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INTRODUCTION
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I - THE SWORD
CHAPTER II - MORAVIA
CHAPTER III - MARHAT
CHAPTER IV - TRIBECH
CHAPTER V - THE ARROW
CHAPTER VI – NITRAVA
CHAPTER VII - BOGATYGRAD
CHAPTER VIII – CLOTHAR
CHAPTER IX - DAGOBERT
CHAPTER X - RETALIATION
EXPLANATORY NOTES


CHAPTER II - MORAVIA

“Welcome home, honorable Samo!” shouted a guard overlooking the palisades. “Open the gates!” he continued.

The main square was filled with people, because news of their arrival spread quickly. People were cheering. Samo jumped off his horse and ran towards his house. Drahoslava was waiting in front of the door.

“Draha, I missed you so much,” whispered Samo gently while Drahoslava smiled. Then they both kissed. It was a while when they were the last time together. Samo was fighting with his armies in the Vah valley and during the siege of Preslav* for a long time and Drahoslava was waiting for him, taking care of their small children and even some city affairs.

“It’s been so long, my darling,” replied Drahoslava. “All of our girls are walking by now,” she explained with a glow in her eyes.They had three daughters altogether.

In the evening Samo noticed that Drahoslava is deep in her thoughts. “Draha, what’s on your mind?” he asked.

“Samko, you can have as many wifes as you please. Why are you only with me? Am I really enough for you?” asked Drahoslava referring to the traditional Venedian polygamy.

“As you know, I’m different than all the other Venedian men. I could never be with another woman,” answered Samo. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t here for the start of the fasting season,” he continued.

“It was magical as usual,” said Drahoslava. “As you know, I like animal masks representing bulls, horses, bears, goats and so on,” she continued talking about a holiday where men dressed in costumes and masks performing a ritual aimed at protecting against negative forces and ensuring a fruitful year.

“And you don’t like the masks of ghost,” said Samo with a smile.

“Oh, you know me so well,” replied Drahoslava and smiled at Samo.

* Preslav - current city of Bratislava

After having a late dinner, Samo went to a meeting of the chieftains. He was made responsible for leading the rebellion some time ago, because the old Venedian chieftains were unable to unite themselves and fight the common enemy. Someone from the outside had to come and help them and the one was Samo.

“Now we have just one key goal, liberation of the ancient town of Nitrava,” said Samo, while discussing his next steps with the summoned Venedian chieftains that formed a rebellion council. “Vishegrad on Dunay* and Pannonia will have to wait,” he added.

Venedian people used to name their most important fortresses, lying on edges of a tribe’s territory, Vishegrad. These were well protected key fortresses on higher ground that had to be protected at all cost.

By the time they were finished a guard came to inform him that a messenger from the Kingdom of the Franks has arrived. Samo was surprised. He excused himself from the council and went outside to the main square which was surrounded by burning embers.

Indeed a Frankish messenger was standing in the middle of the main square, holding his horse’s reins in one hand and a written message in the other. “I’m looking for the one who goes with the name Samo, leader of the rebellion against Avars,” said the messenger sharply.

“I’m the one you’re looking for. Whose message are you bringing me?” asked Samo.

“Honorable Samo, I have a message for you from the great King of the Franks, Clothar the second, son of Chilperic,” continued the messenger more decently and passed him the written message.

A fair-haired young woman approached the messenger holding a basket with bread and Samo spoke: “Please have some bread with salt.”

“Strange traditions you have here,” murmured the messenger. “Thank you for your kindness,” he replied shortly after.

Samo looked at him reproachfully and then he broke the seal and started reading the message in the light of burning fires.

* Dunay - Venedian name for the river Danube

“So the King of the Franks wants to support us in our effort against Avars and he’s willing to donate ten carriages full of Frankish swords and pikes of the finest quality and one hundred elite swordsmen from his royal guard. That’s interesting,” Samo mumbled and continued with a question: “Why would he do that?”

“Honorable Samo, the soldiers are protecting the carriages outside the fortress. They will serve you well, fulfill all your orders and when their time comes they will die for you. What is your response towards our king?” asked the messenger.

“Share with the great king Clothar my words of gratitude. I will never forget his generousness!” replied Samo.

The messenger bowed his head, jumped on his horse and galloped away towards the main gate.

“Bring me Drahomir and Vladislav! I need to speak with them right away.” Samo ordered a nearby servant.

“You called us, Samo?” asked Drahomir barely awake, disturbed from his nap. Vladislav was standing right next to him holding a mug of tasty bright mead.

“King Clothar is seeking tighter friendship between our lands. He sent us piles of high quality swords and a hundred specially trained swordsmen to help us in our efforts. Drahomir, you will go outside the gates and bring the weapons into the fotress. Invite their commander into my house. I need to talk to him. His men must stay outside the fortress for now. We have to be cautious, it can be a trap, hence disarm him first. And you, Vladislav, go to the council meeting and tell them, that the meeting is suspended until I deal with these issues,” Samo gave out orders and went to his house.

