First Monday Free Fiction: The Wolf of Rajala

The Wolf of Rajala by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertWelcome to the first edition of First Monday Free Fiction for 2022.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

It’s winter in the northern hemisphere and even though we haven’t been blessed (or cursed) with a lot of snow so far, it’s nonetheless the perfect time for a wintery story.

This month’s free story The Wolf of Rajala is part of my Kurval sword and sorcery series. I originally created Kurval, because I enjoyed Robert E. Howard’s stories of Kull as King of Valusia and Conan as King of Aquilonia a whole lot and was always disappointed that there weren’t any more of them.  So I created my own wandering barbarian turned king character.

However, Kurval quickly acquired a backstory as well as adventures set before his time as King of Azakoria. The Wolf of Rajala is one of those stories, since it’s set during Kurval’s time as a mercenary and wandering monster slayer, when the crown seems nothing more than a distant dream.  Though the themes of justice and mercy that run through the Kurval stories is also present in The Wolf of Rajala.

So accompany Kurval, as he braves the frozen land of Simola and faces…

The Wolf of Rajala

“Before he became King of Azakoria in the Year of the Forked Serpent, Kurval spent many a year wandering the lands of the Eastern continent. During this time, he performed deeds of great bravery and fought several fearsome monsters such as the serpent Khalikidai, the dragon of Suraimur. But none of these monsters was more fearsome than the wolf of Rajala…”

From the Chronicles of Azakoria by Ragur, Count Falgune

I. The Frozen Land

“Civilisation…” Kurval thought, as he trudged through the knee deep snow, “…is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

In the Year of the Twisted Rope, Kurval had forever left his homeland on the steppes of Temirzhan across the sea behind to seek his fortune in the more civilised lands of the East.

That said, he hadn’t left entirely of his own free well. For there was no longer a place in Temirzhan for a captain of the Royal Guard who had not only defied his king but also helped to bring about his death. Even if King Talgat had been a terrible ruler and worse man.

And so Kurval had left to find his destiny in the lands across the sea, chasing the prophecy of the dark gods that one day, he would be a mighty king on the far side of the great ocean.

But so far, not a hint of that royal destiny had manifested itself to the point that Kurval wondered whether the dark gods had not been toying with him. Nor were the lands across the sea the beacon of civilisation and knowledge he’d expected them to be. Instead, they were mostly cold and miserable.

Since it would not do to simply venture into the capital of one of the kingdoms beyond the sea and announce his intention to take the throne — never mind that those blasted dark gods had not even told him which kingdom he was destined to rule — Kurval now plied his trade as a mercenary, offering his arm and his sword to anyone with gold enough to hire him. It wasn’t kinghood, but it was an honest enough profession.

This time around, he had been hired by the magistrate of the village Rajala. The village was beset by wolves, which in itself was nothing unusual, for the village lay at the edge of the vast forest of Korjus, a forest that many wolfpacks roamed. And even though wolves normally kept away from humans, as afraid of man as man was of wolves, attacks did happen on occasion.

However, in the past three moons, the number of wolf attacks near the village of Rajala has increased. The wolves were also getting bolder, venturing ever closer to the village and its sturdy log cabins. The snatched sheep and sometimes even unwary travellers. Of late, the attacks had gotten even worse. The daughter of a grain merchant only narrowly escaped death when a wolf chased her to the doorstep of her home. A wealthy farmer had his privates bitten off, the judge from the nearest market town lost a leg to the wolf and the village butcher, who also doubled as the hangman, was found dead in the woods, his guts torn out.

Even more alarming was that the wolves that beset the village of Rajala were larger than usual. One wolf in particular threatened the village, a vicious beast three times as tall as a man, with razor-sharp fangs and glowing red eyes. Every night, the villagers heard the wolf howl, a howl that seemed to come straight from the underworld, promising death and doom.

The magistrate had hired Kurval to slay that giant wolf and as many of the others as he could and bring back the beasts’ pelts in exchange for a bag of gold. As jobs went, this one was easy enough, for Kurval was not afraid of wild beasts, even uncommonly large ones. Furthermore, he strongly suspected that the villagers were exaggerating with regard to the wolf’s size. If only it wasn’t so damned cold…

In his youth on the steppes of Temirzhan across the sea, Kurval had rarely worn more than a loincloth. Now, however, he wore a padded leather jerkin and matching trousers, woollen gloves and fur-lined boots, a fur hat and a thick vest of sheepskin. But even bundled up like an old man sitting by the fireside and complaining about his aching joints, Kurval was still cold.

Night was falling fast and the tall fir trees of the forest of Korjus were outlined in stark black against the darkening winter sky. In theory, this was a good thing, because wolves hunt by night. Unfortunately, nightfall also meant that what little warmth the wan winter sun provided faded and it got even colder. And torch that Kurval carried offered light, but little in the way of warmth.

The snow crunched beneath his fur-lined boots, as he made his way through the forest. Up ahead, the moon was rising, casting its icy light over the frozen land. The snow underneath his feet glittered, as if it had been sprinkled with diamond dust.

A bone-chilling howl echoed through the forest, causing even the fir trees to shudder and dump their burden of snow. That would be the wolf then.

With a grim smile on his face, Kurval trudged onwards, directly towards the howling.

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in The Wolf of Rajala. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

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