Read Beasts of Antares Online

Authors: Alan Burt Akers

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy

Beasts of Antares

Beasts of Antares

Alan Burt Akers

Mushroom eBooks

The Spikatur Cycle

Beasts of Antares is the first volume of the Spikatur Cycle chronicling the history of Dray Prescot on the marvelous and horrific world of Kregen four hundred light-years away under the red and green fires of the Suns of Scorpio. Reared in the inhumanly harsh conditions of Nelson’s Navy, he has been transported to Kregen through the agencies of the Savanti and the Star Lords. Dray Prescot is a man above middle height, with brown hair and level brown eyes, brooding and dominating, with enormously broad shoulders and superbly powerful physique. There is about him an abrasive honesty and an indomitable courage. He moves like a savage hunting cat, quiet and deadly. The portrait he presents of himself is enigmatic and attractive.

The people of the island empire of Vallia, cruelly oppressed by invaders, call on Prescot to shoulder the burden of leading them to liberty. This he has vowed to do to the best of his ability, and then thankfully relinquish the imperium, for there are other tasks set to his hands on the unforgiving and rewarding world of Kregan.

The Spikatur Cycle brings Prescot closer to the realization of many of his dreams and each book is arranged to be read as complete in itself. He is determined to do what he feels is laid upon him; but he finds it is not so easy, particularly when the Empress Delia and his comrades are determined to keep him out of trouble. But — he is Dray Prescot, Lord of Strombor and Krozair of Zy, and that canny old leem hunter will not be prevented from buckling up the brave old scarlet breechclout and with a sword in his fist hurtling off beneath the Moons of Kregen into fresh headlong adventure.

Chapter one

At the Sign of the Headless Zorcaman

Naghan Raerdu was a most entertaining character. He had a remarkable penchant for laughing so much the tears squeezed out of his closed eyes and no one took much notice of what else he was doing. His face expressed habitual surprise that people never took him seriously, and his body, short, stout, robust, supported on thick waddling legs, conveyed an impression of undirected manic energy. He was apim, a member of Homo sapiens, with brown Vallian hair and eyes and a blobby chunk of gristle for a nose. He’d been a soldier in the Phalanx, rising from brumbyte to Relianchun. With his bright popping eyes, his highly colored cheeks, his glistening mouth from which a glass was seldom absent, he looked quite unlike what he was.

Naghan Raerdu had turned into a first-class spy.

His jolly red-faced exterior concealed the mentality more often associated with the gray, inconspicuous secret agent. And he liked to laugh.

He finished laughing now as he said, “This fellow Chuktar Mevek — leastways, that’s what he calls himself — means what he says. In a matter this important he will deal only with the emperor.”

“It’s a trap.” Turko spoke in a dismissive way, perhaps a little warm at having to state the obvious. He stretched his arms in which the sinuous muscles spoke eloquently of the enormous man-crushing power of him. He had the wrestler’s trick of emphasizing statements by physical movements. Since his elevation to the nobility he had flowered wonderfully and yet he remained a good comrade. Naghan Raerdu’s spying mission had been into Falinur, near the center of Vallia, Kov Turko’s new province.

“I think not, kov.” Raerdu spoke up stoutly. He was often called Naghan the Barrel for obvious reasons. “I took soundings.” He laid a chubby finger alongside that blob of gristle that passed for a nose.

“A trap,” repeated Turko. He half turned away, and his profile showed, keen as an eagle’s. “That unhanged villain Layco Jhansi wants to lure the emperor into his clutches by this story, and then — chop.”

“With respect, kov, this Mevek has suffered and has no love for Layco Jhansi.”

“He told you this?” Nath Karidge, that tearaway cavalry commander spoke up. He happened to be here because a new task was to be set to his capable hands. Now his reckless face was thoughtful in the shadows under the trees. “Or — you saw for yourself?”

“Both, and yet it was the way Mevek spoke that impressed me. I have seen men’s faces when they talk like that. I was Relianchun in the First Phalanx at the Battle of Sicce’s Gates, and, after we were beat... That was a bad time for Vallia.” Naghan the Barrel did not laugh. “It is my view that Mevek speaks honestly and can do what he promises.”

