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 2: The Slave Markets of Ultar
“Stop acting like an ill-mannered gypid,” Logan warned, alluding to small wild pigs. He cupped water in his hands so the large stallion could drink. “We have to make this last.” Rampart licked Logan’s hands dry. The horse smelled the nutritional stimulant murl even through the flasks. Logan gave his stallion a slap on the rump whenever he began sniffing around the potent liquid.
He hoisted himself up on the smaller scout’s mare. What a difference from straddling the girth of Rampart. The mare seemed fresh, but unsteady. He took the reins, immediately communicating who was in charge.
Logan sighted to his rear, then ahead into the parched land that lay before him, remembering the events that led up to his journeying down through the Jascent Green and into Ultar, the territory controlled by the Grand Satrap. He had no regrets about undertaking such a dangerous journey. It wasn’t his first, and he believed he should somehow repay the gods for their generosity, not only knowing the difference between right and wrong, but by doing something to clearly define the margins of both.
“You will be on your own until you reach the Horinth Vortex in the Green,” the Vizier said, his pointer tracing a detailed path through the tribes that were believed allied with the Satrap. “Here, this is where you’re to meet up with Grogan and his men. They’ll guide you down into Ultar.”
The map on the wall of the Vizier’s chambers covered all known lands and seas. There was the major continent of Carmodia surrounded by a myriad of islands and vast oceans infested with hundred-foot-long, fanged serpents and boiling whirlpools that it was said could drag down an entire armada.
“You must get through. You must tell them that we are not ready. If they think we are and expose themselves too soon, we will not be able to come to their aid. We can’t let them die for nothing.”
Logan was neither a politician nor a diplomat. He had survived, fending for himself, stealing food, learning how to fight and win at all costs, after his family and their tribe had been decimated by legions of Tirpits that stormed out of the high North Country and sent many of his people fleeing into the Morland and the few fortunate into the Jascent Green. He was one of a hundred or so who survived out of the thousand that had once populated his tribe. Those memories were now so faded that he regarded his parents and twin brothers as merely talismans of what he had left behind a dozen years ago.
Logan knew little of Attamore Grogan, only that he wasn’t friendly with the Grand Satrap or anybody who couldn’t enhance Grogan’s wealth. He was the most feared pirate and trader in the Northern Green. Logan just wasn’t certain that meeting him so close to the deadly Horinth Vortex was a wise idea.
“What if I can’t link up with Grogan?”
“If you get to the Green, he will find you. He is the finest tracker, a master of disguise, and has spies within some of the Satrap’s allies. Just get there and let him do the rest.”
“And the Vortex?” Logan said, recalling tales of its deadly unpredictability.
“Grogan is probably the only man with a sense of its movement. So don’t be alarmed by staying the course I’ve given you even if you think you’ll come into contact with the Vortex.”
* * *
That journey took nearly a month after Attamore Grogan took Logan as far south as he could. Successfully avoiding the Vortex was a simple task for Grogan, to whom Logan took an immediate liking. The two men shared food, murl, and tales of their conquests and found a common bond in their orphaned childhood. They had grown into their reputations by surviving those who would see them sent to the netherworld.
Within days after leaving Grogan, Logan sensed he was being followed. He just didn’t know why, or by whom.
The deeper he rode south into Ultar, the more he knew he was being tracked, not hunted. Someone, most likely connected to the Satrap, wanted to find out what he was doing in Ultar. Such information would fetch a fair price to the right people. By the time he arrived in the center of the city, he knew he might have to turn back in order to avoid exposing the members of the resistance.
After two days stalking him through the markets, the Satrap’s agents realized that whoever he was going to meet had spotted them, and they were better off overtaking Logan Drewry now rather than losing his trail forever.
There were proven, painful, and most often fatal ways of making men talk. When the four agents dressed as beggars approached him, a fight broke out. Two were killed; two were badly wounded, along with bystanders in the confines of the narrow streets leading to the slave market, which was where Drewry was supposed to link up again with the resistance.
After the incident near the slave markets of Ultar, he fought his way out of town and rode north to the rim of the Morland Plain and was faced with the impossible task of going on or being taken and tortured or, worse, made a spectacle of in the annual games, then fed as sport to giant fanged beastrons.
