Kavlar,

The Sword-Swinging  Scion of the Savage Waren,

returns in...

The Jaws of Fenris

A 5-Episode Saga of Sword and Savagery



The Jaws of Fenris
Episode Two: The Chains of Fenris
 

By John Outram
About the author


K AVLAR'S COMPANIONS LAY HELPLESS, drugged by the treacherous innkeeper who watched to see what the tall young Waren would do, still polishing a pewter tankard as he waited.

"Your wine has been too much for my friends," said Kavlar coldly. "Perhaps, brewmaster, you will sample a draught of your own?"

Kavlar held out the brimful cup. The innkeeper turned pale. For a moment he seemed about to reach for the cup. Then he snatched a dagger from beneath his apron and readied himself to plunge it between the Waren's ribs.

Kavlar did not waste time reaching for his own knives. As soon as he saw the innkeeper's intent he clenched his fist and punched with all his might. It was not his best punch - a skilled fighter would have dodged it with ease - but it was a hard one and it carried all his weight behind it. His mind on his own murderous thrust, the innkeeper had not expected Kavlar to get the first blow in. The Waren's fist connected with his jaw and threw him back with such force that he bounced off the wall behind and fell down at Kavlar's feet. The dagger clattered to the floor, and Kavlar's sharp eyes made out a resinous yellow substance smeared on the blade.

"I hate poisoned blades," muttered Kavlar, "and I hate the men that wield them."

He lifted his foot to crush his fallen enemy underfoot like a worm. But the three men in the corner were moving in on him with their drawn daggers. Kavlar drew his sword left-handed and waited for them to rush him.

"You may have drugged these idle fools, but you will find it harder to bring down a Havmar Waren warrior," he snarled.

"You think so, boy?" answered the biggest of the wolf-hides, a burly, black-bearded man. "I've killed Waren before, torn out their still-beating hearts as a sacrifice to Fenris."

"We are three to one," said another wolf-skin. "Let's take him now!"

They advanced warily. Kavlar sprang, feinted a thrust at one and then slashed at another with enough force to chop through his right arm at the elbow. This wolf-skin dropped to the floorboards howling in agony. The man on Kavlar's right stumbled back to avoid his next thrust. With a flick and a twist, Kavlar disarmed him, and would have run him through had not the serving girl - Kavlar had foolishly ignored her in the excitement - wrapped her arms about him and draggedd him back. In a second he had thrown her off, rewarding her with an elbow under the jaw that set her spinning, but now the wolf-hides had recovered from his onslaught and were ready for his next move. The man that had dropped his knife drew the sword from Donal's belt. The wool merchant mumbled a sleepy protest and rolled to the floor.

The outer door opened and Kavlar whispered a bitter curse. Six newcomers - wolf-skins all - strode into the room with weapons ready. Two carried short spears, two swords and two hunting bows with arrows nocked and ready. One of the swordsmen wore a long cloak of grey fur with a head-dress shaped from mask and jaws so that he appeared to have the head of a wolf. It was a costume Kavlar recognised. The wolf-shamans of his own tribe wore such costumes when working magic.

He felt a chill of fear. With six blades, two arrows and whatever wolf-magic was stirring poised to strike at him, he wondered how long he could withstand them. Nonetheless, he prepared to go down fighting, drawing his long dagger with his right hand. If their arrows did not kill him at once, he might hope to skin at least one wolf before the pack swarmed over him.

The tall shaman lifted his sword but made no move to attack.

"You are surrounded," he said. "You cannot hope to escape or to kill us all. At a word, these brave archers will put two pins in you, and we will make short work of whatever is left after that. The jaws of Fenris have closed around you, Waren."

"Let them close, and see what these little thorns will do to his tongue," sneered Kavlar in reply.

"Better to put down your sword and submit to our mercy," said the shaman. "You might wound some of us - kill someone perhaps - but in the end your death is certain if you oppose us."

