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The Adventures of Wrathgar

Part One: The Test of Manhood

In the fall of Wrathgar's twelfth year he and three other boys were given a hard-pulling longbow made from deer antlers and tamarack wood, a quiver of copper tipped arrows, and a greatsword, known amongst the Barstammderstarke as a Grosseklinge and given three lessons in Grosseklingenspiel (swordplay). There was a brief ceremony in the High Shaman's longhouse in which High Shaman Korflex smeared deer fat across their faces and spat in each of their eyes, repeating the phrase "You are not worthy of Mistle's power!" to each boy.

Then they were tossed from the High Shaman's long house and they were driven out of the village of long houses by young men throwing stones at them and shouting insults. The four boys knew they could not return until they had each killed something stronger than a man and carried it back to the village. Only then would they be worthy of Mistle's blessing.

Outside of the village the other boys glanced at each other and Wrathgar did the same. It was a mixture of expressions, some sour and some excited to be out on their own. Each boy had hunted before, but always in the company of an elder and never too far from the village. Wrathgar's father hunted predominantly and he had gone hunting numerous times. He wasn't anxious to hunt alone.

Muddenklaw, a boy larger in height and in stomach turned to face the other boys and spoke loudly: "We should stick together. Between the four of us we can hunt down all the animals we need until we find a bear or deer each that we can drag back to the village."

"And why should we help you?" sneered Kleinver, the smallest of the four, but easily the smartest hunter amongst them. Even at a young age he was known for his trapping skill and could trap creatures both large and small. Kleinver had an important point. Muddenklaw was more known for his ability to eat than his ability to hunt. He would be a liability, not an asset in any hunting party.

Steinpfeil shook his head. "I'll stick with you." Steinpfeil was Muddenklaw's best friend, he followed the larger boy wherever he went constantly. Wrathgar wondered who would be leading the hunt, Steinpfeil or Muddenklaw, knowing that Steinpfeil was certainly the better shot with a bow.

"May Mistle bring you good fortune," Wrathgar stated flatly. He nodded briefly to Steinpfeil and to Kleinver, deliberately avoiding Muddenklaw's gaze. He turned his back and headed east.

Away from any signs of civilization Wrathgar's first task was the dreadful copper-tipped arrows. They were meant for killing rabbits and small game. He would need something much better if he was to hunt down a deer or a bear. He drew his Grosseklinge and briefly admired the handiwork. Then he set upon the woods looking for straight branches or trees that would make spears, javelins or arrows. He knew where there was outcropping of flintstone east of here and he could fletch himself some flint-headed arrows by nightfall.

He worked his way uphill, keeping an eye out for game and pausing to inspect each tree for branches the right size and shape.

It was while he was foraging that he heard the screech-cry of a giant owl. It sent shivers down his spine and he glanced up just in time to see the beast fly by. He noticed the rider too, an ebony-haired wood elf who waved down at him. The owl and rider were heading for the clearing at the top of the hill.

The young barbarian ran uphill, trying to keep pace with the giant eagle in hopes of actually reaching the clearing first. He lost, but not by far. The owl landed in the clearing only a few seconds before Wrathgar entered the scrub grass that covered the area at the top of the rocky hill.

The giant owl screeched loudly and clawed the rocks in front of it as the rider dismounted.

"Corellon keep you Wrathgar," the rider said in a lyrical tone, patting her owl affectionately to get it to calm down. Giant owls were notoriously protective of their owners. The beasts were smart too, but rarely spoke except to their master and usually only in the Sylvan tongue, which Wrathgar was still learning.

"And Mistle you, dear Vertia," Wrathgar responded, staring at the elf's supple and graceful movements. He felt like a clumsy bear next to her.

"I hear you are on your first hunt. I have something for you-" she started to pull a quiver of fine elven arrows from her back.

Wrathgar held up his hand. "I don't think we're supposed to accept help in the form of weapons. Sorry, but I cannot accept."

Vertia's face was downcast for an instant. "Can you accept help in the form of information?"

"Mistle doesn't frown upon the truth, so information is fine and appreciated."

