Golden Scorpio
A review by Steve "Seg" Servello

Spoiler Warning: Contains story details

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Golden Scorpio

The Joshua Kirby cover art to "Golden Scorpio" is appropriately enough dominated by the colors yellow and orange. We see the stolen Hamalese voller descending down on the ramp to Esser Rarioch, crushing the advancing fluttsmen (see page 24 for details). This is one of Josh's better efforts as both the detail and colors describe the action perfectly!

The back cover states that Dray's quest is to "set out on a liberation mission incomparable in the history of two worlds. "How true this is and the manner of this deliverance makes "Golden Scorpio" a high point in the Saga of Dray Prescot.

This is the last book in this series that is authored by Alan Burt Akers. It was decided that future books would be attributed to Dray Prescot himself and thus be more centrally located (eye level) on the bookshelves of stores.

I found the opening statements by Akers (pages 7 & 8), describing both Prescot himself and summarizing the action thus far, to have been unusual in this particular case. He states (correctly) that "Golden Scorpio" relates how Dray reacts to the fall of Vallia but then adds that he then "comes to terms with himself, if not altogether satisfactorily in his own estimation." In light of how things turn out, I find this statement surprising. More on this later.

Continuing with Akers' opening comments, he states that "the enigmatic figure Prescot presents of himself might lead us to imagine that he understands only the belief that the effort of life is soldiering on dauntlessly against Fate. There is more to him than that. I feel sure that he is fully aware of the many other facets of human belief in understanding our natures and harmonizing them, in the theory of abnegation, in the idea of letting oneself slide into the infinite, of bending with the current to cope with existence, of acceptance." Surely Akers is waxing more philosophical than usual. I am wondering the why of this.

"We flew from burning Vondium." With those words the last heroic defenders of Vallia's once proud capital fly through the "streaming mingled radiances of the fading suns." Aboard the stolen Hamalese voller are an emperor, empress, queen and two kovs: Dray, Delia, Lush, Farris of Vomansoir and Lykon Crimahan of Forli. Surely such an assemblage of royalty and nobility in one flier is unparalleled in the annals of even fabulous Kregen!

Shortly after clearing the city limits, the remnant of Vallia's legal government is met by two other Hamalian vollers. The action that follows, while not on the scale of say, a hemispheric invasion from far Schan itself, is none the less a most bloody and violent affair (pages 9-12). And shining down on all this limb-lofting and intestine-spilling is the radiance of the planet Soothe (page 10). Unfortunately, Dray is far too busy to comment on the possibility that Kregen's neighbor in orbit around the binary star Antares is inhabited.

Barely defeating those that cried "Hanitch" as they charged and died, the flight into--well into what? Exile most probably--continues. The immediate destination is Valka and ultimately is Strombor. Yet there is some time yet before Dray's stromnate will appear and so he and Delia retire to the voller's cabin and talk (pages 13, 14, 20 & 21), while Kov Lykon is dropped off en route to fight for his kovnate. He acknowledges the overlordship of Dray and Delia before disembarking. Moving away from Farris and the others, the Savanti are spoken of and apparently they feel that this sort of information should be shared on a need-to-know basis. But then Dray has been doing the same with Delia, until now. He hypothetically asks Delia to consider the possibility that there exists a world with one sun, one moon and no diffs. Aside from a general disbelief in such a world, it is her religious beliefs in Opaz that lead to most of her rejection to the possibility.

Finally Prescot summons the courage to tell her of his Earthly origin and says "From such a world, distant a long long way, my heart, I--" And then they are upon Valkanium which is overrun. But Esser Rarioch holds out still, but is besieged by vastly superior forces numerically. As the Hamalese advance up the pyramid like stairway that leads to the Valkan fortress, Dray
crushes scores of them with the voller, as shown by Kirby on the cover. This brings some respite to those besieged and so the party of outcasts lands within. Valka "meant more to Prescot at that time than anywhere else" (page 18). So does some other land supercede his love of Valka later in the saga?