“When will we have finally some time to rest?” asked Vladislav.

“You’ll rest when you’re dead!” replied his older brother, Drahomir, with a smile and started walking towards the gates.

He was expecting to see a bunch of lounging soldiers, tired from all the marching, but instead they were standing in perfect arrays waiting for orders.

“Well I’ll be damned,” thought Drahomir to himself. “Who’s your commander?” he asked the soldiers.

A giant soldier approached Drahomir and said: “I am Ragnahar the Fearless and these are my Alemannian* brothers. We are ready to serve your cause and die for Samo!”

“He must be by a head taller than me,” thought Drahomir to himself.

Drahomir let Ragnahar inside the fortress while his soldiers were waiting in front of the main gates and he conluded: “Samo is waiting for you in his house.” Drahomir was a bit nervous, because he did not trust Germanic people. His distrust was based on stories from the past when there were lots of tensions and problems between the two neighboring peoples.

“Leave your weapons with me,” he ordered Ragnahar who gave him his huge two-handed hammer.

Samo stepped out of his house and said to Drahomir: “Thank you Drahomir, I’ll take it from now on.” And Samo let Ragnahar inside his house where Drahoslava served them a delicious pea soup.

“Thank you, it tastes like it was made by my mother,” said Ragnahar.

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Drahoslava.

“Why does Clothar want to support our cause?” asked Samo.

“I’m just a simple soldier and I don’t see into politics,” replied Ragnahar.

“Tell me what do you think,” Samo made it more clear.

“Well, Avars can be easily bought for a military campaign by any side and even in times of peace they’re a spiteful neighbor,” replied Ragnahar.

“And no one wants someone like this as his neighbor,” added Samo.

After they had a meal, Samo let Ragnahar’s men inside the city and they all swore fealty to him and the Venedian cause. Nevertheless, Samo was still not convinced that it is safe to trust his new military unit. So he went to the shrine dedicated to PERUN, drew his sight towards the sky and asked the gods in his mind to send him a sign.

* Alemanni – Germanic people from the Upper Rhine

Ragnahar entered the shrine. “Honorable Samo, I am hungry for war. When will we join the battlefield so that we will be able to prove ourselves worthy?” asked Ragnahar.

Samo stepped away from PERUN’s idol and approached Ragnahar. “Winter is nearing its end. We will start an offensive after the Great Night*. But if you and your men want to join our frontline positions then I can arrange that.” explained Samo.

“Nothing would please me more than to soak my sword in our enemy’s blood,” said Ragnahar.

“You’ve got the right attitude,” replied Samo laughingly. “I will send a messenger with you that will hand over my orders to the commander stationed in the winter camp near the river Vah. You and your men will be allowed to perform marauding actions in enemy territory, but you will be prohibited to harm our Venedian people and settle inside the winter camp. You and your men will stay right next to it. The commander will specify a suitable place,” ordered Samo.

“As you wish. Thank you for this opportunity,” replied Ragnahar, bowed himself and left the shrine. Right after Samo prepared the note with orders, Ragnahar sat on his horse, prepared his men and they went east.

With the end of the fasting season, Great Night was coming. The whole city was preparing itself for the celebration. The tradition was to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring.

Vladislav and Drahomir were standing in the main square.

“This fasting season is killing me,” said Vladislav unhappily.

“You’re too picky for someone who ate what the forests provided for several months,” replied Drahomir with a smile.

The celebration was going to start. Young girls were in the forefront of the line of people and the first ones were holding a huge female figure dressed in a traditional local costume. It represented no one other than the goddess of winter and death, the beautiful and sometimes even ugly MORENA.

The goddess of death was feared by the people because sooner or later she would get each and everyone of them. But this was the time and place where people could avenge the harsh winter and be rude to their god under the cover of euphoria so that spring can replace winter. At least they thought they could.

* Great Night - celebration of the spring equinox

People went on towards the river Diya while singing folk songs. Crows were watching them from the nearby trees. Samo was walking side by side with Drahoslava in the back of the line. Vladislav and Drahomir were as usual right behind the young girls.

“Well, beauty wherever you look,” said Drahomir holding a burning torch.

“I love being at home,” replied Vladislav and they both laughed.

People gathered around the edge of the river Diya, Drahomir stood in front of them and started to speak: “Oh, beautiful goddess MORENA, your winter was unusually harsh and even though we look forward to spring, we would like to say one thing to you. Your time has come to… die!” Drahomir started to laugh and people cheered.

Young girls undressed the female figure, Drahomir lit her on fire with its cleansing effect and then the figure was thrown into the river Diya. But someone else was witnessing the ceremony every year besides the participating people. MORENA raged in fury.

