Secret Scorpio
A review by Steve "Seg" Servello

Spoiler Warning: Contains story details

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Secret Scorpio

"Secret Scorpio" has a great cover drawn by Josh Kirby. I will describe it in detail as the scene appears in the story. I will say that the nude (again) Delia was well drawn indeed. The book begins with Dray sneaking up on a clandestine meeting of a new cult in Autonne, Veliadrin (formerly Can-Thirda). Led by the local spy Roybin, Dray is accompanied by Seg, Inch, Turko, Balass, and Oby. A motley crew to be sure!

While prowling closer to the meeting place, Prescot reflects on Seg's problems in Falinur (page 12). The people there willingly supported the old kov in his bid to overthrow the Emperor. They still hold it against Seg for being instrumental in preventing their lord's successful insurrection against the crown. But, Dray ponders, the same conditions existed for Inch, vis a vis the old trylon. It is however not made clear if the populace supported their leader as vocally as those of Falinur. Later it will be established that Inch ruled with a firmer hand than his comrade Seg.

Continuing to think on important issues, just prior to possible action, as he often does, Dray mentions again that he has "consciously begun the hazy opening moves to unite all of Paz (bottom page 12). Megalomania or perhaps a vague understanding of the threat from Schan?

It would appear that Hap Loder had conquered another tribe of Clansmen in Dray's absence. I believe this brings the total to three and means that Seg is wrong when he states that his old dom is "really a Vovedeer as well as Zorcander now." I believe that one must rule 4 clans to be officially called the former. This will come and fairly soon. The name of this third clan is never stated.

The size of Veliadrin is pretty large though far from being one of the Islands of Kregen. I had always thought that on maps Can-Thirda was Valka, but clearly I had attached physical properties (landmass) to match the personal feelings and loyalties Dray had (for his stromnate). It should have been obvious by the very type of province each is: a hry-kovnate and stromnate. Can-Thirda was a nation before the unification of Vallia and to this day represents several races of diffs and apims as well as clearly delineated physical subdivisions. Pachaks and Qua'Voils are among the diffs who now reside in Veliadrin, with the latter much more indigenous. Both races will play key roles in the Time of Troubles looming like a black cloud on Vallia's horizon.

Vallia the Proud ...Roybin has relayed information concerning a new cult called the Chyyanist and how the supposed (?) downtrodden of the Empire were rallying to its banner.

Kirby draws his usual cluttered illustration on page 19 showing the seven comrades (well six and Roybin) gazing out over the assembled prospective worshippers. There, Dray hears of Himet the Mak's vague promises of immediate wealth here on Kregen and why wait for the afterlife? He endures Delia being called "bitch" and Velia "slut" (page 92). Is it any wonder that he joys in falling down amongst this rabble (through no conscious desire of his own) and haves at them?

After the High-Priest Himak flees by voller and the masichieri are killed or captured, Dray and his returned comrades discuss their options calmly, as the mob of fisher folk draw their knot around the seven steadily tighter. The casual banter among them and the incredibly cool way Seg sends a warning shaft while not missing a beat (pages 36 & 37), to stop the mob in its tracks, is Bulmer at his best, humor-wise. But then, Ken can be pretty morbid too, as when Dray attempts to quiz a captured guard of the Chyyanist and is rewarded with slobbering by his stump of a tongue (page 34). Prescot is curious because he knows he heard at least one guard shout during the battle and wonders why Makfaril has caused at least one to have had his tongue torn off.