Her face brightened and she shouldered the precious arrows. "Very well then. Since you are traveling east I need to warn you of the lizardfolk that live in the swamps east of here. They forage into the woods from time to time. They have faces like a chameleon and their skin changes colour ever so slightly. They're not hostile, but it would still be best to stay clear of them. They welcome few outsiders."

"Mistle teaches it is good to know your enemies and your allies," Wrathgar mused. "Thank you Vertia. I'd ask you to come with me but as you know its against the rules of the first hunt."

Vertia smiled. "Are you sure I can't convince you to accept the arrows?"

An hour later Wrathgar was chipping away at flintstone with a flat rock wishing he had accepted the precious gift. It would have saved him time and trouble and some bruises on his hands as he worked away. "What doesn't kill me only makes me stronger," he murmured to himself, a favourite saying amongst the Barstammderstarke.

It was difficult work chipping away at the stone and fletching together the arrows. Before he realized it the sun had set and he had made but a handful. He would have to make camp here in the outcropping of stone. He had foraged some berries earlier so he wasn't hungry, but he didn't feel very comfortable sleeping out in the open like this. It was his first time sleeping in the wilderness alone.

The next morning Wrathgar awoke and was glad to be alive.

But only for an instant when he realized that while he had slept all of his flint arrows had disappeared. Gone.

He looked frantically around the outcropping of flintstone, looking for his hardwork and found something he wasn't looking for: The muddy footprints of two different people. One large footed, the other about Wrathgar's size. There was no doubt in the young barbarian's mind that it must have been Muddenklaw and Steinpfeil who had snuck into the quarry and stolen his arrows.

Wrathgar clenched his fists and swore to Mistle that Muddenklaw would pay for his treachery and that Steinpfeil would pay for following along. There was no rule saying one could not steal from others during the first hunt, but it was certainly not good sportsmanship either. After his anger subsided he paused to consider what to do next. He could try tracking Muddenklaw and Steinpfeil or he could make more arrows, for he would need them eventually.

He decided to make more arrows. It wasn't worth it tracking down Muddenklaw over a matter of five arrows.

Around midday Mistle smiled on him and a pheasant landed near the outcropping of flintstone. Wrathgar promptly beaned it with a rock and cooked it.

By nightfall he had finished making 44 arrows.

Wrathgar awoke suddenly to the howl of a wolf. It was to the north, and likely far off, but it had seemed quite loud to him as he was jolted from his sleep. He decided to break camp and leave. If he was lucky perhaps he could spot the wolf from a distance and take it down with a handful or arrows, thus completing his first hunt.

He trekked northward spotting deer droppings along the way. They could be days old, so he decided to stay on his original goal of hunting the wolf.

An hour later he came to a sandy clearing with scrub grass and a few boulders. There was a firepit that was still smoking and the footprints of two people, likely Muddenklaw and Steinpfeil, both of which had also trekked northward. It looked like they had broken camp only a short while ago because the firepit still had a few glowing embers. Wrathgar reckoned he was directly behind them. He hurried his pace in hopes of catching up and tracking the wolf first.

But it was too late.

He heard the arrow shots up ahead a few minutes later and Muddenklaw whooping with glee.

Wrathgar slowed to a walk and crept silently through the woods off to one side, wanting to get a good angle at the two without them spotting him.

"Now I can go home!" Muddenklaw declared, grabbing the dead wolf by the scruff of the neck. "You're going to make me a coat for the winter!" he boasted to the dead wolf.

"Um, what about me?" asked Steinpfeil quietly. He shuffled his feet.

"You?!" snorted Muddenklaw. "You can go shoot a deer and drag it back by yourself. This is my wolf!"

"But I'm the one that shot it!" declared Steinpfeil, gripping the wolf's back fur in his fist. "By right this is my kill, not yours!"

"So what?! Its mine and I already declared it. It was my idea to track it. I would have killed it anyway if you hadn't got in my way!"

"I wasn't in your way! You tripped! Why should I have to go shoot another deer? I've only got one flint arrow left!"