* * *
Scanning the horizon while consuming a tasteless strip of the scout’s dried fowl, Logan knew there was nothing he could do about his tracks. If the wind picked up, it might erase his steps, though the markings of three horses in the dry wasteland would require many hours of sustained wind to erase completely. If not, Marcos Xzen would have no trouble finding him. Of all warriors, it was going to be Marcos Xzen. No wonder the Satrap chose him for this command.
Logan thought of the red-skinned scout he had just killed, the man whose life he had spared, the reality that he could perish in this godforsaken inferno and, as had been such a persistent image over the last few days, the vision of Jemaliah, the woman he saw in the slave market while he was trying to evade the Satrap’s agents. The slave agent mentioned her name once to the crowd. Logan Drewry heard it, as did the eager throng of bidders.
She had to be one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, possessing a figure voluptuous and rich of promise. He believed she had spotted him darting through the crowd near the vendors’ stalls teaming with fruit and vegetables brought in fresh from the outlying farms.
He might never see her, or the rolling green hills of his home, again. He would rot in the stinking heat of this foul land. Without notice, the ground underneath the horse’s hooves went from cakey dry to a slippery yellow glaze. In parts, there were broad scrublands and broken areas covered with small glazed stones that reflected the fire of the two suns. Logan couldn’t decide whether they had been put there by man, beast, or the devil.
Logan Drewry considered himself a man of the mountains and hollows. He had been born in the far north and understood green valleys, thick forests stretching to the horizon, and rich, brown soil. He understood man’s attraction to that life-giving land. Most of the northern and central lands of the Jascent Green were similar to his homeland.
But this! Whatever god had designed this hellhole must have been stricken senseless by the very yellow fury he had created.
Logan was feeling sorry for himself when he felt a tug at the reins. He turned. There were no vultures in the sky indicating the position of the scout he had left behind to mark his dead companion’s place. Yet Rampart was uneasy and was yanking back the reins clutched in Logan’s grip. The other mare was also agitated.
“What is it, boy?” Logan asked softly, pulling in both animals and offering them more assurance. “What’s the matter?”
There were no vultures or signs of the Satrap’s troops. He had passed a school of frenzied, thrashing lime fish some time back but gave no thought to chasing after the puny, foul-tasting desert dish. No desert storms rose on the steamy, undulating horizon. Those you could see built in their blackness and twisted their way across the desert floor long before they struck. Not that it mattered.
There was so little under or behind with which to protect oneself that, except for a few distant rocky outcroppings, this part of the Morland looked like it had been scoured smooth by the stiff hand of Tyr, the god of war, himself.
Rampart gave another nervous whinny. Then another. The animal he was riding was so spooked she kicked up her hind legs and a torrent of sand as though she were fighting off invisible devils.
Logan freed his reins along with the other horses, jumped from the scout’s mount, pulled his sword from his scabbard, and stepped away. He had hoped to avoid such a battle, but now there was no choice. Finally, he felt the ground vibrate beneath his feet, as Rampart and the other horses had apparently been sensing.
There was no way to tell from which direction they were going to attack or how many there were. It was only a matter of time before the giant sand vipers struck. Logan now understood why the lime fish were as panicked as his three horses.
He turned around on his heels, trying to position himself. There was no good place to take a stand, no safe place to hide. This was one reason why so few ventured out onto the Morland or even hunted along its shores. Whoever did so rarely returned, including many of his tribe after the Tirpits struck.
Some said the green and black vipers were hundreds of feet long. Logan wouldn’t have to wait to find out. The two scout horses took off in a panic. Fortunately, he had already collected the murl and water flasks and firmly lashed them to Rampart. There was no way to calm him over the thunder that was building underneath them. Logan was thinking he would rather have the stallion live, and he be sacrificed if necessary, when the floor of the desert burst open.
The head of the giant desert viper broke through the surface, baring four curved white fangs each as long as Logan’s broadsword. It arched fifty feet overhead and dove back into the sand, then came up again in half the distance to Logan so quickly its tail had not yet risen from the spot from which its head first appeared.
“Mother of the mountains!” Logan declared, more surprised by the sheer size of the beast than fear of his life. He stepped back a few paces while Rampart veered off and galloped away.
Copyright © 2020 by Arthur Davis