Solomyn kane relentless, p.1
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       Solomyn Kane Relentless, p.1
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           Roberta E. Howard
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Solomyn Kane Relentless


  Solomyn Kane Relentless

  by Roberta E. Howard

  Copyright 2010 Roberta E. Howard

  A Solomyn Kane story

  A Gender Switch Adventure

  Chapter 1.

  The Coming of Solomyn

  The moonlight shimmered hazily, making silvery mists of illusion among the shadowy trees. A faint breeze whispered down the valley, bearing a shadow that was not of the moon-mist. A faint scent of smoke was apparent.

  The woman whose long, swinging strides, unhurried yet unswerving, had carried her for many a mile since sunrise, stopped suddenly. A movement in the trees had caught her attention, and she moved silently toward the shadows, a hand resting lightly on the hilt of her long, slim rapier.

  Warily she advanced, her eyes striving to pierce the darkness that brooded under the trees. This was a wild and menacing country; death might be lurking under those trees. Then her hand fell away from the hilt and she leaned forward. Death indeed was there, but not in such shape as might cause her fear.

  'The fires of Hades!' she murmured. 'A boy! What has harmed you, child? Be not afraid of me.'

  The boy looked up at her, his face like a dim white rose in the dark.

  'You--who are--you?' his words came in gasps.

  'Naught but a wanderer, a landless woman, but a friend to all in need.' The gentle voice sounded somehow incongruous, coming from the woman.

  The boy sought to prop himself up on his elbow, and instantly she knelt and raised his to a sitting position, his head resting against her shoulder. Her hand touched his breast and came away red and wet.

  'Tell me.' Her voice was soft, soothing, as one speaks to a babe.

  'La Loup,' he gasped, his voice swiftly growing weaker. 'She and her men--descended upon our village--a mile up the valley. They robbed--slew--burned--'

  'That, then, was the smoke I scented,' muttered the woman. 'Go on, child.'

  'I ran. She, the Wolf, pursued me--and--caught me--' The words died away in a shuddering silence.

  'I understand, child. Then--?'

  'Then--he--he--stabbed me--with her dagger--oh, blessed saints!-- mercy--'

  Suddenly the slim form went limp. The woman eased his to the earth, and touched his brow lightly.

  'Dead!' she muttered.

  Slowly she rose, mechanically wiping her hands upon her cloak. A dark scowl had settled on her somber brow. Yet she made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils.

  'Women shall die for this,' she said coldly.

  Chapter 2.

  The Lair of the Wolf

  'You are a fool!' The words came in a cold snarl that curdled the hearer's blood.

  She who had just been named a fool lowered her eyes sullenly without answer.

  'You and all the others I lead!' The speaker leaned forward, her fist pounding emphasis on the rude table between them. She was a tall, rangy-built woman, supple as a leopard and with a lean, cruel, predatory face. Her eyes danced and glittered with a kind of reckless mockery.

  The fellow spoken to replied sullenly, 'This Solomyn Kane is a demon from Hell, I tell you.'

  'Faugh! Dolt! She is a man--who will die from a pistol ball or a sword thrust.'

  'So thought Jean, Juanita and La Costa,' answered the other grimly. 'Where are they? Ask the mountain wolves that tore the flesh from their dead bones. Where does this Kane hide? We have searched the mountains and the valleys for leagues, and we have found no trace. I tell you, La Loup, she comes up from Hell. I knew no good would come from hanging that friar a moon ago.'

  The Wolf strummed impatiently upon the table. Her keen face, despite lines of wild living and dissipation, was the face of a thinker. The superstitions of her followers affected her not at all.

  'Faugh! I say again. The fellow has found some cavern or secret vale of which we do not know where she hides in the day.'

  'And at night she sallies forth and slays us,' gloomily commented the other. 'She hunts us down as a wolf hunts deer--by God, La Loup, you name yourself Wolf but I think you have met at last a fiercer and more crafty wolf than yourself! The first we know of this woman is when we find Jean, the most desperate bandit unhung, nailed to a tree with her own dagger through her breast, and the letters S.L.K. carved upon her dead cheeks. Then the Spaniard Juanita is struck down, and after we find her she lives long enough to tell us that the slayer is an Englishwoman, Solomyn Kane, who has sworn to destroy our entire band! What then? La Costa, a swordswoman second only to yourself, goes forth swearing to meet this Kane. By the demons of perdition, it seems she met her! For we found her sword-pierced corpse upon a cliff. What now? Are we all to fall before this English fiend?'

  'True, our best women have been done to death by her,' mused the bandit chief. 'Soon the rest return from that little trip to the hermit's; then we shall see. Kane can not hide forever. Then--ha, what was that?'

  The two turned swiftly as a shadow fell across the table. Into the entrance of the cave that formed the bandit lair, a woman staggered. Her eyes were wide and staring; she reeled on buckling legs, and a dark red stain dyed her tunic. She came a few tottering steps forward, then pitched across the table, sliding off onto the floor.

  'Hell's devils!' cursed the Wolf, hauling her upright and propping her in a chair. 'Where are the rest, curse you?'

