Savage Sword

A Wolf Slayer Saga #10

by Richard Dawes

Valka the Wolf Slayer is taken into slavery, deprived of his star sword, and put to work in the mines. Against impossible odds, he rises from the mines to become a gladiator in the arena, then to a military commander, and finally to a king maker when he overthrows the kingdom.


Chapter One

Valka’s eyes were grim as he guided the black stallion down through the rocks and onto the plain. He glanced at the sky where black shadows wheeled against a flat canopy of slate-grey clouds. A bitter wind whistled through the twisted branches of stunted trees dotting the plain and ruffled the brittle prairie grass.

He reined in and eased himself in the saddle, then gazed out over the desolate savanna that stretched to the horizon. Behind him reared a barren jumble of rocky crags and shadowed ravines, their rugged snow-capped peaks rearing stark against the grey clouds. He had spent the whole day finding his way through a seemingly endless maze of rock-choked crevasses and twisted ravines cutting the sheer cliffs, rugged crags, and soaring escarpments. Now, as he gazed over the plain, his grey eyes searching futilely for recognizable landmarks, he admitted to himself that he was lost.

He thought back to how he had arrived at this point.

He had ridden forth from the sacred city of Thebes at dawn three days past, the morning sun reflecting blindingly off her high walls of black stone and rode across the great stone bridge that spanned the turgid waters of the Nile that undulated like a brown serpent through the Land of the Two Crowns. That morning, after breaking camp, he had reined the stallion away from the black fertile lands watered by the mighty river and headed southwest across the desert. He was in search of a secluded oasis whispered about in the palm-shaded inner courts of Theban temples, where resided an old sage, possessed of great wisdom.

By mid-morning he was far from the river, riding through desert where the only landmark was a long blue smudge along the western horizon denoting what seemed to be a mountain range. By good fortune, he stumbled upon a small copse of palm trees rising starkly against the pale blue sky, their serrated fronds waving pleasantly in the dry breeze. Thinking there would be shade and water, and forage for the stallion, Valka reined in that direction.

He was still a hundred yards from the oasis when a group of mounted men emerged from the shade of the trees. A glance at their blooded horses with arching necks and flaring nostrils, the swords, daggers, and dirks bristling in their girdles, their dark bearded faces and fierce predatory eyes, told him that he had stumbled upon a lair of brigands. They seemed just as surprised to see him, as he was to see them. They recovered quickly and sent up a shout that disturbed the birds roosting in the trees. As a flutter of wings shredded the serenity of the blue vault, they spurred their mounts in his direction.

In that desolate land, his only defense lay in reaching the range of mountains rearing against the western skies and losing himself among its canyons and ravines. Digging into its reserves of strength, the stallion flew across the desert, its churning hooves throwing up sand that glittered in the sunlight like sprays of tiny crystals. Lying across its neck, eyes slitted against the wind while he listened to the shouts of the brigands pounding behind him, he looked ahead at the mountains and decided that he had never seen such a desolate jumble of rock. It was like a giant had allowed huge stones to dribble through his fingers while he walked, the result being a barren pile of black boulders and ragged stones heaped on top of each other with no coherent shape or design, the grim monotony broken only by a dull scum of snow crusting the highest peaks.

A narrow ravine like a sword gash opened in the wall of rock, and he reined the horse into it, racing recklessly around sharp twists and turns, and leaping boulders without a thought of what could be lurking on the other side. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the shouts died away behind him, and he spent the rest of the day winding through the dark, shadow-haunted labyrinth, searching for a way through.

Now, as a bitter wind snarled through the crags, ruffling his shoulder-length black hair and biting into his bare torso, he realized that he had to find a place to camp for the night. Did he turn back into the mountains, or did he ride on ahead in hope of finding shelter in the desert? His eyes swept the plain, then swung back as he detected a stand of trees to the southwest he had missed previously. It was not large but perhaps enough to give protection from the elements for the night. The mere thought of turning back into the desolate ravines made his flesh crawl. So, with a deep sigh, he nudged the stallion in the flanks and headed across the savanna in the direction of the trees.

Dark clouds mantled the somber landscape like a wet shroud, and a cold wind moaned through the sullen darkness like a litany of lost souls. As he hunched against the wind, alone in a vast grim expanse, he had the daunting impression that he was riding over the desolate surface of an alien planet, lost in space and time. He clung to the dull red glow hovering over the horizon, evidence of the setting sun, as his only grip on a reality that seemed to be slipping away.