"Submit to the mercy of a wolf! Would you make a blood-eagle of me? Or pin my hide to the door of your vile temple? I know your ways, wolf-hide. Better a quick death from a sword."

"You drank enough of the wine, already the drug you were given is coursing through you. Fight on and I promise you the blood-eagle!" warned the shaman. "Throw down your weapons, and you may choose between joining the Sons of Fenris or losing your head to my axe. I, Skalgrim, promise this."

Kavlar turned the knife in his hand so that he held it by the blade. With a good throw he could bury it in Skalgrim's chest, or better one of the archers' eyes. But he threw it point first into the floorboards, and dropped his sword beside it.

"Play me false," he said through gritted teeth, "and there is no corner of hell in which you will be able to hide from me."

The wolf-skins sprang forward. Two of them gripped each arm, while the burly one held a blade to his throat. Kavlar, who had never been a captive in his life, burned to lash out at such treatment, but with supreme effort he curbed his temper.

Skalgrim looked over the scene. Broken bottles and overturned tables and chairs littered the floor. The serving girl was just coming to her senses, whimpering and nursing her jaw. The man whose arm Kavlar had severed was trying to staunch the seemingly endless flow of blood with his cloak, sobbing hysterically. Skalgrim knelt by the fallen innkeeper and lifted his head, then let it fall back limply.

"Dead," he said.

"It was a good punch," replied Kavlar proudly.

Skalgrim glanced up with a flash of anger in his eyes. He strode back to where Kavlar was held.

"Search him, Bergin," he commanded. "Strip him of all those nasty little throw-knives."

The burly wolf-skin set to work. He drew a pair of short daggers from Kavlar's wrist bracers, and took three others from sheaths on his belt, right boot top and left thigh. Bergin grinned as he made a pile of them.

"Is that all?" asked Skalgrim.

Kavlar nodded. Bergin laughed and ran his hands around the Waren's shoulders and groin. There was one hidden in a sheath between his shoulder blades, another strapped inside his right thigh, concealed by his breeches.

"Trust a snake before a Waren," grinned Bergin.

Kavlar grinned back. With his arms held, he still managed to butt his tormentor with sufficient force to send him sprawling. Bergin fell to the floor with a bloody, broken nose, while Kavlar wrestled furiously to throw off the men on his arms. They kicked and punched him as he twisted and turned, until the man at his back rapped the back of his skull twice with the brass hilt of his dagger. Kavlar slumped down and then sank into blessed oblivion.

***

The moment he awoke Kavlar could sense someone close beside him. He lashed out instinctively with his foot, and so discovered his ankles were firmly locked into manacles of some kind. His hands were also bound.

"Easy lad," said a voice as he began to struggle. "Don't you think we've tried it? We're in a foot-stock, and the only way out is to bite your own feet off."

Kavlar opened his eyes, but at first he could see nothing. Vague shadows began to take shape, and he could smell pine trees about him and feel the cool night breeze. They were outside in the forest. Kavlar sensed three others beside him, two on his left and one on his right. That one, he guessed, was Pilton. The Rangeman valet wore a tunic of newly tanned leather that carried a strong, distinctive and not unpleasant odour. The others he did not know, but he guessed they must be the drunken travellers from the inn. When he moved, he found that his head ached miserably, and his ribs too. A tenderness around his eye suggested that someone had blacked it for him. The feeling had gone from his left arm. There was a stench of blood on him that he did not think was his own.

"How long have I been lying here?" he muttered, trying to work his hands free.

"A good question," said one of the strangers. "If I knew how I came to be here myself, that would be a start. I awoke maybe an hour ago, when the guard came and threw this filth over us. That is all I know... except that my head aches as it has never ached from drinking ale. This Darrowby wine is strong stuff."

"They spread a stronger brew on their knives," growled Kavlar, remembering the poisoned dagger. "Tuonetar's black teats! Either I supped more of that wine than I should or these wolf-skins tapped my skull harder than I realised."

