The Swordsman Kavlar in...

Kavlar's Boast

A 6-Chapter Sword and Sorcerous Saga!

by "Long" John Outram
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Episode 4: The Cloaked Riders

  "IF YOU KILL THEM all yourself I will not be pleased!" answered Gulo, and he spurred his mount recklessly downhill towards the valley.

Kavlar guided his pony at a more cautious pace towards the treeline. The dog followed, whimpering pathetically through the muffling sack. Kavlar, who was fond of dogs, vowed to see to the creature's ills as soon as he was able. Weakened and dispirited, he did not imagine it would be any trouble. But now he had other matters to attend to, and the dog was a hindrance only. He threaded his way through trees and boulders, until he found a vantage point - a boulder shaped like an old man's head, bearded with fir trees -- from which he could watch the approaching riders.

They wore black cloaks and dark helms. Even at this distance Kavlar could see that two carried long, yew bows and two carried iron-headed spears of ash. Without doubt, they were following a trail, stopping to scan the rocky ground every so often.

Kavlar snorted, knowing that no Helming could follow a trail like a Waren, but he also knew that even the worst woodsmen could follow the trail of an iron-shod horse. He also knew it would not be long before Grechan and Skallar, guiding their prisoners by the easier path, would come into sight of their pursuers.

The Helmings seemed well-mounted as well as well-armed. Even with Gulo's warning, the Waren might not outrun them. Skallar could abandon the girl, forfeiting his claim on Lodhi's sword (and his own manhood, for a year at least) -- that would suit Kavlar's purpose, but he did not intend to beat his rival that way. As to abandoning Skallar himself, he never considered it. He would not stain the test of his manliness with any hint of cowardice.

A plan formed in his mind. As the four riders took to the trail once more he filled his lungs and then shrieked the war-cry of the Havmar Waren until the mountains rang. The riders stopped in their tracks, and searched the hillside with their eyes. Kavlar stepped out from his hiding place and waved his bow so that they could not miss him, all the time yelling out his challenge. After a moment's hesitation, the four riders turned towards the hills and began to spur their horses up the slope towards him. Kavlar fitted an arrow to his bowstring and waited.

The small, strong bow could send an arrow over three hundred yards, but Kavlar knew he could not realistically hope to hit a target at more than half that range, and he had only four arrows left. He stayed his hand and shouted more taunts and challenges as the big, heavy horses struggled over rocks and bracken.

The Helmings, whose bows were too long and powerful to use from horseback, seemed determined to close with him. He chuckled as they cursed and stumbled towards him, one horse rearing up in protest and nearly tumbling backwards. Then, with ruthless calm, he aimed and loosed his first arrow.

It struck the leading warrior squarely in the chest, knocking him off his horse. As he drew another arrow, he saw the man regain his feet shakily, plucking out the shaft. There was mail under that dark cloak, mail that would easily stop his light, short arrows at this range and that would give them a clear advantage when it came to hand to hand blows. He aimed again with care, and struck the helmet of a second warrior. His enemies cursed him more roundly and redoubled their efforts to climb the slope.

With a laugh and a final war-whoop, Kavlar jumped on his pony and rode behind the bearded boulder, over a ridge and down into the valley by another, hidden path. He paused to loop the dog chain around the base of a fir tree, promising to return soon, and then drove his pony as fast as it would go to the base of the hill and onto Gulo's trail. Behind, he could hear the Helmings blundering over the ridge, and a cry and the scream of a horse in agony as one tumbled down in a rattle of falling rocks.

Of Gulo and Skallar's party he could see no sign, but his first thought was to put as much distance as he could between himself and the yew bows of the angry Helmings. The pony's hooves churned the earth as it passed, relishing the chance to gallop again over open grass, and Kavlar too gave himself over to the pleasure of riding fast on a spirited mount. But he had thought Skallar only a little way ahead. He needed his companions. Even if he could outrun the Helmings, he needed to go back for the dog, and brave as he felt he did not relish the thought of doing so alone. But Gulo and Skallar were nowhere to be seen.

Risking a look back, he saw three of the four pursuers galloping after him, making less speed than he had expected. They would not catch him before he reached the hills again. Still, escape was not his aim. He had two arrows left, not enough to even the odds. Turning to face them again, he weighed his chances.

Three things caught his eye at once. The first was Skallar's party. They had left the valley, and were high above him as they threaded their way through the rocky foothills. Skallar was there, and Grechan, but only the one maiden.

The second was Gulo, lying prone in the grass beside a boulder, not thirty yards away. A short, grey-feathered arrow protruded from his chest.

The third was a Helming warrior, mailed and mounted, charging at him with sword drawn, no further away than Gulo's body. There was no time for bow-play. Kavlar whipped out his own sword and slashed at his enemy's head as the headlong gallop took him past.