As he drew near the copse of trees, his heart leaped into his throat as he realized that he had just made a huge, perhaps fatal, mistake.

The stallion reared and screamed in terror as three lions, a male and two females, who had been lying beneath the trees, rose and faced them. At their feet in the reddened grass lay the bloody remains of an antelope upon which they had been feasting. Valka instinctively reined the steed away and kicked it in the ribs in an attempt to escape the deadly trio. But one of the females was quicker. She reached the stallion in a single mighty bound and sank her blood-stained fangs deep in its throat. Gurgling horribly through the blood spurting like a geyser from its punctured neck, the stallion dropped from under Valka and stretched its length in a spreading pool of its own blood. The second lioness leaped in beside the first, clamped her reddened jaws around its throat, and together they finished it off.

Valka jumped free of the dying horse and landed on his feet, his sword a streak of blue flame as it leaped into his hand from the scabbard hanging down his back, then found himself facing the male lion. Ferocious yellow eyes blazed from under a magnificent dark mane tipped with gold. Massive jaws parted to reveal sharp glittering fangs that, from Valka’s vantage point, were as long and deadly as scimitars. Mighty muscles rippled and rolled like molten bronze beneath its tawny hide. The deep-throated, deafening roar that erupted from those great jaws struck Valka’s muscled chest with the force of a hammer blow and knocked him back a step.

Sweat burst out over his body as the mighty beast gathered itself to charge. He lowered his stance, sank his boots into the hard ground, and raised his sword above his head. The last rays of the setting sun flamed crimson along the sharp edge of the curved blade, igniting the twin dragons etched into the translucent blue steel into coiling, spitting life.

In spite of his preparation, the swiftness of the lion’s attack caught him by surprise. With a roar that shook dust from the trees, it was upon him before he realized it had moved. Reacting from instinct, he ducked under the glittering black claws and brought his sword around in a stroke that sliced the lion across its ribs. But the movement was rushed and off balance, so the cut was superficial and only served to enrage the great beast even more. As crimson stained its tawny hide, the lion spun in a blur of motion, swung a huge paw, and raked its claws across Valka’s thick shoulder muscles. He dived to the side, rolled, and came back to his feet just as the beast raised onto its hind legs and brought both forepaws down in a sweeping movement aimed at ripping the flesh from his body. He sidestepped with the quickness of a famished wolf but did not escape the sweep of the near paw, and he felt his shoulder muscles shred beneath the dripping black claws.

In the grip of battle fury, a red haze swimming before his eyes, torso streaming blood, Valka spun about and swung his sword with a one-handed grip and sheared through the foreleg that had wounded him. The paw, claws still dripping with his blood, dropped twitching to the ground. The lion recoiled, and its deep roar of pain and rage shook the branches of the trees. Taking advantage of the moment, Valka brought the sharp edge of his sword down in a ferocious stroke across the beast’s head, shearing through the thick mane, lopping off an ear, splitting the skull, and lodging in the brain. The lion dropped like a lead weight, the impact shaking the earth. Valka straddled the fallen beast, his uplifted sword a scarlet shimmer in the fading light, and with a mighty two-handed thrust drove the reddened tip down, splintering chest bone and ribs, and transfixing its heart.

Swaying on his feet, faint from loss of blood, Valka looked around for the females. After glutting themselves on the stallion, they had crouched in the grass to watch the battle. When the great beast went down in bloody defeat, they rose snarling, baring their fangs, then turned away. After casting him a last sullen glance, their yellow eyes gleaming pools of luminous fire, they slunk away across the plain, flicking their tufted tails in agitation.

Valka turned toward the stallion. It lay stretched on the bloody grass with its throat and chest torn out, ribs gleaming whitely in the dull light, entrails a glistening heap in a pool of coagulating blood. He managed to take a step toward it, but overwhelmed with dizziness, he stumbled to his knees, then landed on his face in the grass, out cold but still gripping his sword.

* * *

Captain Sanasar reined in his roan charger at the oasis, raised his hand to halt the caravan strung out behind him in the dark like a long black serpent, then glanced around at the lurid scene of slaughter. At their arrival, the vultures that had been feeding grimly on the bloody carcasses of horse and lion rose resentfully in a deep roar of flapping black wings and wheeled heavily away into the night sky.

