Captive Scorpio
A review by Steve "Seg" Servello

Spoiler Warning: Contains story details

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Captive Scorpio

Josh Kirby draws the interior illustrations as well as the cover. Dayra is shown in full battle gear under her alias of Ros the Claw. Not a bad looking woman and the mixture of yellows and red go together nicely.

The back cover really captures the reader's eye with "THE FALL OF VONDIUM" headlining. The following three paragraphs are equally riveting with the these statements standing out: "When, at last, all the forces opposed to his lands, his princess, his emperor, and to him personally converged, it was to produce the darkest hour of his long career. For treason struck at the court, while rebel armies marched from the backlands and the warfleets of enemy nations were aloft. ... his warrior-daughter Dayra rode in the vanguard of his foes!"

"Captive Scorpio" opens in the baths of Vondium the Proud. There Dray Prescot listens as the businessmen gathered there talked of Delia's supposed infidelities and with Turko of all people! There was a stranger from Evir present as well. The way one or two described Turko as "a lovely man" and " beautiful" made me wonder if they were gay. If so, the other businessmen there (plus Dray) appeared not to notice nor care.

These same businessmen, of the Vondium Khanders party, believed that their city was the greatest in Paz (page 13). I do know it is not the largest and it is not clear if Prescot shares this view. He has, after all, seen most of the major cities in Paz, which those men have not.

I had not realized how fond of Zamra Dray was until he reflected on just that, using that island as alias homeland. A mistake realized too late but of no major consequence.

Bidding farewell to Koter Vandrop--whom Dray had chosen to test the pulse of Vallia's capital--Prescot heads for the royal palace, his banishment lifted. Climbing the Tower of Incense he peeks in on the Emperor's most recent court Wizard of Loh, Deb-sa-Chiu. Kirby draws a credible scene on page 17 showing this mage in his lair. Dray seeks the whereabouts of Delia and wants this wizard to go into lupu to find out. Pages 18-20 will be a delight to our own san Quon, as no less than five Wizards of Walfarg (Loh still) are mentioned, along with their roles, past and present. They are: Deb-sa-Chiu, Deb-so-Parang, Que-si-Rening, Khe-Hi-Bjanching and Phu-Si-Yantong. Isn't it curious how some middle names are capitalized and others not? Perhaps a reference to their level of achievement or power? Dray realizes he still owes the court wizard of Hamal for aid provided in "Avenger of Antares.'" Nor does he ever get to pay him back, as that mage is not mentioned again.

Somewhat under duress, Deb-sa-Chiu gives information on Delia to Dray and is attacked by the astral power of Phu-Si-Yantong and saved by Prescot. It appears that the wizard was going to say more but Dray cuts him off and thereby added to Vallia's forthcoming Time of Troubles (pages 23 & 24). And yes, Chiu was definitely aware that the Emperor had been cured by the Savanti and knew of them (page 20).

Dray then mopes a bit about how all his friends that had gone with him to Ba-Domek are scattered over Paz but notes that three are from Loh, and very different parts at that (page 25). Seg from Erthydrin, Inch in Ng'groga and Khe-Hi from Walfarg.

Despite being on a war footing if not actually at war, Hamal still sells inferior vollers to Vallia. I'm surprised they do so at all, even if to raise money for their continuing wars of expansion in Havilfar.

While flying to hopefully meet Delia (which he doesn't), Dray's voller fails and he is lucky enough to crash-land onto a much larger flier where he is beset by Chuliks under orders from a muffled Kataki who orders Prescot taken alive. When he sees that this is not possible he lands and frees Dray, at the orders of an unseen master. The identities of both will be shortly revealed. In a nicely done move, Dray's voller is dumped unceremoniously after him, "Throw that with him."

