Chapter 11
The Bear

Mount Grimm, Titan; Anno Titanos 290

"When it comes to bears, you can either play dead or you can be dead."
- A warning given by one of the Hunters of Dian

Seven years had passed since Randwulf had mastered his first bandit group. He nearly had full control over the southern half of the Crescent Mountains. Only one group stood in his way. The scouts he had sent ahead to reconnoiter never returned.
Though the scouts were relatively new among the Marauders, it would have taken a decent amount of skill to kill or capture them. An actual challenge in combat would be a welcome change, Randwulf thought. He was about to give his men orders to split up and surround the enemy, but instead he opted for a more straightforward approach.
He ordered his men into formation and called for them to march behind him. As they reached the suspected location of the camp, he signaled for them to halt and stand fast.
Taking a moment to survey the area, he could see that this group knew how to camouflage their positions, a rare indication of ability that would make his job easier when they came under his control. Standing out in the open, he spoke to the hidden watchers in a loud voice.
"I am Randwulf the Conqueror! Surely you have heard of my exploits. I am the man who has never tasted defeat! I challenge the leader among you to a duel! If I win, you will all belong to me. If I lose, my Marauders will fall into your hands. If you are a man, you have no choice but to accept!"
It was a calculated risk, but it would spare him any undesirable loss of manpower. He wanted to maximize his acquisition this time. His boasting was not without substance. He had yet to find a man capable of besting him, but it was a task beyond normal humans.
His challenge proved worthwhile, for a figure rose out of the camouflage. At first, he thought the person was closer to him until he realized the truth. The leader of the group, or at least the leader's champion, was huge.
Randwulf was by no means a short man, but the he seemed like a child compared to the man he faced. This man was not only tall, for his thick frame was covered in large, bulging muscles. For a weapon, he wielded a massive spiked club that was almost as large as he was. The giants of legend surely had to look something like him.
Randwulf's confidence did not falter, but he fully acknowledged to himself that this would not be an easy fight. The man hoisted his club and rested it on his shoulder. He looked at Randwulf with a surprising condescension for someone who appeared so savage.
"Never tasted defeat?" he asked. He pointed to Randwulf and then to himself, saying, "Two of a kind." He grinned. "Until now."
Randwulf returned the grin and drew his sword. Though it was reckless not to use his powers from the start, he wanted to test his strength against the giant. It would be one of the riskiest and potentially most rewarding trials in his life. His grin broadened.
The giant started the match with a broad swipe of his club. Randwulf intercepted the club and only by throwing all his weight into the parry was he able to stop it. However, he knew his strength would not hold out long against such an opponent and sidestepped to let the giant follow through with his swing.
The giant had put a little too much force trying to overcome Randwulf and the follow-through took him off balance. While he stumbled, Randwulf used the opportunity to make a quick slash at the giant's ribs. Blood spurted from the wound, but the giant only grunted.
Randwulf could have easily dealt a mortal blow just then, but he did not. He wanted to take the giant alive. He wanted that strength to serve him. It would be a waste to simply kill him, but the Conqueror had to lay the giant low and prove himself the master. He would relish the challenge.
Far from defeated yet, the giant brought down his club mightily. As with the previous attack, Randwulf successfully stopped it, but could not prevail as long against the giant's might and had to move out of the way before he lost the contest of strength.
This time, Randwulf cut the giant's forearm. The wound did not even seem to faze him. It was not obvious yet, but Randwulf knew that he was starting to take the advantage. Even a huge man like his opponent would eventually grow faint from loss of blood. He just needed to open a few more holes to speed his victory.
The giant tried to swing across from where his club had landed, but Randwulf ducked under his arms and ran the tip of his sword across the giant's belly. The giant growled at the attack, a stronger reaction than before. Randwulf was getting to him. That was good, but perhaps he took too much of a chance with that cut. If the giant was not wearing thick clothes of boiled leather, he might have accidentally disemboweled his prize.
The giant then did something unexpected: a quick backhand that connected squarely with Randwulf's face. He could taste the blood filling his mouth. As he was reeling, he managed to slash at the giant's chest. Another shallow cut, but each one cost the giant precious blood that would soon take its toll on him.
Randwulf managed to regain his balance without falling, just in time to parry another overhead strike from the giant. As he pulled away, he flicked his wrist to slice open the giant's thigh. The cut was deeper than the others, but thankfully it was only a flesh wound. Randwulf could tell from the look in the giant's eyes that the loss of blood was starting to affect him and not a moment too soon.
The giant's injured arm seemed to be unwilling to respond, so he raised the club one-handed for another attack. Randwulf dodged it entirely, using the opportunity to swipe at the crook of the giant's elbow. It was a dangerous risk, but Randwulf wanted to end the fight.
Surely enough, the club slid out of the giant's hand. Tenacious to the end, he locked his fingers together to use his hands as a hammer. As soon as he raised his arms, his eyes rolled back and he fell forward with a heavy crash. Triumphant, Randwulf held his sword up high.
"I have defeated your champion!" he shouted to the bandits. "You are mine now! Come out of your holes and face your new leader!"
Awestruck that anyone could possibly defeat the giant, the bandits easily obeyed. They could have numbered no more than fifty, but that would make the Marauders fifty men stronger. Randwulf then called his men forward to search the area for anyone still hiding and to tend to the fallen giant. He wanted his prize alive at any cost.

* * *

While his cadre trained the new recruits, Randwulf spent his time with extended watches over the giant. He had survived the duel, but two days had passed and he was still unconscious. Randwulf's vigilance was rewarded when the giant finally opened his eyes. He seemed to recognize Randwulf, but was too weak to show any signs of fear, apprehension or anger.
"What... happened...?" he asked softly, unable to raise his voice much above a whisper.
"I have dealt you your first defeat," Randwulf replied, "and now you and your comrades are mine. Your strength could be used for a much greater purpose than mere banditry."
The giant did not ask aloud, but Randwulf could sense the question.
"How would you like to serve a king?" the Conqueror asked. "Instead of feeble travelers, you could wield your strength against the might of nations."
The giant closed his eyes for a few moments. He was silent save for the sound of his slow and ragged breaths. Then his eyes opened.
"You... are stronger... than me... You are the first... to best me... Because... you are stronger... I... will follow..."
Randwulf smiled.
"That's the spirit I want to see. Your strength will find its place soon. Now, what is your name?"
"I am called Ursus," the giant replied.
Randwulf knew the name meant 'bear' in the Imperial tongue. He nodded approvingly.
"A fitting name... The bear and the wolf are masters of the woods, the most fearsome predators. Soon our fangs will find the flesh we seek."