The Morland Basking Plain
by Arthur Davis
Chapter 5: Tunduria
Logan set another arrow in its nock. He recognized the smaller scout and, of course, the imposing Marcos Xzen. He had enough arrows to take out the forward party of the desert command. If he were Marcos Xzen, would he have threatened to kill the horse if Logan Drewry did not throw down his arms? There was no way he could protect himself and Rampart at the same time. It was his error. He should have urged Rampart to continue on toward the green shore at all cost.
“You have given us a great chase,” Marcos Xzen yelled out across the expanse that separated the two adversaries. When Logan did not respond, Xzen questioned, “Will you drop your bow to your side, or do you think you can dance between five arrows at the same time?”
“I want the last warrior in your ranks to dismount, collect the weapons from the rest, and bring them to me or you will all die,” was Logan Drewry’s response.
There was an unsteady stirring in the ranks. Each man considered how far they had come, the men they had lost in the chase, and the fact that Logan Drewry stood alone and unharmed, seemingly untouched by the nearly five-day ordeal.
“At this distance, I could have you killed where you stand.”
“And in that time I will take down three of your men, maybe every one of them, whose carcasses I would leave for the vultures to gut,” Logan said drawing back on his arrow, “And yours would be the first.”
“It would be worth it to know that you went to hell with me.”
“Last warning, Xzen. I’ll cut you down where you sit. You and your men. All of your lifeless souls, who slave in the dishonor of your master. I will say it only once more. A warrior from the rear collect the weapons, now.”
Xzen knew if he was so exhausted. the rest of his men must be barely alive. He could feel his horse begin to sway like the one under the warrior at his right. The lethal results of the murl had taken its toxic toll. Yet there were five in his command facing the threat of one.
He simply couldn’t relent. “Surrender or I will have you killed,” he said in a much-modulated voice and directed his men to draw their bows.
Logan wanted to unsheathe his sword, the sword of his father, and his father’s father. He wanted to feel the movement in his hands, the blade in the air, the reality of man against men, and not be separated by such an indifferent distance.
“You’re so willing to sacrifice your men. And for what? To satisfy a madman? I will cut all of you down where you sit and feed your hearts to the vultures. You may ask one of your own if I am a man of my word.”
Several warriors turned back to Donig, who was so spent he could barely hear what was being said. All were so depleted they doubted they could pull back on their bowstrings with enough energy to send an arrow the distance to subdue this desert devil. They wanted either resolution or death. Most felt there was little advantage of one over the other.
Without being questioned, Donig responded loudly, “He is as he says, a man of his word.”
Marcos Xzen, enraged and desperate for an end to this torture, spun around and threw his dagger at the scout. The tip of the blade glanced off Donig’s shoulder sending him from his mount.
“Another of you disobeys my order, and I will cut you down where you sit,” he screamed at the idea that they had come so far and were so close after so many had perished, and now one man was cowering, the remains of his command.
“Are the rest of you willing to die in the service of the Grand Satrap, defiler of women, butcher of your brothers, a man so evil he has laid waste to so many villages that I would wager that every one of you has lost a friend or relative, even if you remain unaware of the carnage? Can any of you tell me I’m wrong?”
Drewry surveyed what remained of the deep desert command and picked out the weakest, knowing that Marcos Xzen would be the most likely to see and avoid his next arrow.
Marcos Xzen’s rage, fed by the dissension within the desert command, presented ample time and distraction for Logan Drewry to fix and fire another arrow — a splinter of time between firing and finding flesh — and the warrior closest to Marcos Xzen gasped and grabbed the shaft that ripped into his tunic.
The scout clutched the arrow, uncertain what to do with it. He could barely speak, utter a curse, or register the shock and accept the fiery pain he felt. He could do nothing but stare in disbelief and slumped to the desert floor.
Marcos Xzen jerked around toward Logan Drewry. He had started the pursuit with a full command of highly trained warriors and, over five days, seen his men decimated by the giant savage. One by one he had been out-thought and outfought. Xzen summoned what remained of his strength and pledged not to die alone and for nothing. If all he could claim was Logan Drewry’s steed, it was better than losing all his men and the mission for nothing. He set an arrow to his bow, as did Logan Drewry another.
Donig watched the last warrior fall from his saddle. He was surprised that any of them had survived for so long. He was surprised that Logan Drewry had not killed Marcos Xzen with the last arrow, after which the remains of the deep desert command would have willingly surrendered.
“It no longer matters,” Donig cautioned, pointing to the swell of hills behind Logan.
Above the crest, where the desert quickly transformed into an undulating, grassy hillside, a legion of men was spreading along the range. Rampart reared back and whinnied, except this time it was with relief.