"So go make more!" shouted Muddenklaw, pushing Steinpfeil away from the wolf's corpse.

It was too much for Steinpfeil to take. He punched Muddenklaw in the side of the jaw, causing the larger boy's head to whip around to the side.

Muddenklaw turned back to face Steinpfeil, his face turning a dark crimson colour as blood rushed to his head. He leapt on the smaller boy and started pounding him with both fists. Steinpfeil lost his balance and fell under Muddenklaw's weight, the two boys tumbling down the side of a hill and coming to rest against the side of a tree. Steinpfeil fought back as best as he could but Muddenklaw used his weight to bury the smaller boy beneath him and hold him down while he pummeled him with his fists.

Steinpfeil was unconscious and bleeding from his nose, eyes and ears when Muddenklaw's rage finally subsided.

The larger boy trudged back up the hill to where he had left the dead wolf.

The wolf was gone. There wasn't even a trail of blood to follow. It was just gone.

"Mistle im Himmel!" swore Muddenklaw.

(Author's Note: Yes, I am aware that sounds like Mist im Himmel, which means "shit in heaven" in German. It was unintentional. Originally the goddess in this story was a god named Kord, but that was changed to adapt it.)

When Steinpfeil awoke he was beside a warm fire and his face was covered in dried patches of mud and blood. He looked up in disbelief, thinking Muddenklaw would never be so nice as to beat him up and then actually drag his body to a warm fire and patch up his wounds with mud poultices. He was disappointed when he saw Wrathgar sitting across the fire from him, but he was grateful and bewildered nevertheless.

"Thanks Wrathgar..." he murmured. "I'm sorry we stole your arrows. Muddenklaw said-"

Wrathgar held up a hand. "Shut up okay. Just tell me one thing: Why do you follow that idiot around all the time?"

Steinpfeil's face turned red, but not in anger. "The older boys beat me up sometimes. Muddenklaw stops them."

"Mistle would never approve of that. You have to learn to stand on your own two feet and fight your own fights."

"But they're bigger than I am!"

"And so is Muddenklaw. You still punched him right hard, I saw it."

"You saw?"

"I saw," said Wrathgar and then patted the dead wolf's corpse beside him. "This is yours by right. You can carry it home tomorrow."

Steinpfeil gushed out a thank you and started chattering about how Muddenklaw will have to find his own prize now. Meanwhile Wrathgar was deciding what to do about Muddenklaw. He didn't think Muddenklaw had gotten what he deserved yet.

The next day Wrathgar bid Steinpfeil farewell and trekked farther east, knowingly heading into territory where the lizardfolk hunted. He had last seen Muddenklaw headed in this direction and the large boy left a trail that a blind fool could follow. Everywhere along the path was broken branches, sword cuts on trees, deep footprints in the soft earth. Muddenklaw had vented a lot of rage as he had walked, leaving a trail of fallen trees he had chopped through at head level with his Grosseklinge.

It was a blatant disregard for traditional hunting practices and a warrior's respect for his weapon, from Wrathgar's perspective. He wouldn't be surprised if Muddenklaw's sword wasn't bent and battered by now and half the game in these woods scared off.

Wrathgar followed silently and swiftly, running across stones for fear of stepping on a twig like his father had taught him. He kept his bow ready and flint arrow nocked.

He passed by Muddenklaw's camp from the night before without even bothering to check the campfire. There was no smoke left in the air and it had long ago gone out.

Muddenklaw must have been moving swiftly too, for it was hours and miles away before he found the large boy's next camp site and the remains of a half eaten rabbit. Refusing to eat Muddenklaw's leftovers, Wrathgar backtracked and found a den rabbits where he waited around for one to return and shot it with a copper-tipped arrow. He tucked the rabbit into his belt and sped off on Muddenklaw's trail.

An hour later he found large clawed footprints joining Muddenklaw's trail. Three taloned toes on the front and one toe at the back, like a large lizard, but deep in the earth as if it was carrying a lot of weight. The lizardfolk were now hunting Muddenklaw too, but not for revenge.

