Sword of Doom
A Wolf Slayer Saga #2
King Tancred, the ruler of Korava, plans a sneak attack on the kingdom of Argos. Princess Uralia, the daughter of the Argosian king, hears of the plot and asks Valka the Wolf Slayer to take her back to her father so she can warn him of the impending attack. Valka agrees, and embarks on a blood drenched journey that pits him against the whole army of King Tancred, who intends to stop them.
Valka rolled the parchment scroll into a tube then secured it with a leather thong. Rising from the bench where he had been sitting for the last several hours, he went to one of a long row of shelves, sorted through dusty piles of moldering scrolls and ancient, leather-bound tomes and returned the scroll to its allotted place. Then he took his sheathed sword from where it lay on the polished mahogany table and moved toward the entrance. He walked with a sense of urgency; his discussion earlier in the evening with an aged philosopher concerning the origins of the cosmos and man had lasted longer than expected, and he was late.
As he passed the other scholars, busy studying ancient texts by the light of lamps set at intervals along the length of the tables, he noted that they watched him from the corners of their eyes. Valka knew he was something of an anomaly to the scholars and philosophers who flocked from all over the world to the great Museum of Korava—he was not quite as they were.
He remembered how startled they were when he arrived at the Museum over a month ago, carrying his sword. His dominant presence, his tall, muscular physique and hawk-like gaze marked him as a fighting man. Still, the wise men of Korava were an elite group, and they granted to others the same freedom of expression they demanded for themselves. His respect for them increased when they allowed him to be as he was, without criticism. Over time, as they discussed various scholarly and philosophical topics with him and watched what he studied, they came to respect him—even if he did seem to be a hawk set down among doves.
He left the library and moved quickly down the gallery leading to the front entrance, his high-strapped boots echoing on the black marble floor. The high arched ceiling was lost in shadow. Majestic statues of gods and goddesses, carved in pink marble by ancient masters, stood in shaded alcoves along the gold-streaked marble walls. They seemed almost alive, and, helped by the soft, illusive light, appeared about to step down from their pedestals and converse with the men thronging the gallery. Scattered around the feet of some lay bunches of flowers—offerings from their devotees. Passing beneath their inscrutable gaze, Valka felt as if he walked with the gods.
Ever alert for danger, he threaded his way through the forest of marble pillars supporting the lofty roof of the entrance. Looking beyond the broad steps of black basalt and the courtyard paved with granite slabs, he gazed up at the full moon floating serenely over the ink-black waters of the Inland Sea and the broad harbor of Korava. He judged the hour to be about midnight.
Smiling in anticipation, he thought about the lovely young lady he met several days earlier in the marketplace. Her aged husband was a merchant who was conveniently out of the city on business. Valka had been visiting her in the evenings after her servants had gone to sleep.
His tread was light as he walked briskly along the stone pavement beside the brick sea wall. Breathing deeply of the mingled odors of salt sea, tar and hemp wafting on the breeze, he glanced at the many biremes, triremes and brigantines, with their banks of oars secured below decks, riding at anchor in the vast harbor. Huddled in the shadows of the larger, sea-going ships were numerous smaller craft—swift sloops, slim ketches and the humble sailboats of the local fishermen.
Korava was a hub of trade for the entire Inland Sea, and the colorful pennants of several dozen city-states fluttered from the tall masts of the galleys. In the soft moonlight, the multi-colored vessels rocking gently at anchor exerted a deep, hypnotic attraction on Valka, and there arose in him an aching desire to see what was on the other side of the horizon.
Turning at the mouth of an alley, he moved away from the imposing buildings fronting the harbor and toward the narrow, crooked lanes and dark paths of the real waterfront that catered to seafaring men. He passed quickly down the cobbled road between decrepit buildings that seemed ready to collapse on each other, avoided the splotches of garish light spilling over the flags from taverns and dives, declined with a smile the invitations from the painted women standing in doorways, and scowled threateningly at the sharp-eyed bravos who lounged outside the gambling dens.
Finally, he passed into the center of Korava where tree lined streets were paved with marble. The marketplace was deserted at that hour, and his footsteps echoed off the ornate facades of the houses of princes and rich merchants. A breeze swept down from the forest-clad mountains ringing the city, bringing the fresh scents of pine and cedar.
Turning onto a familiar street, he walked up the slope to a house on the left nestled among orange trees. Even though he was in a rich neighborhood, Valka remained alert. At this time of night footpads might catch a wealthy merchant returning home after an evening of entertainment. Concealed in the shadows cast by a tree, he looked across the lane at the two-story house almost hidden behind a high stonewall. On the upper floor, in a bay window with the drapes pulled back, a single candle burned.
It was the signal that all was well.
After a quick glance up and down the street, Valka sprinted across the lane to a corner of the wall where vines crept up and over the top. He climbed swiftly to the crest, then paused and looked back over the deserted street. Finally, he turned his attention to the garden spread out in the moonlight within the walls. Rose bushes lined the perimeter, and further in a marble fountain tinkled within a circular hedge. Its shimmering spray trapped the elusive moonbeams, filling the scented air with silver mist.
Deciding that no danger lurked in the shadows, Valka leaped with the grace of a big cat down to the soft sward and moved at a half-crouch to an oaken door set into the wall of the house. He rapped three times on the panel, paused for a moment, then rapped twice more. Immediately, the door swung open, and a slim, soft form rushed into his arms.
“Valka,” she whispered, lifting her pretty face to peer up at him. “I was beginning to think you were not coming.”
He bent and kissed her long and deeply. “Cassandra,” he murmured, as he pulled away. “What calamity could possibly keep me from coming to see you?”