The Swordsman Kavlar in...

Kavlar's Boast

A 6-Chapter Sword and Sorcerous Saga!

by "Long" John Outram
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Episode 5: Skallar's Victory


  SKALLAR TO THE HAVMAR WAREN returned as a hero. There was no doubt he had earned the right to stand among the warrior men, and little doubt that he had won the prized runesword. The only debate was over the fate of his other prize, Thorvald's daughter, Thora the Fair.

And that debate raged through the village. Skallar intended to take her as his wife, and claimed that right through her Paldemar Waren mother. Hakku the Shaman looked less favourably on that claim. If a Waren fathered a son on a slave girl, the bastard was a slave, not a Waren. Since that was true of the sons of Waren warriors, how could the daughter of a Waren woman, herself drawn down to the status of a Helming's slave, be anything but a slave and a foreigner?

Not all the men agreed. After all, there were precedents for half-Waren slaves being admitted to the tribe if they had performed some great service. Skallar's heroic battle against Thorvald's huscarls, and his abduction and seduction of the half-Waren maiden, had captured the imagination of the Havmar warriors. He had always been a popular lad, and moreover his father, Ischak, was the wealthiest and strongest of their chieftains. Tribal law was powerful among the Waren, but so was Ischak.

Rannak and Rannva had found their troll, a great, ape-like creature of the mountains. They had killed it too, and brought its fanged head back for proof - though not before it had broken Rannak's arm. On their return they quickly sensed the mood of the clan warriors - a lone troll was a small challenge next to a band of Helming warriors, after all - and threw their support behind Skallar. He seemed certain to win the runesword. One day he might rise to be a powerful chieftain, and only a brave man or a fool would oppose him now.

Or a woman. The women of the Havmar clan were in the main hostile to the newcomer, especially the maidens Shannara and Melle. For centuries the men of the tribe had married within the tribe, not taken foreign brides. If they broke with this tradition, they might also give away their daughters in marriage or trade, as did lesser peoples. The women of the Havmar Waren, bonded by the cult of Cruel Louhi, would not stand for that. And a woman rejected by the cult of Louhi had no place among the Waren. Even if protected by a strong husband or lover, she would be spat upon and stoned at every opportunity. Thora, a stranger, had become a prisoner in Ischak's lodge because of the welcome her Waren half-sisters had in mind.

While the debate raged, one chieftain paid no heed. Avvar waited for the return of his son, a lone, lame figure stood upon the hillside watching for some sign or omen. But the moon waxed towards its fullness and there was no sign of Kavlar. Nor had Gulo, son of the warrior Guldran, returned.

When their time could be spared from the affairs of Skallar and Thora, the people whispered that Kavlar's boast had indeed been the boldest of any Havmar youth, too bold indeed. He had doubtless perished on his adventure while battling against insuperable odds. They pitied Avvar, doubly cursed with lameness and the loss of his son, but pity did not count for much among the Waren. They would rather celebrate Ischak and his proud son, Skallar.

***

Hakku watched the sun setting, reading patterns in the broken, swirling clouds of red and grey in the golden sky. Already the first stars were visible in the east. The moon would soon rise in her full glory, and the chieftains and warriors of the clan were gathered on the shores of Lake Nikku to see the young men admitted to their ranks. Three shamans of the tribe - Wolf-father, Eagle-father and Elk-father - squatted by a campfire. Further back, the women and slaves watched out of curiosity. The runesword resting in Hakku's lap added to their interest, for in this ritual the shamans were not only admitting new warriors to the Havmar clan but selecting a future chieftain.

But Hakku read the omens in the twilit sky and shook his head sadly.

This was the final test for the young men. Dance ritual was the oldest tradition of the Waren and wove powerful magic for hunting and for war. Grechan danced the eagle-dance, far-seeing and high-flying, recalling how the eagle had led the Waren to their homes in the high plateaux, and how his feathered wings and sharp beak had inspired the first arrows of the early hunters. Rannak and Rannva danced wolf-dance and bear-dance, conjuring the magic of fierce hunter and strong warrior. Then Skallar danced the hart-dance.

Agile, swift and proud, the hart was like the spirit of the young Waren warrior, and never had his dance been better performed. Skallar leaped and pranced before the clan warriors with practised grace and effortless strength. As the hart embodied the spirit of the Waren, so Skallar embodied the spirit of the hart in his dance. Not one of the women on the shore watching his long limbs gleaming in the twilight would not have been one of his does.

Skallar finished to rapturous applause and knelt, panting, before the shamans. For this dance alone the Havmar would have given him Lodhi's sword, would have acclaimed him a chieftain. The dance magic overwhelmed and bedazzled them. All eyes were on Skallar - save those of Avvar.

The lame chieftain, who had danced no dance in four years, dragged himself up on his staff and stared towards the dying sun. Hakku followed his gaze, and then the other shamans. Slowly everyone, even Skallar, turned their gaze westwards.

In the shadow of the mountain, two figures strode towards the lakeshore from the village. One was Guldran, who had kept his vigil while others watched the ritual. The other was a tall youth, cloaked and hooded, and at his side paced the largest dog they had ever seen.