The problem was a knotty one. Around the heap of tumbled ruins that had once been a pretty village, up here in the north of the province of Vindelka, the trees grew vigorously, thrusting their roots into crevices and completing the work of destruction. The streaming mingled radiance of the Suns of Scorpio fell in a muted, wavering undersea vision of green and russet gold. A short way off the animals snorted and stamped their hooves, tossing their manes. The cavalry escort waited beyond the line of trees. By the slanting rays from the twin suns the day was waning. Night would soon be here. A decision had to be made before the twin suns, Zim and Genodras, sank beneath the horizon and the first moon of Kregen, the Maiden with the Many Smiles, swam roseate and shining into the night sky.

Naghan the Barrel cocked his red face up and squinted at the position of the suns.

“Chuktar Mevek will wait for you, majister, at the Sign of the Headless Zorcaman until the hour of midnight.”

His golden beard glinting in that dappled light, his four arms and tail hand relaxed, Korero the Shield coughed one of his dry little coughs. A magnificent golden Kildoi, a marvel with his shields, an adept of Disciplines, Korero was, like Turko, a valued comrade.

“Mevek may speak the truth,” said Korero, “but the risk is not worth taking.”

“I agree,” said Turko. “You’d be running your head into a noose.”

With a flick of his pelisse, furred and smothered in gold lace, Nath Karidge added, “Majister, the danger is too great.”

In that uncertain light they all stared at me. The scent of evening hung sweetly on the air, and insects buzzed. The zorcas snorted and stamped their hooves. Overhead the trees bowered us in shadow.

I stared back at them.

“Three of you,” I said. “Three right-roaring rapscallion hellions. Since when has a little danger, a few risks, bothered you?”

They each found it necessary to make immediate and finicky adjustments to their clothes or harness or weapons. I did not add, as in justice I ought, that if anyone trembled at risks taken and dangers dared, it was me. Korero the Shield, with four arms and a tail hand and an enormous competence in the midst of battle, with a dry humor and practical outlook; Turko the Shield who was now Kov Turko of Falinur, a Khamorro, a feared man who could break the strongest opponent, a man with a gently sarcastic manner; these two were good comrades, trusted friends, and right tearaways. And Chuktar Nath Karidge, the beau sabreur, a cavalryman — no, a
light
cavalryman — who swore on Lasal the Vakka and had no great expectations of living beyond the next charge, he was here because I wanted him to put his talents to good use. And, all three, all three reckless daredevils, all cautioned me gravely, with long faces, direfully warning me of risks and dangers.

By Vox! It was enough to make a fellow laugh.

“With your permission, majister, I will have to take back an answer soon. Mevek is somewhat touchy in these matters.” Naghan the Barrel laughed his wheezing, tear-splattering laugh. “I fancy it is how he has kept his head on his shoulders for so long fighting his guerrilla actions against Layco Jhansi’s mercenaries.”

“Risks,” said Korero. He pulled his golden beard. “I do not hold with them.”

“Nor me,” said Turko.

They spoke seriously. I considered. Yes, it was true that both Korero and Turko were among the more sober headed of my boon companions. They were not as foolhardy as most, not as ready to jump in without a thought. Both had carried shields at my back in battle. Perhaps that was why they were less reckless, or perhaps their function as shield bearers to the Emperor of Vallia had made them more cautious. All the same, the humor of the situation remained.

“You say this Chuktar Mevek will deal only with me directly?”

“Yes, majister. And, in addition, he was firm on the point. We can take no more than three companions to the Sign of the Headless Zorcaman.”

“Five of us,” said Turko. “And I daresay he’ll have a little army waiting.”

“As much as any man may,” said Naghan the Barrel, and he spoke more strongly. “Chuktar Mevek has my trust.”

Nath Karidge put his fist onto the hilt of his sword. He carried a curved sword of a pattern of his own design, specially made for him. He looked at me. “If we go, majister, at least let me bring on my two half-squadrons in support.”