Immediately after the dispersal of the fisher folk, Dray inquires of the two at the clandestine meeting who opposed the Chyyanist rhetoric. They are the Tarbil twins named the Gray and the Brown. Asked why they were present yet not sympathetic to the rantings of Makfaril, they replied that they were looking for some fun and were former slaves who had no desire to see a return to those dark days! Prescot decides that they will be useful in his campaign to free the slaves of Vallia and plans to transport them to Valka (pages 38 - 40). Dray then comments on the ways of advancement on Kregen (page 40). In a nutshell: "On Kregen it is far more what a man is and what he does that makes a man, and not what a man is born into." And then the eyes of the Chyyan idol blaze forth in a malevolent radiance! This would have inspired horror to most men but here is used as a vehicle for Ken's humor. "Impossible to say which of us moved first. As one we rushed toward the idol in its alcove." Dray "fancied that was behavior the manipulator of the idol was unaccustomed to." Too true and by this time he and his staunch comrades suspected the complicity of Hamal. Again, too true. Leave it to Young Oby to say that he had always wanted " to prod out the fabulous gems from the eyesockets of a pagan idol." This action suits that rascal to a T!

Deciding that the idol had best be inspected by the sans of Valka, it is arranged for transport. Prescot then determines that Chyyanism will be stamped out and then voices his thoughts on religion, which trouble me (pages 43 & 44.) In digest form: " Religions originate and take root and flourish when there is a need for them. Changes of religion occur when the times cry out for new vessels for old wine." To me this sounds like religion is something to be utilized as a code of conduct in ones personal life. That is not a problem, but I thought the basic tenet of a religion was the belief that these precepts were handed down by divine ordinance, and not the whims of those who can "do it better." Doesn't religion then become a matter of convenience and not of faith in God or whoever one thinks is truly in charge? Bottom line and really what I'm trying to say: Does Dray truly believe in a Supreme Being whether it be Zair, God, Opaz, or Djan? Before his recent comments I had thought he was a firmly in God's corner. But now...

It looks like Balasss has found himself a lover from Xuntal (page 46). Too bad the lovely lass is never mentioned again. Shortly after taking note of her Dray again contemplates revealing his Earthly origins to Delia but again postpones what he has promised so many times (to both himself and Delia) to do. Instead they talk and the future problems with Dayra are foreshadowed. As well, Delia talks of Hamal selling Vallia inferior vollers, still (page 48). I am amazed that despite the cease-fire between the two empires that Hamal would still sell their arch foe vollers, however inferior. At least Vallia should be building proper fliers that need the wind for propulsion. How sad that despite stealing over 75% of the secret, the sans of Vallia still can't figure out the independent powering aspect. After all, how did Hyrklana, Hamal, and some nations of the Dawn Lands and Balintol (and Schan for that matter), figure it out?

I was surprised that Evold Scavander was still alive at this point. He and Khe-Hi-Bjanching are working as a team to learn the secrets of the idol. Delia and Dray leave the two sans to their work and leave for a meal, before all hell breaks loose!

While describing the physical attributes of Pachaks, Dray surmises that their two left hands and tail hand are the result of either genetic manipulation or by nature. This is still an open-ended question (page 53).

There are colonies of Pachaks in both Valka and Zamra. The kovnate is said to be of surprising worth in seasons to come. Perhaps in the retaking of nearby Valka?

Ken again mentions that he (Alan Burt Akers) has come into possession of a new batch of tapes (page 54) but suggests that several are (again) missing.

The rationale is that "Krozair" ended in Zy and "Secret" begins in Veliadrin. There was much in between. There are several humorous lines by Ken and as usual I appreciated them all: Delia looks at Dray and says "there will be plenty of time for you to catch up"(page 55), an obvious sexual reference but well said! Then as Dray tries to send Delia away from danger she replies "Why don't you go back?" and lastly, the riotous chase of the last few Chyyans throughout the palace (page 58).

This last scene was caused by the explosion of the idol from Veliadrin, which released scores of small chyyans. Thankfully Khe-Hi had spelled them, else they'd have been full grown (saddle bird sized). Here Delia shows great skill with a sword and Prescot ponders if gunpowder use is in evidence, but thinks not. Still ...

Khe-Hi performs a classic sucking in of his cheeks (page 60), when the mapping device of the Chyyanists is discovered among the wreckage of Evold's laboratory. And it is Delia who realizes one such place is in Delphond!

