Sword of Conquest

A Wolf Slayer Saga #7

by Richard Dawes

After helping an Atlantean king regain his throne, Valka the Wolf Slayer travels to Mesoamerica with the great master Kukulcan. While Kukulcan travels to Tiahuanaco, Valka leads the Toltecs in a defensive war against the Nahuas. Valka faces a series of hair-raising challenges that require all of his skills in order to return alive.


Chapter One

Valka swung down from the black stallion and stood at the edge of the trail winding down the mountainside. While the horse buried its muzzle in a spring bubbling up in a cluster of rocks, he looked around. He had spent most of the day riding through a pass cutting a mountain range in the east, and he was now on the downside of the western slope. Snow-clad peaks pierced a blue vault where eagles wheeled, sharp black eyes searching the wooded slopes for prey. Bamboo groves swept the inclines on either side of the trail, slender shafts bending gracefully under a southern breeze.

Valka spotted grey plumes of smoke drifting above the trees further down the slope. Chimney smoke from a mountain village, he guessed. The flaming orange ball of the sun rolled toward the horizon, and the coolness of approaching evening crept softly over the mountains. After the arduous trek through the pass, Valka welcomed the prospect of hot food and warm shelter for the night.

A woman’s scream shattered the stillness.

Valka’s sword was a streak of blue light as it leaped into his hand from the scabbard hanging down his back. He faced the bamboo grove covering the lower slope, his sword held before him with both hands. Knotted stalks rattled agitatedly as someone raced through the grove. Further back he heard sounds of crashing, snapping, and furious curses of men pursuing the fugitive.

A woman broke from the bamboo twenty feet down the trail. Full breasts heaved against her homespun cotton blouse. The woolen skirt covering her long legs was torn, and her short leather boots were scuffed and muddy. A tangle of lustrous black hair framed a pretty face, and dark eyes rolled with terror.

Spotting Valka, she exclaimed with relief and ran toward him. “Save me!” she cried.

Six men burst onto the trail, saw her running and started in pursuit. Then they noticed Valka and slid to a halt.

A glance told Valka they were not ordinary mountain peasants.

Hard eyes glittered cruelly from predatory faces. Mouths compressed to grim lines. They wore fine cotton shirts and finished leather trousers. Leather boots were strapped up their calves. But what caught Valka’s attention were the well-crafted long swords shimmering like liquid silver in the afternoon light and the capable way they held them. Clearly, he was facing professional fighting men.

A man stepped forward and pointed a finger at the woman cowering behind Valka. “I warn you, stranger, do not interfere. We are on official business. We mean to take that maid back with us.”

“I will die before I go back with you!” the woman spat. “That hideous witch has no right to sacrifice me.”

“Stop where you are!” Steel edged Valka’s deep voice. “Six armed men against one woman seems a bit unfair. Until I know more about what is going on, I cannot allow you to take her.”

The swordsman rocked back on his heels and looked Valka over. His gaze passed over the shoulder length black mane sweeping back from a high forehead, and cold grey eyes. He noted the scar streaking like crimson lightning from above Valka’s right eye, crossing his high-bridged nose and ending on his left cheek beside his wide, thin-lipped mouth. His eyes lingered over Valka’s broad shoulders, muscled chest and ribbed stomach, all etched with scars. The sleeveless sheepskin vest he wore exposed arms corded with muscle and brown from the sun. But it was the sword Valka held in his scarred fists that riveted the man’s attention. The curved, single edged blade shimmered like blue flame in the sunlight, causing the twin dragons etched into the translucent steel to come alive and spit fire.

When his gaze finally returned to Valka’s stony face, his eyes held caution and respect. The men behind him saw the same thing and shifted uneasily.

“We are not looking for trouble,” the leader said reasonably. “We have a task to perform, and our lives will be forfeit if we fail to accomplish it.”

“I have given my answer,” Valka grunted. “Either turn around and go away—or attack.”

The man tried again. “Do you really want to lose your life for a maid you do not even know?”

Yellow flames flared in Valka’s eyes, but he only stared grimly at the swordsman.

The man sighed, took a two-handed grip on his sword then addressed the others. “Come on, lads. Let us give this fool what he is asking for.”

The men fanned out around the leader, swords at the ready, and approached Valka.

Valka watched them advance. He could tell by the way they moved that they knew what they were doing. They were wary, like hounds that had cornered a stag. But they were confident of their skills and did not believe one man could defeat six.

Valka waited until they came within lunging range then took the initiative.

The man on his right twitched nervously, as if he were afraid, and Valka attacked him first. As the man raised his sword in preparation for a downward stroke, Valka moved diagonally, taking himself from under the blade. At the same time, he brought his sword around in a horizontal stroke and disemboweled him. Halting in mid-stride, the man hung rigid with shock and watched his guts pour in a glistening red heap onto the dirt. Valka pivoted, swung his sword back around and sheared through his spine. The man dropped to the ground like a lead weight.