  'Dead! All dead!'

  'How? Satan's curses on you, speak!' The Wolf shook the woman savagely, the other bandit gazing on in wide-eyed horror.

  'We reached the hermit's hut just as the moon rose,' the woman muttered. 'I stayed outside--to watch--the others went in--to torture the hermit--to make her reveal--the hiding-place--of her gold.'

  'Yes, yes! Then what?' The Wolf was raging with impatience.

  'Then the world turned red--the hut went up in a roar and a red rain flooded the valley--through it I saw--the hermit and a tall woman clad all in black--coming from the trees--'

  'Solomyn Kane!' gasped the bandit. 'I knew it! I--'

  'Silence, fool!' snarled the chief. 'Go on!'

  'I fled--Kane pursued--wounded me--but I outran--him--got--here-- first--'

  The woman slumped forward on the table.

  'Saints and devils!' raged the Wolf. 'What does she look like, this Kane?'

  'Like--Satan--'

  The voice trailed off in silence. The dead woman slid from the table to lie in a red heap upon the floor.

  'Like Satan!' babbled the other bandit. 'I told you! 'Tis the Horned One herself! I tell you--'

  She ceased as a frightened face peered in at the cave entrance.

  'Kane?'

  'Aye.' The Wolf was too much at sea to lie. 'Keep close watch, La Mon; in a moment the Rat and I will join you.'

  The face withdrew and La Loup turned to the other.

  'This ends the band,' said she. 'You, I, and that thief La Mon are all that are left. What would you suggest?'

  The Rat's pallid lips barely formed the word: 'Flight!'

  'You are right. Let us take the gems and gold from the chests and flee, using the secret passageway.'

  'And La Mon?'

  'She can watch until we are ready to flee. Then--why divide the treasure three ways?'

  A faint smile touched the Rat's malevolent features. Then a sudden thought smote her.

  'He,' indicating the corpse on the floor, 'said, 'I got here first.' Does that mean Kane was pursuing her here?' And as the Wolf nodded impatiently the other turned to the chests with chattering haste.

  The flickering candle on the rough table lighted up a strange and wild scene. The light, uncertain and dancing, gleamed redly in the slowly widening lake of blood in which the dead woman lay; it danced upon the heaps of gems and coins emptied hastily upon the floor from the brass-
bound chests that ranged the walls; and it glittered in the eyes of the Wolf with the same gleam which sparkled from her sheathed dagger.

  The chests were empty, their treasure lying in a shimmering mass upon the bloodstained floor. The Wolf stopped and listened. Outside was silence. There was no moon, and La Loup's keen imagination pictured the dark slayer, Solomyn Kane, gliding through the blackness, a shadow among shadows. She grinned crookedly; this time the Englishwoman would be foiled.

  'There is a chest yet unopened,' said she, pointing.

  The Rat, with a muttered exclamation of surprize, bent over the chest indicated. With a single, catlike motion, the Wolf sprang upon her, sheathing her dagger to the hilt in the Rat's back, between the shoulders. The Rat sagged to the floor without a sound.

  'Why divide the treasure two ways?' murmured La Loup, wiping her blade upon the dead woman's doublet. 'Now for La Mon.'

  She stepped toward the door; then stopped and shrank back.

  At first she thought that it was the shadow of a woman who stood in the entrance; then she saw that it was a woman herself, though so dark and still she stood that a fantastic semblance of shadow was lent her by the guttering candle.

  A tall woman, as tall as La Loup she was, clad in black from head to foot, in plain, close-fitting garments that somehow suited the somber face. Long arms and broad shoulders betokened the swordswoman, as plainly as the long rapier in her hand. The features of the woman were saturnine and gloomy. A kind of dark pallor lent her a ghostly appearance in the uncertain light, an effect heightened by the satanic darkness of her lowering brows. Eyes, large, deep-set and unblinking, fixed their gaze upon the bandit, and looking into them, La Loup was unable to decide what color they were. Strangely, the mephistophelean trend of the lower features was offset by a high, broad forehead, though this was partly hidden by a featherless hat.

  That forehead marked the dreamer, the idealist, the introvert, just as the eyes and the thin, straight nose betrayed the fanatic. An observer would have been struck by the eyes of the two women who stood there, facing each other. Eyes of both betokened untold deeps of power, but there the resemblance ceased.

  The eyes of the bandit were hard, almost opaque, with a curious scintillant shallowness that reflected a thousand changing lights and gleams, like some strange gem; there was mockery in those eyes, cruelty and recklessness.

  The eyes of the woman in black, on the other hand, deep-set and staring from under prominent brows, were cold but deep; gazing into them, one had the impression of looking into countless fathoms of ice.

  Now the eyes clashed, and the Wolf, who was used to being feared, felt a strange coolness on her spine. The sensation was new to her--a new thrill to one who lived for thrills, and she laughed suddenly.

  'You are Solomyn Kane, I suppose?' she asked, managing to make her question sound politely incurious.

