobbles and there would be fish scales and heads and tails aplenty strewn about. A scattered rain could not decide whether to cease altogether or to drench down in the long shafting downpour of a Kregan storm.
We inched ahead and cleared a brick buttress, our right hands trailing along the crumbling mortar. A spark of light jumped into life ahead.
We froze instantly.
The light shone from a small lantern set outside an arched gateway closed by a moldering lenken door. That wooden door blended with the decay and dissolution of this tumbledown section of the fish market. In the crazily leaning brick walls stained with the patina of time, in the powdery and splintered timbering, in the gap-tiled roofs queasily lurching at incongruous angles, the archway and door betrayed nothing unusual.
Yet Roybin had certain information so we were here, prowling like wild leem, and the night ahead of us might soon explode with fury and action.
A long running roll of thunder boomed distantly away to the east in the interior of the island.
On the tail of the rumbling echoes Roybin whispered, “Lookouts.”
We had expected a sentry. Peering across the darkened square into the isolated pool of radiance shed by the lantern, we made out the forms of three men. An edged weapon caught the light and glittered. They were quiet over there, probably talking desultorily together, resentful at their watch. But they would keep a lookout. All Roybin had told us convinced me that whoever these people were that we intended to spy on this night, they were ruthless and efficient.
For we knew why we were here, creeping like villains along vile, fish-stinking alleyways in Autonne, a city of the western coast of the island of Veliadrin. Veliadrin, of which I was still High Kov, that large island between Vallia and my own wonderful island of Valka, had once been called Can-Thirda. The name had been changed for certain reasons. The island had at one time, in the long ago, been a kingdom, before the Empire of Vallia had obtained the supreme power over all the islands fringing the coasts of the main island of Vallia. Veliadrin was still split into distinct regions. Over on the west coast the people were mostly fisherfolk, given to wild boasting of the old days, not overly rich or well-endowed, but sturdy and resourceful and also, as we had discovered, too prone to superstition.
Oh, yes, we knew why we were here, stalking the shadows like leems.
Rumors and suspicions, malicious gossip and ugly conjectures had at last come together to make a picture that displeased me greatly. That picture spelled evil days ahead if we did not act at once. There are many and varied religions on Kregen, and some are fine and worthy of the utmost effort in a man or woman. And some there are dark and secretive and baleful in their influence.
From the main island of Vallia a new creed was attempting to make a lodgment in Veliadrin. The west coast, a port, a poor and credulous people — the new creed found fertile ground.
Mind you, I knew who must take the full blame.
We had known for some time there were deep stirrings from Vallia, long ground swells of troubles to come, and the emperor was once more a worried man. Many forces, many ambitious men and women, many fanatics, sought to topple him. I had been told that there were far more potential insurrectionists these days than there had been when I had last spoken to the emperor in any privacy and confidence, before my absence on Earth and my adventurings in the inner sea, the Eye of the World.
Now this new creed threatened close to home.
As I had said to Seg Segutorio back in Valka before we left: “My Freedom Fighters did not clear Valka of the slavers and the aragorn and make of it an island where they might bring up their children in pride and justice and freedom, for some Opaz-forsaken devils to worm their way in and overturn all we have accomplished.” And I had slammed a dagger into the sturmwood table beneath a mullioned window overlooking a stupendous view of Valkanium and the bay.
Seg Segutorio, the Kov of Falinur, a Bowman of Loh, and the truest comrade a man could hope to find in two worlds, had replied, “Valka is indeed a paradise, Dray. Falinur, well, I try, and hard it is, by the Veiled Froyvil! The people there do not forget the old times, when their kov went up against the emperor and they followed, exultant, and they cast a deal of blame on me, the new kov, for the old kov’s failure.”
Delia had told me some of Seg’s problems with the recalcitrants in his province, and he seemed to be having a worse time of convincing them that he was their new leader than was Inch in his Black Mountains, a province which had also been involved in that old revolution against the emperor.
Seg had gone on, staring moodily across the sun-lit expanse of the bay: “But as Inch and I are here in Valka, we think prevention in Veliadrin may aid us in our own kovnates.”
Thus spake Seg and I warmed to him.
