The Morland Basking Plain
by Arthur Davis
The ancient world of Carmodia is surrounded by uncharted continents and oceans infested with fanged serpents and boiling whirlpools. Carmodia's tribes are in constant conflict.
Vizier Sing Tzu engages Logan Drewry to contact the forces preparing to rebel against the rising power of Grand Satrap Anistov Gar. Drewry must prevent the rebels from starting the uprising before the Vizier’s armies are ready to support them.
Logan Drewry's mission is a forbidding one. Starting at the southernmost edge of the Morland Basking Plain, he surveys a desert infested with giant moles, desert hares, swarms of foul lime fish, giant vipers and vultures. The Plain stretches from the vast Jascent Green in the west to the Fermoil Embankment. Armed with sword and bow, he sets out.
Chapter 1: The Dragons of Eden
Logan Drewry stood on the shallow overhang and stared out absently at the southernmost shore of the Morland Basking Plain. The sea of parched desert wasteland stretched from the unimaginable vastness of the Jascent Green in the west to the Fermoil Embankment.
He dismounted and checked his leggings, loosened the sheath of his sword around his waist, unstrung his bow, opened his flask of murl and finished off its biting contents. “The last drop for the last man,” he said with a shrug.
He remounted, patted Rampart’s mane, and gave the horse a firm kick in the flanks with the heel of his boots. They made their way down the scrub cliff to the border where verdant land met what some ancient tribes called the beginning of the end of the world.
“We can do this, boy,” Logan said, reassuring his horse as well as himself.
Rampart was hands taller at the shoulder and measurably larger than horses from which his fighting breed had descended. A match for Logan Drewry’s seven feet, four inches, the silvery-black beast was capable of feats of endurance and agility that would be difficult for any skilled rider in the ancient world of Carmodia to believe, except as myth. Logan gave him full rein to make his way down to the crusty fringe of the Morland, knowing that there was a good chance neither would survive the crossing.
He also knew that to remain in Ultar would have meant certain death at the hands of the Satrap’s Legions or, more certainly, the deep desert command that had been pursuing him since his trail swung north toward the Morland. This time they were closer and well equipped, and Logan sensed they would be eager to capture or kill man or beast. Either would be a singular prize, especially if returned alive to the Grand Satrap.
The last ration of their food and water had been consumed the previous night. This was the first time since slipping through the Command’s encampment outside the city walls of Ultar undetected that they had an opportunity to pause under the withering glare of the twin suns. Even with the likelihood of killing desert hares and giant moles the size of a man’s foot, or catching foul-tasting lime fish upon which every desert beast preyed, they needed water to survive.
By now, the string of the Satrap’s outposts throughout the Jascent Green and the Fermoil Embankment must have been alerted to Logan’s presence. The commander who made the capture or kill would certainly advance to a command post, in addition to being granted any number of tynes. He could take their life or enslave their children, or they could earn tynes or wishes through which they could fulfill momentary desires.
If Logan could get back to Tunduria on the far northern side of the Morland, he knew he would be safe. Even the Satrap knew his men wouldn’t survive the marauding tribes that controlled the mountains and deep impenetrable valleys of Tunduria. If Logan were to be taken by the Satrap’s desert command, it would be in the hell of the Morland.
“Beware the Dragons of Eden, for they will surely consume your soul as you sleep in the night,” Logan said, invariably whenever he was in an impossible situation. He was referring to the winged devils that plagued northern Tunduria by sucking their sleeping prey’s spirit.
He took the reins as they advanced across the rutted surface that would soon degenerate into a maze of unmapped natural hazards that few men had survived.
“Beware...” he began, then softened his tone so the horse would not pick up his concern.
Though there was no sign of the Satrap’s troops, they couldn’t be more than half a day behind, which meant that advanced reconnaissance scouts could be hours off his trail. He had to travel during the day. The commander, whoever he was, would eagerly sacrifice any number of his men to get a precise reading and location on one of the Satrap’s greatest enemies.
* * *
Marcos Xzen listened as his scouts reported back, their red skin ablaze with the fire of pursuit, their long jet-black hair soaked with the expectation of the kill. He had trained these men. They would endure for him or die in the effort. They knew they would be the first to fight, the first to die, or face him and the consequences of their impudence or cowardice.
