Sword of Mycenae

A Wolf Slayer Saga #9

by Richard Dawes

While passing through the Caucasus Mountains, Valka the Wolf Slayer encounters the hero, Heracles of Thebes. He battles Heracles several times, each fight resulting in a draw. After they free Prometheus from the chains binding him to a mountain peak, the three men decide to continue on together. Valka is with Heracles when he battles the Stymphalian Birds, wrestles the giant, Antaios, fights the man-killing Amazons, steals the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, and descends with him to the Underworld to bring back the demon-dog, Cerberus. In a dramatic finale, Valka accompanies Heracles to his funeral pyre, and lights the fire upon which the hero will ascend to Olympus.


Chapter One

A bitter wind swept down from the snow-capped heights of the Caucasus Mountains, hurling sleet into Valka’s face, forming icicles in his shoulder length black hair and in the long flowing mane of his black stallion. Lowering clouds formed a grey carpet across the sky, obscuring the afternoon sun and shrouding the peaks.

It looks like another cold night, he thought morosely, and pulled his sleeveless sheepskin vest more tightly around his muscular frame.

For five days he had traveled southwest from the steppes above the Caspian Sea, his eventual destination the Inland Sea. Winter was melting into spring, making passage through the mountain passes possible. But snow still clung to the steep slopes in the higher altitudes where the frost giants still held sway.

He guided the stallion off a narrow shelf along the lower slope, down a winding game trail to a valley swimming in blue mist. Rock-girded slopes offered protection from the cold wind. Grass sprouting over the sandy bottom provided forage for the horse. As he searched through folds in the northern wall for a place to make camp, from out of the mists obscuring the west end of the gorge, a rider emerged.

He studied the man riding toward him with narrowed eyes, his hand resting on the leather-bound hilt of the curved sword that lay across the saddle bow.

What struck him first was the horse. It was the biggest, most magnificent golden stallion he had ever seen. Mighty muscles bunched and rolled like molten metal under a satin coat that reflected the dim light like a bronze mirror. A well-formed head with huge liquid eyes balanced on an arching neck with a flowing mane. With each breath, flaring nostrils shot white plumes of steam into the air. A high-stepper, its great black hooves struck the half-frozen ground with ponderous dignity, giving the impression that man and horse dominated the space through which they moved.

Shifting his attention to the rider, Valka gazed upon a giant lolling in the saddle as if it were a throne. Thick yellow hair and beard framed a ruggedly handsome face, cold blue eyes, granite-like nose and chin, and a wide full-lipped mouth. Hair cascaded like molten gold over a neck that would shame a young bull and poured over shoulders the size of oaken beams. A mighty chest gleamed like molded armor in the fading light, and heavy slabs of muscle covered his corded arms and ribbed stomach. Valka’s eyes glinted at the magnificent lion skin that draped his broad shoulders and back, held in place by a wide leather belt with a gold buckle. A dark blue kilt covered narrow hips and loins and stretched to the middle of thighs the size of young trees. Leather sandals were strapped up muscular calves.

The rider noticed Valka the same time Valka spotted him, but he came on without pause. When only twenty paces stretched between them, he reined in, rested scarred, muscular hands on the saddle bow, and studied Valka.

His cold gaze passed over the diagonal scar that streaked like crimson lightning from above Valka’s right eye, across his high-bridged nose, then stopped on his left cheek beside his wide, thin-lipped mouth. He scrutinized the choker of interspersed bear claws and fangs strung on a thick gold chain about Valka’s corded neck. His mouth thinned as he measured the awesome breadth of Valka’s shoulders and the depth of his mighty chest. He then passed on to the broad leather belt girding his narrow waist and the black leather trousers that encased long muscular legs. His inventory stopped at the black leather boots strapped up his calves.

When he noticed Valka’s scarred fist gripping the hilt of the sheathed sword lying across his saddle bow, points of red fire flared in his eyes. A bronzed hand dropped to the huge, gnarled, olive-wood club resting across his thighs.

“You are obstructing my way,” he rumbled, his deep authoritative voice dripping scorn. “Pull that scrawny nag of yours to the side so that I may pass.”

At close range the rider’s presence struck Valka with the impact of a blow to the solar plexus. Like heat radiating from a stove, power, confidence, and authority rolled off him in waves. The vital force that exploded from his eyes, the regal manner with which he lolled in the saddle, the imperious tones of his speech, all proclaimed a man who considered himself sovereign of all he surveyed.

Valka’s fighting spirit rose up and pushed back. “You are mistaken, sir.” Iron edged his deep, resonant voice. “You are obstructing my way. I advise you to keep a respectful tongue in your head and pull that bloated hack of yours to the side so that I may move on.”

Not expecting such a defiant response, the stranger’s thick brows arched in surprise. “Clearly, you do not know who I am. Out of consideration for your ignorance, I will spare your life if you apologize quickly and get out of my way.”

Valka guffawed. “Get a grip on reality! It is your miserable life that hangs by a thread.” After a pause, he added, “Give me your name, so I will know what to scratch on the rock I place over your grave.”