They are greeted most warmly by Jiktar Exand the commander of the fortress guard and Panshi the chamberlain. Tom Tomor and most of the Valkan army are in Veliadrin fighting the marauding Qua'voils and it is decided that Esser Rarioch is untenable and that the fight to regain Valka would best be done from the Heart Heights, again. And now the remaining Valkans know that Dray is no longer their Prince Majister in addition to being their beloved Strom, he is now their Emperor. That is a big difference, even to Valkans! This makes Dray think about the idea that the legendary Pakkad again interferes in his personal destiny (page 28). So plans are made for the orderly evacuation of the fortress and they progress accordingly.

As the Valkan forces are slowly being ferried out of Esser Rarioch, Dray and Delia have another private chat, this time concerning the Everoinye (pages 31-36). Delia comments (as she has several times before) on his many disappearances and mentions over the Shrouded Sea ("Fliers"), Panashti ("Tides") and Jynaratha ("Manhounds"). And most recently in Ba-Domek ("Savage"). Dray then explains how he hated going away for 21 years and Delia asks, "Back to--where?" Is she pulling a dumb Prescot here? Naturally she should connect the dots and realize that Dray returns to his homeland, of one sun, one moon and no diffs. And then the raptor appears, again. To Dray's horror she looses at the symbol of what pulls her beloved from her side, far too often (page 36). Fortunately, to no avail and the Scorpion beckons. Helplessly, Dray follows, to Earth where the cowboys and Indians are still having a go at it. But before this transit (perhaps his last, for quite awhile?), Prescot hears of strife between Star Lords and learns some things concerning the superpowers. There is a young Star Lord named Ahrinye and he wants to work Dray hard with no consideration for his personal well being (page 38). He even refers to the other Everoinye as "old and weak." Then Zena Iztar is referred to as a Shere'affo. And then it is back to Earth where Prescot saves a woman and her baby from the ravages of marauding Indians. Will this act serve the star Lords and do they care about events on Earth?

While roving America's Wild West, Dray comments thusly on gunpowder on Kregen: "Of one thing I felt reasonably although not one hundred percent certain. It would destroy a great and tangible asset if gunpowder were to be introduced on Kregen" (page 45).

Returning to Paz (page 47) Dray knows he must succeed in his task at hand or die messily. "It was, I thought then, all one to the Everoinye." And this does in fact change as the series advances both in time and in plot.

Virtually smack dab in the middle of Vallia he lands and there are refugees to save. But which are the right ones?

In an attempt to figure out whom the Star Lords want saved, Prescot heads for the nearest town and it is Cansinsax. While traversing a towpath he is disheartened to see the state of disrepair it is in, what with weeds and crumbled banks (page 51). Has enough time passed from when the empire fell to exhibit such a state of decay and neglect? Still, it is a disturbing sign of the times.

While pressing on through the central Vallian kovnate of Aduimbrev, Dray is minded that it was "poor old Kov Vector who had aspired with the emperor's blessing to the hand of Delia and had got himself foolishly killed in the Battle at the Dragon's Bones." I had thought he died of a heart attack or fright. Never mind that, as "the memory of that famous old conflict heartened" him.

Finally Dray gains his first view of Cansinsax and those that threaten it, the Radvakkas or Iron Riders out of North Segesthes. The Iron Legions of Hamal defend and outnumber their foe, 8,000 to 3,000. It is the Riders and not the Legion that triumphs and easily at that, utilizing the force of their benhoff charge to destructive advantage. It seems that these steeds are impervious to the ill effects of canal water (pages 52 & 53). Perhaps all but humans are as well.

Dray deduces that it is the Kovneva Marta Renberg that needs saving, as she and her retainers prepare to flee the doomed city. Giving her the llahal and saying he knew "old Vektor" she tries to hit Dray with her thraxter and exclaims "You rast. Why do you save us?" Funny or what? In any event, save her he does and they escape the pursuing Iron Riders thanks in part to some smart rear action heroics by Prescot.

