RICK JOHNSON'S
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS WEBSITE

THE BLADE OF ERLIK


by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
Tucson, Az.
85717
RikJohnson@juno.com


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I

The battle was going well. Though outnumbered three to one, the first volley of arrows had thinned the bandit ranks and the clash with lance had reduced their numbers even more. Now that the forces were more even, the superior training and weapons of the mercenaries was telling against the bandits, most of whom were deserter-soldiers or farmers untrained in combat. In short it was a slaughter.

The mercenary leader, in chain-mail and full-face helm, fighting with sword and shield enjoyed this part. Too many innocent women and children had been robbed of possession, innocence and lives to give mercy. Thus the leader of the mercenaries cut a swath through the bandits like a farmer through a field of wheat.

Finally, the two leaders met, mercenary and bandit. The bandit was far larger and stronger, carried a heavy ax, bloody from many a kill (did he never clean his weapon) but the merc never hesitated. With a savage oath, the smaller merc charged, slammed horses then the banditís ax near tore the mercís shield apart but to do so, he must rise in stirrups and that gave the merc an opening. A quick thrust and the poorly protected arm-pit was penetrated, point grating on bone then through as shoulder separated from arm.

The bandit screamed in pain and fell from his horse, the limb hanging uselessly. Never again would that arm raise hand to another.

Looking around, the merc saw that they had, as expected, won the day and those few surviving bandits had dropped weapons and were surrendering. Looking down on the fallen bandit leader, bleeding and crying for mercy, the merc captain unbuckled her helm, removed and shaking her scarlet tresses loose, called down, "Aye, mercy, until we reach Sargossa and then you shall receive the same mercy you gave your victims.

A rider arrived, late for battle the mercenary mused, but still, he was a representative of the king and so she waited until he picked his way through the carnage. "Captain! His majesty seeks your attendance immediately."

"Tell his majesty that I shall attend as soon as I remove this sweat-drenched armor." The messenger nodded and turning, left faster than he had arrived. "Brounis! The king calls. Help me remove this armor before I sweat to death."

Shortly after, she as in her shirt and pants then moved aside behind a tree to remove even that and change into her more comfortable traveling gear. By the time she had returned, her horse had been stripped of its armor and mounting, she wrapped her light cloak around her and rode off. ĎKing,í she mused. Brythunia had two capitals, Sargossa and Pirogia, depending on the state of the invading Turanians, Zamorians or Corinthians. Sometimes Brythunia had two kings as well for once in power, they rarely left the throne without a fight. But still, this one paid well so if he wanted to cal himself a king or prince or god, so long as the gold flowed, he could call himself damn-well whatever he wished.

A merchant caravan she passed, now safe and farmers stepped off the road to avoid her horse, not seeing the woman under the cloak for though she wore it to protect her fair skin from the sun and to remain less dusty, it did hide her gender from the travelers.

As was her wont, she rode to the palace and tossed her reins to a guard, commanding, "Water, feed and rub him down well. He earned his meal more than did most of the Palace Generals." The man laughed and she knew he would do as she said for no one liked a general who was qualified more by accident of birth than ability. And then whose idea of leadership was to direct a battle from a dozen leagues away while fondling a fat blonde trull on his lap. The men respected the mercenary captain not because she was a woman but because she got her hands bloody with the rest of the troop.

Entering the palace, she removed her cloak with one flowing gesture and tossed it to a courtier who choked as the dusty cloth landed in his arms. Then she approached the throne, bowed low for this woman refused to curtsey any more than she would go about unarmed and waited.

The king looked at her, noticing her cleavage that threatened to fall from her chain mail brassier (let the pervert stare all he wanted so long as he kept his hands to himself) then called, "Arise, Captain. I hear you were successful once again."

"I am Red Sonja, My Lord, I do not know how to fail!" She stood there in her chain bikini and looked around, not turning from the king. Today he had his advisor and current favorite concubine by his side, neither of which liked Sonja. Well the feeling was mutual for the only thing that separated a street whore from a concubine was her price and most advisors were fawning sycophants anyway. Still, she noted with some glee that she, a warrior, had a better body than did the concubine and noted with more pleasure that the concubine knew it too. Sonja may have chosen a manís path but under her mail, she was still a woman.

"That one statement, Captain, is why I hired you and your company. Here," he handed her a moderately large bag which she saw was filled with silver, "is a bonus for so quickly ridding us of that bandit problem. Bandits are bad for business and though the priests would say otherwise, the merchants must be appeased as much as the common folk lest they take their business elsewhere and we return to a peasant nation." He waved his hand and aside from the four of them, all others left the throne room, even the guards. Sonja noted this and realized that he either trusted her to be alone and armed with him or he knew that she could cut her way through an army to take him so guards were useless. Still, she could be bought and once bought, she remained loyal.

