Authors: Alan Burt Akers
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy
Talons of Scorpio
Alan Burt Akers
To those unfamiliar with the Saga of Dray Prescot all that is necessary to know is that he has been summoned to Kregen, an exotic world orbiting the double star Antares, to carry out the mysterious purposes of the Star Lords. To survive the perils that confront him on that beautiful and terrible world he must be resourceful and courageous, strong and devious. There is no denying he presents an attractive yet enigmatic figure. There are more profound depths to his character than are called for by mere savage survival.
Called to be the Emperor of Vallia, Prescot, with the Empress Delia and their blade comrades, is slowly guiding the island empire from its Time of Troubles. They must all look to the future, which is dark with the threat of the Shanks, the Fishheads, raiding from over the curve of the world. The terror of the Shanks lies over all the bright lands of Paz; but at the moment more immediate perils beset Prescot. He has often been at cross-purposes with the Everoinye — the Star Lords — during his tumultuous career on Kregen; now he is wholeheartedly with them in their desire to stamp out the unholy cult of Lem the Silver Leem.
Down in the island of Pandahem, Prescot and his comrades, having burned a temple or two, must now press on and open a fresh campaign against the Silver Wonder. Of course, life is not as simple as that, particularly on the horrific and fascinating world of Kregen where, under the mingled streaming radiance of the Suns of Scorpio, the unexpected is always to be expected.
Alan Burt Akers
Pompino’s name affronts him
“It’s very simple, Jak,” Pompino said as he leaped nimbly ashore. “All we have to do is recruit a few more rascally fellows and go across and bash this Lord Murgon Marsilus. Then we burn all the damned temples of Lem the Silver Leem, sort out who marries whom — and go home.”
“Simple,” I said, and jumped up onto the jetty after my comrade. Always difficult that — for me to remember not to shoulder forward and be first out of the boat. The twin suns glittered off the water, gulls circled and screeched above, the air tasted like best Jholaix, and we were off to burn another temple.
Pompino started along the jetty, striding out, arms pumping, chest and head up, red whiskers flaring. I looked after him, and then down to the boat where the rest of the rapscallions who had wangled shore leave were tying up and jumping out onto the wet stones. Our ship,
, lay in the roads, canvas furled, and those poor wights detained aboard hanging over the gunwales with faces like grandfather clocks.
To either side of this little seaport town of Peminswopt the red cliffs stretched, serrated, flecked with shadings and tonings of rust, orange and ruby under the light of the suns. We had made landfall within the enormous curve of the Bay of Panderk and here we were in the Kovnate of Memis. Our destination, the Kovnate of Bormark, lay to the west. I started off after Pompino. He was the Owner, the man who owned a fleet of ships, and his men knew him and would follow to keep him out of trouble.
With Pompino the Iarvin on the rampage, trouble was a natural and inevitable occurrence.
He headed toward a line of broad-leaved sough-wood trees shading a walkway beyond which rose the walls of the outer town. Much activity went on here as the sailors and fisherfolk went about their business. The smells of tar and pitch mingled with the sea air. A long string of curses rose from a ramshackle shed where tarred nets hung. Someone was in difficulty in repairing their nets. Pompino took no notice. He strode on for the land gate situated alongside the water gate with its portcullis of black iron.
Lofting over the town the fortress of Peminswopt reminded anyone careless enough to let it slip his mind that reivers and pirates might at any time roar in to do all the unpleasant things that folk of that ilk are prone to. This fortress reared up, strong and well-positioned. From those battlements accurate volleys of rocks, darts and flaming carcasses could shatter an unwary attack. Trouble was — the pirates operating here in North Pandahem were just as crafty as renders operating anywhere else. I followed Pompino, aware of the men at my back, and — I admit — comforted by their presence.
If Pompino insisted on burning the temple to Lem the Silver Leem here — a sound and righteous thing to do, seeing that the adherents of the Silver Wonder indulged in murder and torture and baby-sacrifices — the ensuing fracas would need the ready weapons of our comrades.