They were about to follow Xzen into the devil’s cauldron. They would do whatever it took to bring back Logan Drewry, accepting that few would return from the chase.
“We spotted him four leagues from the southern crest of the Morland,” one of the scouts reported. “I left two of my men to mark his trail while I returned with these five for new troops. I lost two in the chase.”
“What of Altermar?” Xzen questioned.
“One of the two shadowing Drewry.”
Knowing his commander’s passion for horseflesh, the warrior responded thoughtfully. “His strides are twice the length of any of my best steeds, sir. You would think he was running without a mount.”
“I don’t know which I want more: Logan Drewry or that black demon,” Marcos Xzen confessed. He ordered a fresh platoon to speed out ahead of the column and advised his commanders that they would be engaging Logan Drewry before sunset.
Some were enthused by the warning and finished off their murl in anticipation of the battle. Others anticipated the worst. Marcos Xzen absently touched the long scar that traced a streak down his right cheek, a gift from his last encounter with Logan Drewry. That had occurred over two years ago, when he was a captain commanding a small garrison in the southern part of the Jascent Green. Now he was less than a day from returning the gift, and more.
The Satrap had commissioned Marcos Xzen, one of his most dedicated commanders at the head of his finest desert unit to bring back “the head or the soul of Logan Drewry,” and Xzen was prepared to sacrifice every man in his quest.
* * *
Rampart moved ahead on his own. They had trained together, lived and fought together. Sometimes Logan thought the animal understood what was on his mind even before he did. Hopefully, he was wrong. The last time he turned back to pat the beast, he spotted a small swirl of desert dust over the crest of the Morland. It had to be deep-desert scouts reconnoitering ahead of the main column.
Logan hefted his sword out of the long leather sheath and casually flipped the long blade over his shoulder. Rampart immediately recognized this as a sign that they weren’t in danger.
* * *
The two scouts of the deep desert command knew Drewry was one or two leagues ahead. In a forced, open dash, they might catch him if he was on foot. Donig, the smaller of the two, wanted nothing to do with the aggressive act. Altermar, the taller of the pair, with his hair ornately decorated into a long black, glistening ponytail, insisted they go for the kill.
Altermar was seven feet tall and weighed in at over three hundred fifty pounds. Both men were seasoned warriors trained by Marcos Xzen to obey orders, though they were also taught the importance of using initiative when the situation merited.
“Think of what the Satrap will grant us in return for the head of Logan Drewry?” the taller one asked already pulling his sword from his scabbard as if he were about to do battle. His horse reared up and whinnied. The excitement was contagious. “Come, my friend, we will make history.”
Donig was a simpler soul, having taken to the life of a warrior when life as a farmer no longer made sense. He was tough, trusted, battle-hardened and had no trouble imagining the tynes and honors bestowed on the two of them if they succeeded, or the cloud of vultures that would swarm over their gutted carcasses if Logan Drewry was half the man of legend.
“Or we will die.” Donig cursed his luck and followed.
* * *
Logan soon spotted the trail of dust rise over the horizon behind him. The thin strip snaked a hundred feet into the afternoon sky. Three or four men at most, Logan estimated. There was at least a five- or six-day trek ahead. If the heat and dehydration didn’t get them, then the giant desert vipers and vultures surely would. Logan wanted to believe that, with his skill and resourcefulness, he could find and live off the meat from a giant mole or a few hares and even a lime fish or two.
This was an ideal opportunity to take the fight to the pursuit party, the resources of which he had already made plans to appropriate. “You feel like a fight, boy?” he asked, taking Rampart’s muzzle in his hand and bringing it close. Rampart gave a deep whinny and instinctively turned around to face the oncoming enemy.
Half a league away, the two scouts drove on at a fierce gallop.
“Horse killers,” Logan said, indifferent to see their diminished number and continued to pat Rampart’s neck and whisper in his ear. When the two scouts were a few hundred yards away, Logan moved to where the sun was at his back, but did not give his customary war cry or charge. He waited for them to draw even closer and to make sure that they were not followed by another two — or twenty.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Arthur Davis