"Captain Sonja," he leaned forward as he spoke softly. "There is a certain item that has been stolen from the temple of Erlik and the priests would have it back. Though inferior to our own Temple of Wiccana, still Erlik has strong followers in Turan and Zamora and Iíd not anger them so wish you to retrieve this item and return it to me. To me! Not to the priests and not to any others who would lay claim. Do you understand?"

"Clearly, Majesty. Retrieve the item, keep it from all others, return it to your august person alone. Your command is my law."

The king lay back and as his whore massaged his shoulders and the advisor, Mendelak, came forward and showed Sonja a scroll written in one of the ancient languages that was understood by but a very few scholars and sorcerers. But the drawing of the item, a knife with a handle that somehow defied description, was very clear. After a moment, Mendelak rolled the scroll and said, "NEVER touch the blade with your bare hands. Wrap it in silk, the more the better. And let it not see the light of day."

"I donít like sorcery," Sonja said but she knew that no matter how hard she tried, she would never forget that knife nor would she be able to draw or describe it either.

"Like your own sword, sorcery has a place. Used for good it can bring rain, heal the sick, grow crops. Used for evil, it can blast cities and souls to oblivion. We feel that this item is safer under our own stones than in the hands of the followers of Erlik or Set."

The king leaned forward again and added, "You will need expenses. This is for that purpose and whatever bribes or rogues you will need to hire. Now go." He tossed her a very heavy purse that were it gold as she supposed without looking, would buy most menís souls.

She bowed and asked, "May I leave in the morning, majesty? Both my horse and I are tired from the battle and ride and Iíd prefer to leave forÖ where am I going? Refreshed."

"Tomorrow is fine. And you leave for the Graaskal Mountains near the Corinthian and Zamoran border. More than that we know not, not even the identities of those who stole it though the Priests of Erlik will doubtless be seeking also."

She bowed again and left, taking her cloak that was now less dusty and retired to her barracks which she shared with her company, though as a captain she had a private chamber. Then ensuring that her horse was cared for in the stables and her saddle and gear cleaned, she retired to the tavern that adjoined the barracks for those who sold drink and flesh would never suffer bankruptcy when there were soldiers about.

"Keep! Heat me a bath and when my men arrive, call for me. Until then, ale to wash the dust from my throat." Now she could only sit and wait and contemplate her assignment. An army of even her dozen horsemen would be too many so she decided to go alone. Besides her men needed time to spend the silver they had earned or theyíd cause trouble.

Her second ale was half done when she was called for her bath and so entering the back room she stripped, removed the cloth lining to her chain and sat in the tub to scrub both herself and her clothing. Most thought she wore her mail against her skin but that would burn in the Summer and freeze in the Winter and pinch and chafe the rest of the time. No, she wore a cloth inner lining that matched her skin and provided some padding and comfort. Someone once asked why she wore so little and she had replied, "I come from the north and find these southern climates to be too hot for normal clothing. Besides, they pay me to be exotic and in this am I well known enough that most men avoid trouble." Though sometimes she wished she had started out in something that protected her hide a bit more. But now, her appearance was known and she was stuck.

She hung her lining aside to dry and focused on her hair when the door opened. Instantly her dagger was in her hand, its pommel in her fingers and the blade along her forearm, hidden but ready. Only a professional who used that same trick would know she was armed. It was Amorika, the kingís whore though in public she was his favored concubine so required respect.

"Might I enter," she asked.

"Since you are already in, you may as well stay."

The woman approached the tub, glancing in to comment, "So you are a natural redhead. I wondered. And no padding either is needed." As her eyes moved upwards.

"What brings you here?" Sonja was uncomfortable with this woman staring such. It made her feel.. .cheap as if the concubine were evaluating the competition or a horse.

"I would make you an offer. Perhaps were I to deliver the item to his majesty, I would reward you well."

"And receive the kingís eternal gratitude and thus postpone your eventual dismissal!"

The concubine stiffened then relaxed and smiled. "Perhaps. Regardless of my motives, I can reward you well."

"I already have enough gold and will doubtless receive more when I return."

The woman moved forward and ran her scarlet fingernails along Sonjaís leg, "I understand that you do not love men. Perhaps you prefer another way? I can give you what they do not, and far better."

"I like men. In the field or tavern. Just not sweating in my bed. And women I prefer less in any of these places." Too many men thought that because she never bedded men, she preferred women. The truth is that she did like men. She just wasnít stupid enough to risk her life and career with an unplanned pregnancy by some idiot with a good line and no intention to stick around after his lusts had been slaked. She must respect the man she gave herself to and that meant that he must be a good enough fighter to defeat her. A nice appearance and some wit would go well also, though there was that brainless barbarian from Cimmeria whose shoulders were so broad that she could ride a horse across them. Pity he was not smart enough to outwit her or she might have Ďslippedí in the grass and lost one of their fights. Sonja prized brains as well as brawn and a fight may be won by a single blade in a well-muscled hand but a battle was won by brain-power.