There is an interesting reference to the Savanti on page 66. "And, far back into the past, the Sunset Peoples had lorded it over a young Kregen with the freshness of dawn. Now all that was left of them were the Savanti, locked away somewhere in their Swinging City of Aphrasoe." So, did the Sunset Peoples hold sway over all Kregen, Paz, parts of Paz or parts of Schan and Paz? How old is a "young Kregen?"

Delia and Dray decide to meet in Delphond to further investigate the newly risen and evil cult of the Chyyanists. Another hard to figure out illustration by Josh Kirby on page 70 shows their parting. The only aspect of this that struck me favorably, were Delia's large yet firm breasts. Josh got them right!

At about this time Prescot ponders on the forces that have used him as a pawn on Kregen: the Savanti, Everoinye and Zena Iztar. Of them all, Dray felt affection for only the latter (page 69).

On page 72 there is a remark by Prescot that is never (to my knowledge) acted on: "Well, the ziggurats of Kregen are notorious, as you shall hear." This was said in regard to the abandoned temple in Delphond he was investigating.

After overhearing of the Chyyanist plans to slay the landed gentry of Vallia and claim their property as their own, Dray espies Phu-Si-Yantong in lupu (page78). That unhanged rogue is back! Based on that arch-villain's observations, he sends Rapas to waylay Prescot and a great Numin warrior, Koter Rafik Avandil to rescue him from them (pages 81 &82). Afterwards, the two make their way to the Delphondi village/fortress of Arkadon, before eventually parting ways.

While bellying up at the "Running Sleeth" Dray is set upon by the Trylon of Tremi and his two cohorts. After disrobing the noble and disarming his friends, Prescot bids remberee and takes his leave. But before doing so he decides not to reveal his identity as the Prince Majister of Vallia. His reason? This Trylon would relish running him through, since he was a Racter (page 99). I find this unrealistic as Delia, if not the Emperor would punish such a liberty, severely (politics or no politics). Surprisingly, the Racters are still utilizing the Aragorns slaving results in Delphond, of all places!

Back to my comments on Dray's religious views (see Part 3 of this summary). On pages 98 & 99 he states: "I have a large contempt for religiosity in pious hypocrites/ Opaz is well enough, I suppose, given as a sop. But a man's heart is his true religion." His comments on the heart ring true but that of Opaz surprised me. It was suggested once by a list member that Opaz was the single most unifying force in Paz. I believe that to be so and thought Prescot could benefit from that.

When arriving to meet up with Delia, Dray discovers she has run back to Vondium, for reasons unknown, and he is duly alarmed! So, commanding a voller he follows and makes his way to the Palace of the Emperors. There he is just in time to see his beloved and Mellow about to leave on business of the SoR (page105). When Prescot presses for details she replies that "I dare not tell you, even though you mean all there is in the world to me. But, but, dear heart, you are a man." Understanding but still feeling put off he pouts "But you haven't said when you'll be back." How petulant ! Oh, the wife's away and it is time to carouse, which Dray proceeds to do (chapter 11).

For those interested in the names of many of the songs sung in Paz, I recommend a perusal of pages 112-115. Ten songs with some description are mentioned. The one that intrigued me most was "The Fall of the Suns." It describes a Kregish Armageddon that I for one think is a grim foreshadow of a dark future. Of course this song is naturally followed by the lighter "Sogandur the Upright and the Sylvie." The refrain of "No idea at all, at all, no idea at all" shook the rafters! A classic, that one.

About to be accosted in "The Savage Woflo", while partying with a pair of Pachaks, Rafik Avandil once more arrives to save the day. An interesting fellow, this Numin! Dray retires back to the palace in Vondium and confers with Naghan, Turko,Balass, Oby and Khe-Hi on recent events. While doing so, a messenger from the SoR arrives and is of course long of leg and favored with a decided sensual swing of the hips. She bears the rose shaped brooch that is the counterpart to the Krz hubless spoked wheel.