A camp is soon struck in the woods and Dray then hears of the Ring of Destiny (page 64.), guaranteed to bring the Kovneva great powers. It must be true if Phu-Si-Yantong says so. Right? And the quest by Prescot to obtain it begins ...

The quest for the so-called Ring of Destiny happens because The Scorpion wills it. As Jak the Drang, Prescot will do their bidding, albeit reluctantly. As he journeys to Casinsax, Dray ponders on whether Empress Thyllis is fully committed to the invasion of Vallia (page 66) and if the treasury of Hamal backs it. At first I thought this strange as she has always cast her eyes on the Island Empire. Why not indeed! But it seems Prescot is not so out of touch with the "real politique" as I had thought, for on page 85 he learns for a fact that Phu-Si-Yantong is the paymaster of this volunteer army out of Hamal. And surprisingly, Kovneva Renberg knows Yantong by name (unlike Queeen Lush), and that the newly crowned Emperor Seakon is merely the Wizard's pawn.

Despite being a silly hulu, Marta does make an astute observation (page 69) of Dray when he hesitates on entering her service in order to oppose the Iron Riders and obtain the Ring of Destiny from their midst: "You do not fear them. Do you not carry their weapons, ride their mount?" About to retort, whatever Dray was about to say dies unsaid, as The Scorpion puts in its
appearance and (without the word spoken) instructs Prescot to embark on this silly quest. And so he does.

Riding into the Radvakka camp, Dray reflects on how his clans of Felschraung, Longuelm and Viktrik (is there not an unnamed fourth clan?), have soundly defeated the Iron Riders whenever they have raided south out of North Segesthes into the Great Plains. This would suggest that the only real nations on that continent are either in or near the subcontinent of Balintol.

Accomplishing his goal of obtaining the fake Ring of Destiny, Prescot is delayed by the cruelty of the Iron Riders to diffs and one Kildoi in particular. As Kirby poorly illustrates on page 78, Korero is being tortured but is saved by Prescot who muffs his own name by saying Dray then Drak. Korero files that bit of info away. If only we knew how tall Korero was, because then we'd know Dray's height. The Kildoi is four inches taller than Prescot (page 81).

They both fight their way out of the Radvakka camp becoming blade comrades in the doing so. A brief interval before the coming battle allows Dray to listen as the swods of Hamal once again sing, bringing back fond memories of his own croaking a tune or two with the swods on the Volgendrin of the Bridge in "Armada of Antares."

Thinking his job done Dray tries to leave for Vallia by voller but is stopped by a Star Lord tempest and soon the Gdoinye explains. Dray must drive out the Iron Rider before the Everoinye are done with him, for a spell. And Dray is informed that Delia is safe in the Heart Heights directing the liberation of Valka. So he is free to pursue the Star Lords desires, but not before Thiurdsmot falls to the Iron Riders (page 88.) The men are slaughtered and the women raped and enslaved. Something must be done to stop these vile raiders and Prescot is just the man to do it!

The long process of liberating Vallia begins on pages 90 - 92 with Dray's meeting of Cleitar the Smith and Dorgo the Clis, as they flee their ravaged town, seeking revenge on those that have caused their families serious grief. The seeds of Vallian freedom by their own citizenry are planted here. Prescot will slowly nurture this concept into a continent wide quest for unification
under his banner of Old Superb.

It is on to the city of Therminsax and destiny then ...

On his way to Therminsax Dray at first thinks of using the Iron Legions of Hamal against the Iron Riders. In fact he thinks it a capital idea at first, but then starts to feel guilty about using the Hamalese infantry as fodder. Instead his mind switches to the military situation in Vallia, as best known at this point (pages 92 & 93). "all the North East must lie under the iron heel of the radvakkas (not capitalized usually). Layco Jhansi and the provinces he had taken with his own forces and the mercenaries he had hired would the next on the list. What was going on up in the north, down in the southwest, in the southeast, was anybody's guess. Vondium, the capital and the surrounding provinces owed allegiance to this new emperor, Seakon, and if the radvakkas or Layco Jhansi did not deal with him, then I would. Vallia was a disturbed ants' nest these days, with every man's hand, it seemed, turned against every other man's."

