Conan the Marauder

Conan the Marauder by John Maddox Roberts

Book: Conan the Marauder by John Maddox Roberts Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Maddox Roberts
Hyrkanians were not in the habit of currying their horses daily, but his men would learn.
    At the archery range he saw a familiar form riding toward him.
    It was Boria.
    "The wheel of fate turns, foreigner," said his erstwhile captor. "You were my prisoner, now you are my equal. I brought you these." He handed over the mail shirt and the helmet he had taken from the Cimmerian. "I would return your horse and sword as well, but I lost them at dicing."
    "I am satisfied," Conan said.
    "Are you satisfied with these rogues you have been given to command?"
    "They are not pretty," Conan admitted, "but I will make them into something. Tell me, Boria... last night the Kagan said he would give me men from his own horde. Yet these are not all Ashkuz, by the look of them."
    Boria laughed, and Conan reflected that the Hyrkanians found humour in the grimmest of situations. "The Kagan spoke truly, but his personal horde includes any men who are not claimed by another commander. Some of these men have been expelled from their own tribes or, are the survivors of hordes that have been wiped off the steppe."
    "No matter," Conan said. "I have commanded men of less than illustrious background before this. It does not mean that they cannot be good soldiers." He slipped' the mail shirt over his head and buckled his sword belt over it. "Tell me," he said when he was satisfied with its fit, "am I to expect trouble from your man, Torgut?"
    "Torgut nurses a grudge and is not likely to forget you," said Boria, "but if he comes for you, it will be from in front."
    "That is all I ask," said Conan.
    "Then farewell, Cimmerian. Your situation is improved, but I do not envy you your new command." With a shrill laugh, Boria rode off.
    Conan took up his bow and called his standard-bearer to his side. "Guyak, I need practice with this bow. Watch me as I shoot and tell me what I am doing wrong."
    "First," said Guyak, "you must string it. It is possible to do this oneself, but it is easier to use a stringing harness and the help of a friend. The Kagan has given you a two-man bow. He himself wields a three-man bow. There should be a harness in your bow case, and I will help you string the bow."
    "Let me try it alone first," Conan said. He hooked the lower limb of the bow around his left ankle and stepped across it. Grasping the upper limb in his right hand, he bent the bow around the back of his right thigh. The extreme curvature of the bow made this manoeuvre awkward, but he brought the upper limb around to his front. The multiple layers of the bow creaked in protest as he slipped the bowstring loop into its notch on the upper limb.
    Guyak was visibly impressed. "You are very strong, captain. Few men can string a two-man bow so easily."
    Conan stepped from the bow and thrummed its string wife his thumb. The silken cord quivered like a lyre string. In the case he found a horn ring and slipped it over his thumb. It covered the joint and tip of the thumb and would bear the bite of the string.
    "Remember that when it is strung, the bow is under great strain," Guyak cautioned. "Never leave it strung
    for more than two hours. That is why you always car two bows. If there may be trouble, keep one strung and the other unstrung at all times. In cold weather, always! warm a bow before you string it or it will shatter. These' are the finest bows in the world, but they are as temperamental as a fine horse or a Vendhyan courtesan."
    "Do the Hyrkanians make their own bows?" Conan asked.
    "No, we cannot. The staves are made of many layers glued together, and they must spend years seasoning in special forms. Most of them are made in villages north of Khitai, bordering on the steppes. Some of these villages have no occupation except to make bows for the horseback tribes. I have seen workshops where hundreds of prepared bowstaves lie seasoning in huge wooden forms. There is no way we can carry such forms in our wanderings. Those villages are fortunate, for they lie under our

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