***

The youth cast off the cloak and hood. Beneath he wore the pelt of a great white leopard, with steel claws dangling from the wrists. Avvar's eyes blurred with tears, but there could be no doubt this was his son, Kavlar. Nor could there be any doubt that the dog at his side was Pennarg's dog, and that he had fulfilled his boast.

He walked slowly to take his place among the warriors of the Havmar Waren. As he passed the slaves and the women gathered beside the lake, he paused and threw something to Gaffanain the smith. It was the hilt of a broken sword.

Skallar, rose to his feet and his hand fell to the knife in his belt, but Grechan laid a restraining hand on his arm. Behind them, the rim of the full moon rose above the eastern peaks.

"Kavlar has returned," said Guldran. "He has passed the test of his manhood. But my son, Gulo, is dead. He died a warrior's death."

Hakku's ancient face wrinkled more than ever, and he asked: "Is this so, Kavlar? How is it that you return alone, when you set out with Gulo, son of Guldran?"

"Father of the Havmar," replied Kavlar respectfully, "as I promised I have brought back Pennarg's dog. He was as fierce as any hound I ever saw, but he is tamed to my hand now. Pennarg lies dead by my sword, and two of his men. Four more were slain by Gulo. And at the foot of Harrier's Swoop we met a band of Helmings - five in all - who now lie dead by my hand. They killed my pony, and wounded my dog. Gulo fell to an arrow.

"I have wandered alone in the hills, without food or shelter save what I could find along the way. I have had to raise a cairn to my friend, and nurse back to health the dog I took from Penvale. Yet I have returned at the appointed time - the full moon rises over Lake Nikku, and I return as a Waren warrior!"

A murmur of assent ran through the crowd of warriors - a rumble of disbelief from some. Kavlar's tale was scarce credible, yet the truth of it was written in his face and figure - so changed in the passage of a month - and witnessed by the monstrous hound at his side.

"By these deeds I claim the sword of Lodhi!" he cried. "I do not speak ill of the troll-slayers, Rannak and Rannva, who have proved their manhood. But I hear the talk of slaves and women, that Skallar would have received the prize had I not returned. Maybe the capture of a woman is a brave deed for warriors who care not to trade blows with men. But this woman came willingly, and now seeks to be Skallar's wife. Is the seduction of maidens now proof of courage for the Havmar Waren?"

Kavlar's harsh words prompted uproar. The chieftains and jostled and yelled, each striving to be heard.

"It seems your dog comes willingly enough," jeered Grechan.

"I tamed him to my hand, which once he would have bitten off," Kavlar replied angrily.

"Women, too, can be tamed by a skilful master," quipped Ballan, and a ripple of laughter spread through the crowd. Some of the married warriors found this exceedingly funny, others not in the least amusing.

"I ask this!" cried Guldran. "Was my son avenged?"

"I slew five Helmings," replied Kavlar, gazing balefully at Skallar, who returned the look with venom. "It was not their arrow that slew your son. Yet I do not intend to leave him unavenged.

"Grechan and Skallar did not dare attack Thorvald alone. Thora betrayed her father to a band of Helming brigands, greedy for gold. They killed his huscarls and gave his daughter to Skallar, knowing the blame for the raid would be put upon the Havmar Waren. Those Helmings I slew were your escort, Skallar, seeing you safely from Thorvald's lands so that the deception was not discovered. But I discovered it, as did Gulo! Was it the maid who demanded the escort, Skallar, or was it your own coward heart?"

"You lie, son of a cripple," cried Ischak, leaping to the defence of his son.

"No, you lie," spat Avvar. "You are behind this, for Skallar has not your treacherous heart and evil cunning. You told him to woo the girl, promising her freedom from a tyrant father, promising her marriage to the High Chieftain of the Waren - for in your dreams, your son is already that! But ask her the truth. Now that she has felt the stones and harsh words of the Waren women, now that she has heard that her fate is to be slave and not mistress in Skallar's house, ask her what lies she has told for you."

"Bring her out," shrilled Shannara from among the women. "Let us hear what the Helming bitch has to say!"

"Bring her," echoed Melle, "and we will loosen her tongue!"

As a crowd of women and a few men ran back towards the camp, Ischak roared and struck Avvar with his fist, knocking him down again. The clamour rose till it was deafening, and knives were drawn, but above all one voice rang out clearly.

"Kavlar!" commanded Hakku. "Kavlar, son of the Havmar Waren! You have come to be judged, not to judge others. You are not yet a man. First, you must dance for the people."

Kavlar bowed to the aged shaman. The clamour died down enough that Avvar could begin a slow, rhythmic handclap. Kavlar began to move in time with that rhythm, drawing himself up, crouching low, gripping the steel bar of his claws so that their razor edges projected from his clenched fists. As his father kept time, he danced the dance of the leopard. He stalked, snarled, leapt and clawed. Clad in the skin of the great mountain cat, he became the leopard, felt its strength and its fury and hunger. The dance absorbed him, and as it did so it worked its magic on the watching crowd, until they forgot Kavlar and saw only the leopard in their midst.

Then, as the leopard crouched before Skallar and Grechan, the spell was broken. Kavlar drew himself up to his full height, a man again. The claws dangled limply from their thongs. Kavlar stared at Skallar.

"Gulo died by a Waren arrow," he said. "Your arrow."


Back to Episode 4 :The Cloaked Riders

On to The Conclusion :Kavlar's Fate


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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.)