The blades met in a ring of steel, and Kavlar's arm was jarred to the shoulder. But he had surprised his foe with the speed and ferocity of his counter-attack, and his smaller mount turned more nimbly than the Helming's horse.

Now he was behind his opponent and on his right, testing the swordsman with darting thrusts and forcing him to turn in the saddle to parry. The Helming tried to wheel his horse around and drive them over, but Kavlar's pony side-stepped and he redoubled his attacks, now on his enemy's left side.

The Helming had to reach across his body to parry Kavlar's left handed blows. His iron helmet saved him from a cut that should have split his skull, but his mail did not stop the thrust that smashed through his ribs and into his lungs. As he tumbled, his foot went through the stirrup, and his panicked mount dragged him away as he choked out his life.

Kavlar sheathed his sword without wiping it and rode straight at the three cloaked riders bearing down on him. He drew his bow with his right hand and an arrow with his left. When the lead warrior was close enough for Kavlar to see the whites of his eyes, the Waren youth drove his knee into the pony's side and wheeled it around again. Galloping smoothly over the green grass, his pursuers mere yards behind him, he took aim and buried his arrow in the leader's throat.

The last two came on, one with a spear and one with a short-hafted axe, keeping pace with one another so that they would overtake him at the same time. He waited until they had almost done so, their long-limbed horses leaping over the plain with great strides, and then he loosed his last arrow.

It struck the spearman in the upper arm, below the half-sleeves of his mailshirt, and he veered away. Then Kavlar flattened himself on his pony's flank as the axe swished over his head, rose in the saddle again and drew his sword.

As the axeman reined in the big horse and turned, Kavlar drove at his left side, again giving himself the advantage of reach over his right-handed foe. As the axe was raised for a downward cut, Kavlar thrust under the helmet's iron brim, through the left eye. The dying warrior slashed down with his last strength, and it was all Kavlar could do to fend off the blow with his right hand and wrestle the Helming from his horse.

The spearman hesitated, weighing his longer reach and mail against Kavlar's blinding speed and ferocity, and the arrow in his own left arm. Kavlar paused for breath, baring his teeth and brandishing his sword fiercely. Blood streaked his face and arms now like war-paint. His eyes blazed with slaughter-lust. The Helming hurled his spear clumsily and fled -- Kavlar ducked and gave chase.

For three hundred yards they thundered back down the valley, the long-limbed mare just ahead of the Waren pony. As the Helming reached for the sword that hung from his saddlebow, the mare stumbled, and the rider flew from the saddle, rolling over and over in the soft grass. Unarmed, he struggled to his feet as Kavlar turned on him, raised his arms in a helpless supplication and then yelled out in fear as Kavlar slashed down with his sword. The blade burst the iron rim of the helmet, burst the skull and brains beneath, and then broke itself in twain, the hilt end stuck in the helmet and the point-end falling into the grass.

Kavlar cursed by the worst gods of his people -- by black Tuoni and Tuonetar, by Hiisi and Surma. It did not occur to him that some god might have guided his hand and protected him while he slew four enemies, each better armed than himself. He only knew that his weapon had gone, and that his blood lust was not yet sated.

Galloping back to the narrow path by which he had entered the valley, he saw the last of his pursuers -- the one who had fallen down the slope -- at the edge of the firs, aiming his six-foot longbow. Kavlar charged recklessly, flattening himself against the pony's side, and watched with a feeling of unreality as the arrow flew towards him, missed his hand by a finger's breadth and buried itself in the brave little pony's neck.

As the pony fell, Kavlar sprang, snarling like the leopard whose cloak he wore, slashing with a knife in his left hand and with the steel claws in his right. He was aware of the crunching impact as his shoulder struck the Helming archer, but he felt nothing, sensed nothing except his own murderous fury. His knife rose and fell again and again.

He came to his senses with the torn corpse growing cold beneath him. His body was bruised and battered, his right arm numb, but otherwise he was sound. Picking himself up, he tried to recall all that had happened before the fight. Gulo was dead. And now that Kavlar had time to think, he knew that it was not a Helming arrow that had killed his friend, not a long clothyard shaft such as now feathered his poor pony's neck, partner to the yew bow. Gulo had been pierced by a short arrow like his own, a Waren arrow.

Weary and confused, he wandered back to where he had left the dog chained to a fir tree. It lay on its side, still chained, bleeding from a half-dozen wounds. The Helmings had shot it with arrows while it was helpless, blind and bound, and then stabbed it with spears. He had failed in his quest, and Skallar's victory was complete.

Kavlar sighed and dropped to his knees.

Back to Episode 3 :The Hell Hound

On to Episode 5 :Skallar's Victory

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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.)