“I am Heracles of Thebes, son of Amphitryon, vassal of King Eurystheus of Mycenae.”

Valka rocked back in the saddle as he absorbed that awesome name. The world resounded to tales of the great hero, Heracles. A peerless warrior, he was the slayer of both the Nemean lion and the Lernaian Hydra. He had captured the Cretan bull and the hind with golden antlers. Heracles was an exemplar to all who walked the Warrior’s Way. Whispers implied that the only time he lost a bout was when he challenged the god, Dionysus, to a wine drinking contest. Valka knew that he was not merely the son of the mortal, Amphytrion. Sagas told how mighty Zeus came in unto the fair maid, Alcmene, Heracles’ mother, while Amphytrion was away at war. The King of the Gods caused the sun to stand still in the sky for three whole days while he begot upon her the peerless hero.

Gazing awestruck at the giant, Valka had no doubt that he faced not only a mighty hero, but a demigod. He was not, however, intimidated. Quite the contrary. His fighting spirit rose a notch at the thought of matching skills with such an illustrious warrior.

“Perhaps you should honor me with your name,” Heracles suggested, a sneer twisting his full lips. “I ask only because it will give me something to scratch on your grave marker so passing travelers will know the name of the fool who challenged Heracles.”

“Valka...” He eased himself in the saddle. “...also called Wolf Slayer.”

Heracles’ blue eyes widened with grudging respect. “I have heard tales of the mighty Wolf Slayer. Sagas of your exploits are told wherever fighting men gather.” His bearded lips turned down in a frown. “Yours is the only reputation that even approaches mine. This meeting is a gift from the gods. It would be an insult if I did not take this opportunity to eliminate such a stalwart rival. Be not disturbed,” he sneered. “It is an honor to be slain by Heracles.”

Valka chuckled derisively, revealing strong white teeth, then shook his head. “You are a fool blinded by hubris and your craven habit of fighting weaklings. If you are unwise enough to pit your pitiful club against my star sword, people will have yet another song to sing of Heracles. They will describe how you went down like a slaughtered ox beneath the matchless blade of the mighty Wolf Slayer.”

“By the gods, what an impudent fellow you are!” Gripping his gnarled club in his right hand, Heracles threw his leg over the saddle bow and dropped nimbly to the ground. “Get off your horse, my young fool. It is clear that you are in desperate need of a lesson in humility.”

Valka dropped the reins to ground hitch the stallion, drew his sword from its scabbard with a flourish, then stepped down into the grass. He confronted Heracles with legs braced, boots planted, his sword thrust out to the side. The twin dragons etched into the blue, translucent steel came alive, coiled, and spit fire. Although his harsh bronzed features remained impassive, the difference in size between him and the hero was daunting. Heracles towered more than a head above him, and his massive physique made Valka appear almost slender.

Heracles sized him up at a glance, then nodded approvingly. “That is a magnificent sword,” he rumbled. “It is said that Wayland the Great Smith forged it especially for you from the fragment of a star. Is that true?”

“That is correct.” Valka lifted the sword and watched the light run like liquid flame along the sharp edge of the curved blade. “As I said, it is a star sword.”

The other’s eyes gleamed. “I will pluck it from your cold stiff fingers as my mead of victory.”

“First you have to stop bragging and actually do something,” Valka sneered.

Erupting in a blur of motion, Heracles spanned the distance between them in a single bound and brought his club whistling down on Valka’s head. Valka sidestepped just as quickly, evaded the club by an inch, then swung his sword in a glittering arc aimed at the other’s neck. Over extended, the gnarled head of his club digging a hole in the ground, Heracles’ eyes flamed as he watched the shimmering blade streak toward him.

He took the only option available—he dropped to his knees.

As he dipped under Valka’s sword the sharp edge clipped a lock of his long yellow hair. The silken tuft still drifted on the wind when Valka kicked him flush in the face with his boot.

Heracles catapulted over backward, blood from his broken nose spraying the air.

Valka gave him no time to recover. His blade was a wheel of shimmering light as he slashed and cut at Heracles’ elusive form that dodged, twisted, and rolled across the ground. It was incredible that a man so large could move so quickly. No matter how swiftly Valka wielded his sword, it cut only empty air.

In an effort to catch the slippery hero, Valka threw his weight forward and brought his sword around in a horizontal stroke targeting his flank. Twisting like an eel, Heracles slipped away, and the blade missed by a fraction. The force of the movement threw Valka off balance. In that instant of vulnerability, Heracles thrust out with his club and struck Valka a terrific blow in the stomach.

Gagging, Valka retreated beyond striking range.

With a savage cry, Heracles leaped to his feet and charged.

His knotted club whipped about Valka’s head with such speed it vibrated the air. Valka felt as if a swarm of hornets attacked him. With Heracles in furious pursuit, he maneuvered across the valley floor like a stag at bay, sidestepping, pivoting, ducking, fully aware he could not absorb the impact of the club and survive. As if to accentuate his fears, Heracles brought the club down in a ferocious swing that missed Valka’s shoulder by a fraction. Striking a large stone half-buried in the soil behind him, the club pulverized it to powder.