There was no need for fulsome words between us. I understood him — and, by Vox, he understood some of me — for, because he was Seg Segutorio, a black-haired, blue-eyed fey maniac from the wild hills of Erthyrdrin, he had added: “Mind you, my old dom, I can tell you a kovnate goes to rack and ruin if you aren’t there to keep an eye on things.”
He was right.
At least, he was right if an absentee noble could not find a loyal and trustworthy person to run an estate in the absence of the owner. I, to my shame, own I am probably the greatest absentee landlord of two worlds. But then blame the Star Lords, blame the Savanti — blame also, if you will, my own accursed facility in picking up titles and the possessions that go with them on Kregen. I already had a plan to deal with these problems, plans you shall hear of in due course, and already I had consciously begun the hazy opening moves to unite all of Paz.
“Veliadrin is not Valka,” I had said. “Here in Valka, Tharu and Tom and the Elders run things, with Drak. In my kingdom of Djanduin, Kytun and Ortyg handle affairs perfectly. In Strombor Gloag rules the roost. And as for my clansmen, well, Hap has them so well organized we took over another clan without bloodshed, all through obi.”
In his dry way, Seg had said, “You’re really a Vovedeer as well as a Zorcander, now.”
“Aye.” He knows when and how to puncture complacency, does Seg Segutorio. “I’ve been more than lucky in having found good friends to run affairs whilst I’m away. But Veliadrin is split up, occupied by diffs and apims who don’t really get on, for the damned Qua’voils still resent their defeat.”
“But the Pachaks you have settled in Veliadrin.”
“Ah!” I had said, feeling pleased. “I have great hopes for my Pachaks of Veliadrin.” This was true. “And the Pachaks of Zamra have finally freed all the slaves. That is progress.”
“But this damned new creed.” Seg had run his eye along the true shaft of an arrow, brushed his fingertips lightly over the brilliant blue fletchings. “Chyyanists, is it?”
“Aye. Roybin is a first-class spy and he has received a certain report. A preacher or a priest or some devil of that kind is loose in Autonne. He holds meetings. I think a little firsthand information will prove of value.”
“There’s nothing like seeing for yourself,” said Seg.
So that was why we were here, creeping like a gang of piratical cutthroats through the rain-swept darkness, toward the speck of light over the gateway leading on to what unknown horrors we could only conjecture.
Inch had refused to stay behind, swinging his enormous two-handed ax absently as he told me that if Seg and I were going off for some fun he wasn’t going to be left out. Turko the Shield considered the matter closed. Oby was raging for adventure and Balass the Hawk deserved some fun. So they all came.
“As to fun,” I had said just before we ventured out into the rain from our secluded inn, a place where the attention we attracted had been mitigated by pretenses and stratagems, “this Chyyanist nonsense is likely to lead to a few smashed skulls. At least, that is what I feel in my bones.”
“All reports speak of the creed as evil,” said Roybin sagely, nodding his head. “But they are all outside observations. No one really knows.”
As I padded forward through a few opening flurries of rain toward the gateway and the moldering lenken door, I wondered just how much we could hope to discover in there. The center of the new religion lay in Vallia, or so we believed. It had been brought here by a priest or preacher who sought to rouse the simple fisherfolk hereabouts. As an absentee landlord I had no right to criticize my tenants if they rose up against me, in a just cause.
However intolerant and objectionable I may be, I do not think I had given any cause to these people to rise up in justice. Maybe that is just another facet of my supposed megalomania. But the fisherfolk of Autonne made a living and did not starve and were housed. I had ordered the freeing of their slaves. This Opaz-forsaken priest of Chyyan sought to stir up trouble out of willful spite, a sullen resentment, a sense of ill-treatment, and if I could not understand and sympathize with feelings like these then no one else in two worlds could do so. And, too, there were far weightier reasons for Chyyanism, as you shall hear. . .
Not one of my six comrades appeared to think it strange that Roybin no longer led on, that I had pushed on in the front to take the three guards. I mention this to indicate that my thoughts had allowed me to act without thinking about the action I was taking. A bad habit. A nasty habit. A habit that had brought me into dire trouble in the past and was to pitch me headlong into further horrors, a habit that was just one against which I continually strove.