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Dray Prescot had fought long and hard through perilous lands to claim the hand of the heiress of the mighty Vallia. Yet, when finally he set foot in that long-sought empire, it was not as hero or noble... It was as an unknown, a mendicant, and finally as a condemned slave. For the combatant fates that had interfered continually with his quest on the planet of the twin suns of Antares had yet more tests for the man they had selected as their agent. But for Dray there was only one goal--already in sight--and he would not be turned aside any longer no matter what dangers Vallian intrigues and quasi-human mysteries may have in store for him. This edition contains maps and a glossary.
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CHAPTER ONE —Thisi the Fair borrows my Savanti sword
I, Dray Prescot, of Earth and of Kregen, once more trod the beautiful and brutal planet of my adoption, and in the engaging way of the Star Lords who had brought me here, was faced instantly with headlong action and deadly danger.
A bulky man in black leathers ran full tilt upon me, seeking to pin me to the ground with his rapier. The slender blade glistened redly in the mingled light from the twin suns of Scorpio. I do not argue when a man tries to kill me.
The guttural shouts and hoarse screams in my ears, the flickering impression of frenzied action all about me, and the black galvanic forms of men contorted in violent conflict running and stabbing and caught up in a confused melee washed around me; but the burly man with the bushy brown moustaches and the eyes of a killer lunged down fiercely upon me.
He cursed and dragged his blade free of the thin earth that dribbled over bare rock, swung himself forward for another essay at mounting me like a butterfly in a glass case.
Nothing else mattered in the world —either this world or the world of Earth distant four hundred light-years —beside that professional killer and his blade.
"You panval cramph!" he said as he advanced, with a little more wariness this time, a trifle of cunning evident in his clear wish to spit me as I rolled.
I shoved up on my hands, getting my feet under me, not rising on hands and knees. I was, as always when I landed on Kregen, stark naked. There were no handy weapons —a sword, a spear, a helmet —just me, Dray Prescot, naked as the day I was born.
Ashrieking man ran past, his matted hair streaming, pursued by another of the killers in his black leather uniform. This screaming wretch, too, was naked, and so I reasoned that no one was surprised at my absence of clothes.
"Rast of a panval!" The killer lunged and I sprang, attempting to slip beneath the blade and so grasp him in my arms and break his back.
But he was quick. He eluded me, and a line of bright red wealed up along my thigh.
Now it was my turn to curse.
Normally I never bother to shout and curse when in action; it wastes breath and I do not need my morale boosted in this way.
"By the Black Chunkrah!" I yelled. "I'll take your Makki-Grodno infested tripes out and wrap them around your diseased neck!"
He was coming in again as I shouted and he looked at my face. He hadn't bothered to look before; all slaves look alike to their indifferent guards. Now he looked. He checked. He faltered in his attack in so obvious a way that I knew I was wearing that old ugly powerful look, the facial expression men say gives me the look of the devil, and I did not waste my chance.
I fended off with my left hand and sent his rapier skewering empty air skyward. I took his throat in my right hand and squeezed, then I brought my left fist down and around and under and hit him in the belly.
He would have shrieked, but no air could get past my constricting fingers.
He wriggled and flailed and tried to shorten his blade to stab me in the back, but I glared into his eyes with what I know is a wild and maniacal stare habitual to me when someone is trying to kill me, and I choked him and flung him down like a harvested sheaf of grain. I took his rapier. His left-hand dagger swung still at his waist; of what need had he of main-gauche against an unarmed slave?
With the weapons in my fists I sprang up, and at a half-crouch, ready for the next fool to show up, I surveyed the scene.
The bare rocks, with their thin scattering of dirt cover in which straggly beach-grasses and thorn-ivy struggled to grow here and there, led down to a shaly beach. Scattered along the beach an enormous mass of timbers, bales, bundles, ropes, and spars indicated a shipwreck. At first I thought the naked, screaming running men and women had been oar-slaves, but what was left of the vessel did not match my knowledge either of a swifter of the Eye of the World or a swordship of the Sunset Sea.
Copyright © 1974, Kenneth Bulmer.