Wrathgar quickened his pace until he was all out running through the woods.

Muddenklaw didn't hear lizardfolk coming up behind him. He was making too much racket of his own, swearing to himself about getting revenge against Wrathgar and maybe even Steinpfeil. That boy was going to get beat up again the next time he saw him. Muddenklaw was going to beat him black and blue. But Wrathgar, oh Wrathgar was going to get the worst of it. He wasn't going to use his fists on Wrathgar. No, Wrathgar was going to get the sharp end of his sword, and it wasn't going to be a quick death either. He was going to chop him to pieces, slowly.

Thus was Muddenklaw's state of mind and speech when he took a javelin in the back. He swore and bellowed and drew his sword, cursing his luck when he saw the lizardfolk closing in on him, their tongues lashing out between sharp teeth. One of the lizardfolk tossed a net over him and Muddenklaw thrashed against the net with his Grosseklinge, severing several of the vines holding it together but became thoroughly entangled in the process.

The lizardfolk surrounded him and pummeled him with the butt end of their longspears, keeping their distance from the flailing boy with the huge sword. Muddenklaw tried to fight back, his rage boiling over and his face turning red with blood and anger, but it was no use. The lizardfolk continued battering him with their longspears until he collapsed to the ground and dropped his Grosseklinge.

Wrathgar found the pool of blood, still sticky on the ground within the signs of a scuffle. There was shredded pieces of a vine net and plenty of footprints of both human and lizardfolk. There wasn't enough blood for Muddenklaw to be dead however and the shredded net definitely suggested they had taken the large boy alive.

There was a strange skull shaped marking written on a tree nearby with some sort of red paste. It wasn't blood or any kind of paint Wrathgar had ever seen. He could only presume it was draconic for "Stay Away!" or "Death!"

He followed the lizardfolk's path downhill. The land was becoming more muddy in this direction and there was water springing from small geysers in the side of the hill. There was also the distinct smell of sulfur in the air, an ingredient High Shaman Korflex sometimes used in rituals. As he traveled he noticed several other trees marked with the same skull symbol.

He also noticed wolf tracks too, but this wolf was far larger than any other beast he had ever seen. The footprints were about the size of a tiger's.

He stayed on the lizardfolk's trail. He had to find out what had become of Muddenklaw.

Muddenklaw awoke with a groan. He smelled something awful and it took him awhile to realize it was himself. He was dripping with lizardfolk urine. His arms and legs were bound and his eyes were so swollen he could only squint out of them. It took him awhile to adjust to the light.

There was a wood elf girl crying in the cage next to his. Her hands were bound and her hair had been shaved roughly off with a dull knife. She looked to be about eight or ten winters old, but it was impossible for him to tell with elves. She was clutching her right leg which was twisted in a strange angle and looked like it might be broken. She didn't look at him and kept her eyes firmly on the lizardfolk that walked by.

The lizardfolk camp was surprisingly well organized from Muddenklaw's perspective. There was stone walls and statues in the corners of the walls of lizardfolk carrying shields and spears. It wasn't a huge camp and only a handful of the stone buildings had thatched roofs. Smoke rose from several campfires spread around. The ground was muddy everywhere and there was a pool of stagnant water near the centre of the camp. Muddenklaw and the elf girl were inside wooden cages off to one side of the camp. The lizardfolk walked around casually, the children running about carrying small spears and playing with each other while adults in loin clothes and wearing wolf and bear skins went about their business, all carrying weapons.

Two of the lizardfolk were arguing loudly over the Grosseklinge, which stood tip down in some thick mud, buried a foot deep. Muddenklaw presumed they were arguing over ownership. Oh what he would give to get his hands on that sword and cut through the necks of these stinking lizards...

A human woman set a bowl of muddy water in front of him and then backed away from the cage. Her eyes were downcast and her feet were bound with crude iron shackles. She was incredibly thin and suffering from starvation. It took a moment for realization to sink in to Muddenklaw. He was now a slave. They would starve him half to death and beat him into submission and he would eventually die of starvation or from the beatings. He would have to escape somehow.