On his way back to Vondium Dray looks over the passing landscape below, he notes the canal system and reflects that its water is deadly to those not of the canal folk. But further he says that the canals of Vondium itself are fed by the waters of the Great River, and that this water is safe for all (page 34). Then where does the water from the nationwide canal system originate? I'd guess the Black Mts./Blue Hills and the Mts. of the North. But the latter is where the Great River has its source also. So what is the difference here? The same appears to be true of the canals in Valka as well, in that they are deadly. The water there originates in the mountains of the central massif.

Sometimes Prescot is very dense, such as he still doesn't get who was behind Ashti Melekhi and the plot to poison or slay the Emperor. Wouldn't one at least contemplate the person responsible for Ashti being in her position at court should be a suspect? Layco Jhansi was that person and Dray knows this, yet doesn't make the connection (page 34).

In what I believe is a plot thread that will germinated in "Savage Scorpio", get touched upon in "Captive" and flower in "A Life For Kregen", Dray admits that he misjudges the niceties of protocol and honor of the stikitches Ashti had hired to assassinate him (page 35). This, as he passes over Drak's City or the Old City (pages 35 & 36). I got the feel of Gor here. This was the original settlement of Vondium and reminds me of when cities like Ar and Ko-ro-ba were originally settled, with only a homestone to start the village. Nearby is Drak's Seat, that "curious double formation of rock and crag, comprised of lofting twin pinnacles spearing up from the land." From here, Vondium receives her ice. The height is not mentioned, but it must be high indeed to be snowcapped throughout the temperate year.

And so Dray lands and Delia is there to greet him, having expected his eventual arrival and packing a picnic. I really enjoy the way Delia marks her place in the book she was reading with a slim finger, a gesture Dray knows well. Naturally as this is their first time being together since being separated in Ba-Domek (by the Everoinye), they make love (page 37). When that joy is behind them, they bring each other up to date on events--in particular their two daughters Lela and Dayra. Prescot is told that Seg's daughter Silda had also become involved with the wrong crowd, but that with Inch's help he sorted things out and right quickly too. The obvious inference that Dray was not around to do likewise. Curiously, Lela's recent business with Delia and the SoR was not connected with Dayra as I had thought. Drak, Zeg and Jaidur are talked of as well and then Delia brings up Barty Vessler, the Strom of Calimbrev and hopeful suitor to Dayra (pages 40 & 42). Ah Barty... Kregen can be so cruel ...

Prescot starts to feel isolated in Vondium. His two grown daughters are either about on a secret mission or smashing up taverns. The young girls, Didi and Velia (who is not a replacement to poor dead Velia) are cared for by Aunt Katri, in Valkanium. Jaidur has returned to Zairia while Drak is ensconced in Valka. After all, the Old Strom is absent once again.

While taking a carriage ride through Vondium, the stikitche guild sends a message, stating a desire to meet the Prince Majister, just within Drak's City. Delia was quick to realize that the shaft that quivered in the carriage was just that, a message and not an assassination attempt: "I will resume my seat now, and then we can look at the message" (page 45). And this calm response after Sarfi the Whip had taken the royal couple on a Pazzian version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

In any event, Dray and Barty enter Drak's City to see what's up. Leaving the young strom at the Gate of Skulls, Prescot enters the Ball and Chain and has some fun with the local riff raff first. As he calls it "a part of the rich tapestry of life--or, as this was Kregen, of death."

Craftily the guild instructs Dray to utilize a high crosswalk between buildings and he is now truly isolated, here in the Old City, never mind Vondium the Proud! Basically the lead stikitch, Nath the Knife, wants Prescot to pay the remaining half of the fee for killing him (5000 gold talens). Ashti Melekhi was dead and had only paid the first half. This crazy but oh so fascinating conversation continues, with Laygon the Strigicaw, another masked man and a deadly woman also in attendance. When Dray states that he is "not in the habit of paying gold to cramphs to save his life," Nath the Nife coolly responds, "You can always start" (page 56). Well now, a man after my own heart!

