Journey Of The Army

From Charred Marble

The march had been long and tiring, but they had made good progress, reaching the western banks of the Avalon river in the early evening. The orders went through the column to disperse and set up camp.

Muad'Dib rode off with the rest of the Fedaykin to set up their tents. They were nestled in amongst the other tribal tents belonging to the tribes which made up a significant portion of this reinforcing army. A peculiarity amongst the Ahm-Sheran forces, perhaps because parts of it came from such different walks of life, was for the tribes to set up their tents in roughly circular formations, while the military formed rows of tents.

In the heart of the camp, several much larger tents were pitched, for the storing of supplies and a crude officers mess for the military. Also, there was a very large rounded tent where the leadership of the two armies would meet to plan the rest of the journey and discuss the enemy in greater detail.

Once his tent was ready, Muad'Dib headed off to the planning tent, with Arra'Bin and Orden'Rak as his guards and senior advisors.

The journey was not a pleasant one for Beregond, but he was grateful that he had been borne upon horseback in comparison to his men. The Silver Lances were also mounted but the general infantry were forced to march by foot.

Muad'Dib entered the planning tent, with his two Fedaykin following behind him. The tent was empty so far, so the Fremen chieftain waited for the other leaders to gather.

Arkadai entered the camp, his army behind him. The Lizards were quick to see to their own accomdation.

The High Priest, along with Masrogul and four Rune Guard, entered the command tent, where they found Muad'Dib.

"Tell me, Muad'Dib, how long do you plan to wait here?" asked Arkadai as he made his way over to the Fremen chief.

Muad'Dib replied to the lizard "I hope to leave tomorrow and head for Avalon Town. But we must wait here for Urikon Maeron, the garrison commander of Umit. He is bringing a small bodyguard with him, but he will be going to the White Realm to fight beside Lord-General Erkenbrand."

Arkadai nodded slowly. "How many leaders should assemble here? I assume you still wish me to tell you of our enemies?"

Muad'Dib thought for a moment "There will be several, Beregond of the Silver Lances, the tribal chieftains, and some of the senior military officers. Yes, I believe that is the most important thing to discuss. We must be prepared for the enemies we face."

"Then it shall be so. I must attend to my meditation for now, but please, summon me when the other leaders have arrived?"

Muad'Dib nodded "Of course."

"Thank you."

With that, Arkadai and his companions left. The High Priest moved into the shade cast by a tree and crossed his legs as he sat. His eyes closed and he allowed his mind the freedom that came from meditation.

Muad'Dib nodded as the tribal chieftains entered. There were five of them in total, each bringing a tithe of their warriors to the muster. Only two of them were tribal chieftains in the same style as Muad'Dib. In some tribes there was one chieftain, who led the tribe as one, but in others there were several chieftains who formed a council of elders.

The five men approached, and one by one Muad'Dib gripped their forearm in the warrior's greeting. His Fedaykin did the same and the group talked quietly amongst themselves as they waited for the military leaders to arrive.

Beregond sat patiently upon his horse. The Ahm-Sheran army had arrived at Avalon some hours ago but the Commander of the Silver Lances was a solemn figure upon the ridge that looked upon the beautiful port. The Avalon harbour was bristling with activity, seeming ignorant to the fact that Ahm-Shere was at war. But Beregond was pleased by this, the people of the country would be shocked to hear that Ahm-Shere was involved in a conflict that they were not directly involved in.

It was likely that Muad'Dib would call a meeting of the captains at some point in the afternoon, though Beregond was not sure if he wished to attend. He was anxious of going to war against an enemy he knew little, if not nought of. He wished for Urikkon to arive - the pair were good friends and one of few people who Beregond trusted.

Masrogul had observed the tribal leaders had entered the command tent. He turned to Arkadai.

"High Priest, it would seem that more allies have arrived."

Arkadai did not open his eyes as he spoke. "Muad'Dib knows to call upon us when the time is right. We will wait for his word."

One by one the military officers arrived. There were several of them, the senior officers. Muad'Dib did not know them all, but he recognised Captain Dahn Eldrel, who commanded the two hundred Serpent Archers. Also known to him was Lord Barhah, who was the senior officer of the five hundred medium cavalry.

Muad'Dib sent Orden'Rak to inform High Priest Arkadai and his officers that the meeting was about to begin. The Fremen chieftain also had a military runner sent to find Beregond.

The Ahm-Sheran man approached Masrogul and Arkadai, as well as his Rune Guard.

"The meeting is about to begin." said the man.

The High Priest's eyes snapped open and he rose without hesitation. "Very good."

The Lizards walked back with the men and into the command tent.

Muad'Dib waited until Arkadai and his group had entered the tent and everyone was gathered. He stood up and cleared his throat. He was used to speaking to large groups, from the Serpent Council and in the Senate, but this was different. He had never led a force this large, and no Fremen had ever stepped foot outside of the borders of Ahm-Shere except to attack the Empire of Maga Khan, their reviled enemies. And even that was a rare occassion.