Wrathgar stayed in the shadows of twilight and prayed to Mistle that lizardfolk can't see that well in the dark. He had managed to get quite close to the camp, but was unsure of how to get over the walls and get a better view. He stood in the darkness mentally arguing options in his head before he realized he could just climb a tree and get a better look.

He chose a tree close to the wall and stayed on the outer side of the tree so that its branches would obscure his shape. He secured his Grosseklinge to his back so it wouldn't make as much noise and climbed the tree until he was only a leap from the top of the wall.

He spotted the human slaves, and even a couple elven slaves immediately. It took him awhile longer to locate Muddenklaw in the cage on the far side of the camp because there was a campfire with thick smoke obscuring that part of the camp.

Next came a moral dilemma. Should he leave Muddenklaw in slavery or risk his life against an entire tribe of lizardfolk trying to save someone he despised? Then there was the other matter: What about the other slaves? Should he condemn them to death just to spite Muddenklaw?

No, he would make a rescue attempt.

But he would be rescuing all of them, not just Muddenklaw.

Later that night a human figure crept over the stone walls of the camp and made its way over to where two lizardfolk guards were standing near the gates. The figure drew a huge sword off its back and waited for both guards to turn their backs.

Wrathgar leapt from the shadows and sliced the one guard across the back of the neck, nearly severing it's head from its shoulders. The other guard turned in shock and Wrathgar hacked it down the middle before it could raise a sound.

He glanced around to see if anyone had noticed and then dragged the bodies into the shadows. Knowing it would only be a matter of time before they were noticed missing he ran around the side of the nearest building and headed towards a set of cages where four of the slaves were kept.

Praying for Mistle's blessing he swung at the cage door and slashed it from its hinges. The slaves inside awoke with a start from the sound. He was certain other lizardfolk had heard the sound too but he didn't care any more. All the excitement had worked him up into a blood frenzy.

He rushed to the next cage and slashed it crudely and kicked it in.

"Wrathgar! Get me out of here!" shouted Muddenklaw, awake from the excitement and noise.

Wrathgar didn't notice him and went to next cage, the one with the elven girl. He slashed the door open but then noticed the girl wasn't walking properly.

Not stopping to think, he lifted the girl onto his back and slashed open Muddenklaw's door and spun about to fend off the tip of a longspear aimed at his leg. He looked up and saw a lizard woman snap her tongue at him and raise her spear again for another thrust.

Muddenklaw barrelled out of the cage, his face red with rage. He brushed roughly past Wrathgar and grabbed the spear from the shocked lizard woman. He spun the spear on her and drove it through her gut.

A javelin thudded into the cage next to Wrathgar and he charged at the offending lizardfolk who had thrown it, heedless of the girl clinging to his back. He sliced the unarmed lizardfolk down and stepped over its corpse, shouting something unintelligible about getting out of the camp, hoping the slaves would understand his words.

Muddenklaw tossed aside the longspear and ran for his sword, still stuck in the thick mud. The mud slowed him down but he managed to reach his Grosseklinge and draw it from the mud before any more of the lizardfolk reached him.

Wrathgar ran for the exit to the camp, stopping only briefly to chop at a lizardfolk guard swinging a battleaxe. His bloodrage wouldn't last much longer he realized dimly. He took a javelin in the shoulder as he ran, but kept running.

Muddenklaw chopped his way through two more lizardfolk before running after the other barbarian. He had two javelins stuck in his back by the time he caught up to Wrathgar and both warriors were bleeding heavily.

They charged uphill away from the lizardfolk camp, the slaves leading the way. They cleared the top of the hill and Wrathgar paused to catch his breath.

It was then that Muddenklaw decided to take his revenge. He ripped the elf girl off Wrathgar's back and stabbed the young barbarian through the small of the back, the tip of his sword coming out through Wrathgar's stomach.

The warrior stumbled and fell, shocked. He looked up at Muddenklaw, his face a mixture of confusion and hatred.

Muddenklaw spat at him and fled.

