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Authors: Loren Coleman

Blood of Wolves

BOOK: Blood of Wolves
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Table of Contents
 
 
SINGLE COMBAT
Kern loped up to the Vanir, a snarl of defiance baring his teeth. One of the men got a good look at him by the dimming twilight and staggered back in sudden fright. “Ymir! Ymir!”
Why the raider called upon the Vanir's chief god, the legendary frost-giant who—legends said—once grappled with Crom himself, Kern neither knew nor cared. All that mattered was that he had only one man left standing against him.
And that one hesitated as well, sword raised high, confusion clouding his pale features. He struck slowly, glancing his blow off Kern's upraised shield.
The Vanir wouldn't get a second chance. Kern's broadsword bit into the raider's thigh, drawing a bloody scar toward his groin and nicking something important. Blood sprayed out in a warm jet to soak Kern's kilt and splash streaming droplets across his arms, his hands, his bare chest . . .
 
Look for the next adventures in the Legends of Kern series
CIMMERIAN RAGE
SONGS OF VICTORY
 
Millions of readers have enjoyed Robert E. Howard's
stories about Conan. Twelve thousand years ago, after
the sinking of Atlantis, there was an age undreamed of
when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world. This
was an age of magic, wars, and adventure, but above all
this was an age of heroes! The Age of Conan series features
the tales of other legendary heroes in Hyboria.
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
 
BLOOD OF WOLVES
 
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with Conan Properties International, LLC.
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Ace mass market edition / June 2005
 
Copyright © 2005 by Conan Properties International, LLC.
 
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
 
eISBN : 978-1-440-67817-2
 
ACE Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014. ACE and the “A” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

this book is dedicated to
Robert Howard
1906-1936
for the adventures and heroes he gave to us
Acknowledgments
Working in the universe of
Conan the Barbarian
has been one of the best writing jobs I've ever had. Not only did I get to work within Robert Howard's wonderful creation, I was allowed to create new iconic characters for people to enjoy. The best of both worlds. And for that, I'd like to thank the following people for helping me along the way:
Everyone at Conan Properties International for working with me on this book—Theodore Bergquist, Fredrik Malmberg, and Jeff Conner. Also Ginjer Buchanan, my new editor at Ace Books, with whom I've always wanted to work.
Don Maass, my agent. Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch for their continuous support. And fellow barbarian Steve York, who agreed to read quickly and had many good comments.
Also a quick round of thanks to the usual suspects—Randall Bills, Herb Beas, and Oystein Tvedten, who are never too busy for one more research or “reading” question.
And finally, my family. My children—Talon, Conner, and Alexia, who put up with my (at times) odd behavior. Heather, my wife and my partner, who read every word and helped keep me at task on yet another insane deadline. I am also contractually obligated (by them) to mention my cats—Chaos, Ranger, and Rumor. And I suppose Loki, our neurotic border collie, deserves a quick nod as well.
Thank you.
1
KERN WOLF-EYE'S BREATHING came in sharp huffs and thin, frozen wisps. Leather harness straps dug into his shoulders. He nodded Daol around a wattle-and-daub shack, steering clear of Gaud's trodden paths as the two clansmen kept the flat-bottomed sled, piled high with fresh-split logs and a pair of scrawny rabbits thrown on top, to a frosted patch of untrodden snow.
Icy crust broke underfoot. The old snow packed down with a dry, squelching sound that reminded Kern of stepping on dead fire coals.
Daol labored next to him even though the young hunter could have brought the rabbits back hours before. Both broad-shouldered Cimmerians leaned into the strain, counting the last hundred paces to the village lodge. Their final pull fell over a short downhill slope. Kern put the last of his strength into it, stomping through the snow crust.
The sled caught, hitched, then broke free into a short, fast glide that eased their burden for a few seconds. Too late, Kern realized the sled wouldn't stop in time. He and Daol scrambled to either side, pulling on their harnesses, but the heavy weight simply jerked them forward, and the sled hammered into the wood already stacked carefully under the lodge's overhanging eaves. There was a sharp crack from the sled, and the end pile of seasoned split-rounds collapsed in a slow-moving avalanche.
Daol massaged his shoulder, stared down at the tumbled wood.
“Have to carry some in, anyway,” Kern said. He examined the front of the sled. One of the carefully sawn planks had split. “I'll get that fixed in the morning, before going out again.”
He stood, kicked away snow clumping to his fur-lined boots. A bright patch behind the gray cloud cover warned the sun was close to the western Teeth, ready to slip behind the massive peak of Ben Morgh.
Kern looked back the way they'd come, at the crests of tall evergreens standing above straw-thatched roofs of Gaudic homes. Two leagues, he gauged. Maybe three. And they had beaten nightfall by an hour at least.
“Good pull.” He thanked his friend. Daol had not been obliged to help, but the dark-haired hunter would not accept stronger praise.
“Kept me warm.”
Still, Daol refused to meet Kern's eyes. He grabbed the rabbits by the thong binding their back legs together. They looked even scrawnier, dangling from the hunter's callused hands. Draping them over his left shoulder, he retrieved Kern's axe and his own bow and birch-bark quiver off the back of the sled.
“You'll drop off an armful of wood?”
He wasn't asking for himself. Kern nodded, setting the axe aside. “You will save Reave some meat?”
Daol's gray eyes flicked up, briefly, then he glanced down at the rabbit hanging over his shoulder. “Hindquarters. And any fat scraped off the pelt.”
Nothing would go to waste. Especially with winter's stranglehold on Conall Valley pushing so deep into what should have been the beginning of spring. The fur would be cured, entrails boiled down into a fatty broth, and most of the meat stripped for the chieftain. Even the bones, often thrown to the dogs in summer's excess, would be ground up to mix in with oat meal.
If there was any oat meal left in Gaud.
“Find you tomorrow,” Kern said. He snagged the carrying strap left hanging on the corner post of the small lodge. Nothing more than a pair of wide leather belts stitched together, with wooden handles sewn onto either end. Spreading it over cleared ground protected by the eaves, he piled wood onto the strap.
BOOK: Blood of Wolves
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