From there the conversation turns to how it is believed that Prescot's reputation as a fierce warrior is "a sham, a bolstered creation because he is the Prince Majister." Dray replies, "It's a theory." Nicely put my old dom! By now the four assassins believe the matter resolve and begin to stir, ready to take their leave. The calm is shattered when Dray flings "Settled? Why, you onkers, I wouldn't pay you a single clipped toc!" at them. After the absolute shock wears off the four try to kill Dray when the old fake chair routine fails. Strangely, after putting up a spirited defense, Prescot opts to run instead of letting on about his true swordsmanship abilities. He wants to foster that image of a buffoon. So, bidding a cal adieu, he dives head-first out the window, with the idea of landing on his feet, rolling back and bounding back up in a fighting crouch. LOL! Instead the Prince Majister "fell splat into the back of an overfilled dung cart." While scrabbling about and trying to get his bearings, Prescot of course reflects on "Shades of Seg and his dungy straw!" (pages 61 & 62).

And then comes the chase!

I was surprised that Ken let slip one of those quaint English phrases on page 63. Nath the knife upon seeing Prescot escape shouts down to other stikitches "Seize him up! Tally ho! Stikitches! Slay him!" Tally ho? That ranks right up there with "I'll marmalize you!"

Thus begins the hilarious chase (pages 62-72). Through Drak's City and into Vondium proper, Prescot and the reluctant Barty are pursued by the tenacious assassins. It seems unfair to me that Dray was not allowed to leave the meeting alive, after rejecting the demands of the stikitches. They appear to be have a sense of honor and a head start seems reasonable, as Prescot came to this meeting under a truce of sorts. Maybe if he had said that appreciated the opportunity to buy off their contract but must respectfully refuse it. But no, he has to exclaim that he would not part with one clipped toc!

The chase ends near the royal palace as Prescot jumps down from a height to aid Barty and falls through the palanquin of a noble woman who recognizes him and proceeds to berate and ridicule. In fact she refers to Prescot as a "puffed up bag of vomit and an apology for a jikai." I find this passing strange as we later learn that this was Queen Lush who through her familiarity with both the Emperor and Phu-Si-Yantong should know that his fearful reputation as a warrior was very real indeed.

In a rather humorous part of their conversation Lush laughs in scorn when one of the weasel-faced thugs that had chased Barty is brought forth by her guardsmen and asks "Is THAT what you run from?" Dray replies rather defensively I think "That was one of them." As if to say that yes this was a wretch but that there were more and mightier foes that were worthy to run from.

So, after a humiliating retreat from the palanquin it is for the baths of nine for Prescot. After all, as Queen Lush also told him "You stink!" Delia is with him and listens attentively as Dray whines about his day, especially that last incident. Dray seems a bit pettish about this. Delia suspects and then knows when he describes the noble (royal actually) lady's violet eyes.

I was very pleased to see Shadow, Dray's zorca from Ba-Domek (page 76). He is a magnificent animal and worthy to be Prescot's chief mount.

A rather interesting comment by Dray concerning religion appears also on page 76. He states that Zair and Djan (as warrior-based religions) "lack something of the essential spiritual transcendence of Opaz. In Opaz lies a very great part of the future well-being of Kregen."

Leaving Delia, Dray meets with most of the same Racters he had met in "Secret Scorpio" and led by the dowager Kovena Natyzha Famphreon (she of the pampered body but dog-like face). He lightly tells Delia that they plot to kill her father, whereat her brow furrowed. The meeting takes place at the Sea Barynth Hooked tavern and is really more of the usual except that Dray learns more of Dayra's mischief in the Northeast. As an aside, Dray comments on the Kamist Quay and wharves (page 79) where the galleons of Vallia berth. This seems to lend more credence that Vondium is in fact a seaport and not upriver a bit as has been conjectured.

While chatting with these plotting racters a flick-flack plant offers a diversion, a betting opportunity and a lesson. A fly (for flies are everywhere it seems) is caught by two conflicting tendrils and ultimately torn into two unequal pieces. Vallia and perhaps the Emperor are the fly with the Racters and other subversive forces as the flick-flacks. The lesson is wasted on this bunch though.

