Clouds Over Maridaan

Rhodar #1

by Herbert Grosshans

His name is Rhodar. Some call him an uncivilized barbarian, but he is a man of honor and he does not turn away when a young woman in distress needs to be rescued from the clutches of a family of trolls. He never runs from a fight, but neither does he reject the favors of a beautiful woman who invites him into her bed. Not only is he a ferocious fighter against his enemies, he’s just as fierce and tireless in the arms of a woman.

From the Western Plains beyond the mountains, Rhodar is on a quest to find the sorcerer Arguss, the only one who can restore the fading spell on his battle-axe.

Rhodar intends to cross Maridaan as quickly as possible, but the gods do not care about the plans and desires of one man. They weave their own designs and they are different from the wishes of mere mortals. Rhodar begins to fear his journey will come to an end in Maridaan.



Seal and Rumos, the two night suns, illuminated the grisly scene below.

The riders burst upon the small camp from out of nowhere. One of them killed the old man who stood guard with one vicious thrust of his lance. The others spread out, plunging their lances into the dark shapes on the hard ground.

Men and women, lost in their dreams, died without knowing their murderers. A few woke—too late. Death came mercilessly on swift, dark wings even to those.

When it was done, the riders slid off their mounts, stalked through camp on long, stiff legs, overturning cooking pots and scattering bales of cloth and garments from the low wagons. Some walked among the slain bodies, turning them over to look into the dead faces.

They searched for something or someone. One of them, who appeared to be their leader, spoke words in a harsh, hissing language. He was taller and broader than the others, his face hidden inside the hood of his cloak. Only his eyes glowed in the darkness of his cowl.

Lifting those eyes to the sky, he uttered a shrill, piercing cry. Moments later from close by came an answer. A large shadow separated from the branches of a tall tree and glided silently toward the caller.

The light of the night suns reflected momentarily on outstretched talons and a long, wicked beak, as the creature settled on the shoulder of its master, folding black wings like a cloak around its feathered body.

“Obviously, Saleen isn’t among the slain,” the hooded man said aloud to one of his companions. “She may not even have been here. It seems we had the wrong information.”

The riders mounted their steeds and disappeared as silently as they had come, leaving their bloody deeds behind.

A sob and then a loud cry came from one of the low shrubs surrounding the clearing. Two figures emerged, one small, the other one taller. The pale light revealed a white, oval face, framed by long, blond hair—a girl by all appearances. She hurried after the small figure that ran toward one of the still shapes on the ground.

“Come back, Kalo,” she called, her voice quavering and breaking as she saw the bloodstained earth.

“They killed my Momma,” cried the little boy. He cradled the lifeless head of a woman in his arms.

The girl reached him and gently pulled him away. As the dead woman’s head lolled to the side, blood oozed from her open mouth. The girl screamed, grabbed the boy, and ran blindly into the protection of the trees.

* * *

At dawn, the first scavengers moved in, tearing and ripping the welcome meat from bones, growling and snapping at each other with bared teeth, not willing to share the bounty even with their own kind. When an intruder dared to disturb them at their meal, they lifted their heads, snarling angrily.

Tall, with wide, massive shoulders, his muscular arms and bare upper chest were bronzed by long exposure to the sun. Two steely blue eyes narrowed as they took in the gruesome scene. A short kilt fashioned from the striped skin of a lion-wolf covered his lean hips.

He rode a large, muscular horse with a glistening black coat.

“Looks like we’ve stumbled onto something unpleasant, Nightwalker,” the big man rumbled. He reached for the battle-axe slung across his back, hefting it easily.

When the tall warrior advanced, the carrion-eaters bared their long sharp fangs, but slunk away, their thick tails between their legs. One, bolder than the others, tried to take a stand and died screaming as the double-bladed weapon split its skull.

Turning his broad back to the watching animals, the man bent to examine one of the dead. “Pretty,” he murmured as he peered into the face of a young woman. A thick crust of dried blood hid a deep wound caused by the murderous thrust of a lance between her full breasts. “Much too young to have died so horribly.” His eyes glimmered with a cold fire and the muscles of his jaws stood out rigidly.

As he bent over another of the still bodies, his sharp ears detected the sound of someone approaching. Straightening, he turned to look at the trail spilling into the clearing from the other side.

A lone rider burst out of the forest. He was young, with a scowling face, short but broad and muscular. Padded leather armor protected his deep chest; his thighs were bare and the boots he wore reached over his knees.

In his right hand, he carried a short, curved sword. A long bow and a quiver filled with arrows were slung across his back.

His steed reared on its hind-legs when he brought it to an abrupt halt, clawing the air with cloven hoofs.

The two men looked at each other, but before either of them could react, a score of men broke from among the trees. Small and agile, they were clad in green garments. They carried short bows, arrows nocked and aimed at the tall warrior.

“Admiring your work?” said the horseman.

The tall warrior chuckled without humor. “Surely you don’t think I, one man, killed all these people? Besides, they’ve been dead for hours.”

“Enough time for your accomplices to get away.”

“Let us use him for target-practice, Lord Carn,” said one of the green-clad men.

The young lord shook his head. “No, he must be punished in the proper way. Shackle him but don’t harm him.” He turned to the others. “See if she’s among the dead.”

While most of the small men searched the bodies, three of them cautiously approached the tall warrior. He watched them come closer, his battle-axe half raised, but then he shrugged, dropped the axe and held out his arms.

