Now Wellan stepped forward with his spear in his hand,
the long staff of good ash tipped by an iron point.
With his men beside him, they stepped to the attack.
Armed with spears and long swords, they circled one creature,
with some standing wary of the three gaverae
they could not surround, and some facing the beast.
Half-blind and almost deaf, they had but little strength.
strong the smell of man-piss, and stench from the blood
reeked hot in their nostrils. The men’s hands trembled then,
the shivers enriched their fears, made them stand like knock-knees,
or toothless chatterers, who gum nude jaws, afraid,
scared of their own shadows, terrified of the dark.
Now they faced gaverae, the lords of the outwall.
Guard them, you gods, from death, in this desperate hour!
They need your protection, who face horned ones alone!
Snarling, the beast turned ’round, cunning in its red eyes,
like a half-wit’s smile. Panic reared in men’s hearts,
who looked into those eyes scarlet with the blood lust.
Striking with its long tail, the beast smashed one man down,
buried his tailspikes deep as it cracked all his ribs.
One massive paw slapped down and bent in a helmet.
the steel pressed in the eyes of one of Wellan’s men.
The spear-men thrust their points against the scaly hide
of this beast thrice their size; Wellan stabbed at its face.
The creature swung his paw, sent spears and men flying.
Wellan danced in again, thrusting his spear upward,
trying to hit the eyes, the nostril or the mouth,
some vulnerable portion unguarded by scaled hide,
undefended by paws like well-spiked buckler shields.
The spear point grazed its eye, the beast roared its anger.
Who can imagine rage like that of gaverae
whose shout can be madness, whose horns bring venom-death?
Their claws carry disease, their scales are like armor,
their shaggy fur can cut, leaves traceries of scars
like a woman’s lacework, where they brush against men;
these become gangrenous without Indigo’s care,
leave men delerious and delighted with death.
And when they are wounded, their strength seems to double,
and their fury rises like a hurricane tide.
Old Wellan’s gavera screamed aloud to the stars.
It might have been dying for all the noise it made.
Would he were so lucky, to kill it with such ease!
But no — only wounded, and that only lightly.
The thing bent down its face, and breathed its hot vapors
raw with the scent of blood in the mountain man’s face.
The old fellow stumbled, fell back from the odor,
trembled with the panic that comes to every man
who knows what he faces. His whole body shaking,
Wellan now retreated, the spear-shaft jangling
in his terrified grip, alone and unarmored.
Where were all his helpers, the men of his household?
Injured, or fled, or dead, they lay scattered about,
crying for their mothers, or screaming wordlessly.
One gavera bent down, nosed at one of the men,
who cried to great Ocean. The mother heard him not,
the beast chewed his entrails, gaining at second hand
a taste of the solstice, the feast of winterdark.
Stone pressed at Wellan’s back: he was pressed to the wall,
and still the wounded beast pressed its advantage on,
swinging its long talons, seeking for his heart’s-blood.
Between wall and monster, Wellan stood quite helpless,
without space for his spear, nor firm ground for his feet.
It pressed him to the wall, cornered him against it,
sharp claws swinging at him, jaws snapping and biting,
sparks flashing from arm-blades as they grated on stone.
Imagine blind panic beneath the three pale moons,
Avenath and Tarven, and healing Muranda:
the beast drives men to fear, terrorizes their dreams,
and stalks them in the night. The gaverae are fear:
no one can resist one save by great force of will.
Horror overwhelms them, bleeds courage from their souls.
There is cunning in them, and careful strategy;
they hunt men when they can, and kill their sheep for sport,
cows for the joy of it. Wellan’s heart beats swiftly.
Panic and black dread both freeze him, turn him to stone.
The black panic rises up, fills up his chest and lungs;
sweat stands out on his brow, he smells the gavera
up close it smells like wine, and savory spices.
His grip on the spear fails. The creature knocks it away,
leaves thin stripes of blood behind behind cuts in his shirt.
Wellan does not feel them; they burn with searing hurt,
and terrible shaking. His eyes fill up with tears,
weeping against his will, eager for death’s embrace.
Who could blame him for that, feeling the beast’s hot breath,
the claws so near at hand? Death would be easier
than the shame and disgrace that follows on failure.
The beast plays him cruelly, like a cat with a mouse.
Like a Jade plays gittern, the gavera strokes him,
strumming strong emotions and feasting on his fear.
Wellan breathes shallowly, his body betrays him.