I definitely liked the line where this Jikmer Sosie ti Drakanium tells of a lie she will no longer believe, that the Prince Majister of Vallia never laughs (page 119).

Delia is still about the affairs of the SoR and it seems Dayra is involved and not in a positive way.

After Sosie leaves, Dray thinks of creating a new order (unnamed as yet) that will emulate the Krozairs but have ramifications for all Paz and not just the Eye of the World (page 121). While pondering, he also thinks on the nature of both good and evil and on how they mean different things to different people. Naturally Phu-Si-Yantong came to his mind!

At this time, the Emperor returns from the southwest of Vallia with his new girlfriend, the Queen Lush of Lome. She is veiled and thus allows for a scene later on ...When the Emperor is told by Prescot that Delia is about the business of the SoR, he grouses that "She's worse than her mother." So, we know a little something of that hardly ever mentioned woman!

Dray follows this up with news that the royal province of Delphond is being raided by the Emperor's slavers. Amazingly, the father of the Princess that rules Delphond, remains unconcerned and blames it on raising expenses to govern (pages 124 & 125). I had thought him callous when he turned the cheek on Valka long ago, but this! So, Dray is upset and so is the Emperor. After calling the latter an onker (but not a get onker), Prescot is banished from Vondium and he prepares to leave and visit Seg in Falinur and Inch in the Black Mountains. Dray relates to Turko what transpired and says he will return when the Emperor has cooled off. Turko wisely asks who really needs to cool off and Dray sees his point.

Leaving the palace with Turko, they spot Naghan Vanki, the Emperor's spymaster skulking about. Dray remembers he was among the nobles who left him to die in the Hostile Territories (see "Suns"). Prescot decides not to delve further at this time, on Vanki's activities.

Bidding adieu to Turko and asking him to run his affairs in Vondium during the banishment, Dray is asked by the Racters to attend a meeting. It is apparent that they are aware of his predicament, despite the fact that Dray and the Emperor had been alone behind closed doors. Dray is not surprised. The meeting is attended by Strom Luthien, Nath Ulverswan, Kov of the Singing Forest, Nalgre Sultant, the Vad of Kavinstok, Ered Imlien, the Trylon of Thengelsax and the leader was Kovena Natyzha Famphreon of Falkerdrin (she of the ugly visage and pampered body). It is Imlien who stupidly makes a comment on Dayra and pays the price. Prescot humiliates the Trylon while extracting information. It appears that Dayra is causing some sort of trouble in the northeast where Imlien's trylonate lies.

After agreeing to stay out of the Racters power grab (a lie) Dray then reveals what he knows of the Chyyanist cult and to the surprise of all, the Kovena's son speaks (page 142). Kov Nath is thought to be a cipher and fit only to be used, but then there is the affair of the escaped (loosened) chavonths …

In what I describe (pages 144-149) as the "chavonths incident", Dray is put to the test while the attending Racters flee or are frozen at the horror. For it is indeed a moment fraught with peril. Traitors to the Kovena have released the caged panther-like beasts and they start by slaying and feasting on the nearby slave girls. It is left to Prescot and amazingly, the young Kov of Falkerdrin, to stand up and be counted. Dray was a given, but this chinless non-entity? Well! I really enjoyed the part when all the other powerful men, the movers and shakers of Vallia quail in the face of their supposed doom. "The chinless nincompoop, Natyzha's son, Kov of Falkerdrin, stepped forward. ... His body trembled. But he stepped out before his mother and the twin blades he held caught the fireglass glow and gleamed. The dowager kovena husked out a word. "Jikai!" she said."

The illustration (Josh Kirby) on page 146 does a fair job of showing Dray taking the fight to the chavonths. Prescot and the Kov triumph but the nincompoop (so-called) is sorely (but not fatally) wounded. Dray sees to his comfort, at the expense of the other Racters. Seeing that Nath is well attended he comments on how he was misjudged and then takes his leave, without observing the fatamyrrh!