The young lord, who had been watching him with curious eyes, spit into the dust. “Somehow I didn’t expect you to give up so easily. But it doesn’t surprise me. You’re not only a murderer but also a coward. Do you have a name or do you prefer to be executed nameless?”

The warrior stood rigid for a moment; his eyes narrowed slightly, but then he relaxed and smiled. “Better a live coward than a dead fool. I am Rhodar.”

“Rhodar,” Carn mused. “Your mode of dress tells me you’re an outlander. Where do you come from?”

“From the Western Plains. Beyond the mountains.”

“A barbarian.” The young lord nodded. “I guessed that much. Where are your companions?”

“I told you I travel alone. This is not my work. I do not murder helpless women and children.”

“So you say, but the evidence is against you,” Carn said coldly. “Enough of this babble.” He turned away, sheathing his curved sword. “Did you find her?” he asked the nearest of the green-clad men.

They shook their heads. “No, she’s not among the slain,” said one of them.

“There might be a chance then she’s still alive. Search the grounds,” Carn commanded. “Perhaps she fled into the forest.”

They searched the surrounding area but didn’t find anyone. Suddenly one of the men came back. “My Lord, I think I have found something. There are two sets of tracks leading into the swamps. One was made by small feet, a child’s feet, and the other one could be those of a girl or young woman.”

“Could be?” Carn said sharply. “I thought the Quinxwere expert woodsmen?”

“The person who made those tracks was of light stature and wore soft leather boots, the kind most slave girls commonly wear when going outside. That is all I can tell you, my Lord. She was running, obviously in a great panic.”

Carn nodded, seemingly satisfied. “We’ll follow those tracks.”

“There is something else, my Lord,” added the woodsman. “The tracks of many horses—leading south. The tracks are all over the camp, as you can see for yourself. Single-hoofed animals, the same breed the prisoner is riding.”

“Proof that he is guilty.  I wonder why he lingered on.”

“Maybe he wanted to have some fun with the dead women?” suggested one of the woodsmen. “I’ve heard ugly stories about these barbarians.”

Rhodar glared at the man. “Only a so-called civilized man would get ideas like that. We honor our dead, especially the women.”

“How? By each male member of your tribe giving them one last ride?” The man laughed.

The huge muscles on the barbarian’s arms corded as his hands became fists, but after a tense moment he relaxed. He even managed a grin. “It would become quite tedious to lead a horse around with a dead body tied to its back. No, we have a different ceremony.”

The other one looked at the big man, a puzzled expression on his elfin face. Suddenly he laughed again. “You have a strange sense of humor, Barbarian; also, a temper but very well under control. I like that.”

“Who cares what you like!” thundered Carn. “Stop fraternizing with the prisoner and let’s get moving. You,”—he pointed at one of the woodsmen—“take four men, round up the pack-animals, load the dead onto the wagons, and take them back to the city. Tie the prisoner behind one of the wagons. He looks strong, he can walk. Don’t forget his axe. I’d like to add it to my collection.”

The woodsman bowed. “Yes, my Lord.” He bent to pick up the big battle-axe but managed to get only the handle off the ground. Straining unsuccessfully, he called another one to give him a hand. Both tried without success. The shiny double-bladed head stayed on the ground.

“What manner of weapon is this?” cursed one of the men, straightening. “I’ve seen the barbarian carry it in one hand, apparently without strain.”

Rhodar, who had been watching, laughed. “Singar is a special weapon. No man but its rightful owner will ever wield it.”

“An enchanted blade,” Carn said. “How is it you possess such a weapon?”

“My father gave it to me, but the magic will fade soon. It must be renewed by the sorcerer who once, a long time ago, put the spell on it. That is the reason I travel through your Kingdom—to find Arguss, the Sorcerer, so I can become the true master of Singar.”

“How can you wield this weapon if you are not its true master?”

“Singar was given freely to me by my father. If I don’t use the axe too often, the spell will last until I have found Arguss. Another reason I would not waste its power by indiscriminately murdering innocent people.”

Carn stared at Rhodar, a brooding expression on his dark face. “Maybe you are not what you seem. Maybe you are a magician in disguise. Perhaps you are this sorcerer Arguss, come to visit your evil colleague Kastabaan.”

Rhodar laughed again. “If I were a magician I wouldn’t stand here now waiting for you to shackle me.”

“Easy for you to prevent with one of your spells,” murmured the young lord. He looked into the sky. “Oh, if only Saleen were here. No spell could touch me. Why did she have to escape? I always treated her fairly.”

“Who is Saleen?” Rhodar said.

“Saleen?” Carn gave him a long stare. “She’s a girl. A special girl with a special gift. Kastabaan wants her dead, but I need her alive. She’s our only protection against his evil.” His hand chopped down. “Enough!” he roared angrily. “I don’t know why I converse with you. Pick up the axe and put it on one of the wagons. Don’t try to use any of your magic tricks. My men will be watching you. Even a sorcerer can die by a well-placed arrow.”

Rhodar did as ordered. They tied a strong rope around his wrists and fastened the other end to a wagon. When that was done, Carn gathered most of his men together and rode off, his men following single file.

Five stayed behind to take care of the wagons and the prisoner.

"Clouds Over Maridaan" - Herbert Grosshans



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