When Wrathgar awoke he couldn't move. He could feel earth worms and other creatures squirming around inside his bearskin hide and it was so dark he couldn't see. He immediately assumed he had been buried alive. He let out a panicked shout.

"Sssh!" came a small lyrical voice that reminded him immediately of Vertia. "There might still be lizardfolk around. Be quiet!"

He wasn't dead and he wasn't buried either. Where was he? He decided to ask. "Where am I?" he whispered.

"You're in an old log. Be quiet." Her voice was straight ahead of him, but he could not see the source.

That explained all the vermin crawling around beside him and inside his clothes. He decided to wait it out for now. His mind quickly turned to the last thing he remembered, Muddenklaw stabbing him in the back and seeing the sword tip sticking out of stomach. How had he survived that?

As if sensing his thoughts the elvish voice spoke again. "Corellon Larethian saved your life today warrior, as you saved mine. We can leave in a few minutes."

Wrathgar waited, trying to ignore the worms and critters crawling all over his skin.

"My leg is broken and Corellon has not answered my prayers to heal it. Perhaps he sent you instead. Thank you."

She shifted and crawled out of the log, allowing light in so that Wrathgar could see again. It was morning by the looks of it, perhaps even noon. He groaned and pulled himself slowly out of the claustrophobic log.

The girl was busy trying to brush off her muddy dress. She looked at her hands and realized they were covered in filth. Her face turned to an expression of disgust.

Wrathgar spat on his hands and washed them with spittle. It was better than nothing. "I'm Wrathgar. Who are you?" he asked.

"Florianna," she replied. "I hid your sword in a mud puddle over there," she said pointing behind the log.

Good, thought Wrathgar. I know just whom to use it on, he mused, thinking of Muddenklaw.

"Thank you dear Wrathgar," Vertia said, embracing Wrathgar shoulder to shoulder as comrades in her tribe do. "We feared she was dead and eaten by some beast. Everyday we prayed to Corellon Larethian for her safe return. Florianna will live to become a full priestess thanks to you." She looked away from the young barbarian and at the surrounding encampment of wood elves who were celebrating. She paused thoughtful for a long time. "I could find the high priestess and have her take a look at your wounds, but I know you would refuse help."

Wrathgar nodded. "I must leave anyway. I have two beasts to track."

"Will killing him really solve anything?"

"He dishonoured the first hunt with his treachery. Mistle has no tolerance for such evil and neither do I. By Mistle's will, Muddenklaw or I shall lie dead tonight."

"And the second beast?"

"A wolf of great size, possibly a worg or something else."

Muddenklaw paused to rest on a fallen tree. He had abandoned the humans in the woods the night before, fleeing northward hoping to lose the lizardfolk tracking him. It had worked for awhile but somehow they had found his trail and he had been running for hours now. His strength was sapped and his will was beginning to falter.

He was hungry and tired and for the first time he realized he was also lost. He had lost his bearings somehow and now the woods seemed alien and forlorn, as if no man had ever tread through these parts. It had been hours since he had seen a proper hunting trail.

He decided it was time he found some place to sleep.

He wandered through the forest for another hour before finally crawling into a briar patch. The thorns pierced his skin but it was better than nothing.

Muddenklaw had a fitful sleep, constantly awaking to thorns in all parts of his body. He felt as if he was being punished by some unforeseen god who refused to let him sleep.

Hours later, rested but still in need of some real sleep he grumbled and pulled himself out of briar patch, swearing to himself that he would never sleep in such a place again.

There was a shout off to one side in a strange sibilant tongue and Muddenklaw realized his swearing had just alerted the lizardfolk of his presence. He started to run but changed his mind. He turned about, drew his bow, nocked one of Wrathgar's flint arrows, looking for the lizardfolk in the dim light of the forest canopy.

A javelin flew past the barbarian, missing its mark.

Startled, Muddenklaw turned in the direction of the javelin's path and loosed his arrow wildly into the woods. It thudded into a tree, not even close to the lizardman who was well hidden. He cursed when he realized he had just wasted his last flint arrow.