The captain was a big man, sitting tall in the high-peaked saddle inlaid with silver chasing. A tooled black leather cuirass encased his mighty shoulders and chest. A black leather kilt girded his loins and reached to the middle of muscular thighs. Leather sandals were strapped up muscular calves. Under a bronze helmet with purple horsehair crest, black eyes gleamed beneath heavy black brows. Even in his most relaxed moments, however, they flickered with cruel lights, lending a sinister cast to his bold nose and merciless slash of a mouth. A craggy chin and lean, firm jaw beneath a well-trimmed black beard and mustache completed his overall air of rugged strength.

“Bring lights,” he commanded in a deep voice to the torchbearers. “I want to see what went on here.”

Four dusky men, naked but for rags wrapped around their loins and heads, raised torches in the air.

Curbing his nervous mount made skittish by the smell of blood, Sanasar examined the dead, half eaten lion, its red lacerated flesh scattered by the vultures and its bare bones gleaming palely in the torchlight. Then he glanced at what was once a magnificent stallion, now but a grisly pile of bones picked clean by scavengers. Finally, his gaze came to rest on the body of a man lying face down on the churned, bloody ground. He lay in a coagulated pool of his own blood, his long black hair clotted with gore, his broad shoulders and heavily muscled back lacerated and bloody, his bronzed scarred fist still clutching a curved sword. Apparently, the vultures had not touched him.

“Roll him over,” Sanasar commanded.

A torchbearer flipped the man onto his back. As he did so, a groan escaped the man’s lips.

“He still lives, my lord.”

Guards in leather cuirasses, with straight short swords in leather scabbards at their belts and long black whips coiled over their shoulders, came to see what was going on. They stood around the body and gazed down at him in the flickering light.

Captain Sanasar’s cold gaze passed over the man’s shoulder-length black hair, matted with gore. Traced the thin white scar that streaked like a flash of lightning diagonally across his harsh bronzed features. He paused at the curious choker spanning his corded neck made of interspersed bear claws and fangs strung on a thick gold chain. His black eyes narrowed at the breadth of his shoulders, the great depth of his chest, the innumerable scars from old battle wounds that etched his leanly muscled torso. Finally, he noted the muscular legs encased in black leather trousers, the broad leather belt girding a lean waist, and the black leather boots strapped up muscular calves.

He spotted the sword still gripped in the man’s fist, and his eyes blazed with sudden interest. “Bring me that sword.”

With difficulty, a guard pried the blade from an iron-like grip and brought it to the captain.

Sanasar took the sword almost reverently and examined it in the flickering torchlight. As he turned it in his hand, he marveled at how the curved blade seemed to glow with its own inner blue light. Coiling dragons had been so artfully etched into both sides of the translucent steel that, no matter how he turned it, his trained eyes could detect only one. Running a calloused thumb along the sharp edge of the blade, he watched torchlight run like blue witch-fire from the bronze dragon hilt to the red tip.

“This sword is worthy of a king!” he whispered in awe. His gaze returned to the man stretched out unconscious on the grass. Increased respect swept through him. “Who could this man be, that he is worthy of such a magnificent sword?”

He glanced again at the dead lion and reflected on the almost superhuman prowess this warrior must possess who could battle such a ferocious beast and prevail. But his lust for the sword far outweighed anything he might feel for the man’s fighting abilities. Already clutching it possessively, he commanded, “Strip him of that scabbard, and bring it to me.”

As he sheathed the sword, his gaze rested broodingly on the man’s prostrate form. Then he glanced back along the column, the guards still awaiting his order to break formation and set up camp. Torchlight reflected off a hundred pairs of glowing eyes as the captive black slaves, black iron shackles binding their hands, their necks connected with looping leather ropes, stared stolidly back at him. Guards armed with swords and daggers, long plaited whips trailing from their fists, ranged up and down the line enforcing order.

He turned to his second-in-command, a hulking brute with a shock of black hair sticking from under his visor-less bronze helmet, a broad face almost lost in the depths of a black beard, and a braided leather whip coiled around one burly shoulder.

“Lieutenant Marko set up camp. Feed the slaves. Unshackle four of the black devils, and get these corpses buried. In a few more hours the stench of rotting flesh will be unbearable.”

“And the white man?”

Sanasar considered for a moment, black eyes slitted, a hand caressing the hilt of the sword. “Throw him in a supply wagon. With those muscles, he should last a long time in the mines.”

“What of his wounds?”

A cruel grin warped the captain’s thin lips. “Let them be. If he lives, we will put him in the mines with the rest of these slaves. If he dies, we will leave him as a feast for the vultures and the jackals.”

"Savage Sword" by Richard Dawes


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