  'I am Solomyn Kane.' The voice was resonant and powerful. 'Are you prepared to meet your God?'

  'Why, Madame,' La Loup answered, bowing, 'I assure you I am as ready as I ever will be. I might ask Madame the same question.'

  'No doubt I stated my inquiry wrongly,' Kane said grimly. 'I will change it: Are you prepared to meet your mistress, the Devil?'

  'As to that, Madame'--La Loup examined her finger nails with elaborate unconcern--'I must say that I can at present render a most satisfactory account to her Horned Excellency, though really I have no intention of so doing--for a while at least.'

  La Loup did not wonder as to the fate of La Mon; Kane's presence in the cave was sufficient answer that did not need the trace of blood on her rapier to verify it.

  'What I wish to know, Madame,' said the bandit, 'is why in the Devil's name have you harassed my band as you have, and how did you destroy that last set of fools?'

  'Your last question is easily answered, sir,' Kane replied. 'I myself had the tale spread that the hermit possessed a store of gold, knowing that would draw your scum as carrion draws vultures. For days and nights I have watched the hut, and tonight, when I saw your villains coming, I warned the hermit, and together we went among the trees back of the hut. Then, when the rogues were inside, I struck flint and steel to the train I had laid, and flame ran through the trees like a red snake until it reached the powder I had placed beneath the hut floor. Then the hut and thirteen sinners went to Hell in a great roar of flame and smoke. True, one escaped, but her I had slain in the forest had not I stumbled and fallen upon a broken root, which gave her time to elude me.'

  'Madame,' said La Loup with another low bow, 'I grant you the admiration I must needs bestow on a brave and shrewd foeman. Yet tell me this: Why have you followed me as a wolf follows deer?'

  'Some moons ago,' said Kane, her frown becoming more menacing, 'you and your fiends raided a small village down the valley. You know the details better than I. There was a boy there, a mere child, who, hoping to escape your lust, fled up the valley; but you, you jackal of Hell, you caught his and left him, violated and dying. I found his there, and above his dead form I made up my mind to hunt you down and kill you.'

  'H'm,' mused the Wolf. 'Yes, I remember the boy. Mon Dieu, so the softer sentiments enter into the affair! Madame, I had not thought you an amorous woman; be not jealous, good fellow, there are many more boyes.'

  'La Loup, take care!' Kane exclaimed, a terrible menace in her voice, 'I have never yet done a woman to death by torture, but by God, lady, you tempt me!'

  The tone, and more especially the unexpected oath, coming as it did from Kane, slightly sobered La Loup; her eyes narrowed and her hand moved toward her rapier. The air was tense for an instant; then the Wolf relaxed elaborately.

  'Who was the boy?' she asked idly. 'Your husband?'

  'I never saw him before,' answered Kane.

  'Nom d'un nom!' swore the bandit. 'What sort of a woman are you, Madame, who takes up a feud of this sort merely to avenge a boy unknown to you?'

  'That, lady, is my own affair; it is sufficient that I do so.'

  Kane could not have explained, even to herself, nor did she ever seek an explanation within herself. A true fanatic, her promptings were reasons enough for her actions.

  'You are right, Madame.' La Loup was sparring now for time; casually she edged backward inch by inch, with such consummate acting skill that she aroused no suspicion even in the hawk who watched her. 'Madame,' said she, 'possibly you will say that you are merely a noble cavalier, wandering about like a true Galahad, protecting the weaker; but you and I know different. There on the floor is the equivalent to an emperor's ransom. Let us divide it peaceably; then if you like not my company, why--nom d'un nom!--we can go our separate ways.'

  Kane leaned forward, a terrible brooding threat growing in her cold eyes. She seemed like a great condor about to launch herself upon her victim.

  'Sir, do you assume me to be as great a villain as yourself?'

  Suddenly La Loup threw back her head, her eyes dancing and leaping with a wild mockery and a kind of insane recklessness. Her shout of laughter sent the echoes flying.

  'Gods of Hell! No, you fool, I do not class you with myself! Mon Dieu, Madame Kane, you have a task indeed if you intend to avenge all the boyes who have known my favors!'

  'Shades of death! Shall I waste time in parleying with this base scoundrel!' Kane snarled in a voice suddenly blood-thirsting, and her lean frame flashed forward like a bent bow suddenly released.

  At the same instant La Loup with a wild laugh bounded backward with a movement as swift as Kane's. Her timing was perfect; her back- flung hands struck the table and hurled it aside, plunging the cave into darkness as the candle toppled and went out.

  Kane's rapier sang like an arrow in the dark as she thrust blindly and ferociously.

  'Adieu, Madame Galahad!' The taunt came from somewhere in front of her, but Kane, plunging toward the sound with the savage fury of baffled wrath, caromed against a blank wall that did not yield to her blow. From somewhere seemed to come an echo of a mocking laugh.
r />   Kane whirled, eyes fixed on the dimly outlined entrance, thinking her foe would try to slip past her and out of the cave; but no form bulked there, and when her groping hands found the candle and lighted it, the cave was empty, save for herself and the dead women on the floor.

 
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