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Chapter one —Tyfar Wields his Axe
The gray-beaked fellow flourishing his bronze decapitator fondly imagined my name was written on that wicked curved blade. His one desire in life was to keep my head as a precious souvenir. He even provided himself with a wicker basket swinging at his belt all ready for the trophy.
"Hai! Apim —now you die!"
The path down the side of the artificial mountain led here under overarching branches and the mossy-trunked trees stretched about us, ancient and gnarled, patched and puddled in the light of the suns.
As is my custom in a fight, I do not waste breath replying to taunts or battle chants, unless base cunning indicates the advantage of an even more coarse taunt in return, so I bent my head beneath the horizontal slash of the decapitator. The sword in my fist thrust once. The wicker basket, the bronze-studded armor, the leather boots, and the decapitator all fell away to the side, sloughing like too-wet dough, slid off the path and away down the slope between the trees.
The fellow was not alone.
Other headhunters pressed on, yelling, screeching their taunts, seeking to take the heads of us nine —who sought merely to escape off the mountain with our lives.
By chance it happened I led the descent of the mound and so these decapitating warriors met me first. They were not apim like me but those hard, gritty diffs men call Nierdriks, with coarse-skinned, high-beaked, hooded-eyed faces like killer turtles, and compact muscular bodies equipped with only two arms and two legs and no tails. Their bronze blades glimmered molten in the smoky shafts of crimson fire from the red sun, and theirhides sheened muddy emerald in the fire from the green sun. With shrill yells of hatred they leaped for me.
My comrades were yelling, hullabalooing to get on along the path and at the Nierdriks. The first two attackers were seen off with no great difficulty. The shifting light and shade beneath the trees and the rutty slope of the path made the action precarious.
My foot turned on a knobby tree root snaking like a swollen vein across the path.
I pitched headlong. My sword switched up instinctively and parried the flurry of blows. The ground came up —hard. The decapitators were held off easily enough; but I was on the ground and smelling the ages-old dust puffing up into my nostrils, feeling that damned tree root gouging into my back.
With a slash measurably faster and more intemperate than those that had gone before, I slashed the nearest fellow's ankles and then had to twist aside to avoid the thwunking great blow of his comrade's head cleaver. There was no real danger. In the next instant I would be up, on my feet, and that bloodthirsty head-and-body parter would go tumbling down the slope spraying blood.
There was no real danger —but, in the instant as I gathered myself, a shadow moved over me and two firm, muscular legs straddled me, and Tyfar was yelling and swinging his blade over my head.
"Hold, Jak! I'll cover you!"
He was remarkably lucky I hadn't chopped him. He stood over me, swinging and smiting, his shield well up, his axe a silver-stained blur in the dappled shadows.
This was a new and remarkable experience. The sensation intrigued me. Here was I sprawled on the ground in the middle of a fight, and this fine young prince Tyfar stood over me battling off our foemen!
Also —highly amusing.
All the same, by Zair, comical though it was it could not be allowed to go on.
I wriggled away and degutted the Nierdrik who sought to sink his brand into Tyfar's unshielded side and then sprang up and clouted the next one over the head. His big turtle nose burst and sprayed purple fluids into the shadows.
"You are unharmed, Jak?"
Copyright © 1980, Kenneth Bulmer.