Nearing the vicinity of Therminsax, Dray joins with a group of canal folk and pulls with a will, until coming upon a battle between Hawkas and displaced Vallian citizenry (aren't they all?) Breaking up the rather inept battle, he instructs their respective leaders, Targon the Tapster and Naghan ti Lodkwara, to meet him in Therminsax so that Vallians could unite and stop the Iron Riders. For as Dray said, "The North East is the north east of Vallia" (page 95). And while preaching to both groups, Prescot fights off a reiving band of fluttsmen and he is aided. Another really bad Josh Kirby illustration shows Dray trying to rein in a fluttrel. Almost about to succeed, he is aghast when the canal-folk come to his "rescue" and slay the steed.

Leaving the Hawkas and citizens of Thermin Province to think hard on his ideas, Dray and the canal folk continue to Therminsax and find that the Hamalese have recently fled and left the citizens to fend for themselves, the rasts! Panic has set in as their doom looms. As he attempts to rally or bully the citizenry, Dray curses the radvakkas, even as he thinks on their
recent movements (page 105). "The Iron Riders had drifted across North Segesthes in comparatively recent seasons, although it seemed we Clansmen had been resisting them for ages. Where they had come from no one could be sure, for most of East Segesthes was completely unknown to us, save for a few coastal free cities and the islands of the east."

Dray then brings up an interesting exchange between himself and Hap Loder, many seasons ago. "Once Hap Loder had said to me that I could weld all the clans of the Great Plains together into a single mighty force, and I had chided him, my right-hand man, my good comrade, asking of him who the enemy would be that we would fight. Well, in these latter days we knew who that foe
was, and rued the knowledge."

Confronting the imperial Justicar or governor (but not a kov or strom), Dray takes charge of the cities defense through the official authority of Nazab Nalgre, issues his decrees. The first is the closing of the city gates! Then Prescot goes about the business of creating a Vallian army and he ponders his previous creations: Valkans, Miglas and the workers of Magdag (pages 111 & 112). This one will be comprised of Hawkas, canal-men and Vallian city dwellers. As the process continues, Dray leads a daring raid and upon the force's return, they are joined by escaping slaves of the radvakkas, of which Korero was one (page 115). And Dorgo the Cliss is among them as well. And Logu Na-Pe, a Pachak paktun is there too ...

While heading to the "Golden Ponsho" for a wet, Dray overhears two other paktuns talking and it concerns how they rated the Iron Riders vs. the Overlords of Magdag. Well now!

Hearing the two paktuns swear by Zim-Zair and Zantristar the Merciful, Dray's "flagon halted before his lips. He did not move--could not move." Blaming the Maybers (sea-faring diffs from Donengil) for their present predicament, they are both pleased when Dray shows some knowledge of the Eye of the World. Zarado and Zunder are able to tell Prescot that two of his sons (Zeg and Jaidur) thrive on the inner sea. But before details can be offered, the radvakkas attack again, with fire! A water brigade is established and that sort of threat fizzles.

As to the making of weapons, iron and steel are in desperately short, but copper and tin are not, "so, bronze it will be." Then a name for the created phalanx was needed and the term "brumbyte" named after "a legendary and powerful eight-legged and armored battering ram of whirlwind destruction." This possibly extinct animal had a "long straight horn in the center of his forehead and the "brumby" symbolised the headlong energy of the pikemen" (page 135). Nazab Nalgre, the Justicar of Therminsax, seems quite good at researching the warriors of legend. For instance, he decides that plumes are a must for the brumbtyes. Dray is forced (to his chagrin) to give in on this weighty manner. How can one argue with the likes of Tyr Nath, King Naghan, the Canticles of the Rose City, Prince Nalgre and all the other warriors out of myth?