Muad'Dib began "The road we take will be a long one, and for many our destination is not clear. We know that we are going to the aid of the White Realm, and that we all face grave peril there. To that end, High Priest Arkadai of the Lizards of Onk will give us greater knowledge of our enemies. But first I will give a summary of our route." He paused for a moment then continued "Tomorrow, as long as garrison commander Urikon Maeron arrives, we will cross the bridge into Avalon Town and begin our ascent into the southern passes of the Avalon Mountains. Once we arrive on the other side of the mountains, we will head north-east and cross the Melody River, and on passed Villiath in the White Realm. We will travel up through the Villiath Pass and continue north-east across much of the White Realm to reach Thunderton. The journey will take us around four weeks. That cannot be avoided, if we want to reach the White Realm in good enough health to fight right away. Now, I would ask High Priest Arkadai to speak to us about our foes."

Arkadai cleared his throat and stepped forward. "The foes we travel to face are vast in number, ancient in origin and great in power. To the far south, in the distant land of Weissland, there has arisen a terrible evil from an age I had hoped would never come again; Drathmor Archon, the Great Necromancer. With his vast hordes of fel creatures, he is sweeping through Weissland. But the land of elves and magic is not the only place where Drathmor's evil has struck. North of the White Realm, in the forsaken land of Shiverland, Drathmor has awoken dark leaders to take the war to the Realm. Of them, I know little. What I do know is that they are refered to as liche lords. They are possessed of mighty powers and will difficult to defeat. Amongst them, the most powerful, and by far the most dangerous, is Lord Morodith. Defeating them will be no simple task."

Muad'Dib asked "What sort of creatures do they command? How must we kill them?"

"As far as I know, the bulk of their armies will be the living dead, risen to serve their masters without question or hesitation. They are the corpses of the dead, filled with foul magics to bring them into eternal servitude. They are souless; they feel nothing, and hear nothing but their master's command. They know no mercy, and you must show them none in return." Then he stopped, allowing his words to sink in, before he started speaking again. "But, not even I know what dwells in the darker parts of Shiverland…"

Muad'Dib nodded "I can understand why such forces could be so dangerous to the world."

Lord Barhah frowned and said "Do these living dead have any weaknesses?"

Arkadai nodded. "Yes. They have two major weaknesses. The powers of healing magic, a blessing to the living, is like righteous fire to the dead. Invoke healing magic upon them, and they will fall before you. Their other weakness is that they must be raised by a necromancer, and their existence is tied to the life of those who animate them. Kill the necromancer, and you kill his army."

Lord Barhah responded "We have no wyrds in these lands, not for a long count of years. Magic… I speak of weapons!"

"Your weapons will serve you no better against them than against the living. Magic created them, magic can destroy them."

Muad'Dib said "I think what Lord Barhah means is, will our weapons be useless? I tried to fight those creatures made of sand when you were attacked, but my scimitar passed through them as if they could not be harmed. If all of these living dead have such traits, what use are we against them?"

"The creatures that attacked me were… different. They are something I have never seen before, but I will discover the truth behind them. As for the undead that serve the lords of Shiverland; your weapons will fell them as they would any opponent, although there are types that may prove more difficult. Spirits, shades, these are creatures known for their ethereal forms. If faced with them, then it is only the powers of magic that will destroy them. But such creatures are usually few in number, compared to the bulk of the army, which is made of rotting corpses and walking skeletons."

There were murmur's amongst the assembled men, this was a foe which was almost unknown to them beyond vague references to legend and myth. Muad'Dib waved his hand and the others stopped their discussions. He said "That is good. If cold steel can kill many of these things, then Ahm-Shere has steel aplenty." There was a rousing cheer from the Ahm-Sheran men at this.

Muad'Dib continued "If there is nothing else anyone wants to discuss, then I think we should retire for the night. The chill of the wind has replaced the heat of the sun, and the journey set before us will be long."

Arkadai moved back, taking his space once more. He waited to see if anyone else would speak.

It was second-Commander David who stood, deputy leader of the Silver Lances. He had been sent by Beregond to take his place in the meeting. He felt the eyes of all in the area look upon him as he cautiously took his stance. He felt intoxicated, as if his lungs had been rid of all the air they had contained moments ago.

"Commander Beregond has made contact with Lieutenant Urikkon's entourage. A small scouting party met with the Commander several hours ago on the Great East Road, they will arrive here in hours."

Muad'Dib replied "That is good, then we can leave as planned tomorrow."

David nodded, before replying. "Then perhaps now is time for us to rest before our long journey."

Muad'Dib said "As long as nobody else has something to say, I agree."

Captain Eldrel spoke "Is it true what I've heard about Villiath?"

Muad'Dib looked over at the Serpent Archer captain and slowly nodded "If you have heard the same information I have, then yes. Rakdal Morlan of the market towns informed me that they had begun trading with Villiath in the White Realm. A group of their merchants arrived there recently and discovered the city sacked and razed to the ground, thousands of Realmer soldiers dead. They found no trace of enemy dead. When we pass Villiath, we must be cautious."

