“There are two of them on the Little River. One man and one woman. The man is armed with two swords and they’re camped on Green rock island.”
“The swords. Do they look old?”
“Then he is probably very good with them. Anything else?”
“Yes. The woman is the same one that passed through here many years ago.”
“Really?” This made the old man happy. The woman’s husband had come to the camp shortly after the woman had left. His horses and men were spent, but he still wanted to go on. The old man had let him know that foreign men were not allowed into the sacred land to the north. The husband had offered a reward if the old man’s warriors would retrieve her back to him. Then he threw down a bag of gold saying that if she was caught he would bring more to the tribe. Taking him for his word and already liking the amount of gold in play, the old man sent out three warriors on fast horses to catch her. They could not. By the time they had gotten near to her, she had entered the forest and that was a place that his people did not go. Old vengeful spirits lived there.
The husband had left the bag of gold behind saying that if they ever saw her again to bring her to him.
Now the old man smiled. He saw the wealth of many horses on his immediate horizon. “Take 20 men and place 10 on either side of the river. I will tell them when to attack.” He paused. “Now only address me by my hollow name. I see a death in front of me.”
The tall warrior nodded. “There will be 20 of us, Pownca. It is the sword carrier who will die.”
After the tall warrior left to gather fighters, the old man rose into the air and started to move toward the river. The swirling of the reeds beneath him marking his passage.
Just before dawn, Vance entered into a dream. A dream that had terrified him when he was a child. Now again causing him to feel the same cold ripples of fear from that long-ago horror. It always started out the same. He’d be standing on a long flat plain of waving grass facing west into a dying sun. Then, against his will, he’d be forced to turn around to face a house. Being from the steppes he had never known what a house was until his mother, who his father had captured as a slave from distant lands, had explained. When he described it to her she said she had never seen one like that. The houses that she had lived in had been made of stone. She would come to him at night when he was having his terrors and make sure that he didn’t hurt himself. It was her cultural belief to not wake anybody out of a dream. Especially a bad dream. The image of the house had been strange to him, but he realized later as the years passed, that it would have been a 19th-century two-story wooden mansion with gabled roofs and tall dirty windows with the drapes pulled shut inside. It was in a state of advanced disrepair sitting behind a low rusted fence. The front gate tipped and broken. And again, against his will, he would walk toward the house and up the wooden steps to the narrow veranda. Then he would open the door and step in, whereupon the door would immediately close behind him and he would know that there was no escape that way. The only way out would be to go upstairs and down the long hallway there to the back door where another set of stairs led down to the ground. And to reach that upstairs he had to go down the hallway in front of him. A narrow corridor with many doors. And he knew behind each door was a horror of taloned monsters. Things that slithered and mewed, broken and bloodied bodies living in nightmarish pain and darkness. And as he was forced to pass down that long hallway, sometimes, not always, a breathing thing would reach out and attempt to grab him. The boy seeming to know that the rule was they could not leave their dark rooms, but he was never sure. That was part of the game the house did. And eventually he would walk past the terrors and escape. If he woke up in the middle of the dream, then the next time he slept he would start back at exactly the place he had left it. And now, as Vance became more and more enfolded into the scene, he remembered. He remembered how he had overcome the dream. So now he did the same thing. Before he got to the broken gate he rose into the air and pushing his hands forward, crashed into the house and then right through it. Going through every room and momentarily seeing the occupants as he destroyed them and the house around them. Back and forth east to west, north and south he kept demolishing. And then, when it was nothing but a heap of wooden wreckage, he stopped and turned to look at it. And out of the rubble rose an old man saying.
“You are strong, wolf.”
Still fighting remnants of fear, Vance awoke and mind spoke to the hidden figure on the far shore. “Show yourself, Witch!”
After a moment’s pause, a robed man rose out of the reeds and floated across the river to hover 20 feet away.
Vance made himself more awake. “Why do you attack me, old man? I have done nothing to you!”
You have trespassed onto sacred land, Wolf.”
Vance winced. Not that shit again. He couldn’t remember all the time he’d trespassed onto sacred land. But he did remember that it always seemed to wind up as trouble. “My apologies.” He probed a bit. “But we have to go south and how was I to know it was sacred land?”