Amorika saw Sonja drift off for a second and thought it was her own touch that caused that reaction so she sat and added. "Return theÖ item to me that I may present it to his majesty and I shall reward you with gold and jewels and pleasures that only the king has experienced." Then she stood, went to the door, her ample hips threatening to take down the walls and pausing only long enough to blow the redhead a kiss, left.

A moment later Sonja realized, "that slut thinks I am like her, a trollop to be bought or sold," then laughed when she realized that the concubine believed her to be a lover of women. She continued to laugh, slid under the water and came up choking only to laugh some more. Then she replaced her dagger, finished her ale and left the tub to dry and dress. ĎPleasures that only the king has experiencedí indeed. The king and every soldier with a half crown in hand was more likely.

Her men were entering the tavern in groups, few bothering to wash beforehand which only served to emphasize the wisdom of her vow. She approached Brounis and handed him the first bag, "Sergeant, a bonus from the king for the dayís work. Distribute this to the men before you get too drunk. Nay, let us give half now and half next week when they are broke and begging their next meal. I have a task to do to the east and may be gone for awhile. Until then, you are in charge."

"Do you need company?" he asked for asking Red Sonja if she needed help was like asking a rabid tiger if it needed to be hand-fed, both Sonja and the tiger was likely to take the hand with the offer.

"No, I am fine for now. But in a week if you happen to be patrolling the east where the three nations meet, I would not be too displeased." Capable she may be but the Priests of Erlik and the Armies of both Zamora and Corinthia and whatever the thieves possessed would be more likely to shy away from a strong force than one women, even if that woman was Red Sonja of Hyrkania.

So with drying hair and the rest of the gold and silver safely hidden, she drank and sang with her men and when enough ale had filtered through her brain, she climbed upon a table and danced in her bare feet. It was her camaraderie that made Red Sonja ĎAll menís love and no manís loverí. It also made her men more than willing to follow her anywhere she chose to lead.


II

The next morning, she awoke with a mild hangover but full memories of the evening and no regrets for she enjoyed drink and dance but never to extreme. Then she checked her gear, the money and after saddling her horse and ensuring that the rations she had ordered the day before were ready, set out on her most recent of secret missions.

The second night she camped in the foothills and after hobbling her horse to graze, ate her own meal and stripped to her skin, washed in the nearby stream and then dressed in her nightgown for only a fool sleeps in armor or clothes unless they have to. And Sonja valued a good nightís sleep as being even more important than a good meal. One could live off grasshoppers and pine trees but without sleep, you went crazy and traveled exhausted. Then ensuring that her sheathed sword was next to her and her naked dagger under her bedroll, she lay on her blanket, pulled her traveling cloak over her and fell asleep.

Whether it was the snapping of a twig or the heavy breathing or the sudden stillness of the pre-dawn that awoke her, she neither knew nor cared but she slid her hand around her dagger even as a weight landed upon her and pinned her arms. She never screamed for it never helped. At least those who did this sort of rape enjoyed the screams as much as the act so after that first time as a child, she swore to deny all men that pleasure.

"Look at what we have here! A red-headed apple ripe for plucking. And who are you, my cherry-tressed beauty?"

She knew he didnít care but sometimes knowing who they faced helped so she replied, "I am Red Sonja of Hyrkania so get your stinking body off me while your head remains attached to your shoulders."

"RED Sonja? Blonde Sonja! Black Sonja, it matters not. Stop struggling or you will be black-and-blue Sonja."

Another offered, "Give us your wealth, your horse and enough pleasure and maybe we will leave you behind when we go, or maybe take you with us," and his friends laughed at his wit. Four of them, one on top pinning her down. Damn! Why did men outweigh women by so much? She relaxed and prepared herself for the inevitable.

When her would-be rapist bent down to kiss her, she opened her mouth and as his tongue slipped inside, she sucked hard then bit it clean off. He screamed and released her, which was her plan, and before his fellows could act, she pulled the knife in her hands free and drove the point through the manís chest under his armpit and punctured his lung, the force of the blow and pain forcing him off her and to the ground. Then she grasped her sword with her right hand and kicked another in the knee, forcing it into a direction it was never designed to go. As he screamed and fell, she rolled to her feet, spat out the flesh and went on guard, sword in one hand, dagger in the other, her white shift and face already bloody from the first attacker.

The other two moved to opposite directions so she chose one and charged him. He immediately went on guard and before contact she stopped, reversed and killed the man attacking from behind. Then she took her time playing with the man she had made a fool and blocking a thrust with her dagger, drove the point of her sword through his chest. She may have missed his heart but no matter, that much damage to a lung would be as fatal.