Further, when Dray talks of making immediate peace with the nations of Pandahem and eventually with Hamal, he is met with stunned disbelief (page 82). Of course Dray is planning for the day when Paz must stand together against the Shanks from around the curve of the world.

Leaving the meeting Dray heads over to the Rose of Valka and talks things over with Young Bargom, by the Great Northern Cut. It is here that he learns of Zankov, the leader of the unrest in the Northeast (pages 86 & 87). This man will cause much misery to the House of Prescot and Vallia!

Upon departing from the Rose of Valka, Dray heads once again to the royal palace, ruminating on his and Delia's plans to eradicate all slavery in Paz and (significantly) all of Kregen (page 88). He realizes that such a grandiose plan will take decades to encompass.

Entering the palace Prescot encounters guards and the varieties of diffs and apims can be a sign of the times It looks like Khibils have replaced Chuliks for the most part though the Bowmen of Loh are still present. Still, there are some of the tusked ones.

The term Azdon occurs on page 89 and is not found in the glossary at the end of "Golden Scorpio." Slaves were carrying some in the palace and was referred to as precious. Hmmm...

Soon Dray is set upon by one of the Emperor's Lesser Chamberlains, saying Delia's father wanted him to appear in the Sapphire Reception Room. Prescot hesitates but upon finding out that the Emperor was most insistent, that a buffet was supplied and most importantly, that Delia was there, he said "That settled it." Arriving Dray rips through the food and tea before walking on over to the Emperor's circle, where a path is made open to him. Lo and behold Delia and Queen Lushfymi are present and Dray finally realizes what his wife already knew, that it was this Queen's whose palanquin he crashed into the day prior. Delia thinks this a good deal funny (which it is) and the Queen continues to ridicule Prescot, if somewhat more low key. Significantly, she is smart enough not to stand beside Delia as her great beauty would overmatch. Women!

We finally see a footnote (page 95) that reveals the existence of "Wizard of Scorpio", as Kov Foke Lyrsmin of Vyborg is present (married to someone other than Lady Merle). In fact he and his family are forced to leave in utter humiliation due to the bitch-queen Lush and her hold over the Emperor. Nota good sign for Vallia as the Kov was considered of the Imperial Party and thus loyal to the Emperor. The isolation of the Emperor begins as Phu-Si-Yantongs plans start to take shape.

Taking their leave from the party, Dray decides to leave for the Northeast and track Dayra down. Before doing so, he and Delia double check on the safety of a water bottle (page 97) containing the miraculous fluid from the Pool of Vanti. This is the first time it is mentioned. An afterthought by Ken? It is safely stored in their Valkan villa.

And then Dray takes his leave, to meet Barty in the Kwan Hills. In my eyes, this ends part one of the book (mainly in Vondium) with part two in Hawka country and the third back in Vondium.

In the lower regions of the Northeast, Dray is joined by Barty as planned and the leemhunter guide the young Strom had hired, Uthnior Chavonthjid. He had never seen a Lohvian longbow in all his life. This shows the vastness of Vallia according to Prescot. And then the local Hawkas attack! How can Prescot hope to make Paz as one (page 104) when even Vallia is fragmented?

The Hawkas attack and between the three of them, all twenty or so are slain, the last three shot in the back ...

Shortly after this "distasteful" incident, Dray, Barty and Uthnior are joined for awhile by Yanpa, a man suffering from the aging, wasting disease so feared by those of Paz. Dray had said he would name this disease only once and did so a few books back. But here he refers to it as "this chivrel" (page 108). I don't know if this is its' name or a general term for Kregan diseases. I do not see it listed in the glossaries from "Golden", "Krozair" or "Armada."

Being a birder (somewhat) I was very pleased at the description of Rojashin the Kaktu, a paktun Rapa. "He was of that family of Rapas with brilliant red feathers around the beaked face and black feathers running aft, and white feathers circling the eyes." But for the white feather part, I'd say Prescot described a male Northern Cardinal, one of my favorites!

