Authors: Alan Burt Akers
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy
[Dray Prescot #3]
Alan Burt Akers
Although this is the third volume chronicling the strange and fascinating story of Dray Prescot, the editing has been so arranged that each book can be read as a separate and individual volume.
After publication of the first two volumes
of the adventures of that remarkable man, Dray Prescot, on the planet Kregen beneath the Suns of Scorpio some four hundred light-years away, I was completely unsure of the reception they would be accorded. So far Prescot’s story has been given to us in the form of cassettes he cut on Dan Fraser’s tape recorder in that epidemic-stricken village in a famine area of West Africa. Having been afforded the privilege of editing the Tapes from Africa, I have kept the promise Fraser made to Dray Prescot, and I have already written of the profound impression that calm sure voice makes upon me, and of how I feel uplifted as that voice quickens as the fire of memory burns brighter in remembered images of passion and action and headlong adventure.
The response has been surprisingly profuse and laudatory and there has been no opportunity for me to make adequate reply. We feel, in truth, that it is to Dray Prescot himself that we must look for that reply. The value of this account of life on Kregen is incalculable and the absence of certain of the cassettes containing portions of the story is a tragic loss. To my urgent inquiries, my friend Geoffrey Dean, to whom Dan Fraser had entrusted the Tapes from Africa and from whom I had received the cassettes in Washington, replied with sad and shocking news.
Dray Prescot had unexpectedly appeared in the famine area in West Africa and had been assisted by and then in turn had assisted the young field worker Dan Fraser. Now, Geoffrey told me, Dan Fraser was dead. He had died, mockingly, cruelly, wastefully, unnecessarily, in a stupid automobile accident.
With the death of Dan Fraser we lose the only direct link we had with Prescot. For Fraser was the only one of us ever to have seen Prescot in the flesh. Dan described him as being a man a little above middling height, with straight brown hair, and brown eyes that hold a light of incisive intelligence and a strange dominating quality that goes with the abrasive honesty of the man. His shoulders made Dan’s eyes pop. And now Dan Fraser is dead and the whereabouts of the missing cassettes may never be known.
We must, it is clear, be thankful for what we do have. Of the transcribed material I have deleted as little as is necessary, and have edited lightly; but a few items remain to be mentioned. The first is the pronunciation of the word Kregen. Prescot rolls this out as though an acute accent rides the first “e” — Kraygen — with a hard “g.” Despite his long sojourn on Kregen he often refers to things as an Earthman would — for instance he will say “sunshine” when, as Kregen orbits the binary Antares, he means “suns-shine.” “Sunshine,” however, trips more easily from the tongue.
Clearly, since Dray Prescot cut these tapes in the 1970’s, he must be possessed of much more information now about Kregen than he was at the times of which he speaks. The whole planet could have changed in character and the most powerful of impressions remains that if it has done so then Prescot himself will have had a large hand in that change. But those long-ago days were as new to Prescot then as they are to us now, and without artifice he recalls those stirring times as he felt and experienced them. But, nevertheless, there are two levels of story unfolding and we must be mindful of that as we read. I have sought the advice of a distinguished author of long experience whose help has been invaluable, and, good friend that he is, whose sage counsel will one day receive the acknowledgment that is its due. We agree that in speaking of his life, some scenes and impressions have remained more vividly with Dray Prescot; it is as though when he speaks into the microphone he is living through these episodes again.
Dray Prescot, born in 1775, presents an enigmatic picture of himself. Through his immersion in the pool of baptism of the River Zelph he is assured of a thousand years of life, as is his beloved, Delia of the Blue Mountains, for whose sake he was first hurled back to Earth by the Savanti. I feel it is clear he has thought long and carefully just what a millennium of life will mean and has come to adjust to and accept that fate. Returned to Kregen by the Star Lords — of whom he has given us no information — as a kind of interstellar troubleshooter, he rapidly rose to the position of Zorcander among his Clansmen of Felschraung in Segesthes, and then became the Lord of Strombor of the enclave city of Zenicce. At that point the Star Lords, apparently having no further use for him, returned him once more to Earth.