Three dead and dying, the other screaming in pain from his shattered knee. "Who sent you?" she asked, her blade under his chin.

"No one! Have mercy! We meant only fun."

"Fun. Iíve suffered your kind of fun before." Then, "A few days ago men from Sargossa came this way. Know you of them?"

"Yes, Mercy! It hurts so much."

"Tell me of those and I shall ease your pain."

"There were five. They carried a box that they guarded well. We sought to rob them but they drove us off with spells of terror that caused the beasts of the field to grow to gigantic size. Please show mercy."

"Where did they go and how far ahead are they?"

"Two days. You can catch them in two days. The passes, that is where they rode. Now mercy! The pain!"

Squatting down, her blade never leaving his throat, she offered, "How many women have begged mercy from you? But I promised and shall show mercy and ease your pain." She stood, dragging her blade across his throat, "For a quick death is a mercy of sorts."

Sonja looked around then finding no others, and the sun rising, she returned to the stream, stripped and washed the blood from her shift and body. Then returned naked to dress among the dead which she stripped of their valuables. Then finding no other horses and their boots to be worn through, she saddled her own roan and rode off, ignoring the dead and the flies that were already collecting.

Two days ahead. And only five thieves but those five were sorcerers. But if they sorcerers had created gigantic beasts, why and how did the rapists survive?


III

She rode hard, resting her horse only when necessary and reduced the time to a day and a half for she found them crossing a pass with no rear guard. "Amateurs," she laughed. Still, she saw no sign of the giant beasts that had attacked the rapists. And there should have been foot-prints at least. That gave her an idea as she loosened her bow for though she preferred the sword, all Hyrkanians were born on a horse with bow in hand.

She was almost within range when they heard her and turned. One gestured and giant hornets flew from the forest at her, each one the size of an eagle. Now she would see if she was right and ignoring the stings she loosed her first arrow. The hornets vanished to be replaced by scarcely a half dozen normal hornets which quickly left her. Illusion! All they could do was to make her see more and larger of what was there. And her horse was too stupid to be affected so she nocked and loosed again as giant rabbits attacked then vanished. The third died also then the remaining two pulled blades and she shot them as well. One never took chances with wizards.

Slowing then stopping, she looked the five over. On foot and with only illusion they had no chance. Then she made her one big mistake, she opened the box to be certain that the blade was within. It was. But before she could wrap it in the silk, the full light of day struck the thing and it screamed. Not with sound but the scream bored into her mind, numbing her and driving her horse away. Trying to hold her ears which didnít help she finally managed to toss the silk over the thing and the soundless screams ended.

She sat there, panting then began to wrap the thing in layers of silk, being careful to not touch it with skin or gloves and when done, she took the thing, replaced it in the box and stood to search for her horse when the sorcerers arose. Damn! She knew that she had killed them and a single glance in their lifeless eyes confirmed that.

She backed away for they were to one side but still they followed in a shambling gait that ignored rocks and sticks and brush. She drew her sword and struck, cleaving a dead skull to the collar bone but it simply righted itself and continued on. Another side blow snapped neck and threw it to the ground but it stood and continued on.

The were slow and clumsy but determined so she turned and ran for high ground. Then wedging the box into a crack, she screamed and leapt down, laying waste with steel in a manner that left more than one limb writhing on the ground. Then, breaking free, she saw that they ignored her and continued to the box. The knife was calling them and even the severed limbs tried to reach their goal. That was the secret! The knife raised and called the dead. No wonder Turan and Zamora wanted it for to carry the thing to a city in the sun would raise any dead in itís path. Then toss the thing into the city and before the defenders could get rid of it, the dead would climb over or through the walls, driving away or killing all living.

She ran around the dead and grabbed the box, then ran with all her might down a gully and placed the thing on a high bank, then before the dead could reach her, she used her sword to shop dead branches and wood which she tossed in a pile before the sorcerers. They never went around an obstacle if they could go through so she then climbed the bank and pulling flint and steel from her belt, caused a small fire and waited. The five continued in their shambling gait and when they were forcing their way through the brush, she tossed burning brands onto the five.

There were o screams but they writhed as if in pain and when they were finally, truly dead, she heaped more logs and branches to the pyre and returned to collect and toss the severed limbs onto the inferno. Satisfied, finally, that they were gone and would not arise for even bones needed muscles to move them, she took the box and began her trek back to Sargossa. With luck, she would find her horse and with more luck, her men would meet her on the road.

In the meantime, she had days to decide to remain loyal to the king who paid her wages or to good sense and bury the knife somewhere so deep it would never be found. The thought of helping Amorika never entered her mind.

END


To contact me or to request topics to be covered, send to RikJohnson@juno.com
by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
Tucson, Az.
85717


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