On pages 110 & 111, Dray reflects on many of the changing terms concerning mercenaries. I believe a synopsis is called for: The "pakmort" (silver medal) for paktuns is becoming more known as the "mortilhead". The "paktuns" who have earned this coveted medal are now known as a "mortpaktuns." This because the former has come to mean most any man who serves in an army. The former "hyr-paktuns" are now the "zhanpaktuns." Dray states that "as you know I had been elected by a duly constituted court of honor, and was entitled to wear the pakmort" (page 115). "At that time I was not a hyr-paktun, at least not officially so." Two points, while Prescot no doubt earned this honor of paktun, he has NOT related the when, where and how of it. Secondly, while no doubt he deserves to be a hyr-paktun, he has to be elected in the proper manner. It appears he has not been (as of now) and so is not a hyr-paktun, officially or not.

Rojashin tells the trio that he has been lured to Vallia for the sack of Vondium by gold from "North Segesthes" (page 111). By looking at ZaPeet's map of Paz, I see that this area appears to be north of the Great Plains. I don't recall much of anything being said of this area and do wonder why anyone there would hire paktuns to fight against Vallia. Could this have to do with the Iron Riders?

Rapechak is thought of in general terms on page 113. It appears he did not stink like some Rapas. It looks like they only stink if they are not friends of Prescot. Also, to show how well Dray has adapted to diffs, he recognizes a Chulik guard among the gathering host. He was aboard the voller he had crashed on earlier, outside Vondium. The identity of his leader is finally revealed as the previously mentioned but never seen, brother to Rosil Yasi. Ranjal Yasi is the second of the Kataki Stroms. It was he who recognized Dray aboard the voller and who was receiving instructions from an unseen source. I had assumed that personage to be Phu-Si-Yantong, but Dray believes otherwise (page 121). If not that foul mage, then who? Csitra perhaps?

Lastly, I want to address the issue of the bottle containing the fluid from the Pool of Vanti. I was correct in that Dray did not describe filling it himself while Poolside. As described on page 159 of "Savage Scorpio", Dray is led to cache (by a Savanti dove) left for him by Maspero. "Also there was a filled water bottle. " Then a few minutes later, "I had not touched the water bottle I HAD FILLED with the milky fluid from the pool. Did Maspero know I had that?"

So now, still ensconced in the Zankov's camp, Dray awaits the arrival of Dayra, said to be among the leaders of this hostile force. Could she really be about to ride in the vanguard of Vallia's foes?

While waiting on the arrival of Dayra, Dray mingles with the other paktuns. One among them tells of having recently fought for the king of Sanderdrin (page 125). Interesting sounding country but I don't know where it is. While embroiled in such banter it is soon noticed that a cat fight is about to ensue. Either Nalgre or Dolan exclaims "That looks interesting" and of course they join the gathering throng to watch two scantily clad Battle Maidens fight over a string of beads. One of the girls soon gains the upper hand, Firn. As her defeated blond opponent was about to submit, a redhead jumped in and challenged Firn to a death duel. This is Karina the Quick who eventually wears down Firn and as she is about to administer the coup de grace, after torturing her and bloodily so, Ros the Claw in her turn jumps in! All the while Prescot feels compelled to watch (it was expected, a guy thing you know). Observing the cheering spectators he notes that most are dressed in either red or green (page 128) and those dressed alike tended to gravitate towards each other. Ros was dressed in black leather ...

Another observation showed Dray that Leona nal Larravur the daughter of Vad Kolo (pages 94 & 128) was present as well and could identify him. She was present at the Emperor's palace party for Queen Lush. A spy no doubt.

Ros is forbidden from carrying out the death match or Jikordur as it is known and must instead resort to a common brawl or gutter brawl. But why wasn't Karina likewise warned against killing Firn? Her intentions were heard by all, but perhaps they sensed the words were an empty threat and that Ros was deadly serious. I've always been a little haunted by the sound Dray hears as he walks away in disgust. "I had barely gone a dozen paces when a bubbling scream burst up in the bright air. A vast sigh oozed from the crowd."