Following the lead of their commander, two of Xzen’s most fanatical fighters were slowly pulling back on their bowstrings as the air in front the troop exploded with a high-pitched whine. A wall of arrows from the Vizier’s lead archers split the distance between Logan and his aggressors, punctuating the desert floor with a solid line of arrows so intimidating that both men quickly threw down their bows and quivers.
Marcos Xzen was unable to respond.
A detachment of twenty warriors stormed down from the crest of the slopes, lashing their steeds on with unrelenting fury.
By the time they arrived, Logan Drewry had mustered enough strength to be able to reach into Marcos Xzen’s chest and tear out his living heart.
Their tunics clad in the gold emblem of the Vizier, the captain and his men spread out behind the lone rider.
“I am Constantine Tuk, Captain of the Vizier’s Imperial Guard. We have been searching the crest of the Morland, expecting to receive orders from the Vizier.” He was surprised at the outsized breadth of the warrior and his horse.
The captain had sent scouts out to the north while he searched along the Morland in hopes of locating a messenger from the Vizier. He had heard of Logan Drewry but had never expected the Vizier's messenger to be the warrior of legend. He also knew the reputation of Marcos Xzen. “Welcome to Tunduria. Looks like we found you just in time to bring you back alive.”
Still disbelieving, Logan welcomed the sight of the heavily armed troops. “Captain Tuk, I'm Logan Drewry. I bring you word from the Vizier. Marcos Xzen, the head of the Deep Desert Command, has been hunting me for the last five days,”
“How did you find me?”
Slightly uncomfortable with his logic, the captain replied, “We thought it would be more practical to watch the skies than the horizon.”
“Vultures,” the captain replied. “They have been gathering and trailing you. We were afraid they would find you before we did.”
“Vultures. One of my favorite creatures.”
Captain Tuk eyed Marcos Xzen suspiciously. The condition of the warriors under Xzen’s command was appalling. Each man looked a breath away from death. Their horses were about to collapse in place.
Marcos Xzen knew defeat when presented with overwhelming force and being able to counter it with little reserve and less resolve. Even with a fistful of the Satrap’s magical tynes, it would have been impossible to defeat the force with which he was now confronted, and certainly Logan Drewry himself who, for five days, had behaved more like the pursuer than the pursued.
Xzen glanced at Rampart. The huge black stallion stood as though carved from stone. His chiseled chest and shoulder muscles still possessed enough energy to ripple with excitement. At that moment, Marcos Xzen envied Logan Drewry the beast he rode more than anything he had ever wanted.
“What do you want me to do with these?” the captain asked, pointing his sword toward Xzen and his men.
“Those who would take up with us we should welcome. Those who want to return home should be sent back on their way and only with what they have brought,” Logan said as Rampart made his way back to his master.
Examining the men, the captain responded, “I don’t know that I would show such mercy.”
“Killing these fools will solve nothing. The desert will do it for us,” Logan said as one of the captain’s men came up beside him and handed over a full flask of murl and one of water. Logan directed the warrior to let Rampart drink, too. “Post your men along a line of three leagues from this point to the east and west. Station them in close intervals for two days. Xzen has a dozen or more men out there. Shoot any of the Satrap’s men you find trying to trespass into our land.”
The captain gave the order to one of his men, who rode off back in the direction of the main force.
“Any of you who drops his weapons and comes forward now to join us as honest men will be granted his freedom. Those of you who will return to where you came from.”
Without hesitation, Donig, followed by another warrior, dropped their weapons and walked through the thicket of arrows that separated good from evil.
Marcos Xzen sheathed his sword and straightened his weary body. He couldn’t reconcile the outcome of his mission or, with suppressed fury, the sentence he had been given. He knew that if his reserves did not make up the distance soon, he would die before evening, which might be a far better fate than returning to the Satrap without the head of Logan Drewry.
However, his mission could not be deemed a total failure. He now had some idea why Logan Drewry was in Ultar. This, Xzen believed, was positive evidence that he had most likely come to Ultar to meet with the resistance that the Satrap speculated was forming. That in itself would mean a great deal to the Satrap. Then again, if he did make it back to Ultar, he would be the only man to cross the Morland Basking Plain twice without leaving the desert; that is, if any of his men survived to authenticate his heroic effort.
“We will meet again, Logan Drewry.”
“Send my regards to Anistov Gar,” Logan said, mentioning the given name of the unmentionable, the Grand Satrap who, it was said, could hear people utter his name, even from the netherworld.
Marcos Xzen turned his horse south, followed by his remaining men.
Logan was too tired to watch them disappear over the horizon and swiveled Rampart back toward the captain. “Come,” he said, “we have to work quickly if we are to save the resistance.”
Copyright © 2020 by Arthur Davis