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Chapter one —Gold
How do you get on to civilized speaking terms with a daughter you haven't met until she was a grown woman, a tiger-lady with Whip and Claw who once sought to rip your face off? It's not all that easy. No, by Vox, not at all easy!
We sat together in the mizzen top, looking aft. Far astern two shining triangles showed where the pursuit gained remorselessly upon us in the quartering breeze. Soon they would overtake us and attempt to board and we would fall to handstrokes in the red roaring madness of battle —but far, far more important than that were these first stumbling steps in building a relationship between father and daughter.
My daughter, the Princess Dayra of Vallia, known as Ros the Claw, could not be expected to become suddenly all Sweetness and Light. After all, she'd hated and loathed me all her adult life. To find out that she had been betrayed and deceived, lied to, misled, and that I wasn't quite the rogue she thought —not quite, but nearly, by Krun! —must have hit her with a shock that might topple less resilient minds.
As our ship, the stout bluff-beamed argenter Tuscurs Maiden, sailed on across the Sea of Opaz, bursting the water to a dazzlement of foam, she said to me: "What am I going to say to mother? I feel such a —such a—"
"I'm prepared to take most of the blame there is floating around," I told her. "Most, but, by the Black Chunkrah! not all! You've got to face up to it, too. And your mother shares no part of the blame. Frankly, I don't know how she has managed over the seasons, what with me going off and the children turning into a bunch of rapscallions —well,except for Drak—"
"Drak!" She laughed, high and perhaps a little too tensely. Her face —that gorgeous passionate face so much like Delia's face darkened by the undercurrents of character she must inherit from me —regarded me in a wild, self-hurting way. "Drak is a sober-sides! He's so high and mighty and filled with his own sense of integrity he'll —he'll..."
"He's a good brother to you, Dayra."
"Perhaps he tried to be. He did try to speak to me a few times... But I was surrounded by brilliant and clever people who told me—"
"Who told you a pack of lies!"
She did not answer but held out her hand for the spyglass.
"They're catching us," she said, the glass centered and swaying with our movement. "But they're slow about it."
With that characteristic half-tilt of the head and a swift squint up she established the positions of the Suns. The great red sun, Zim, and the smaller green sun, Genodras, the twin Suns of Antares shed their streaming mingled radiance upon the face of Kregen and Dayra wrinkled up her nose and said: "I doubt they'll overhaul us before nightfall."
"The Maiden with the Many Smiles is due early," I pointed out. As the largest of Kregen's seven Moons, the Maiden with the Many Smiles would afford light enough for boarding.
"True. But there will be cloud."
"No. But it is likely. Zankov was always complaining about the clouds."
I made no reference to Zankov, the chief instigator of my daughter's ills. My comrade, Cap'n Murkizon, in breaking Zankov's back, had not quite killed him. I couldn't honestly say I wished greatly for the rogue's recovery.
As though the thoughts in our heads followed a similar train, Dayra said —and with a tartness that was not all mischievous twinkle: "Suppose I told this bloodthirsty crew you've gathered around you just who you are? If I told them you were the Emperor of Vallia —what d'you think they'd do?"
"That's easy. They wouldn't believe you. I'm just Jak, or Jak the Shot, or Jak the Whatever Has Recently Happened. They'd laugh in your face. But, still, if you care to, try it. Tell them."
"And your foxy Khibil partner, Pompino?"
"Well, I'll allow he might believe it. He has heard the name of Dray Prescot mentioned before."
She steadied the glass upon the two pursuing ships.
"The lord of Bormark —whose coast is just visible to the southward —Kov Pando, and his mother, the Kovneva Tilda, knew me when I told them I was called Dray Prescot. They remain firmly convinced that I used the name as an impostor. They believe I am Jak, for they met the real Emperor of Vallia on an unhappy occasion for them. That, they tell me, was not me. So I think Pompino will take the same tack. It is not easy to persuade ordinary folk that emperors and princesses go wandering around among them —as you should know, Ros the Claw."
"You call me Ros Delphor!"
Copyright © 1984, Kenneth Bulmer.