The Morland Basking Plain
by Arthur Davis
Chapter 1: The Dragons of Eden
When the two were a few dozen yards away from Logan, Altermar began to wield his sword overhead and yelled across the bleached white Plain, “It’s your turn to die, Logan Drewry!”
Donig moved his mount off to the left to distract and to give Drewry two different targets. Donig was as imposing as his horse. He had been born to the eastern edge of the Fermoil Embankment. He had seen many traders on foot and in caravans in his travels. They were of all sizes and skins. There were fierce, menacing men who would take your head as quickly as claim your woman.
As Donig soured of life and became more amenable to the Satrap’s recruiting efforts, he developed a sense of the possible and the improbable. He wanted to call Altermar back from his foolhardy affront. He also wanted to see how the dark-skinned Drewry, who was unadorned, considering his reputation as a savage fighter, would respond to the challenge.
Logan tightened his legs against Rampart’s flanks.
“Are you afraid? There are only two of us?” Altermar continued, with contempt.
This bothered Donig. He had no illusions about what they were up against. But his companion was without doubt the strongest and most skilled of Marcos Xzen’s desert warriors.
“How much do you value your lives?” Logan said in a voice so soft and calm it was nearly drowned out by the still wind.
“The only thing I value is your head at the end of my sword.”
Logan turned to the other scout. “And are you as witless as your friend?”
“You speak with me, not with him, Logan Drewry!” Altermar demanded when Drewry gently turned Rampart around so only his right flank would be showing toward the larger scout.
Small gold and silver medals adorned the red warrior’s long ponytail. From his size and agility as a horseman, this was not a soldier to be trifled with. Logan did not intend to take the man’s fighting abilities for granted, only his pride.
Logan kicked back his heels. Rampart gave a lurch, as he had on so many occasions, as Logan’s left hand unleashed a rapier from the sheath in his left boot shielded by the horse’s body. The silver dagger spun out so quickly that the smaller scout, not being in the line of fire, noticed it first. Altermar spotted the blinding metallic flash coming out of the sun, but by then he had no chance to defend himself.
The tip of the wavy, foot-long blade punctured the side of his neck. The impact of the throwing dagger sent him back and over the hindquarters of his horse.
Altermar staggered to his feet, looked back at Logan Drewry, who seemed not to have moved, then at his partner as if that single gesture would save his life. Green blood covered his thick woven-leather tunic and spilled down the side of his leg. He collapsed onto his knees, his eyes wide in shock and disbelief. Swearing he would repay Drewry tenfold for this insult, he struggled with his sword until he could no longer command his body and the gurgle of his own blood could no longer be heard.
Logan turned to the other scout. “Bring me my dagger.”
Donig’s first thought was to turn and run, then realized that where there was one dagger there were probably more. There was no place to run. No place to hide. The warrior made no effort to string his bow.
Donig dismounted with the look of a man on the way to his own end. The only thing on his mind was that he hadn’t been with a woman in months. Then he pushed back the present and remembered the last time he was in a tavern and enjoyed a cold drink, savored a fine slice of heavily seasoned meat.
He walked up to his dead companion. A faint trickle drained from the wound, and the large man’s heart no longer throbbed. The dagger was longer than he had first judged, and it was buried up to the hilt, half of the shank protruding from the back of the warrior’s thick neck. It had been thrown from over thirty yards away, an impossible shot thrown with such force and accuracy from the saddle.
He held the side of Altermar’s head with one hand and withdrew the blade from the neck with the other. A gulp of blood spilled out of the gaping wound. The dead warrior did not stir. Donig stepped away. Altermar had been a formidable adversary who had tangled with nearly every fighter in training, and yet he had been so quickly outwitted and brought down that it hardly seemed a fair fight at all.
Donig believed his death, too, would be even more unfair. He marched off the distance with a sense of finality. As he approached, he finally noticed the girth and deeply muscled contours of Drewry’s mount for the first time.
“He’s a beauty,” Donig commented and handed over the dagger hilt first to Logan’s outstretched hand.
The scout decided not to ask for leniency but noted, as he pulled away, the calm in the man’s crystal blue eyes.
The dagger was cleaned and returned next to its mate inside of Logan’s left boot. Logan rode over to both of the riderless horses, removed their full flasks of murl and water, and stripped their quivers of arrows. A small container of dried fowl meat was a welcome addition to Logan’s nonexistent supplies.
Donig waited and watched. The man displayed no emotion or sense of urgency, even though it was understood that the heart of the patrol must quickly be closing the distance between them.
“What would you do to save your life?”
Donig stiffened defensively. “I am a soldier of the Grand Satrap,” he said, more out of habit than pride.
“You have two choices. To live or die. Death does not know of disgrace or honor. There is no murl or perfumed women in Hell. There are no cool springs to soothe your wounds or fill your insides, just the stink of your own rotting flesh. Is that what you’re choosing?” The question was not proffered with contempt or conceit and not made as a victor would over the vanquished.
“What do you want?” Donig asked.
“I want you to remain with your companion, as if you had gotten here too late to save him and were too prudent to track me alone.”
“And not return to my troops and warn them?”
“In exchange for your life.”
“That’s not asking much. I had no intention of returning when they’re probably a few leagues back.”
“Then why do you hesitate?”
“Because I didn’t expect mercy.”
“And I didn’t expect to find a fool,” Logan said, aware that every minute talking brought his adversary closer.
“I will wait and tell them that I was thrown from my horse during the fight and that your horse was as fresh as you were. I’ll tell him I believed with the food and water and murl you took from us you had adequate provisions for yourself and your horse to make the passage in less than the turn of five suns.”
“Then you’ve earned your life.”
“And for that I am grateful,” the scout said.
“Another thing,” Logan began as Rampart became uneasy about the two mares tethered close by his side, “who is your commander?”
“Marcos Xzen,” Donig answered as Logan turned the large beast and moved away in an unhurried gallop. Donig stood in disbelief. What kind of warrior would offer a life for an enemy’s word, the scout asked himself, then considered how thirsty he was going to be before he was found.
The scout drew his sword and waited for the sand vipers and vultures. It was a matter of luck whether Marcos Xzen would arrive before the predators did. Maybe it would be better that the commander see the one dagger wound in the throat of his best fighter? Maybe it would be better to tell Marcos Xzen that Logan Drewry bested the commander’s best after a savage fight, and only his arrival on the scene after the battle was concluded was enough to drive off the traitorous Drewry.
Donig measured the thirst on his lips, took hold of his sword as though he were under attack, and put enough distance between himself and his companion so that when the sand vipers struck, they would not mistake carrion for coward.
Copyright © 2020 by Arthur Davis