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 3: The Grand Satrap
“It has been too long,” the Vizier said, pacing the width of his quarters. “Too long without a word from Drewry.”
His commanders tried to assure him that the messages from Attamore Grogan that he had delivered Drewry into Ultar were authentic. That he accepted as truth.
What was not clear was whether Drewry had met up with Melonious Bradisher, leader of the underground in Ultar, and given him the message. If he had, then the mission had been a success. If he had and was killed returning with the response, then his nation would have suffered a great loss. If he hadn’t gotten through, then the Satrap might well be in a position to quash the uprising and the possibility of future freedom even before it began.
* * *
Anistov Gar, the Grand Satrap of Ultar, was pondering similar, equally impenetrable questions. What was Logan Drewry’s mission, and what had the Vizier — as his informants had believed was the connection to his mission — offered the brigand to make such a perilous journey? Had he completed it before he was discovered by agents coming out of the Jascent Green with the news of Logan’s whereabouts?
Gar lay back in his quarters, surrounded by three handpicked, waiting women who were draped in layers of brightly colored transparent silks. Two other, more robust women sat on large cushions on each side of his bed, pulling up and down on overhead ropes that kept the fans swinging above his bed and circulated the warm air that bedeviled his living quarters no matter the season.
He knew the time would soon be right to strike against the Vizier but, before then, he had to find and eradicate the rebel bands and the sympathizers they had recruited that had been playing havoc with his trade routes. Because of his increased tax levies and what some of the good citizens of Ultar viewed as harsh civil ordinances, there was a growing sense of unrest.
The contempt he felt for the people — the ignorant tradesmen and farmers, the hordes of pestilential rabble and beggars, those he had brought under his protection from marauding tribes — how he had given them unity and a nation to claim as their own only made his rage against the intentions of one Logan Drewry, who had bested one of his finest commanders some years earlier, even greater.
Conquering the northern territory would present even more of a challenge, bringing down the Vizier, his most dangerous enemy, to his knees, a far greater prize. Having conquered the South and made inroads into the tribes of the Jascent Green, Anistov Gar’s grand design was to link Ultar with the northern territories, make peace with the smaller, defiant tribes, and eradicate those who stood against him. He fought back his anger, waved his hand, and all three women disrobed and descended upon him.
They fought to please him, knowing that the one who failed, who showed less enthusiasm for her duty and desire, would be sent down to the officers’ quarters as a present from their leader. Anistov Gar was hoping Jemaliah, who was presented to him as a gift by the slave trader Timmian Ak when he couldn’t get his price at auction, would win the contest, though he cared little who was most eager so long as he was satisfied.
* * *
Sing Tzu, the Vizier, was a tired old man some said had long ago faced his hundredth year. He had two great enemies that no amount of cleverness seemed to best. Time marched against him as steadfastly as the rise of the Grand Satrap, a man half his age and apparently twice his cunning, who had risen from the poorest, most violent circumstances and wandered through the Jascent Green until he had claimed the sympathies of outcasts and criminals.
Sing Tzu knew he had to reach out to the resistance if he was to wrest control of Ultar from Anistov Gar’s strangling grasp. He had to ally himself with those who banded together for relief and safety, who had suffered at the hands of the tyrant.
Gar, so bold and contemptuous of the truth, claimed he was the direct descendent of Tyr, a magician whose speeches galvanized and mystified the mob. Tyr’s agents enslaved women and sold children to tribes living beyond the Great Prominence of the Fermoil Embankment. The predations sent Melonious Bradisher, a once prosperous spice trader, into a life of revenge and piracy so audacious he routinely savaged the Satrap’s caravans.
The Vizier slumped into a chair in the middle of his silent chamber. He felt he had little time left to build his forces, rally his allies, and convince the doubtful of the Satrap’s malignant intentions. He felt he had not been aggressive and respectful of his enemy, whose ruthless regime grew and gained power and influence in the South.
What men were gathering in the land of Ultar to rise up against the Satrap would need support or their efforts were doomed. He now realized he had waited too long to stop the Satrap’s murderous rise, and control of the trade routes that brought him riches and power. He should have swept down in force and destroyed the villain years ago. He chastised himself for a lack of perception in the face of his advisors’ persistent urging.
He believed in Logan Drewry. You only had to meet the man once to know that the strength of his arms was matched by the character in his heart. The message he carried was crucial to the peace for all of Carmodia.
It had to get through. As he closed his eyes, he tried to envision the whereabouts of Logan Drewry, knowing he would be an important factor in restoring peace in an untamed world. He had to be found. The Vizier rang for his commanders. He could wait no longer.
He had to make sure Melonious Bradisher knew to postpone the uprising. He had heard nothing from the patrols he had sent out. He had to take a command through the Jascent Green or directly down the Morland Plain himself.
He could not let the resistance fail.