His reddish whiskers abristle and his foxy Khibil face shrewd, Pompino halted in the shadows of the arched gateway. A string of calsanys passed, each one loaded down with straw-packed boxes, their tails tied to the neck-rope of the one astern.
“Before we start, Jak, my throat is—”
“Aye. And mine.”
As we stopped — and only for a couple of heartbeats — a Sinewy brown hand reached out between two of the calsanys and groped for the wallet hanging on my belt. I looked down with interest, always fascinated by the ways in which differing people go about earning their living. This one was smart and quick. The steel knives fastened to the inside of his fingers would have snipped through the thongs in a trice.
Pompino said: “The rast!” and snatched at the lean wrist. He gripped it, tugged, and a bundle of gray rags flew out between the animals. The restraining rope caught around the wretch’s neck and hauled him up. He gargled.
“Look out for the calsanys,” I said quickly. “You know what—”
“I know what they will do if they are upset.”
Pompino hauled the thief upright, disengaged the rope and, taking an ear betwixt finger and thumb, ran the snatch-purse a few paces along the wharf. The fellow twisted in Pompino’s grip; he did not produce a weapon.
“By Diproo the Nimble-Fingered!” burst out the cutpurse. “You’re mighty quick, dom!”
“To your sorrow, you forsaken of Pandrite!”
“Leave off! I need that ear.”
“As you needed my friend’s wallet?”
“I’ve three wives and ten children to support—”
“More fool you. Where’s the Watch?”
Now the thief looked alarmed.
“You wouldn’t hand me over to the Watch? I’m a poor man. Renko the Iarvin I’m called and—”
I thought Pompino would burst a blood vessel.
“You’re Renko the
But the fellow babbled on. “Kov Memdo is mighty fierce in these latter days after the wars. You wouldn’t—”
My comrade’s apoplexy was a wonder to behold. Pompino the Iarvin held onto Renko the Iarvin’s ear, and bellowed purple of face into that imprisoned organ.
“The Iarvin—” Renko babbled. He squirmed and twisted like a caught fish.
I stood aside, very serious, very thoughtful as the last of the calsanys trotted past. I wouldn’t laugh. No, by Vox, even though my insides pained as if about to explode.
“How dare you bear that name!”
“Why — wha—? Leave off my ear, dom!”
Now these Kregish nicknames are a jungle of meanings in themselves. They contain more than one allusion to the quality and attributes of their bearers. To translate them faithfully into a language of Earth one would need to use a considerable quantity of definitions. Iarvin, for instance, means — inter alia — a smart fellow, someone who is sharp, bright, clever, nobody’s fool, impeccable — and there are more shadings. Pompino lived up to his sobriquet. Few girls bear the Iarvin as a nickname, for the meanings run differently for them, and the nearest, I suppose, would be the lueshvin. So, now, the two Iarvins glared, one at the other, and slowly the thief of that name understood what the Khibil of the same name was after.
“You wouldn’t hand me over to the Watch, dom? No — of course you wouldn’t—”
Cap’n Murkizon, enormous as a barrel, black as a thundercloud, stormed up. I told him what had happened, for he and the others with him could see plainly enough what was going on.
“Aye, Jak. Clever, these folk. Tied himself alongside a calsany and waited until he could reach a likely victim.” Here Cap’n Murkizon’s eyes squeezed shut and tears started. “But, by the black armpit and flea-infested hair of the Divine Lady of Belschutz! Horter Pompino is no likely victim for a trick like that!”
“He’s the Iarvin.”
Brick red of face, brilliant blue of eye, sprouting hair every which way, Cap’n Murkizon glared about. He cocked his massive head up on that barrel body. He stared at the sough-wood trees.
“Watch?” he bellowed. “Watch? When there’s a tree with a suitable branch handy! Now, thief, you may thank whatever ancient ship’s captain it was who brought the first sough-wood tree all the way from distant Havilfar. How could he know that one day, when the trees had grown so fine and tall, they would serve to save a wretch from the Watch?”