“Not only do they condemn me every year, they started mocking me?!” screamed the goddess. “I will teach them to make fun of me! Unfortunately, this boy’s time hasn’t come yet. I cannot just take his soul, but there are always other ways,” she added and went to the depths of the underworld to see its keeper, the god with a bull’s head, VELES.

“Almighty VELES, lord of these vast pastures, those ungrateful people ridiculed me…” began the goddess but VELES interrupted her.

“And you would like to take revenge on that young boy who the mortals call Drahomir? My dearest sister, I cannot deny you your wish. So it shall be done!” said the god. MORENA thanked him and left delighted while awaiting satisfaction.

VELES went down to his stables and opened the gate to a wide cell.

“Come to me my dearest,” said VELES and a white wolf walked up to him. “I’ve got some work for you,” he added and released the best to fulfill its mission.

Great Night came and with it also the tradition of pouring water on all the women together with whipping them with knitted willow twigs so that they stay healthy and pretty all year long.

“Beautiful tradition! And they even have to be thankful for this,” said Vladislav and started to laugh.

“Why?!” a girl was screaming while trying to run away from three boys that were chasing her with buckets full of water. Vladislav and Drahomir were watching the spectacle. As soon as the girl got hers, she had to thank the boys that splashed her with water and give them nicely painted eggs.

“Yeah, I love it too,” replied Drahomir with a smile. “Now that we threw all the young girls into the Diya river and poured water an all the remaining women, we should go to one of the northern cities and try our luck there as well,” he continued. They jumped on their horses and left Diyagrad.

Vladislav and Drahomir were successful. They got something to eat and drink and met beautiful women. It was getting dark so on their way back to Diyagrad they went through a wide oak forest and suddenly they heard a noise. Drahomir saw two red eyes in the distance. It was a white wolf with shining red eyes who stared at them without moving.

“Look at it,” said Drahomir. “Don’t make any sudden movements,” he added.

Then the wolf started running and he went straight for Drahomir. Drahomir’s and Vladislav’s horses were stunned. Drahomir had only time to take his sword out, the wolf jumped high into the air and bit his hand.

The wolf let go right away, bounced on the horse’s back even higher into the air and as he was falling down to the ground a hole opened itself in the ground and the wolf disappeared without a trace.

“That beast, it was so quick!” shouted Vladislav. “Did it harm you?” he asked.

“The wound is tremendously deep, but I’m not bleeding,” and as Drahomir finished saying it, the bite prints disappeared. “It’s a miracle!” shouted Drahomir.

As Vladislav and Drahomir were coming back home, the army was preparing for departure. Thousands of soldiers with spears, swords, shields and bows were marching out of the main gate precisely as the two arrived.

“You’re late as usual!” said Samo accusingly. “As a reward, you will ride in the back of the convoy!” he ordered.

“Step out with your right foot!” shouted Drahoslava.

“Thank you, Draha. I’ll be back in no time!” replied Samo and went away.

The convoy was moving slowly, because most of the soldiers were footmen and they also transported rations, spare weapons and other useful tools and materials. After one day of marching, the convoy came to the fortress Branch where the army wanted to stay the night.

Branch was a small fortress used by Venedians to protect one of the routes between Moravia and Nitrava. Lying at the edge of the Carpathian Mountains, you could get a taste of a mountainous area.

Right after sunset the moon came up in the sky. Unluckily it was a full moon. Drahomir started to feel uncomfortable, itching with increasing intensity.

“I’ll have to go for a walk.” said Drahomir and walked away into the forest. There his body started to grow. Enormous hairs bursted out of his skin and large fangs grew out of his canine teeth.

He became a creature, severely bloodthirsty creature that was willing to slaughter everything that would stand in its way. Luckily for the people in the Branch fortress, the beast found a deer first, attacked it and ate its raw flesh within moments. Then it made a move towards the fortress, because it has overheard noises coming from that direction.

PERUN couldn’t stand the sight, so he summoned a storm. Clouds covered the full moon and the beast fell to its knees squealing, so that the whole nearby fortress froze in fear. Samo ran up to the creature and addressed it as: “Drahomir!”

This caused Drahomir to change back into a human form. Soldiers were sent to the area in question and they brought a passed out Drahomir with remnants of his ruptured clothing. Simple clouds changed into a thunderstorm.

PERUN was outrageously angry. MORENA went behind his back to harm people that protected the gods and VELES helped her. Even though he couldn't change the will of a god, he decided to help Drahomir by modifying his curse.

The thunderstorm intensified. PERUN was unleashing a lightning apocalypse onto VELES hiding underground and thus weakening him. Drahomir, who was carried away to the fortress, opened his eyes. They were glowing in green colour. People around him were astouned. He stood up.

"I can hear what they hear," said Drahomir quietly while looking around.