* * *
Logan Drewry watched Juno and the lesser sun, Calypso, climb up from the desert floor at the same time as he spotted haze rise into a funnel cloud some half-dozen leagues behind. Not wanting to waste time wondering why Xzen had not overtaken him in the night, he mounted Rampart. He estimated that he had three or four hours of riding time left before the water and his steed gave out and the baking suns forced them to a standstill.
However, it would take almost twice that time for Xzen’s men to cover the same ground. He would have rather made the ride at night, but with no markers, moon, or stars to guide him across the changing desert floor, traversing in pitch darkness was a dangerous waste of time and what remained of their resources.
The great black stallion sped on at a steady gallop for some time, his reins almost limp around his muzzle as Logan gave him freedom to move as fast as his heart and spirit would permit. A giant mole scurried across his path, but Logan didn’t bother to set an arrow. He had no time to catch and cook the mole that would have been welcome nourishment for himself as well as Rampart. Both knew the dangers that were moving up behind them. There was no place to go but forward, and at whatever pace both could endure.
Logan didn’t like fighting on the open plain. There was no place to use the land to his advantage, no way to outwit your enemy, whom he usually encountered in numbers far greater than his. In his travels from the Fermoil Embankment to the Jascent Green, he had heard songs both praising and striking fear into the hearts of the bravest. Some romanticized the barrenness of the desert, its unpredictability and harshness. Logan knew that to be true of too many places he’d been most of his life.
The Morland — with its abrupt, shallow canyons and shallow scrub terraces, unpredictable sands, howling winds, which thankfully he had not yet encountered, eroded troughs and sand ridges that could snap the bones of both man and beast in an instant, its lizards, snakes, and lime fish which flipped out of the surface and were chased in vast schools underground by desert vipers and picked off from above by vulpine vultures — was no place to dwell upon, romantically or otherwise.
Rampart moved on while Logan pondered how the afternoon would play out. The deep desert troops were trained for this kind of pursuit, with additional fresh horses, reinforced flasks, heavy doses of murl, and special hot-weather gear to wear and store meat. He judged they could make up Rampart’s powerful strides before sunset. By the time they were upon them, both he and his horse would be so exhausted there would be little left in either of them to lift up their heads, much less put up a fight.
So be it, Logan concluded. Life had a way of answering its own questions, no matter how mortals tried to intercede or prevail. Every now and then, he turned to see if they were gaining on him and again chided himself for letting the two mares get away.
Logan preoccupied himself with thoughts of his childhood, his family, and especially his baby brothers. He couldn’t recall when their tribe was driven out of the mountains but believed they had, at some point, been forced to enter the Morland from the north, the direction he was heading.
The Vizier would be wondering how he was faring. Not well, he concluded. Failure is spelled the same way in any language. That there had been a leak from the Vizier’s inner circle of advisors bled to the Grand Satrap’s men was no longer in doubt. He had been trailed for too long, he believed even before he linked up with Attamore Grogan, for it to be a coincidence. Though the size and grandeur of his steed often provoked curiosity, in a land of strange animals and danger at all turns, another larger-than-life beast was not a call to alarm.
Then there was Jemaliah, the slave woman. How often had he been so captivated and aroused in the blink of an eye? He had always had good fortune with women. They were drawn to his good looks and bravery, his ability to best the best. Just in passing, seeing her body lashed tightly to the slave-post revealing her figure, the slave trader Timmian Ak boldly directing the crowd’s attention to her body, her full hips to bear children, and ample breasts to nurture them, her long legs to work in the fields, and her face that would surely enslave the master who purchased her.
Logan Drewry was already a slave to her, and he hadn’t spent a coin in her behalf.
* * *
Drewry had had a dream in the not too distant past that had revisited him several times since entering the Morland: a vision of himself standing in the heart of Ohem, the ancient, lost capital of Tunduria. He saw himself leading a small band of men, finding the city, and resurrecting its greatness. He saw himself vanquishing those who would keep the city and its riches for themselves. He saw himself leading a great force into battle, but the outcome remained as unclear as the location of the city itself. He just never saw himself perishing in the belly of an endless inferno.
“Okay, let’s walk,” he said, dismissing the fantasy and vaulting one leg over the back of his horse and slipping down the other side. He uncorked a flask and let Rampart drink from his hands. “Good boy. Drink up,” he said knowing that he had a flask left for each of them and a half a flask of murl that he was trying to let last for another cycle of the suns.
His red-brown, burnished skin glistened with dust-caked sweat. His long shag of hair rained over his shoulders. He had to laugh. He must have looked like some of the wilder tribesmen that he had heard lived on the eastern side of the Great Prominence that ran down the spine of the Fermoil. They marked their faces with red and yellow dyes and let their hair grow and spoke to each other with grunts and threatening hand gestures.
He thought he saw a haze in the distance behind him but discounted it from the two-headed fire that ragged overhead. A desert ghost, he concluded. He patted Rampart, and they began to move north again.
Copyright © 2020 by Arthur Davis