The Swordsman Kavlar in...

Kavlar's Boast

A 6-Chapter Sword and Sorcerous Saga!

by "Long" John Outram
About the author

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Episode 2: Kavlar's Quest


  TWO DAYS LATER, ON THE EVE of the full moon and the rite of manhood, Avvar the Lame brought his son to the house of Gaffanain the smith to receive the weapons of Waren chieftain. The light wood-cutting axe was put aside, and a steel sword was placed in his hands.

"This sword will serve you well, Kavlar," grinned Gaffanain through his black beard. "It is not Lodhi's runesword, but it is strong and supple steel. It will not bend or break easily, and I will give it such an edge as will cleave flesh and bone like grass. All it will require is the arm to wield it well!"

Avvar smiled and laid a hand on his son's shoulder. "Gaffanain speaks truth there. No sword is greater than the hand that wields it, and though a flawed or blunted blade may weaken you much, a good blade can only strengthen you a little. It is your strength that your enemies will put to the test, not Gaffanain's sword."

Gaffanain brought him his skinning knife and the girdle that bore it. The long, slightly curved knife was honed to an edge that would cut bone. Kavlar, being left handed, wove the knife on his left side and his sword on his right. Next Gaffanain knelt and tied a throwing dagger, a short, flat, straight blade, to Kavlar's left thigh. A second throwing dagger tucked into a scabbard on his right buskin top. He put the short, recurved Waren bow in Kavlar's hands, and the young warrior bent and strung it. He pulled each arrow in turn from the painted leather quiver, checked that each ash shaft was perfectly straight and each goose-feather flight properly placed.

"I have one gift for you of which I have not spoken," said Avvar softly. "A cloak, which I once wore as a warrior. It would make me proud to see you in it."

He unfolded a bundle of white fur, and with slow ceremony garbed his son. Kavlar submitted patiently as his father first placed a hood over his head, feeling the soft fur on his cheeks. The cloak was tied to his wrists with leather thongs and fastened at his throat with a bronze pin. Kavlar lifted his hands and saw he was wearing the skin of a huge, white leopard. Fixed to the great paws that enfolded his hands were steel claws, each six inches long with razor edges gleaming in the firelight. Tribal shamans wore such costumes in the hunting rituals and sacred dances of the Havmar Waren, but Kavlar had never seen a leopard-skin of this size before.

"I killed it when I was your age," said Avvar. "It was my test. I had heard of the great leopard - it had plagued the lands of the Haladar for many months - but I think my courage would have failed if I had known how large and how strong she would be. Five arrows my comrade Shukko and I put in her, but she lived long enough to kill him and would have killed me too if the gods had not guided my knife into her heart. There never was such a cat in the mountains before, and I never heard of one since. Wear that coat with pride, and maybe a little of that strength and ferocity will pass to you. When other weapons fails you, fight like a leopard, with courage and savage fury. None shall withstand you!"

***

When the full moon rose, before all the warriors of the clan, Avvar carved on his son's chest the name rune that had been engraved on the name post of his hut fifteen years before, and that within a month would be carved on the war-post of the Havmar Waren. Neither Kavlar, Gulo, Skallar, Grechan, Rannak nor Rannva showed any emotion as the sharp knives cut into their flesh, nor as the stinging charcoal was rubbed into the wound. But in the tears of their fathers they saw pride and hope and fear.

***

In the morning, they rode out to become men.

Rannak and Rannva went east, towards the Blackroot Crags that jutted southward from the ring of mountains, in search of their troll. Skallar and Grechan went south to steal the daughter of Thorvald the Helming. Kavlar was bound for Penvale and the capture of Pennarg's famous dog.

With Kavlar rode Gulo, stocky, quiet Gulo. His father was a simple clansman, not a chieftain, and perhaps he had more to prove than the other youths from this test. Gulo had not the strength of Rannva or the guile of Grechan; he had not the skill at arms of Kavlar or Skallar; but he was blessed with unending valour and matchless endurance. He was a sturdy companion.

"If you win the prize," he said as they rode, "when you take your place among the chieftains I hope you will remember who helped you win it. And if you fail maybe that great head of yours will be stuck in the jaws of that cursed half-hound, and I will bring it back and take the prize in your stead."

"Just remember whose head blocked the dog's throat when you are chieftain," laughed Kavlar, "and build me a fine cairn."

Their path lay through the lands of deadly enemies now, and they kept their eyes open and their weapons handy.

The moon had set on a third night before they reached Penvale, but there was enough starlight for the sharp eyes of the Waren to pick out Pennarg's steading, a stockaded compound comprising a large, half-timbered house and smaller outbuildings.

They tied their horses on a copse not far from the stockade, and crept forward like shadows. Kavlar found a crack in the log fence and looked through. For a moment all was dark, but soon he could make out darker shadows against the packed earth of the compound and hear the sound of the great hound breathing in his sleep. He hissed softly. The dog was indeed the largest he had ever seen, perhaps six or seven feet from nose to tail. From what he could make out, it was deep-cheated and broad of jaw, more like the bear-baiting mastiffs of the Vons than the wolf-like hunting dogs of the Waren. Kavlar could not see a collar through the thick fur, but he could see a chain glinting dully in the dim light, running from the dog towards one of the outhouses. He grinned. If Pennarg had chained his dog, that would make their task all the easier.

"Here is my plan," he murmured to Gulo. "When we go over the wall, the dog will awake. That cannot be helped. A dog like that will come for us. When the chain runs out, I will offer this lamb bone, let him close his jaws on that. They say once these mastiffs get a grip they never let go."

"Better a leg of lamb than my throat, then," quipped Gulo.

Kavlar handed him a stout leather sack with a drawstring neck.

"While he is occupied with the bone, slip this over his head and draw it tight. Then we will bind him."

"The men of the house will awake."

"Let them. We will be ready for them. We will leave our bows by the gate and keep our weapons ready."

"If there was no danger, there would be no test," said Gulo with a laugh.

The high fence was no obstacle to the young warriors. Gulo pulled himself up using a looped belt. Kavlar handed him their bows and arrows, and then vaulted up beside him. In the darkened courtyard all was still and silent. Gulo dropped down on the far side. Kavlar was about to follow, but some sixth sense made him hesitate. He looked again. Unmistakably the starlight glinted up from the eyes of the great dog as it looked back at him. He hissed a warning as he dropped, but the beast was already springing at Gulo with great canine bounds, jaws slavering as it came.

Gulo stood his ground and readied the sack. He had seen and heard the chain rattling out behind the dog. It was only when he saw the tail end of the chain flailing free that he realised his danger.

Pennarg's dog was a throwback to a breed long extinct, save only in the far north where a few small packs of dire wolves hunted the elk and the musk ox on the edges of the great ice, and faced off even the great white bear when contesting for prey. Dense, long fur protected them against the cold and against the fangs and claws of their rivals. Broad, powerful jaws could bring down the giant bull elk and split the bones of the musk ox. Thick, muscular legs and deep chests did not give the dire wolves the endurance in the chase of their smaller cousins, but they sprinted with the speed of leopards and the power of tigers. Even so, they had been driven to the fringes of the world by the only predator they had cause to fear -- man.

Pennarg's dog, unlike his ancestors, had no fear of man.


Back to Episode 1 :The Runesword

On to Episode 3 :The Hell Hound


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Kavlar's Boast is copyright by John Outram. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)