Prescot walks away and soon discovers more cracks in the Vallian Empire.

While waiting for the Princess Dayra to put in her appearance, Dray hears the beginnings of the end of Vallia, as he knew the Empire at least. Gossip has it (correctly) that Lord Farris and others loyal to the crown have been jailed on trumped up charges.What had begun at the banquet for Queen Lush was spreading. Those that could have helped the Emperor are not able. Either they are in jail or scattered about Paz after their dip in Vanti's Pool. Figures, Dray thinks. He take a little side jaunt from Vondium and the shit starts hitting the fan! Ah well, he figures he's here, why not see this venture through.

Soon a party of Jikai Vuvushis approach Prescot who was talking with Nalgre and Dolan. These ladies marched with a "swing." Hmmm... Dray notices that half of this party was clad in green the other in russet. At their head is Leona nal Larravur who immediately (to his comrades dismay) pronounces him as the Prince Majister of Vallia, which he of course blusters a denial to. Prescot has experience in this sort of thing. Among those with Leona are Ros, Firn and Karina (who was bandaged but still alive). Of them all, it is Ros who wishes to unman him. Ah yes, the cruelty of women (and daughters)! Karina does exhibit some compassion but I don't know why. Maybe because she hates Ros and can understand Prescot's dilemma (even if he can't at this time). I am surprised that from Ros' initial meeting with Prescot (page 133), until Zankov calls her Dayra (page 155), that not one person lets on that Ros was Prescot's daughter, Dayra. Not one.

Well, Dray allows himself to be captured, allowing Ken the opportunity to work the title in. Just the word captive and not captive Scorpio (thankfully). While brooding in his cell, prepatory to his escape, he reflects on Filbarrka na Filbarrka (page 138) and his zorcas he raised at the feet of the Blue Mountains, but no Mountain Boy he! This man will enter Dray's saga a little bit later. Listening to his guards, Prescot learns even more disquieting news. An army had landed in Ovvend and marched on Vondium. The Emperor has personally ridden out to give battle, with his mercenaries. Soon it is discovered that the host is from Hamal and that it has decisively defeated the Emperor and continues on to Vondium (pages 138, 139 & 146).

More gossip overheard reveals that Turko and others have been having affairs with Delia, including a diplomat from Tolindrin in Balintol. (how I wish I could explore that sub-continent)! Even Rapas were rumored to engage in lusty liaisons with the Princess. This brought back memories of the notorious Rapa court where apim women supposedly are gang raped, though I don't recall once ever seeing such a court. Soon after Dray makes his inevitable escape and then gazes down on the assembled troops as San Uzhoro a Hawka necromancer raises an evil wizard from the grave, San Guiskwain na Stackamore, the Witherer.(pages 143 - 145). Dray shoots several shafts at the cramph but they are deflected, apparently by magic. The premise of this resurrection was that this long dead (but preserved) sorcerer was to lead the Hawkas to victory against the Emperor in Vondium. But how would San Uzhro and the Hawkas be so sure? Who knows what the revived mage will do? We never find out as he is not mentioned again. Strange, that.

Ken pens (yes, I rhymed) a nice paragraph on page 150. "A grassy sward filled with dead Chuliks. Blood. Stink. Flies (always the flies). And me, Dray Prescot, helplessly and hopelessly looking for a wayward daughter, and all Vallia in flames."

Soon the jig is up and Dray tries to escape in a voller but finds it chained, giving Zankov and the Battle Maidens time to engage him. Finally Ros comes to the fore and personally attacks Prescot with her claw. This scene (page 155) is captured vividly on the cover by Josh Kirby. Then Zankov yells "Kill him! Dayra! Kill him. Slay him for good and all, Dayrs! Dayra!" And so Ros the Claw is finally revealed to be the Princess Dayra. And Dray hardly understanding, gapes at her and says "Dayra?" Poor deluded man!

