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.Conan the FormidableBy Steve PerryONEAlong the road toward wicked Shadizar from the Karpash Mountains came the young man, a long blued-iron sword sheathed over his left hip.The lone figure loomed larger than most men; he was tall, broad of shoulder and thick of arm and leg, his skin tanned the color of dry rawhide, with flashing blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a strong chin.Here, the sun remorselessly baked the Zamoran plateau, drawing spirals of heat from the flat, cracked ground.A hot breeze blew and spun small wind devils that twirled briefly with nowhere to go before dwindling to their dusty death.That same sweltering breeze stirred the squarecut black mane of the young man as he paused to drink from the leathern water sack he carried.The liquid was tepid and reeked of iron and sulphur, but Conan of Cimmeria had tasted worse and been glad of it.He lowered the skin and looked around.There was little to see.The plateau bore scant growth, a few scrubby bushes here and there.Ahead, perhaps another three hours’ walk, was a rocky outcrop, not quite a foothill, but offering some trees and shade, did Conan’s sharp eyes not lie.The journey toward Shadizar had been long and treacherous, and even though the sun smote him with its hot hand, Conan was glad of the quiet desolation.Thus far he had encountered all manner of dangers from men and beasts, and things worse than either.It was his good fortune to have survived, albeit he would have done so in a somewhat better style had he been able.He wished now for a robe to reflect the bright light from his brawny frame; that would make the walk cooler and easier.The Cimmerian laughed aloud.“Aye,” he said to the empty, cooked landscape, “a robe and a horse, and a bag of gold across the fine saddle, while I am wishing!”He took another drink of the water, plugged the skin, and started walking again.He had a fine sword, its edge sharped to razor keenness; he wore a pair of leather under-breeks, a wide belt and a purse, though this container was empty, and he had a water skin yet half full.More, he had strong legs, and sturdy feet shod in well-cut sandals.A man could do a lot worse.Conan’s god was Crom the Warrior, and Crom allowed a man measures of things at birth: a certain amount of strength, this much cunning, that much wisdom.After that a man was on his own; Crom cared not for whiners, and it did not pay to call upon the god for favors.Conan had seen Crom once.Or thought he had.He smiled at the memory.Aye.What a man did with what he was given was up to him.And what Conan had was a desire to travel to the City of Thieves to ply the trade of that metropolis and become wealthy.A few more days and he would finally arrive.Once there and laden with stolen jewels and coins, he could drink and wench and enjoy his well-earned luxury.Until then, he would walk.As night drew her twilight veils across the land, she allowed a welcome coolness to flow into the air.Conan found himself in the outcrop toward which he had trudged, and the road to Shadizar wound now its way through hardy evergreen trees and thicker scrub brush.He saw signs of small animals and decided he would construct several snares with which to catch his supper before making camp for the night.He had no cloak, nor had he furs to soften the ground, but it would be the work of only a few moments to make a bed of branches and aromatic needles.The evening was already cooler than the day by far, but it would not grow much more so; he had outwalked finally the frosty breath of the mountains.It was while setting his third snare of twisted vines that the Cimmerian’s keen hearing detected a noise normally foreign to the lairs of ground squirrels.Somebody sneezed.He had never heard such a sound from a rabbit, and certainly no rabbit would follow the sneeze with a soft but definitely human curse.Giving no sign that he had heard, Conan continued to set the snare, looping the vine over the bent sapling and locking into place the notched pegs that held the trap cocked.Alerted, however, the Cimmerian strained his ears to catch other sounds in the gathering dusk.He was near the edge of the road, astride a narrow animal trail that disappeared into a thicket of thorny bushes.A small clearing of dry grasses lay to his left, and a stand of evergreen trees with heavy undergrowth stood across the road.It was from this last area that the sneeze had come.As he finished the snare, Conan’s ears continued their report.There came the rasp of iron against leather-a short sword or dirk being drawn-the liquid clink of chain mail and the creak of leather armor, another sneeze and a muted curse, followed by a whispered admonition for silence.This last was in a heavily accented version of the Zamoran common tongue.So.He had unseen companions in yon trees, and from the sound of them, they had questionable intent.A friendly party would have hailed him in the open and not skulked about in hiding, drawing weapons and urging each other to silence.Conan considered his surroundings.He would move toward the thorn bushes and put his back to them.No one would be coming from that direction.With the Cimmerian, the thought was the deed.He strode to the bushes, turned to face the woods, and drew his broadsword.Night had not yet won her battle with day, and the sinking sun glinted from the blued blade as it sang forth from its scabbard with the tones of dry leather rubbed on cold iron.Conan gripped the handle with both hands, right over left, and swung the weapon back and forth to limber his wrists and shoulders.“Ho, dogs of the night! Come forth and declare yourselves!”After ten heartbeats, the bandits began moving noisily through the brush and out onto the packed dirt of the road.There were six of them, and Conan did not doubt that they were brigands.They wore the vestiges of military gear; odd collections of mail, gauntlets, and bowl-shaped brass helmets.Perhaps they had once been warriors in some army, or perhaps they had merely waylaid some poor troop and stolen the armor [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]