The old man moved forward to descend on the pebbled beach. “I would assume that the impaled body might have been a clue. He was a trespasser too. And a thief. But there is an out for you here, wolf. Do one simple thing and you can be on your way.”
“Really? Then if it’s in my power I will do it.”
“I can see that you are a wise wolf. All you have to do is give us the woman. She is valuable to us. We would not hurt her.”
“Is that because her husband doesn’t want anybody to fuck her up? Because that’s something he’d want to do himself. She’s told me her story. By the way, why are you using your hollow name? Do you expect a death?” Vance slowly raised his hands to the hilts of his swords.
“You know my hollow name and what it means?”
“Yes, Pownca. I have some abilities.”
The old man brushed some of his long hair away from his eyes and Vance knew what that meant. Drawing his swords, he turned to see a group of 10 men silently moving over the beach toward him. He immediately saw what he was up against. Long spears and short Impi stabbers for close in work. They all had woven reed shields and had war axes on their belts. Vance’s eyebrows went up. And they moved good! Really good. They split into two five- man units that Vance realized to be a Zulu attack formation.
Their footwork was perfect!
Leaping to his right, he put his back up against a broad bone tree and called out to the old man. “Stop them from doing this, Pownca! They will die!”
“You will give us the woman?”
“No. I don’t think I will. Now stop your men or I will kill them.”
The old man smiled. “We’ll see.” And with that, a five-man squad attacked Vance on his left. Again, Vance couldn’t help but admire their positioning and footwork. These guys were artists!
As they closed in, Vance spun to his left in a half circle and brought his sword down on two thrusting spears and cut off the ends. Then he spun back to his position against the tree. “Stop them, Pownca. These warriors are too good to die!”
Margo had woken up and was now standing behind Vance with the long black rod from her pack in her hands. To Vance, it looked like she knew how to use it. “Don’t waste it, Margo! I can do this!”
Then the warriors attacked again. This time all 10 and another 10 approaching in the near distance. Vance stepped forward into the formation and sliced one shield in half. That slice also taking off the man’s arm behind it. Then he pivoted back to the tree swinging his swords in a figure 8 pattern. “I’m begging you, man! Call them off!” He hated killing talent.
“I cannot, Wolf. It is our code to fight to the end. Whatever that end may be.”
Vance pounced into a small opening among the warriors to his right and just as he lopped off two heads to his left, a spear thrust penetrated his side. Damn! These guys were good! He knew he could stop these warriors, but there would be much death and he would most likely get punctured a lot. He hated that! The wounds itched for days.
Then Vance realized what he had to do. Dropping his weapons he put up his hands and said. “Can you give me a minute?”
Expecting surrender, they stopped their charge. Then Vance changed into a werewolf. Not the kind where he was just a wolf, but the kind that was part human and part wolf and 7 feet tall. Long ropy arms ending in gnarled hands equipped with sickle -like three-inch talons. Humped back tapering up to a heavy maned head holding more than its share of long yellow fangs.
“Well come on, thfellas’ leth’s thsee who wanths to die thtoday!”
He had a hard time talking with all those teeth in his mouth.
The warriors looked up at him in shocked horror.
Then they ran away. Some of them screaming.
Vance relaxed. ” Thwell! I geth thaths that!” And he changed back into just plain old Vance. Turning to the old man, he asked. “Now. Are you going to be helpful?”
“Great! Um, can I ask a question?”
“Where did your men acquire their training? They’re very good.”
“Thank you. A Kenuckian mercenary was passing through from the north and we persuaded him to teach us. He coveted gold.”
“Must’ve been very good. Where did he go from here?”
“Well, in any case, your warriors learned quite well. May I ask another question?”
“Yes. Please do.”
“Thank you. Would you have horses available?”
“Could we buy a couple of them?”
“Would you be leaving right away?”
“Yes. How much?”
“Well, gosh! That’s really nice of you!” It always made Vance happy when he could find the good side of people.
Later, as they were riding south, Margo commented how nice the people had turned out to be. Even giving them supplies of corn meal and salted meat. Vance agreed. “Usually when you give people the opportunity to do good, you’ll find that their better nature always steps forward.” He shrugged. “That’s been my experience anyway.”
The horses they had been given were Red Kalgolys. A beautiful big chested mixed breed that had been developed for stamina. Also a very comfortable ride.
He liked horses.