More sibilant tongue in the woods, this time from a different direction. To Muddenklaw's ears it seemed as if they were laughing at him.

The barbarian dropped his bow and drew his battered Grosseklinge. He took up a defensive posture, hoping to jump out of the way of any further javelins.

But no javelins came.

No net either.

Instead he heard a sharp twang and the tongues of two different lizardfolk fading in different directions.

"What just happened?" Muddenklaw wondered aloud. "Who's there?" he demanded after awhile, holding his Grosseklinge up threatening.

There was rustling in the woods off to one side, the sound of something coming closer but no reply. Muddenklaw turned to face the new threat, holding his sword at ready and preparing to charge.

Wrathgar stepped into view from behind an ancient oak tree, his Grosseklinge drawn. His eyes were calm but there was a determination in his face that unnerved the exhausted Muddenklaw.

Muddenklaw stuttered for a moment, his face turning red with rage. His mouth started to froth spittle as he spat out incoherent words of hatred and disgust. He charged at Wrathgar, his feet flying across the ground as he jumped over fallen logs and bushes in his mad rush towards the barbarian.

Wrathgar waited, infinitely calm. He held his Grosseklinge up with one hand, his left hand and then dropped it.

Muddenklaw roared with victory. His cry was a great shout that scared the birds and all manner of creatures into hiding.

Wrathgar quickly drew a crude wooden spear from behind his back and braced it against his foot. He leveled the spear towards Muddenklaw as the barbarian came charging uphill towards him.

Muddenklaw's cry became a gurgle and he swung at Wrathgar, his huge sword not even in range. He felt weak suddenly, as if a great weight was pressing down on his chest and it was difficult to breath. He swung again at Wrathgar, trying to push forward despite the weight against his chest. He looked down to see what it was and for the first time noticed the spear lodged in his chest, just above his stomach.

Wrathgar pressed forward with the spear, holding the barbarian at bay. Blood was gushing around the crudely hacked off spear point that was lodged deep inside Muddenklaw. Through clenched teeth he whispered the words: "I will not sully the sword of Mistle with a traitor's blood. You will die today Muddenklaw, not for lack of strength but for lack of common decency. Mistle shall punish you for your misdeeds."

Muddenklaw gurgled a response. His Grosseklinge fell from numb fingers and the young warrior fell to the ground.

Wrathgar shoved the spear and Muddenklaw away from him. He could still hear Muddenklaw's gurgling breath as he stooped and picked up his own Grosseklinge. He considered finishing Muddenklaw off but decided against it and started walking away.

"Let your last moments be prayers for Mistle's forgiveness for you will have none of mine."

Wrathgar returned to the village three nights later half-carrying and half-dragging a wolf the likes the tribe hadn't seen in generations. It was huge, about eight feet long and weighed between six hundred and eight hundred pounds. Its fangs were unusually large and jutted from its maw ferociously. Wrathgar had gutted its unedible entrails to make it easier to carry but it had still taken him two days to drag/carry the huge beast all the way back to village.

Once inside the village he lay the wolf down to rest while others came to inspect it. The beast was riddled with flint arrows, six in total and had several large gashes from Wrathgar's Grosseklinge, the largest of which was across the beast's throat. Wrathgar himself slumped against the side of the wolf, trying to catch his breath.

"By Mistle's Might!" declared High Shaman Korflex. "You have earned the right to sit at Mistle's table! Tonight we shall feast on the blood and flesh of this great beast! Tomorrow you shall wear the wolf-skin as a mantle of Mistle's power! You are one of Mistle's chosen!"

Wrathgar stood up slowly. The full weight of the last few days had come to him. Not the weight of the wolf, or the weight of Muddenklaw's treachery, but the weight of what he had become. He was now a man.

Water dripped down his nose and he awoke in pain and misery. It took a long time to realize he was back in the lizardfolk village and even longer for Muddenklaw to realize the true nature of his predicament. Yes, he was alive. He had somehow survived the chest wound that Wrathgar had dealt him but now he was heavily shackled, tired, starving, dreadfully injured and something worse.

He was now a slave.

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