C. Cherryh: Swift-Spear

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Swift-Spear: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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C. J. Cherryh


Mark C. Perry

The wolf Blackmane heard them moving through the woods, but he was not frightened. These new humans were a soft breed; they ran from elf and wolf alike. Besides, he was not done with his meal yet…

The men moved closer through the undergrowth, their sweat staining the summer air with the scent of their fear. They knew this was one of the werewolves that the forest demons rode. But their fear was overridden by hot anger. The calf the wolf had stolen was the fifth that these dark ones had killed in the two months since the tribe had come here. They could not afford such loss.

"Are we cowards?" their leader, Kerthan, had cried when the wolf had taken the calf. He had stood in the middle of the village holding his magic spear aloft. "Must we hide in fear whenever the demons' wolves are hungry? How long before they kill full-grown animals? How long before they get a taste for our children's flesh? The gods have promised! The world is ours! We must cast the demons out or lose favor in the gods' eyes forever!"

Kerthan's head resounded with his speech as he inched closer to the great wolf that fed in the clearing. It was he, Kerthan, who had led the people to this territory, he who had made the first stone hut in the plain below the woods and dared to declare the land his own. He grasped the spear tightly. He must kill the wolf, or the people would turn on him and leave. He must kill the wolf…

Blackmane sniffed the air and moved from his prey, growling as he saw one of the men creep from the woods' cool shadows and stand upright, staring at him. Blackmane growled again, warning off the scrawny man-things-it was his kill, and these were none of the pack-but the man did not retreat or advance; he held a spear-fang and pointed it at him, and the acrid, strange smell of the weapon coming faintly against the wind made Blackmane's short hairs bristle. He had never smelled this cold thing before in his short life; it burned with the scent of anger and fear, seared the air about him… The human pack moved on either side of him, to drive him from his prey in his own hunting-range.

He snarled, indecisive, measuring the man with the harsh smell; then backed a step away, misliking the situation, almost ready to run and leave his prey. He had hunted alone. He was apart from his pack. They were in theirs. Danger. Danger in this, and they outnumbered him.

Then the scent wafting on a wind-shift behind him set the hair bristling up again and flattened his ears to his skull… The human pack had closed behind him, surrounding him; and the man-leader held the spear-fang, muscles tensed-that meant-attack!

With a howl he charged straight at the man…

Kerthan's spear flashed in the sun, driving deep into the wolf's thick shoulder. The force of the blow spilled the beast to the ground. The humans behind him cried with one voice and surrounded the struggling animal. "Kill it," Kerthan cried, and did not cease to jab at the wolf with the keen-edged spear while the hunters with him hit it with clubs and sticks and fell at last to gashing it with knives, wounding each other in their frenzy.

Swift-Spear raced between the trees, his heart light with the freedom of his strength… freedom for the moment from the demands of the chieftainship his father Prey-Pacer had bequeathed him. He ran beneath the summer leaves, leaped up the gray rock outcrop that rose on the margin of the stream, and looked back grinning and panting at the elf- woman who ran behind him, at Willowgreen, whose hair flew and whose bare feet skipped lightly enough over the forest mold-but not the match for his speed, or his long stride. Tall herself, with the high ones' blood in her-she had their languor too; she was fair and pale and breathed now with great gasps while she laughed… " 'Show me a sight,' " she breathed as she climbed after him. " 'Show me a sight,' indeed! What is there to see here?"

He had the answer ready, his mouth opened.

And stumbled to the ground, grabbing his head. There were men and there was the smell of metal. He saw the hunters. He heard a cry inside, first of anger, then of terror and of pain. He felt the tear of flesh.

"Blackmane!" he shouted aloud, even as his mind sought his friend. He felt a brief flicker reach to him, then gray emptiness. Swift-Spear fell to his knees.

"Ayooooo!" he cried in agony. He knew that Blackmane was dead.

In moments the wolf lay battered and chopped beyond recognition. The men laughed and danced, spotted with the wolf's blood, and Kerthan cut off the still warm ears as a trophy.

"They can be killed!" Kerthan said, his voice loud and strong in victory. "No longer must we fear them." He shook his spear, hot drops of blood from it spattering them all. "Kerthan will protect you with his spear! This is our land and no one will take it from us!"

"Swift-Spear!" Willowgreen cried, and shook him with both her hands as he sat crouched atop the rocks. There was no response. The elf sat with his hands clasped between his knees, his brown eyes wide and shocked. She took his face between her hands and peered into those eyes in search of sense, but there was no reaction at all, not in the eyes, not in the mouth, which remained slack; his skin was chilled and he did not shiver; and there was no contact with his mind, none that she dared seek. Blood, she got. And, metal. And after that she leapt up and went flying down from the rocks, panting as she ran the winding forest trails -past the marks the elves knew, past the familiar rocks, and over the fallen log, and through and through the trees with constantly a shriek in her mind:**Help, help-**

Wolves cried out in the forest. None were hers. She was too tall, too fair, too strange for them, and they always distrusted her.**Help,** she called out to them, and did not know whether they heard her or understood. The pain was sharp in her side, and branches raked her hair. She stumbled and caught herself on the old ash, and ran and ran, all but mindless with the pain and the terror as she skidded down a hillside and through the thicket.

And crashed full into the arms of a presence she had not felt, hands that seized her by her arms, and eyes yellow and terrible as any wolfs, a face narrow and hard and familiar to her. **Willowgreen,** the mindtouch came to her, and the grip held her and shook at her till the thoughts came spilling out, the things she had seen, the fact that Swift-Spear was left helpless because she knew nothing of weapons and nothing of what had brought Swift-Spear down, and only ran, ran, ran, for help.

The elf's hands released her, pushing her away. He was less than her height; he was small and slight and his hair was not elf-it was black-tipped and strange, strange as the mind which could stalk so silently and insinuate itself unfelt. "Fool," Gray wolf said. "Helpless fool!"

Which stung worse than the thorns, for he was Swift-Spear's cousin, and had never loved her, never thought her of any worth.

"Go tell the tribe," he said; and said with his mind as he left:**Quickly!** with such force and anger that she stopped in her tracks and did not follow him.**Quickly!**

She fled, in motion before she had decided; she flung up her arms to shield her from the branches, and ran, breathless and aching.

There was still that quiet, that most profound quiet that had held Swift-Spear motionless. No one could hear that silence and move. And yet, he thought in that dim, remote center where he was, yet if he could move, and break that quiet, then none of it would be true, and that silence would not exist, and the world would be whole again.

He tried, desperately. He felt with his mind wider and wider after that essence which eluded him.

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