Then it is northward to Falinur for Dray, to visit his old dom Seg. Stopping to cement his relations with canalfolk, Dray states that this was part of his "maturing plans" (page 151). Plans for Vallia specifically or for Paz in general?

The problems Seg was having in governing his kovnate is dealt with in detail (pages 151-153) and run a bit deeper than his mere freeing of slaves and taking over from Furtway who had been popular. Part of it had to do with Thelda. The Chyyanists have her pegged for a massive gang rape (page 154). It is unfortunate that she seems destined to be thought of as a sexual plaything by those that either want to use her or destroy her. Sex is the weapon or tool. Perhaps because of her overly voluptuous figure and grand posturing as a Great Lady?

While hanging out with Seg, he receives forwarded mail and packages from his vast holdings. All except Paline Valley for obvious reasons. So at least we know he does keep in touch, from a distance, with Strombor, Djanduin, and his Clansmen.

I love it when Dray and Seg talk of old times. On page 157 they think back on their journey across the Hostile Territories and the legendary Battle of the Dragon's Bones. Surprisingly, Dray does not consider that a hai jikai (page 157).

News of Seg and Thelda's children is related (pages 157 & 158). Dray (the oldest son) is off wandering Paz as a hyr-paktun and Silda is about the business of the SoR (as Thelda now tells).

This leads to the question of the Shank problem and the creating of the Kroveres (still unnamed at this moment). Interesting enough, the training of prospective members is discussed (page 160). So, it appears that new members need not be already established warriors.

Lastly, it is revealed the Chyyanists have received short thrift in both the Black and Blue Mountains, much to Seg's chagrin (though he comments not).

And then it is back to Vondium (where Dray is under the edict of royal banishment) and another (more profitable) visit to the SoR. There he finds that Delia and Lela are safe, but trying to bring the headstrong Dayra back into the SoR fold. The Kovena Katrin of Rahartdrin. She who had thrown her naked body at Dray's feet, lo those years ago. She still likes to tease Dray with hints of nakedness (the tart!) but is a true friend to both him and Delia. After all, he had helped put her kovnate back in order, way back when. Remember? She needed a man in Dray's estimation.

Once again Prescot comments on a land that seems to look down on diffs, Vallia in this case (page 166). This makes three lands that Dray is closely associated with that are diff intolerant: Aphrasoe, Vallia and Zairia. Hmmm...

Ken manages to work the title of this book into the text in a rather awkward manner. On page 170 Prescot thinks on all the subterfuge and intrigues abounding in Vondium at this time. In fact I think this paragraph is worth quoting as it shows much of what Kregen is all about: "Secret are the ways Kregen under the Suns of Scorpio, secret and deadly. Plots and intrigues flourished in Vondium. So much of the world is open and bright, filled with the clamor of sword and spear, the bright blaring of war trumpets, the quick onrush of mailed cavalry (Dray actually says chivalry), and the high conflict of flyers in the air, and so much is dark and hidden in sorcerous ways, phantasms conjured from the hideous vaults of time, wizardry powers breathing a miasma of fear across the bright suns-light : there are also the darkly secret machinations of ambitious men and women to topple thrones and seize powers and take all unto themselves. Well may Kregen be called Secret Kregen" (page 170).

I love that paragraph but the last sentence seems a bit forced.

On page 174 Dray wonders if "exotic (should be erotic?) thought, a bevy of half-naked damsels would seek to destroy him by women's wiles." This as he argues with the Sister Superior of the SoR. Despite her claims that Delia, Lela, and Dayra are safe, her words later prove hollow.

Once again the mythical Pakkad and Mitronoton are brought up by Dray (page 176). This in regard to tricks that fate (or Fristles) can play and the fate of an empire hanging in the balance! It seems that Prescot bumping into a Fristle thief and causing him to lose his swag is fateful. Or could it be Phu-Si-Yantong again?