Realizing that he must sever the chains that anchor the voller he wants to escape in, Prescot clambers down to the ground and sets about doing just that. Naturally Zankov and the others engage him to prevent this eventuality. As Dray slays paktuns, guards and deflects shafts, Dayra comments " So mother was right after all, and these fools wrong. For no man could have done what you have done and lived. You are a Hyr-Jikai." (page 156). And significantly, Dayra presses no further attack and even allows her father to escape, once he learns her identity. The escape itself is sheer Prescot at his best! Back on page 153 Dray had set the controls to full lift, which was only for two feet due to the anchoring chains. By page 157, he severs those chains and grasping one of them is immediately lifted upward rapidly by the voller still set at full lift. The Kirby illustration, despite being messily drawn does manage to nevertheless capture the essence of the dramatic escape. Just imagine how that looked to his foes (never mind his daughter)! Udo, Ranjal and Zankov can only watch in wonder.

Then it is full throttle (as usual) and back to Vondium the Proud no longer, for it burns (page 160). Dray takes over the defenses of the royal palace which the Emperor had wisely left to a detachment (500) of Pachaks. There he learns of more military defeats and treachery. As Laka Pa-Re the Pachak guard had once warned Prescot, the Bowmen of Loh were bribed, or some of them. They seem very susceptible to this sort of thing and the Emperor should have know better, from bitter experience.

The Emperor returns to Vondium at the head of his defeated army with Queen Lush. His spirits never flag and Prescot sees now how such a man could father his incomparable Delia. Yet, the bad news continues to pour in. The southeast and southwest are under attack. The Northeast (note the capital N) is on the march to Vondium. The Racters have retreated to their estates in the northwest and have abandoned the Emperor. The Blue and Black Mountains are bathed in blood Dray alerts the Emperor and Lush that Phu-Si-Yantong (as then unknown to most) was behind most of the chaos (but not all) Wisely, the Emperor's Wizard of Walfarg, Deb-sa-Chiu has returned home. Queen Lush shifts uncomfortably at Dray's words, but declares her loyalty even as the Emperor emphatically states he is not yet defeated, wizard or no!

And there is no word from the outer islands of Rahartdrin, Ava, Womox, Veliadrin, Zamra or even Valka (page 168). This bodes not well at all.

It is not yet clearly defined as to whether or not Queen Lush has actual witch-like powers, as reputed. She does reveal that after (then) Queen Thyllis had her father (the King of Lome) slain (page 170), Phu-Si-Yantong put her back on the throne as his puppet. Indeed, much of Pandahem came under his thrall in this fashion, all unbeknownst to Prescot.

When the Queen seeks a private audience with Dray, she appears to read his mind at which point the no longer bored Prescot states "I sat up." Such a simple act but as is Ken's way, it speaks volumes. Lush then starts her long winded confession by saying she knows Prescot very well and far better than he realized (page 169). If that were so (I assume Yantong has filled her in), then why her reaction of scathing scorn and contempt during the palanquin incident? It didn't seem forced but showed her actual feelings (utter contempt).

Continuing her revelations, Lush admits it was she that leaked the plans of the Emperors army movements to Hamal and caused their defeat. And now the Emperor is listening. behind the Queen, lost in the shadows. She had hoped to convert him to the cause of the Great Chyyan but admitted that Dray and his comrades thwarted that plan.This doesn't ring true to me. Why would the Emperor join such a cult when it was dedicated to his overthrow? No matter how good looking or skilled in the arts of love the Queen is.

The Emperor makes his presence known and declares his love is true, even after all. The Queen responds by brandishing the poisoned blade she is to use to slay him and throws it down. She too has fallen under the oldest of spells! But the price, ah the price! Phu-Si-Yantong appears in lupu and pronounces his doom on the failed tool (pages 172 & 173). It is the chivrel that Lush is stricken with. She is taken away to rest and the Emperor weeps. He weeps and Vondium the Proud burns down around him, though the Hamalese strive to preserve the city and palace for Yantong.