"I can see what they see," continued Drahomir drawing his eyes on Samo and he went silent for a while.

"Something isn't right. It's not an ordinary animal. It's him. Follow me!" called out Drahomir. He took his sword with him and ran out of the headquarters onto the main square of the fortress. Lightnings were smashing everywhere accompanied by heavy rain. Guards opened the main gate and Drahomir ran out of the fortress. Samo, Vladislav and few soldiers started to follow him. Others ran onto the fortress palisades to watch.

Drahomir came to a meadow and stopped in the middle of it. Samo and others quickly caught up with him, but they were waiting in safe distance for something to happen. A lightning struck few steps ahead of Drahomir and right after that a large black snake with red eyes came crawling out of the ground. Samo was running towards Drahomir, while others were shocked in horror.

The creature began to grin its fangs and jumped off the ground towards Drahomir, but Drahomir caught the snake with his right hand and instantly broke its spine. The creature fell apart into black dust. The thunderstorm has ceased, clouds disappeared into all directions and the sky was filled with stars.

Samo and the soldiers approached Drahomir, who turned himself towards the group and asked them: "How do you feel about having mushroom soup?"

"Mushroom soup? Are you kidding? What happened here?" asked Vladislav still in shock.

"Just something that had to be done," replied Drahomir. "VELES won't interfere with our efforts for a while. But I guess we cannot expect good harvest this year," he continued and a smile grew on his face.

When the group came back to the fortress, bunch of bears were waiting at the main gate. Cubs were sitting on their backs and holding big mushrooms in their arms. Guards at the gate, scared as usual, had drawn their bows ready to shoot.

Drahomir screamed out: “Don’t shoot! They are our guests!”

Guards opened the gate, hiding behind its wings. Drahomir ordered: “Bring me four baskets filled with berries!” Then he approached one bear with a cub, took the mushrooms from the cub’s hands, handed them to a nearby soldier and caressed the cub’s furry head so that it joyfully purred.

Guards exchanged the berries for mushrooms and the group of bears took off with baskets in their mouths.

Early in the morning the whole fortress was up on its feet. The army prepared itself for the march towards the river Vah. After passing the last hill they came to the Vah valley and could see the winter camp in the distance, but it turned out the camp is still too far.

“Look, Avar horsemen!” noticed Vladislav.

"Prepare for battle!" shouted Samo. "At least I'll be able to really test out the sword," he said to Vladislav with a smile. Then he jumped off his horse and tried to get his soldiers to form a defensive line.

"Cover yourself with shields," ordered Samo. Avar horse archers started the attack by spraying arrows all over Samo's forces that were staying in defensive positions. Avars were using the ancient hit-and-run tactic, where they engaged the enemy by attacking him from the distance followed by a retreat. Their combination of mounted archers and horsemen was incredibly effective on flat land.

Avars were strongly connected to their horses, which provided them with food, materials and the ability to be superior as their opponents while fighting on plains. However, even though high mobility and shooting from a distance were significant advantages, because of this they had only light armor and were highly vulnerable against anti-horse archer tactics.

Vladislav stood up on a supply carriage and shot an arrow right in an Avar’s bow which then flew away. Vladislav shouted out loud: "Archers, attack!" Archers who took cover behind shields held by pikemen started to strike the retreating Avar horse archers.

Attacking Avars realized that this tactic won't be of great use. Samo's army had the numbers, higher ground advantage and used combined arms of pikemen and archers. The Avar commander ordered a ground assault with horsemen and infantrymen. He was rushed into a bad decision by his own vision of fame.

The two sides clashed and Samo started to slay the Avars who one by one petrified. After a while the scene was filled with statues of soldiers who picked the wrong enemy to fight. The remaining Avars withdrew and Samo’s soldiers cheered.

“The sword has amazing powers,” noticed Vladislav. “But it would be better if it would shoot flames though,” he continued laughingly.

“As people say, never inspect a donated horse’s teeth,” replied Samo.

“What shall we do with these ones?” asked Vladislav and pointed towards the petrified Avars.

“Raise them along the road and leave them there for everyone to see!” ordered Samo.

Right after Samo said these words a group of soldiers was approaching the army. It was Ragnahar with his men.

“A bit too late,” stated Samo.

Ragnahar jumped off his horse and kneeled before Samo.

“Forgive me my master. Avars besieged our camp for several days and we thought they were withdrawing. Allow me to escort you to the camp,” replied Ragnahar.


INTRODUCTION
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I - THE SWORD
CHAPTER II - MORAVIA
CHAPTER III - MARHAT
CHAPTER IV - TRIBECH
CHAPTER V - THE ARROW
CHAPTER VI – NITRAVA
CHAPTER VII - BOGATYGRAD
CHAPTER VIII – CLOTHAR
CHAPTER IX - DAGOBERT
CHAPTER X - RETALIATION
EXPLANATORY NOTES