As the training and manufacturing continues, Dray remembers with bitter feelings how he was "hoicked out, and then flung across the Eye of the World to meet Seg Segutorio. If only Seg were here now!" Not for the last time does Dray wish this of his old dom. Inch, Turko and Balass are mentioned as well, but plainly it is the bowman that Dray misses most.

The pros and cons of continuing the liberation of Vallia as Jak the Drang or Dray Prescot are evaluated (pages 127 & 169) but he decides that Vallia's best interest are served by Jak.

More of Dray's new inner core of comrades continue to put in their initial appearances: Cleitar the Smith and Nath Nazabhan, son of Nazab Nalgre (page 134) among them. It is then explained that a Justicar carries the same amount of authority as a Kov (page 135).

Then, an abortive and treacherous move to open the city to the Iron Riders is made by the High-Priest of Florania. When Targon the Tapster calls Dray a greater devil than the radvakkas, due to his fighting abilities, Dray curtly orders him to clear the mess (page 138). A sore spot I guess? Soon, the traitor is punished in a manner (not described) that makes sure no one else might try to emulate the treachery. Then it's time for another fake Krozair longsword and Ferenc the Edge (not the absent Naghan the Gnat) is the man for the job. Feeling better, weapon wise, Dray decides it is time and so he marches The Phalanx of Therminsax out to give battle to the eager radvakkas (pages 144-146). With Korero acting as his shield (and Dray does think of Turko then) and Volodu the Lungs to blow the "forward march" trumpet, the battle is won by Vallia and the liberation has in fact begun. As it continues, Dray sends Korero to Valka to deliver messages to Delia. He brings back responses and news of the lands near Valka. It also appears the he knows Jak is Prescot and for a fact, Nath Nazabhan knows because his father told him. All three keep Dray's real identity under wraps.

The news was encouraging. Valka was close to being won back from the returned aragorn and the invasion of Valkanium imminent. Like-wise Zamra and Veliadrin are slowly being reconquered. As the North East continues to be liberated, Dray is torn by the thought that his phalanx could not overcome the Iron Legions of the Empire of Hamal. The day looms though when those doubts will be tested to the utmost!

And then Barty returns with news out of Vondium. Drak's city had resisted the enemies of Vallia the longest, longer than the imperial palace did at any rate. Further news related that Womox had proclaimed itself a kingdom, the racters had unified under Natyzha Famphreon, the Kovneva of Falkerdrin in the North West, and Layco Jhansi attacked both the racters and the Black/blue Mountains. Inch's fighters had retreated and regrouped with the Blue Mountain Boys and hold fast in their mountain strongholds. Beyond the Mountains of the North was unknown as was the South East and South West of Vallia. The difference between a kovnate and high (hyr) kovnate are then revealed by Prescot (pages 157 & 158). "a high kov runs a province which contains a
diversity of races each with its own separate organization."

Then it is time to face the Iron Riders who have banded together for this final battle. Dray sends Barty off to find Dayra who Prescot reveals to the young Strom, is "highly demanding" but won't tell him she is Ros the Claw as well as Dayra. Barty grew red-faced and stammered at the "highly demanding" comment. Then he is off!

"The Battle of Sabbator" is where the Iron Riders are defeated once and for all (pages 160-162). Now the entire North East is liberated and time to think on Vondium. To that end, Dray, Korero and Dorgo leave Hawka country and head for Vallia's capital. Along the way they start a resistance movement that will eventually join with the phalanx in the final battle for Vondium. Seeing this being done to his satisfaction, Dray can hold off no more and heads for the Heart of Valka (page 168) and Delia!

