But Avren took his feet, arose from thestained ground.
The creature had flung him halfway across the yard,
slammed him against the wall, knocked the breath from his lungs.
Now he stood up once more, chest still heaving for air,
still muddle-headed too, and quaking with panic.
Who could blame him for that? We all would be the same,
and we would not respond as he did in that time.
Taking up his weapon, the sword he had borrowed,
he leapt upon the back of the great gavera,
and hacked at its broad neck with the blade of sharp steel.
The blows rang like thunder, the sword sang in triumph.
The edge cut deeply in, piercing the beast’s stiff hide.
The gavera howled then, shook itself like a dog
that shakes away the rain or the mud from the swamp.
Avren held on tightly, he would not be forced off.
The black blood spurted out, the gavera’s life flowed,
leached from his huge body. Avren was bathed in it,
and a fierce light filled him. This is the true record,
that he held on tightly, struck again and again,
hacked off the beast’s three horns, those obsidian spikes;
stabbed into its kidneys, thrust his blade under ribs;
forced his fist in the wound and pulled on the entrails.
His fingers held on tight, he rode it like a horse,
even when it bucked him, and tried to throw him off.
It backed against a wall, and tried to scrape him off
as a horse will soothe an itch rubbing against a tree.
Avren would not let go; he clung to the monster,
as a new-married bride will cling to her husband.
Stressing mighty sinews, Avren drove his sword in
above the shoulder blades, and severed the beast’s spine.
With an awful groaning, the creature staggered,
first leaning to one side, shuddering the other.
Then a terrible crash, and the gavera fell.
It crashed amid the hell that had been Wellan’s yard,
arms and legs akimbo, unnaturally spread out
and bend at odd angles. Black blood spread in a pool,
a widening circle ’round the gaveran corpse.
His eyes still bright with rage, Avren leapt from the beast
just before it collapsed. He did not stay his hand,
but brought his sword down hard, and cut the thing’s head off,
kicked it into the fray. The other gavera
smelled their companion’s blood, and howled their ghostly cry
screaming to the shadows for allies in the dark.
Avren did not tarry: he strode into battle,
alone against the three beasts, one against gaverae.
They came at him at once, disdaining other foes
in their dreadful anger and raged at the killer
of one of their number. Avren did not tremble:
the blood lust was in him, he could not have turned back.
Taking up a long spear from the corpse of a man,
he blocked the gaverae, prevented their attack,
well-defended himself. Then he planted his spear,
drove it deep in the guts of one of the three beasts,
and twisted the iron ’til the beast screamed in pain.
He claimed another’s paw, cut it off at the wrist,
so the blood fountained out, sprayed him with its wet heat.
He grinned like a madman, and while the beast stared stupid
at the stump of its arm, Avren cut him again,
then plunged the blade deeper, seeking the beast’s great heart.
It made no sound at all, but collapsed where it stood.
The fourth took his measure, and fled into the dark,
but the last men standing took heart from Avren’s deed,
and they went after it, and brought it down themselves
in the Westfield by the oak. Ambres, who was Tal’s son,
delivered the death-blow, and for years afterward
he would roll up his sleeves to show his battle-scar,
the purple and black line that ran from neck to wrist.
If any gavera waited in the reserve
somewhere in the darkness during that fateful night,
they did not show themselves, nor come to their friends’ aid.
Four gavera died there at the winter solstice,
in the court of Wellan’s house, and a fourth died as well,
in the fallow Westfield, under the spreading oak.
Who would dare such greatness, save from desperate need?
Avren was just a guest, yet he fought and triumphed.
It was no easy fight, and the men of the hills
stood sorrowed at dawning when they counted their loss.
Twenty took up the fight, and brought out their weapons
to fight the gaverae, and half of them were dead.
The others were wounded, inflicted with fevers,
and near unto dying. Lenna gathered them in,
when morning’s cold light came, and laid them in the house
in beds by the fire. She tended them kindly,
and eased their every hurt with the indigo salves
and the arts of healing. Wellan gave men orders
to spit the beasts’ corpses, and set them as warnings
to others of their kind. No gavera troubled
that house all that winter, and through the next winter,
and several after that. The mountain men were free
of the beasts from the dark, and Avren had freed them.