Some time elapsed before he was recalled to Kregen beneath Antares to find himself on the continent of Turismond, thousands of miles away from Segesthes, and up to his neck in problems. He witnessed the horrors perpetrated by the overlords of Magdag, escaped their slavery, became a corsair captain of a swifter — a Kregen galley — on the inner sea, the Eye of the World. We here lose portions of his story through the lamented absence of those missing cassettes, but we do know he was accepted into the mystic and military order of chivalry, the Krozairs of Zy, becoming Pur Dray. Returned to Magdag he organized the slaves and led a revolt which in the full tide of success was placed in jeopardy by the intervention of the Star Lords.
At the head of his slave phalanx he was surrounded by the lambent blue radiance that, together with the occasional appearance of a gigantic scorpion, accompanies a transition. In this case he was threatened with another ignominious return to Earth. However, once before he had managed by the exertion of a willpower we can only marvel at to negate the immediate effects and to remain on Kregen. So, now, he exerted all his willpower to remain on Kregen.
Warrior of Scorpio,
takes up his adventures from that point and in the process almost exhausts the cassettes in our possession, leaving only a very few to see publication.
Unless Dray Prescot is able in some way to reveal some of his story, and this of course assumes he can in some way be afforded the opportunity of seeing the volumes already in print, this incredible saga of brilliant action and high adventure, of chilling cruelty and superlative courage, will come to an end.
Geoffrey Dean called me on the transatlantic phone to tell me of the tragic death of Dan Fraser.
“I am firmly convinced Dray Prescot is determined to have his story told,” Geoffrey said over the line. “If it is humanly possibly — or superhumanly, given the intervention of the Star Lords — I believe, Alan, he will find a way of continuing to reach us and of carrying on with his story.”
Even if the story does end here — and somehow I believe Geoffrey is right in his assessment and I await the confirmation that will come with a fresh communication from Dray Prescot — still I am convinced that on Kregen four hundred light-years away Dray Prescot, Pur Dray, Lord of Strombor, Kov of Delphond, Krozair of Zy, will continue his own living story.
Alan Burt Akers
Pawn of the Star Lords
“I will stay on Kregen!”
In my nostrils stank the odors of blood and sweat, oiled leather, dust, and my ears rang with the sounds of combat as swords clashed and clanged and pikes pierced mail and crossbow bolts punched into armored men. I could smell and hear, but I could see only an all-encompassing blueness lambent about me, and my gripping fist closed on emptiness where I should be grasping the hilt of my long sword.
“I will not go back to Earth!”
Everything was blue now, roaring and twisting in my head, in my eyes and ears, tumbling me head over heels into a blue nothingness.
“I will stay on Kregen beneath the suns of Scorpio! I will!”
I, Dray Prescot of Earth, screamed it out in my agony and despair. “I will stay on Kregen!”
A wind riffled my hair and I knew that old vosk-skull helmet with its panache of yellow paint had vanished with my long sword.
I was lying flat on my back. The noise of combat flowed away, dwindling. The screams of dying men and wounded sectrixes, the grunt and harshly indrawn breaths of men convulsed with the passions of battle, the clangor and scrape of weapons, all died. And the blue brilliance of light about me wavered and I sensed the inward struggle as obscure forms moved and merged past the edges of my vision. Against my back pressed hard earth — but was it the dirt of Kregen or of Earth?
That last battle against the overlords of Magdag had been violent and emotional and transforming, but any taint of battle-lust or battle-fever in me had been banished at a stroke by the unexpected intervention of the Star Lords. I have, I confess, sometimes been overwhelmed by the lustof battle, not often, and have little time for those who prate of that red curtain that falls before their eyes and to whose existence they point as an excuse for actions of the most barbarous and savage kind. Oh, yes, the scarlet curtain before the eyes exists, but it is capable of manipulation by those whose humanity has not been destroyed.
