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The Scorpion calls
Although I have had many names and been called many things by the men and beasts of two worlds, I was born plain Dray Prescot.
My parents died when I was young, but I knew them both and loved them deeply. There was no mystery about my birth and I would consider it shameful now to wish that my real father had been a prince, my real mother a princess.
I was born in a small house in the middle of a row of identically similar houses, an only child, and a loved one. Now I find myself often wondering what my parents would make of my strange life and how they would greet with delight or that delicious family mockery my walking with kings and my dealing as an equal with emperors and dictators, and all the palaces and temples and fantastic settings of distant Kregen, that have fashioned me into the man I am today.
My life has been long, incredibly long by any standards, and yet I know I merely stand at the threshold of the many possibilities the future holds. Always, for as long as I can remember, ill-defined dreams and grand and nebulous ambitions enclosed me in a fervent belief that life itself held the answers to everything, and that to understand life was to understand the universe.
Even as a child I would fall into a strange kind of daze in which I would sit back and stare upward sightlessly, my mind blank, receptive of a warm white light that pulsed everywhere. I cannot now say what thoughts passed through my brain for I do not believe I thought at all during those times. If this was the meditation or contemplation so ardently sought by Eastern religions then I had stumbled on secrets far beyond mycomprehension.
What is still vividly in my mind of my young days is my mother's apparently continuous letting-out of my clothes as I grew. She would bring out her sewing basket and select a needle and look at me with such an expression of loving helplessness as I stood there, my shirt once more torn across my shoulders. "You'll soon not be able to go through a door, Dray, with those shoulders," she would scold, and then my father would come in, laughing perhaps over my wriggling discomfiture, although we had, as a family, precious little to laugh at in those days.
The sea which boomed and thundered whitely at the mouth of the river had always conveyed to me a siren song; but my father, who carried his certificate of exemption with him day and night, set his face against my going to sea. As the gulls wheeled and called across the marshes and swooped about the old church tower, I would be on the grass and ponder my future. Had anyone then told me of Kregen beneath Antares and of the marvels and mysteries of that wild and savage world I would have run as though from a leper or a madman.
The natural aversion my father held to the sea was founded on deep suspicion of the morality and system of those responsible for manning the ships. He had all his life lived with horses as his chief interest, capable of dealing with all aspects of their care and training, and when I was born in 1775 he was earning our living by horse-doctoring. During the time I spent with the Clansmen of Felschraung on Kregen long after my father's death I felt myself nearer to him than ever before.
Our spotless kitchen was always crammed with greenish bottles of mysterious mixtures, and the smell of liniments and oils struggled with those of cabbage and freshly-baked bread. There was always weighty talk of the staggers, glanders, pinkeye and strangles. I suppose, speaking logically, I could ride a horse and jump him moderately well before I could toddle safely from our kitchen to the front door.
One day an old hag woman with curious eyes and a bent back and dressed in rags stuffed with straw wandered through the street and suddenly it was the craze for our neighbors to have their fortunes told. It was on this day I discovered that my birthday, the Fifth of November, somehow turned me into a Scorpion, and that Mars was my planet of the ascendant. I had no idea of the meanings of these strange words; but the concept of a scorpion intrigued me and possessed me, so that, although I was forced to indulge in the expected fisticuffs with my friends when they dubbed me The Scorpion, I was secretly thrilled and exultant. This even compensated me for not being an Archer, as I longed, or even a Lion, who I conceived would roar more loudly than that Bull of Bashan the schoolmaster loved to imitate. Do not be surprised that I was taught reading and writing, for my mother had set her heart on my being an office clerk or schoolteacher and so raise myself from that sunken mass of the people for whom I have always felt the most profound respect and sympathy.
When I was about twelve a group of sailormen stayed at the inn where my father sometimes helped with the horses, combing them and speaking to them and even finding raggedy lumps of West Indian sugar for them to nibble and slobber from his upturned palm. On this day, though, my father was ill and was carried into the back room of the inn and placed gently on the old settle there. His face dismayed me. He lay there weak and listless and without the strength to sup from the bowl of strong ale the kindly tavern wench brought him. I wandered disconsolate into the yard with its piles of straw and dung and the smells of horses and ale filling the air with an almost solid miasma.
The sailors were laughing and drinking around something in a wicker cage and, immediately intrigued like all small boys, I went across and pushed between the burly bodies.
"How d'ye like that abed with ye at nights, lad?"
"See how it scuttles! Like a foul Sallee Rover!"
They let me look into the wicker basket, quaffing their ale and laughing and talking in their uncouth sailor way that was, alas, to be all too familiar to me in the days to come.
In the basket a strange creature scuttled to and fro, swinging its tail in the air like a weapon, rocking its whole body from side to side with the violence of its movements. Its scaly back and the two fierce pincers that opened and shut with such malice repelled me.
"What is it?" I asked, all innocently.
"Why, lad. 'Tis a scorpion."
So this was the creature whose name I bore as a nickname!
Copyright © 1972, Kenneth Bulmer.