"Wolf-skins?" asked Pilton.

"Aye," grunted Kavlar. "While you were sleeping like a lamb, the wolves in the fold uncovered themselves. Sons of Fenris, they called themselves, but they seemed to me like any other breed of bandits."

"Wolf-hides!" exclaimed one of the travellers. "I was warned there were some in these parts, but I never dreamed that the Darrowby Inn was their lair."

"These wolves have grown cunning indeed," said the other.

"Friends," replied Pilton, "I am a stranger to these lands. What are we doing here? What and who and where are these wolf-skins or -hides? Why have they chosen to chain uss here in the forest? Why they have covered my new tunic (and doubtless your own gear too) with this foul mess of blood and offal? And how we may get away from this place and back to our business?"

"H'm, a long road of questions and that last one is the tricky one," said the second traveller. "To start at the beginning, I am Bjarn of Trughaven and this is my cousin Karl. We are traders in cloth, and chose this road because we had heard of the hospitality of the Darrowby Inn."

"Believe me," added Karl, "if I live to tell the tale I shall not have a kind word for our host's welcome!"

"As for the Sons of Fenris," continued Bjarn, "they are not like any other breed of bandits, indeed! No-one is more feared, not even the Waren. They are the servants of Fenris Ulf, the giant wolf whom the gods bound beneath the earth to prevent his destroying all mankind. They say when the world ends he shall rise again and swallow the sun and the moon. His disciples believe that time is near, and that soon the final battle of the gods shall be upon us. They have chosen to fight against the gods in that battle, praying instead for the strength and ferocity of Fenris and his werewolf servants.

"Some say they can take the form of wolves when they will, others that only that they have the souls of wolves. Whatever the truth, they are as savage and merciless as any beasts of the forest. They sacrifice the hearts of their living captives to images of their god, believing it adds to his strength and hastens the day when he shall break his bondage."

"Is that the fate that awaits us?" asked Pilton.

Kavlar grunted. Whatever fate had in store for him, he did not intend to end as a sacrifice to some demon wolf, however large. For the first time in his life, he was tied and bound. That indignity alone was unforgivable. Heads would be split for this!

"When I think of a way out of here," he said, "I will fetch my sword and my pack... and my dog too... and I will teach these wolf-hides a lesson in manners. After that I doubt they will think of putting a Waren on their altar again."

"Brave words, boy, when your hands and feet are bound fast," said Bjarn. "And how does a Waren come to be here, and in the company of a Rangeman? Each is rare enough in these parts."

Pilton answered first: "I am the servant of Lord Gidian of Parc. We took on this boy along the way. My lord and I are travellers in this land, curious to know what manner of folk you are. In our land the only Kelds we see are invaders and despoilers."

Karl grunted: "In this region we are Helmings, not Kelds, though you Rangemen seem hard pressed to tell us apart. I doubt what you have experienced in Darrowby will make you love our people more. And what of you, lad? Curious too?"

"I took service with these Rangemen as a pack-handler, though they have precious few packs with them," replied Kavlar cautiously. "I am curious to see what the world has to offer beyond the comfort of my clan-hearth."

"Thor's beard, but I hope you're impressed!" exclaimed Bjarn. "I bet death of a wolf-hide's altar wasn't what you had in mind when you left the clans!"

"I do not think we have been chosen to die on the altar," said Kavlar. "Why have the wolf-worshippers spilled the blood of a sheep over us? It is bait, to call in their brethren. Listen!"

Something was coming through the shadowed pines, something that ran on swift paws that were almost but not quite silent on the forest floor. The merest hint of dawn was in the sky, and the grey light gleamed in a dozen bright eyes.

"May the gods preserve us," whispered Pilton, sick with fear. "They mean to feed us to the wolves."
 
 
 



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The Jaws of Fenris is copyright by John Outram. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)