THE MIRROR OF WORLDS – snippet 4:
The Corl champion raised his mace and screamed. He started toward Garric with a springy step, which for a Corl showed unusual caution. Normally a catman would charge headlong, even though in this case it meant he'd be rushing into ten thousand human soldiers.
"I do not fear your weapons, beast!" Klagan shouted; which meant he did. He had reason to.
The Coerli didn't use fire and therefore didn't have metal. The stone head of Klagan's mace was the size of Garric's fist and the warrior's leather harness, the only garment he wore, held a pair of poignards. One was hard wood, while the other'd been ground from a human thigh bone. They were needle sharp, but they didn't have edges and they'd splinter on armor. In Klagan's left hand was a thirty-foot coil of tough vegetable fiber, weighted with a ball of sun-dried clay in which hooked thorns were set to snatch and tear.
"And his teeth, lad," Carus noted with the calm assurance of a warrior who never underestimated a foe, and who'd never failed to win his fight regardless. "We'll not forget his teeth."
"I don't need steel to kill you, Klagan!" Garric said. He lifted off his helmet, a work of art whose gilt wings flared widely to either side. He brandished it in the air, then set it on one of the pair of posts which a squad of his troops had hammered into the soil while the Coerli Elders deliberated on Garric's ultimatum. "You'll surrender or you'll die! Those are the only choices Coerli have in this world that humans rule!"
Garric unbuckled his heavy waist belt. The dagger sheathed on his right side partially balanced the sword on his left, but a thinner strap over his right shoulder supported the rest of the sword's weight. Keeping his eyes on the Corl, Garric pulled the harness over his head and hung it on the crossbar of the post already holding his helmet.
"What are you doing, beast?" Klagan called. "Have you come to fight me or not? I am Klagan! I fear no one!"
"I'll fight you, Klagan," Garric said. He gripped his mail shirt and lifted it off as well. He was tense, knowing he was blind during the moment that the fine links curtained his head. "And when I've killed you with my bare hands–"
He draped his mail over the other post. The links were alternately silvered and parcel gilt. Sunlight danced from them and from the polished highlights of his helmet, drawing the eyes of the watching catmen. Metal fascinated them beyond its practical uses; it cut deeper still into their souls.
"–then the Elders who sent you will see that no Corl can match a human warrior!"
"That'd depend on the warrior, lad," said the ghost in Garric's mind. "But match you and me together–no, not a one of the beasts!"
Klagan snarled, now in real anger rather than merely posturing before battle. The big chieftain had paused while Garric stripped off his equipment; now he came on again, grunting deep in his throat. Garric found that sound more menacing than the cutting shrieks of the warriors on the city wall.
Garric undid the fine-meshed net hanging from the sash of his light tunic and picked up the four-foot wand which leaned against the stake holding his helmet. He strode to meet the catman, grinning in nervousness and anticipation.
Of course he was going to kill the Corl champion; he wouldn't have made this plan if he'd had the least doubt in the matter. But it was a fight, and Garric had been in a lot of fights. Whatever a fighter told himself, the only thing he could be really certain of was that somebody would lose….
Garric set the net spinning before him. Its meshes were silk, close enough to tangle minnows and so fine that they looked like a shimmer of gnats in the light rather than a round of fabric. Lead beads weighted the edges. They were just heavy enough to draw them outward when Garric's hand in the center gave the net a circular twitch.
Klagan paused again and hunched, eyeing the net; he'd never seen one being used in a fight before. With another rasping snarl he came on again, but Garric noticed the Corl was edging to his left–away from the unfamiliar weapon. Garric changed his angle slightly to keep Klagan squarely in front of him.
Garric cut the air in a quick figure-8 with his wand. He was loosening his shoulders and also reminding his muscles of what the slim cudgel weighed.
He'd chosen wood to make a point to the watching Coerli, but this staff was cornel–dense and as dead to rebound as iron. A blow from a cornelwood staff crushed and broke instead of stinging. Garric's wand was little more than thumb thick, but only a strong man could break it over his knee–and he'd bruise his knee doing that.
"He's getting ready, lad…," Carus murmured. "His cord'll spin around toward your right but he'll come in from the left."
The two champions were within thirty feet of one another, but Garric could see nothing in Klagan's movements that seemed in the least different from what they'd been for the whole length of his approach. He didn't doubt the warning, though; Carus didn't make mistakes in battle.
Garric crossed his left arm before him, shifting the dance of silk to his right. For an instant it shone like a slick of oil in the air. Klagan leaped, not at Garric but toward the spot of ground at his side; the weighted tip of the Corl's line was already curving out. Garric jerked his net toward him while his right hand brought the wand around in an overarm cut.
Klagan was reacting before he hit the ground. He'd started a swing that would've crushed Garric's skull if the cornelwood staff hadn't been in the way; since the staff was, the big Corl recovered his mace and curved his body to avoid Garric's blow, moving with a speed no man could've equaled. His blunt-clawed feet snatched a purchase from the clay soil and launched him away at an angle more quickly than the staff swung.
Garric's net belled around the catman's cord, tangling the thorns and wrapping the line itself. The weight of the net pulled the cord harmlessly away from Garric.
Klagan landed ten feet away, his mace rising for another attack if his opponent had stumbled or were even off-balance. Garric dropped the net and jerked on the Corl's own line. Klagan bleated in surprise: he'd wrapped the end twice around his left wrist for a surer grip. Instead of trying to jump away like a harpooned fish, he leaped straight at Garric–Gods but the beast's quick!–to give himself slack so he could release the line.
Klagan met Garric's wand, still in the middle of the stroke Garric had started before the Corl first charged. The catman interposed his mace. Its bamboo shaft cracked and flew out of his hand. The cornel staff rapped Klagan's muzzle, breaking out a long canine tooth in a spray of blood.
Klagan slammed to the ground. Even injured and blind with pain he'd spun onto all fours to leap away when Garric landed knee-first on his back. Garric's weight crushed the Corl flat, driving his breath out in a startled blat.
Klagan scrabbled. Garric grabbed the thick mane at the top of the catman's head left-handed and pulled back. Instead of banging his face onto the dirt–perhaps painful, but pain didn't matter to either party in this fight–Garric punched his opponent's thick neck with his right fist.
Klagan's four limbs shot out convulsively. Garric struck again and heard the catman's spine crack. Klagan's head came back in his hand, the black tongue lolling from the corner of the jaws.
Garric tried to stand but slipped to his knees again; if he'd gotten up, he'd almost certainly have toppled full length. He was blind and dizzy with fatigue, and he was so weak that his legs couldn't hold him.
People ran to where he knelt, his guards and officers and Liane, the woman he loved. Liane wiped blood and sweat from his forehead with a damp cloth and said, "Darling, darling, are you all right?"
Garric opened his eyes. His stomach had settled; he'd thought for a moment that he was going to vomit with reaction to the fight.
"Get back," he muttered. Then, loudly and fiercely, "Give me room! By the Shepherd, give me room!"
They moved enough for him to stand. He wobbled, but only slightly; he'd caught himself even before Liane touched his arm in support.
"Elders of the Coerli!" Garric shouted in the catmen's language. "Come out and hear the laws you and your people will keep from now till the last breath you take! Come out before my army kills all Coerli as I killed this warrior!"
He spurned Klagan with his heel. The royal army shouted and cheered, but from the walls of the Place came only wailing.