There, Delia fills him in on family matters. Drak was in Faol looking for Mellow and Kardo. Shara, Kardo's twin was with Lela who was about SoR business. Why would Shara not be in Faol as well? Also, Dray reminds Delia that neither of them has been to the Pool of Vanti. Lykon Crimahan is in Valka, hoping for aid in recapturing his kovnate of Forli. He will get it too! Tom Tomor and Vangar are on the verge of clearing Veliadrin while the Pachaks now have the Qua-Voils well in hand on Zamra. The regiments of Valkans sent to North Vallia (in treachery), are still unheard from and the worst is feared.

Farris is dropped off in Vomansoir (as Dray returns to his phalanx).so he can direct the coming liberation of its capital. Naghan Vanki is working inside Vondium for Jak. Delia threatens to stow away again and old memories surface (page 171). See "Fliers of Antares" to awaken those memories. At least she has packed Old Superb but Dray is not sure when he can unfurl it. Barty
awaits Prescot but has dire news, Lem the Silver Wonder has raised its evil presence near Vondium!

Dray and Barty utilize daring aerial maneuvers with pure audacity, as they rescue the proposed child sacrifice. Page 176 shows Kirby's view of that scene. As the two escape, one of the worshippers of Lem screams out that it is the devil Prescot himself. Strange that his identity is that well known. I wonder who that screamer was...

And then it is on to the battle of Vondium, for Thyllis has abandoned the imperial provinces and plans to keep the capital only. Hence, all of Hamal's might in Vallia is now congregated there. Prescot refers to the looming battle for Vondium as "a moment of world history" and he is surely correct! But this makes seizing the strategically important city all the more difficult. Trying to infiltrate now with subversive elements "is mortal difficult now--the mercenaries sew the place up like a spinster's--" Ah, the image invoked here!

But ultimately the battle for Vondium must be fought and so it came to be (pages 180-190). Choosing the wide avenues of Bridge and Gate of Voxyri, Dray finds the Hamalese fully prepared and the battle is soon joined. As The Phalanx advances to what could be total destruction, Prescot is tormented by his role in the bloodshed and then by the machinations of Phu-Si-Yantong. The former comprises his vision of empire while the latter represents sorcery most foul. Dray is able to overcome both and he swears to have words with that evil mage when next they meet, as they surely must (page 187). But really, that meeting is not really eye to eye as hoped (see "Legions of Antares.")

Under the banner of Old Superb, Nath throws his phalanx into the teeth of the Hamalian legions and despite Dray's fears, soundly defeat them. A miracle had been performed at Voxyri and soon the Vallians have the shattered remnants of the Hamalese bottled up in the imperial palace. Dray is content to await their expected surrender rather than waste further lives in an assault on that edifice. Sure enough, a delegation soon waves the flag and sues for honorable surrender, which they are granted (page 190). As Vad Inrien ham Thofoler cries for terms, he acknowledges Prescot as Prince Majister and bedlam ensues among the victorious Vallians: Hawkas, canal-folk and citizens of Vondium. Cries of Jak the Drang and Dray Prescot rival one another until Dray finally roars out that he is both. A pike is driven into the ground and Korero unfurls the new flag of Vallia, sewn by Delia and meant for this moment. For Seakon, the false emperor is fled, never to be heard from again and Dray is installed in his stead. Looking skyward, Prescot sees the Gdoinye and dove observing all (page 193.) For surely, the Star Lords know that from this great moment on, Dray Prescot is their man to halt the expected three waves of invasion from Schan.

And then, Emperor Prescot is joined by the Empress Delia, newly arrived out of a completely liberated Valka and the victorious day is complete! Of course, even then Dray plans to make Drak the Emperor of Vallia as soon as the unification of the Island Empire was complete. But for now, as "the uplifted swords glittered blindingly in the streaming mingled lights of Antares, the Suns of Scorpio, the multitudes roar "Jikai! Hai Jikai!" It was a moment to treasure, a moment to remember..." And as Delia smiles at her husband and asks him of his plans, Dray replies "Oh, Oh, I haven't even started yet." Modest man, but he is right. The capturing of Vondium is merely the "the beginning of the end." But oh, what a golden beginning it is!

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