At any rate, Dray meets up again with Khe-Hi, Turko, Oby, Naghan and Balass in a cheap tavern room. Prescot recalls his experiences with the wizard (page 179) on the isle of Ogragemush. Frustratingly, no asterisk is offered to the reader! Bidding his comrades remberee, Dray is about to set out for a night of skullduggery, when a band of angry Fristles invade his room, spitting
their fury. Once again Rafik Avandil saves the day! Hey Dray Prescot! Are these coincidences with the golden Numin starting to ring any warning bells with you?

Lastly, the aging and wasting disease of chivrel is mentioned (pages 182 & 183), and for this time only. Does Dray hold to this? Methinks there is a similar disease on Gor, that Tarl Cabot mentions. The fact that it is not spread by body contact or airborne pathogens is remarkable.

His plans gone awry, Dray wonders the streets of Vondium until he runs into, of all people, Himet the Mak (pages 185 & 186). The Chyyanist priest from Autonne! Prescot follows ...

Following Hikmet the Mak, Dray stumbles upon the Great Chyyan as the black feather movement prepares to send the word that the Black Day of rebellion is at hand. Further snooping reveals the infamous Rafik on the prowl in this underground temple. The Numin is about to be set upon and Prescot gives warning. Dray just doesn't get it, even now (page 190)! It turns out that Rafik's foes were Naghan Vanki and his men, who Dray thinks number among the Chyyanists, with Naghan being Makfaril, the leader. Upon seeing the Vallian spymaster, Dray recalls the earlier incident in the Hostile Territories when he was abandoned (see "Warrior"). Reading his mind, Vanki offers that it was his counsel that prevented Dray's throat from being
slit that day. Prescot says "thanks for nothing" to which the spymaster replies, "You are here, alive, now."

Shortly after this conversation, Vanki and his men move on and leave Dray shackled, down in the depths of the temple. As fate had it, masichieri of the Chyyanist take Dray prisoner. Upon awakening from the deep dark cloak of Notor Zan, Prescot hears his captors talking and thinks "they sounded apim" (page 194). I know that some diffs have certain sounding voices but thought that many sounded apim-like. At any rate, they were apim and Dray being who
he is, escapes sooner rather than later.

So, on the prowl again Dray sees a passing strange sight. A beautiful female warrior helping a wounded male comrade to escape the temple (page 196). He is reminded of Delia and thinks maybe he has seen either Dayra or Lela. The truth is revealed much later!

Moving on Dray comes across the main meeting of the Chyyanists and Makfaril is soon revealed to be none other than Rafik Avandil. But even worse, the sacrifice on the toad-like altar is seen to be the "white and voluptuous and naked, Delia." A chained and deadly chyyan is poised to render her soft flesh. This Dray will not allow and once again saves his nude wife from a hideous death. But he is fighting against overwhelming odds, even with Delia at his side. She explains that when Mellow the Supple was wounded, her foes saw their chance and kidnapped her. Word on his daughters is vague but the fight continues and just as doom seems certain, salvation in the form of a sleeting hail of arrows from both Sisters of the Rose and Naghan Vanki's men, under orders from the Emperor himself. It turns out that the spymaster was loyal in particular to Delia. She has that effect.

When explanations are made Dray inquires of Makfaril who had fled. Vanki "waspishly replies, "I had thought you would stop him, Prince" (page 203). Not to let things settle too well he adds, "There is a night to be lived through yet, my princess." Nice line, that. And then Rafik's body is brought forth, with a slender dagger protruding from his throat. A SoR dagger ...Lela or Dayra?

So, for the time being, all's well that ends well. The Black Day will never come, because the call to rebel is never given. The slaying in Vondium sees to that. Yes, Dray is still under the Emperor's edict of banishment but now he is for the Baths of Nine, a good meal and a nights sleep. But Delia has other plans for that plain old sailor man ...

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