You who listen to these tapes spinning through their little cassettes will know how often I have succumbed, to my shame, to that red-roaring tide of exultant conflict.
So it was that as I sat up on that hard-packed ground the blood-lust of battle had cleared from my mind. But the fever of instant action still gripped my body. As I sat up, then, expecting I knew not what, a vast odiferous mass of squelchy straw laid me flat down on my back again.
Dung and straw smothered me. Spitting out a mouthful of vile-tasting straw I sat up, blinking, trying to see, vaguely making out a barn door black in the light as the blueness faded, and — smack down again I went as another heaping forkful of straw-laced manure slapped me across the face. I spat. I blinked. I cursed. With a roar of fury generated as much by indignation and a sense of the ludicrous as much by anger I leaped to my feet.
This time I could dodge the flying forkful of dungy straw.
Thoroughly annoyed, I started for the barn door. As I expected, I was completely naked. The Star Lords had snatched me from Magdag; where they had deposited me I did not know — but I had urgent problems before finding out, problems to do with people who threw dungy straw into my face.
A voice shouted something I didn’t recognize, but even in the midst of intending to deal with dung-hurlers I took comfort from the conviction that the language was not of Earth. It had that ring peculiar to the languages of Kregen, and I felt a surge of thanksgiving.
A man stepped out of the barn door.
My vision cleared and I saw this man bathed in the mingled streaming light of the twin suns of Antares. Then, without doubt, I knew the Star Lords had not snatched me from Kregen altogether and hurled me contemptuously back to Earth. Contemptuously, for I knew that in some way I had failed them, that I had not accomplished what they had brought me to Kregen and sent me to Magdag to do.
Staring at this man who stared back at me I was conscious only of a great and all-engulfing thankfulness. I was still on the same world as my Delia! I was not sundered from the only woman for me in two worlds by four hundred light-years of empty space. Somewhere in Vallia on this planet of Kregen my Delia of the Blue Mountains, my Delia of Delphond, lived and breathed and laughed and, I hoped and prayed, did not despair of me.
This man carried a pitchfork to which wisps of greasy straw still clung. He stood tall and lean, with the most infernal mocking smile taking in my nakedness and the dungy straw clinging to my skin and broomsticking my hair — and then he saw my face. He lost his smile and the pitchfork came up in quick automatic response. He possessed a mane of intensely black hair. His eyes twinkled brightly blue upon me. There was about him an air of recklessness and of action-before-thought-of-consequences, and I judged he had not been slave for very long.
My thought of Delia had halted me — in the glory of knowing I was still treading the same ground as my princess — so that this man was spared time enough to speak.
“Llahal!” he said, in the universal nonfamiliar greeting of Kregen. Had we been friends he would have said: “Lahal.” He went on without waiting for my reply or for the making of pappattu. “You look a sight, dom!” And then he laughed. It was a light laugh, all mockery of myself gone from it and filled only with a delight in the circumstances. Any man who cannot laugh at himself is truly dead. But, as I think you will know, I, Dray Prescot, do not, for others and out loud, laugh easily.
I started for him again with the intention of wrapping the pitchfork around his neck and then deciding what to do with the tines.
He skipped aside, still laughing.
His laughter changed to puzzlement.
“You must be one of the new slaves, dom. I am Seg Segutorio. If you’ve been sent to help me you’d better get started before we’re both in trouble and tasting ol’ snake.”
The tines of the pitchfork looked exceedingly sharp. This man, this slave, handled the implement as a warrior handles a spear. Now he had recovered from the first shock of seeing that expression on my face that I have heard many men call the look of the devil; he balanced easily with the farmyard weapon covering me, confident in his own prowess. About to disabuse him of that idea, I checked.