Without pausing, Valka drove his blade into the chest of the next man in line.

He had positioned himself so that when the swordsmen turned to face him they stood strung out in single file. They must either attack singly or take precious seconds to shift position. In that moment of hesitation, Valka struck again. Freeing his sword from the falling body, he leaped forward. With all his body weight in the stroke, he sliced the leader from crown to groin. The two halves of the body dropped to the sides, and blood, entrails and internal organs splashed onto the dirt.

Snarling with rage, two attackers raised their swords and charged Valka at the same time. He ducked in beneath their swords, brought up his blade in a sweeping cut that sliced one man’s stomach then continued on across the second man’s chest. They faltered, grunting with pain. With the speed and grace of a panther, Valka sprang into the air, turned, swung his blade in a blood-spattering arc and sheared off their heads. Blood sprayed the bamboo grove as skulls bounced off down the trail.

Landing ankles-deep in a grisly bog of blood, entrails and body parts, Valka faced the last swordsman. The man’s stunned gaze passed over the corpse-littered ground then he stared at Valka in terrified awe. Sunlight streamed through a crimson mist that drenched the atmosphere, creating the grisly impression the air dripped with blood. Valka stood intransigent in that scarlet spray, black hair standing straight up, eyes blazing with the fires of hell, teeth bared in a snarl of blood lust.

Terror strangling the man’s voice, he cried, “You are a Demon of Death!” Then he spun about and fled into the bamboo grove.

* * *

After taking a moment to allow his heart to stop pounding against his chest, Valka bent, ripped a sleeve from the shirt of a corpse and used it to wipe the gore from his blade.

“By the gods!” the maid exclaimed breathlessly. “Never have I seen anything like that. Who are you?”

Valka dropped the rag then swung around. His sword was a flash of light as he sheathed it without looking. “More to the point, who are you?” His voice still thrummed with battle fury. “And what was this all about?”

She gazed at the bloody corpses and shuddered. “I was chosen to be a sacrifice for the witch who rules over our village. The men you just killed were her minions.”

“Have you no husband, no father or brothers who could defend you?”

Her dark eyes filled with tears. “My father tried to stop them, but he is getting old. Those monsters beat him until he lay unconscious in a pool of blood on the floor of our inn. They carried me off. It was simple luck that I saw an opportunity and broke away. Had you not been here, they would surely have caught me and dragged me back.”

Valka pondered for a moment then asked, “What is this sacrifice, and why do the villagers put up with it?”

She barked out a hard brittle laugh. “The witch’s name is Cassandra. We put up with it because she has an army of henchmen to enforce her will.”

“What about your headman?”

“It is he who cautions non-resistance.” She shrugged resignedly. “In truth, it is the best advice. We are villagers—farmers, woodcutters and herders. We are not trained for war. If we resisted, our young men would be slaughtered.”

“And the sacrifice?”

“It takes place each year at the beginning of spring. Cassandra says it ensures bountiful crops and plentiful herds. But,” she shuddered, “the darker, more important reason is to preserve her youth. The elders cannot remember a time when she did not rule the village, yet she is still young and beautiful.” Her eyes filled with horror. “She performs the sacrifice deep within her castle, so no one can witness what she does. But there are rumors that she slits the maid’s throat, drains her blood into a black marble tub, charges it with magical power then bathes in it.”

The skin along Valka’s spine rippled. But he only observed, “Sacrifice once a year keeps the number of young women from being decimated.”

“Which is why our headman counsels patience.” She paused then added quietly, “His name is Eudoricus, and rumor has it that he has been bewitched by Cassandra. He denies it, of course, calling such tales absurd. He inherited the position of headman from his father, who died several years ago under mysterious circumstances. Eudoricus is young, well-built and handsome,” she concluded, “but he is too smooth for my taste.”

“What is your name?”


Valka watched the sun dip in a purple blaze behind the western slopes, washing the treetops with scarlet flame. Long fingers of shadow stretched across the ground, and the breeze carried a chill. The air was rank with the stench of mutilated bodies, voided bowels and shattered organs.

“I want to look over the situation in your village,” he said at last. “Will you come with me?”

She looked startled. “You would go there after what I told you? Are you a complete fool? Do not think for a moment that killing Cassandra’s henchmen will go unpunished.”

“The question is,” Valka returned, “will you accompany me in my folly, or will you travel on through the mountains?”

She searched his bronzed, scarred face for a long moment. Her eyes lingered on the curious choker of interspersed bear claws and fangs strung on a thick gold chain about his corded neck. Then she shrugged. “We are putting our heads into a noose if we go down there. Still, I am curious to see how long you can survive. I will go back with you.”


"Sword of Conquest" by Richard Dawes


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