In the moment it took Heracles to recover, Valka brought his sword around in a glittering arc aimed at his spine. To his surprise, when the sharp edge struck the lion skin draped over the hero’s broad back, the blade turned aside.

Valka leaped back and lowered his sword. “No wonder you survived so many encounters,” he grunted accusingly. “In the North only cowards wear armor.”

“You are not presently in the North,” Heracles rasped through clenched teeth. “Here, armor is simply good battle strategy.”

Wasting no more breath, he charged Valka with uplifted club.

Valka glided like a panther to the side, out from under the arc of the descending club. As he did so, he shifted his sword to his left hand. Using a one-handed grip, he slashed Heracles’ massive thigh. Although the cut was shallow, crimson coursed down the giant’s leg and drenched his sandal. He paused to gaze down at his thigh in amazement.

“Well done, Wolf Slayer,” he approved grudgingly. “First blood goes to you.”

Black mane reflected in the glittering crescent of his upraised sword, Valka’s bronzed features twisted into the semblance of a beast of prey. “In another moment,” he growled in a voice thickened with blood-lust, “I will remove that monstrosity you call a head from your malformed shoulders.”

Panting with fury, Heracles re-doubled his efforts, his olive-wood club whistling through the air. As Valka evaded his rushes, his sword darted out with the speed of a serpent’s tongue, and cuts appeared on Heracles’ arms, thighs, and chest. Crimson rain spattered the grass.

He lunged at Valka, club raised for a strike that, if it landed, would crush his skull. Valka glided back to avoid the attack, and his boot struck a stone half-buried in the ground. He stumbled and fell clumsily onto his back.

Blue eyes glinting murderously, Heracles moved in for the kill.

Valka stared bleakly at the behemoth towering above him, features rapt in the exultation of victory, both scarred hands gripping the club that was already whipping down toward his head. In a last desperate effort, Valka thrust upward and stabbed the tip into the hero’s stomach. The strike was not deep, but it halted Heracles’ downward momentum.

Both men froze in their positions, like molten lava suddenly congealed into petrified stone.

A deep, guttural voice broke the tension.


Leaping back out of range of Valka’s blade, Heracles spun around and looked behind him.

Valka’s jaw dropped with amazement as, gazing past the hero, he caught sight of a fantastic figure leaning against a moss-covered boulder embedded in the southern wall, arms crossed over his hairy chest as he watched the combat.

“Listen,” he repeated and pointed upward.

Heracles rested the head of his club on the ground and cocked an ear.

The sleet-laden wind whipping down from the heights carried a faint cry.


“Who could that be?”

Valka rose to his feet, his sword up and ready as he kept a watchful eye on Heracles. But he was more interested in the strange being who leaned against the cliff wall than in identifying a voice floating down from the peaks. Wide-eyed, he approached the creature and, careful to keep Heracles within his peripheral vision, examined him curiously.

He realized that he was gazing upon a Centaur.

Attached to the broad back of a thickly muscled man was the body of a magnificent roan stallion. The rear legs were equine, but the muscular forelegs were human. Valka moved to the front to examine the creature’s face and noticed a festering wound on the upper thigh of his right foreleg. It oozed yellow pus and dark contaminated blood that dripped down the leg and formed a glittering puddle on the ground. Apparently the leg was almost useless and was the reason he braced himself against the rock.

Shifting his scrutiny from the injured thigh to the Centaur’s face, he encountered the kindest, most intelligent brown eyes he had ever seen. Grey-streaked black hair swept back from a majestic forehead. A beard of the same hue framed a face that was once startlingly handsome, with a high-bridged nose and wide, full-lipped mouth. At the moment, however, it was drawn and haggard. Deep lines of suffering bisected each cheek.

Valka’s voice was hushed with awe. “Who are you?”

“I am Chiron.” Although guttural, his well-modulated voice expressed the intelligence Valka had noted in his eyes.

He glanced warily at Heracles. The hero was gazing upward, his gnarled club forgotten in his hand, searching the mountain heights for the source of the voice. Feeling safe for the moment, Valka turned back to the Centaur. “I have heard of you,” he said admiringly. “You are the immortal tutor of heroes. You taught Theseus, Asclepius, Perseus, Achilles, and others the arts of civilization and the methods of combat. It is said you are a great healer.” He pointed to the festering wound. “Physician, can you not heal yourself?”

“Alas,” Chiron groaned. “My healing skills are useless when applied to myself.” He looked Valka up and down appraisingly. “And who might you be, young man? My lameness prevents me from keeping pace with Heracles. But I came up in time to see the battle between the two of you. Never have I seen a warrior stand up to the hero as you did—and you even inflicted wounds upon him. It is a marvel. Tell me your name.”

“Valka...also called Wolf Slayer.”

"Sword of Mycenae" by Richard Dawes



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