“Would that not be breaking faith?”

He stirred the dust with his cavalryman’s boot.

“Aye. But, by Lasal the Vakka, when you treat with rogues you must watch your back.”

The others nodded. There was no need for them to amplify. This view was one commonly held among my comrades concerning certain eventualities and certain people. What Karidge had said merely cloaked a deeper meaning.

There was no need to amplify, yet Turko said, “Honor is a precious commodity. Yet honor cannot stand in the way of our proper duty.”

I refused to allow myself to think about this at the moment. Later on I pondered the implications deeply, as you shall hear; but, right now, the decision must be taken.

And, really — and as they knew only too well — there was only one conclusion I could come to.

I said, “We go. We go now. Rather — with Naghan
I
go.”

At once, speaking all over each other, they were baying out their outrage. I calmed them.

“If you wish to accompany, you will be most welcome. But, if you think the risks too great, why, then—”

In mercy I couldn’t go on. Their faces expressed the utmost consternation and chagrin and downright fury.

They knew — I trusted they knew — that I merely baited them.

In the language spoken over most of Paz, the Kregish language which had, I surmised, been imposed on the people, there are many fine terms of abuse and contempt, many resounding oaths, many expressions of love and fidelity. Some have a reasonably exact counterpart in the languages of Earth; some are purely Kregan. To call a fellow a fambly is to express your opinion of him in gentle, friendly terms, and yet you also let him know you are giving him a little stick. When, half under my breath and turning toward the zorcas, I said, “Famblys!” these men of mine knew exactly what I meant. Mind you, the oafish of two worlds might misunderstand, that seems obvious. To call a man a fambly is not the same as calling him an onker, or a hulu, or any other of the colorful names available in the Kregish tongue.

“I shall station my two half-squadrons—” began Karidge.

“No. I judge Chuktar Mevek will scout the approaches. Anything like a follow-up cavalry force — and he’ll be off.”

“Quidang, majister!”

Yet, as he spoke, Karidge indicated that he might bellow out “Quidang!” — a standard acknowledgment of an order — but he didn’t like the idea at all. He was a cavalryman. It was hard for him to grasp any idea that anything at all valuable could be accomplished without the exciting jingle of harness and the onrushing stamp of hooves.

We mounted up and Karidge gave orders to the cavalry to await our return, and we set off as the suns declined. Up ahead lay a rich and fruitful land between the generous arms of a loop in the Great River, She of the Fecundity. This part of Vallia was blessed with richness; the land sent forth its goodness in thickly growing crops, in trees heavy with fruit, in grasslands where cattle grazed and grew fat. Westward on the outskirts of the semi-desert Ochre Limits the land yielded many rich minerals. This land was called Vinnur’s Garden. It lay between Falinur to the north and Vindelka to the south. It was coveted by and laid claim to by both provinces.

Just who was the rightful claimant no one now could say. I had partially solved the squabble by an arbitrary parallel dividing Vinnur’s garden in half. The locals didn’t much like the solution, but had to acknowledge there was not much else to do. Falinur had been the kovnate province of Seg Segutorio until he had relinquished it and I had appointed Turko. Vindelka was the kovnate province of Vomanus, half-brother to Delia. Both were blade comrades. Neither would press his claim against the other.

Some of the annoyance felt by the southern Falinurese against Seg for not actively advancing their claims had led, coupled with his attempts to put down slavery, to the people throwing in their lot with Layco Jhansi. Jhansi had been the old emperor’s chief minister, and he had betrayed him. The plot to kill the emperor had misfired, Jhansi had fled to the safety of his own province, Vennar, to the west of Falinur, and in the Time of Troubles he had waxed strong. He had troubles on his northern borders, but just lately he had attempted to invade southward into the imperial province of Orvendel, having subjugated Vindelka. We had bested his army at the Battle of Ovalia and had subsequently campaigned successfully northward to liberate Vindelka. My projected trip to Hyrklana had perforce been postponed yet again...

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