Urikkon Maeron had no interest in attending any meeting, for he was both mentally and physically fatigued. Although he had rode upon horseback and had not stretched his legs nor had an hour of sleep for nigh-on three days. The ride from Umit was fast and rough, and the pace was hard for Ahm-Sheran steeds to maintain. Yet maintain it they did, and they had arrived at Avalon much sooner than intended. He spoke to Beregond before the pair went about their seperate ways. They had entered the camp quietly and were now infiltrating the deepest circles of Ahm-Sheran tents. Men were sleeping peacefully. Others were huddled together in deep conversation, sharing pipe weed and their thoughts and memories of home.
"The calm before the storm," Urikkon spoke as both he and Beregond came to an abrupt halt. "No doubt the steel of our blades and the courage of our hearts shall falter before the end," the Lieutenant of Umit added. Beregond looked at him coldly.
"One wonders if you have any capacity for optimism, Lieutenant Maeron." Beregond's tone was sincere and authoritative. The other man smiled.
"Commander, I am 92 years of age by our calendar. I have fought in countless battles and have lost and gained thousands of allies," he began. His narrow eyes suspiciously flicked around. "War is a serious business. I have laid my life on the line for this country a dozen times and would happily do so again. Experience tells me to treat each day like the last, for this enemy we ride against does not sleep. It does not need rest, though with each passing day it spreads and becomes even more of a cancer. You may have heard stories of the Defiled Kingdom but I have witnessed its horror and I tell you, Commander Beregond, that this enemy will not stop until its arm reaches even the furthest reaches of Ahm-Shere and beyond. Whether by land, sea or air, this plague will spread and cover the world in darkness. All we can do is try to prevent it but against such a dark power, victory is a dim light indeed in a hall of darkness."

________

The tension between Urikkon and Beregond could have been cut by a knife. Beregond returned the fierce look at Urikkon dismounted. "Excuse me, Commander, but one must now retire," were the last words the Lieutenant said before he entered his tent. Beregond urged his mount forward. After a brief ride, he arrived at his own quarters. A biege tent, simple in design, it was more than suitable for his needs. Inside it was improbably spacious; a matress laying in the centre of the circular canvas upon which a feather pillow and quilt were neatly folded. He dropped his bags and equipment at one side of the room before returning outside to tie up his horse. It was at this moment that Captain David, his deputy, walked by.
"Commander…" David began, but Beregond made a cutting gesture with his hand and signalled for the Captain to enter his abode. The pair walked through the gap in the canvas and into Beregond's quarters. Illuminated by a single lamp, light was of scarce amounts at such time in the morning. David began conversation again, "You took your time."
"We arrived only moments ago," Beregond explained. He was not in the mood for detailed accounts. "That arrogant, self-righteous bastard seems to think we march to our doom."
"Lieutenant Maeron?" David question. Beregond's reply was a nod before he looked away, his mind racing.
"Lord Erkenbrand personally requested his presence, my Commander. I have ever been charged with the protection of Lord Erkenbrand and he trusts very few people, I have witnessed that at first-hand," the Captain said. Beregond nodded.
"Aye, right you are. Erkenbrand knows what he is doing. Its about time he sent us some sort of instruction, though."

After the meeting broke up, Muad'Dib returned to his tent. Everything was set for the march tomorrow, which would take them from the western bank of the Avalon River, across it's main bridge into the city of Avalon Town and then into the southern passes of the Avalon Mountains. The first leg of their journey, they would not falter in that step.

The Fremen chieftain sat and thought for a while, he could not rest just yet.

Beregond had only slept for a couple of hours though he found himself no longer requiring sleep. The march would begin in a few hours and wished to be ready. He prepared himself in a matter of moments - dressing himself in his light travelling armour.

Muad'Dib and the other tribal warriors had packed their camp away and were ready to begin moving to Avalon Town within a couple of hours. The army would march across the bridge into Avalon Town and then begin the journey into the mountains through the southern passes. It would take a long time to move though, as they would need to form up into thinner columns to cross the bridge and the large numbers of cavalry made this a time-consuming process. In fact for the combined force of some fifty thousand to cross and enter Avalon Town would take the better part of the day.

Arkadai and Masrogul had rallied the Lizard army and merely awaited instruction from Muad'Dib to once again begin the march.

Beregond sat perched upon his horse, sitting patiently alongside Captain David. Both men were silent, though their eyes darted around, watching the every action of the men who so hurridly gathered equipment, sharpened swords and groomed horses. There was a low murmer of conversation, muffled out by the noise of the metalworkers who tirelessly pushed their bodies to the limit - hammering out blades for the favoured poleweapons of the desert warriors, attaching shoes to the feet of horses and distributing keen-edged blades to all folk who required it. Overseeing the final preperation was Urikkon, belting out orders in his usual commanding manor. The march would begin in over an hour, and Beregond would be keen to begin it.

With the army finally mustered, Muad'Dib nodded to Miran. She blew on the horn to signal the advance, several other horns followed. The Ahm-Sheran force began to peel off into smaller chunks, as they gradually moved over the bridge over the Avalon River.

Arkadai, Masrogul and the Lizard army followed behind.

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