Soon, only the royal palace is left in Vallian hands and Lord Farris lands his voller there, with Delia.The Emperor tries to make amends for the false imprisonment of his loyal friend. They are brought up to snuff by Dray who, seeing how lost the Emperor is without his Queen, heads to his Valkan villa where the bottle of water from the Pool of Vanti is hidden. Curiously, Delia seems not to support Dray in this. I'm not sure if it is because of the dangers Dray will face in obtaining the water or if she flat out thinks the Queen deserves what she got and should be left to die of old age.At any rate, Prescot thinks that a strong Emperor is needed for Vallias future and goes ahead. He succeeds and notes that Shadow and the other animals from the villa have been released. He strongly feels he hasn't seen the last of his personal Zorca, out of Ba-Domek (page 179).

On his way back to the royal palace, Prescot's voller nose dives into a canal and as he ruefully thinks "From now on the journey back would be on foot. Well, on my own two feet I have tramped a fair bit of Kregen." How I love that phrase "on my own two feet!" And so he does make his way through the Hamalese lines and the Queen is rejuvenated (page 182), as is the Emperor. The entire contents were utilized ...

And now the final battle is about to be joined. The last of the Emperor's retainers have been pushed back into the heart of the palace. A few Khibils, Chuliks, Pachaks, Fristles, Rapas and Lohvian Bowmen are all that is left to the defense of Vondium. Just before sallying forth, the Emperor, in front of the remaining Vallian nobles,declares two things: that Prescot is a Hyr-Jikai and in the event of his (the Emperor's death), then Prescot will be the legal successor. (page 183). And so it ultimately comes to be, but that is for later ...

Knowing that a voller is needed to escape the gathering horde, Dray moves like a grundal and accomplishes his mission. The Kirby illustration on page 184 is brilliant! It captures all the magnificence of a great city about to fall. The voller is too crowded (with dark lines) but still, it zips around the doomed capital very well. On his way back to the palace, Dray observes a couple more fleets making their way to the palace, those of the Hawkas and Layco Jhansi. There they will fight with both the Vallians and Hamalese, as well as each other, for control over the city. And finally Prescot figures out the relation between Jhansi and Melekhi. That rast Kov is now a traitor forsworn as Delia declares.

Arriving back with this dire news, Dray is hit with far worse. Zankov has slain the Emperor, almost taking his head off (page 187). Prescot (as defacto Emperor of Vallia, or of "nothing" as he says) takes charge and releases all the mercenaries, so they need not die in a hopeless cause. Delia wants the body of her father left behind, to burn with his palace. Odd, that and we never learn the fate of his corpse. I imagine the Hamalese gave him a decent burial (I hope so at any rate, for the Hawkas surely would not).

The escape by voller is made. Dray, Delia, Lush, Farris and Lykan Crimahan are among the survivors. It was this last noble who counseled against building a fleet to combat the plans of Hamal. Ironic yes, but also because his patriotism was questioned back then. And yet he stuck with the Emperor until the very last. Dray does manage to get a few digs in with thus Kov nonetheless. It seems he couldn't help himself.

Thinking of Delia and the death of her beloved father (and where the hell is Vomanus?) he thinks back on his own father and the role the scorpion played in it. It had scuttle towards him ...

It is decided to fly to Valka and pick up Velia, Didi and Aunt Katri. How will the Emperor's sister react to his death? Strombor seems a likely destination and as the flier wings for Prescot's stromnate, Lush pleads. "Empress--, you will not cast me off?" "Rest easy, queen." replies Delia. Ah yes, the ways of Kregen!

So, "the flier hurtled out of the smoke into the east, and at their backs the Suns of Scorpio threw a last refulgence of jade and crimson into the nighted sky of Kregen." And all the while, the Gdoinye and Savanti dove watch and wait from above ...

The end.

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