Renko the Iarvin grasped instantly what this dynamic bundle of a man meant.
“You wouldn’t — for a wallet? By Diproo the Nimble-Fingered! Are you then all stark mad?”
“Aye,” said Quendur the Ripper, standing easily at Murkizon’s side. The smile on Quendur’s face would have filled a shark with horror.
The Kregan way is often an odd way. The spirit of Yurncra the Mischievous must have caught at us. The minor pantheons of Kregen are filled with spirits and demons who move men and women to willful, wanton and reckless ways.
“Where is the rope?” demanded Cap’n Murkizon.
“A seaport always has rope aplenty,” observed Larghos the Flatch. He stood close to Murkizon. These two had formed a close friendship since the time Larghos had dived into the sea to save Murkizon. Now Larghos looked about with his Bowman’s eye.
“No, no, horters!” yelled Renko the Iarvin. “You would not!”
Just how long Pompino would allow this charade to play I could only guess. The game was growing cold to me. This poor devil Renko, seeing the faces of the seamen around him, devoutly believed they would hang him high from a branch of the sough-wood tree. I stepped forward.
Like the others, I wore simple sailorman’s clothes, blue trousers cut to the knee, a blue shirt and a red kerchief around my head. A rapier and main gauche swung at my sides from the broad lesten-hide belt. Only Pompino was dressed with great magnificence, as befitted the Owner, and Captain Murkizon wore a shiny black coat much decorated with gold, his axe swinging from a thong at his belt.
“Renko,” I said, “how true is it that you have three wives and ten children?”
He jabbered, and spittle ran. Pompino eased up on his ear.
“I lied, horter, I confess, I lied! I have but the two wives, and but seven children, as Pandrite may smile on me!”
“He’s more likely to laugh at you, you great buffoon!” Pompino, for all his talk of going home, had little back in South Pandahem to draw him apart from his pair of twins.
One of the crew swung up with a length of rope; but Pompino had wearied of the farce. He let Renko up. He stuck that fierce Khibil face close into Renko’s.
“Now listen to me, you great heap of useless garbage. When you chose to steal from us, you chose the wrong victims. By Horato the Potent, you imbecile! You might have had your hand cut off!”
“No, no, horter! Had I known, I would not—”
“That’s what Pantri the Squish said when the needleman explained to her,” said Murkizon in his coarse way.
The others guffawed at the reference to the old story of unexpected consequences. This Renko the Iarvin squinted up at them, and, in truth, they wore the appearance of a cutthroat band of ruffians well enough. They’d elected to follow the Owner, they and the others of the crew of
. Pompino had explained sufficient to them to justify completely this mission of burning the temples of Lem the Silver Leem, although — for obvious reasons — he could not explain all.
Now Pompino pushed Renko a little way off and glared at him in a most baleful fashion. Renko was all skin and bone, scrawny, with lank hair and the frightened face of a denizen of the stews. His clothes, mere rags, hung on him.
I said: “Do you worship any particular gods hereabouts, Renko?”
At once he was on the defensive, as any sensible person is when questioned too closely by strangers over matters of religion.
“I swear by the potent majesty of Havil the Green,” he said, a little truculently. The answer was safe. Havil the Green, one of those all-purpose major godhoods, is worshipped all over the continent of Havilfar and the island of Pandahem. That folk tend to hunger for the more personal worship of a closer god gives rise to the untold numbers of minor religions and cults abounding on Kregen. This is human nature when the chief god cannot sustain all a person’s spiritual longing.
Pompino caught my eye. In the partnership we had forged through a number of interesting adventures I was still perfectly happy to allow my comrade the lead. He nodded with his mind made up. He advanced on Renko with what the thief took to be a renewed attempt at hostilities.
“Renko, the crawling nit upon a ponsho fleece! What d’you know of the Brown and Silvers?”
Renko jumped as though branded.