Mustering The Ahm-Sheran Army

From Charred Marble

Muad'Dib and his Fedaykin walked through the streets without breaking stride. His residence was about half an hour's walk from the royal palace but they arrived in good time.

A woman, dressed in white robes with her face hidden beneath a cowl, walked from the shadows and approached a guard standing at Muad'Dib's gates.

"I wish to speak with Muad'Dib." she said, her voice gentle yet strong.

The guard Jagga'Bin asked "Who should I say is here to see the chieftain?"

"If you would, tell him it's a friend." replied the woman. She kept her eyes out of the guard's sight.

Jagga'Bin was wary, but with the other Fedaykin and Muad'Dib's own skill he would be safe from any lone visitor. His voice was gravelly and deep, as Jagga was in his early forties. He said "Very well, I will speak with the chieftain. Please step into the garden while you wait."

The Fedaykin entered the house made of white-ish stone. He returned a few moments more, with Muad'Dib behind him.

Muad'Dib walked up to the walked up to the white-robed woman and bowed his head slightly. The Fremen Naib said "You claim to be a friend, so I will welcome you friend. Why do you want to speak with me?"

The woman raised her head to meet the gaze of Muad'Dib. She could see the shock on both the Naib and his guards faces when they saw that her eyes were consumed by a powerful, green glow. She threw her arms up and was enfolded in a shroud of strange lights, blanketing her competely. The shroud held for a time, but when it faded, it was not a woman who stood before Muad'Dib, but Arkadai, High Priest of the Lizards of Onk.

Arkadai stood at just over seven-feet tall. Its scales were a deep, dark blue, and its eyes were green, just as they had been when the Lizard had been in the guise of the woman. A crown of horns adorned its head, with smaller clusters running down its spine. It was clothed in extravagent white robes, rimmed in gold and inscribed with symbols from the Lizard realm. At its side, Arkadai had the sacred long sword of the High Priests.

The Lizard bowed to the humans. "Muad'Dib, I am Arkadai, High Priest of the Lizards of Onk. I mean you no harm, young one. In fact, I have come to offer you aid."

Muad'Dib waved off his Fedaykin. He took a few steps back and said "You may think me rude, but why should I believe you? While we have peace, our peoples have long been enemies."

"I was there the day your ancestors betrayed us, human, do not think that I have forgotten. But we are all faced with the same threat now. The Defiled Kingdom, along with Shiverland, seeks to enslave and eradicate all life." Arkadai paused. His voice was strong and filled with the wisdom of his extensive life. "All must rally in the battle against this evil, for if we do not, then we will surely be destroyed."

Muad'Dib pressed the issue, feeling his honour slighted "My ancestors are the Fremen, they have never betrayed anyone. Regardless, what are these lands you speak of? Are they the enemies we have had mention of from the White Realm?"

Arkadai chose to let the matter of the man's ancestors lie; it had come here to grant aid and strengthen alliances, not to make petty arguments.

The Lizard nodded. "Yes, the Defiled Kingdom and Shiverland are the lands which strike at both the White Realm and Weissland as we speak. They are evil places, and their armies are vast. A unity between Ahm-Shere and Onk is needed if we are to survive this."

Muad'Dib nodded and said "You are right, everyone must stand together. But there is still much hatred in Ahm-Shere for your kind, you know this or you would not have used Wyrding ways to enter the city. How can Ahm-Shere and Onk stand together in this?"

"There is no hatred from my people towards Ahm-Shere, at least not any hatreds that cannot be kept in check. Your people must be willing to put their hate aside. There is too much at stake; we have no time for hate."

Muad'Dib shook his head "You seem to think Ahm-Shere is united. It is not. The tribes could forgive, in years past they waged war on each other, and sat in peace and comradeship afterwards. But the people of the cities and towns are not so forgiving. They have forgotten the old ways, but kept the prejudices. More than this, many towns have seperated themselves from the rule of Verdonsk. It will be difficult and I will not be here to keep an eye on things. I am leading an army to the aid of the White Realm, at the behest of Lord-General Erkenbrand."

"If the land is not united, it will be hard-pressed to survive this war. The war will come here too, Muad'Dib. It will come to Ahm-Shere and it will come to Onk, for the arm of this evil is long. The Great Necromancer is our enemy, human; he is the enemy of all life. And he has spent many long centuries preparing for this conflict." The High Priest paused, looking down at some simple flowers that decorated the garden. "Life will end if we cannot stand together against this enemy. I have seen what may come to pass. Ahm-Shere must put aside its hate."

Muad'Dib turned slightly, looking around the garden, at his Fedaykin, the ground, the sky. He knew what was coming in his heart, even if he had not known the names and the reasons. It was not so long that his dreams had given such warnings, wraught in the form of those chieftains who had risen before him.

He turned back to the High Priest and said "Ahm-Shere will be united by war. It is the way of this land, trouble has always brought us together, strengthened the bonds of this nation. And it will be so again. I welcome your aid Arkadai. Ahm-Shere and Onk will stand together, I will make sure of it. To that end, I must send for a man called Rakdal Morlan. He speaks for the market towns which no longer wish to be tied to Ahm-Shere. Will you meet with him and convince him to stand with us?"

"I will meet with him and tell him the same I have told you. But whether he accepts my words or rejects them is another matter." replied the High Priest. "Now, as for the aid I spoke of, I have a force of twenty thousand that is ready to march with you to the White Realm. Is this acceptable to you?"

Muad'Dib nodded "That is most acceptable. The force I am leading is also twenty thousand strong. How quickly can you muster your army?"

Arkadai smiled. "My force is already assembled and ready. They await only my command to begin their march."

Muad'Dib asked "From where? My force will begin their march into the Avalon Mountains in three days time. Can they reach Verdonsk in that time?

"My army will begin their march from Onk's eastern border as soon as my command reaches them. My people have lived in these deserts for thousands of years; the army can make the march in three days."

Muad'Dib nodded "Good. I will send messengers so your force will be expected. I will send a messenger for Rakdal Morlan as well." He nodded to one of the Fedaykin and the woman turned and left the garden through the gate. Luhon would find Rakdal Morlan and request his presence.

Muad'Dib said "There is much to be done before my force can leave Verdonsk, but the muster is in progress and many messengers are now riding across Ahm-Shere in preparation. The people of the towns will be brought to the fortress-cities where they will have better protection and those troops remaining in Ahm-Shere will be on their guard for attacks. You will have to forgive me, but we thought that when these dark forces made their move we might also suffer attacks from your people. And possible invasion from the empire of Maga Khan."

"War with Ahm-Shere is not something which I desire. Unity is what I want. Fighting along side you will be an honour, and I hope it will help our nations to forget the past."

Muad'Dib nodded and replied "I would rather say our nations should forgive the past. It is said in my land that those who forget where they have been, will never find where they are going."

"Your people may be young, Muad'Dib, but your wisdom should not be doubted." Arkadai bowed. "But now, as you said, there is much to be done. I shall send the order to Onk for my army to begin its march. When it arrives, I will lead it personally."

Muad'Dib bowed to the High Priest as well saying "Good. If you will excuse me, I must speak with my Fedaykin, my guards, to begin arrangements for my own departure."

"We will meet again soon, Muad'Dib."

The High Priest raised its arms. Another shroud of lights consumed it, yet when the shroud cleared, Arkadai had changed into a bird. Its eyes still glowed bright green.

Wasting no time, Arkadai flew away from the residence. It had tasks to attend to.

Beregond saw Muad'Dib approaching his personal entourage; the Fedaykin. His pace quickening, the Commander of the Silver Lances called at the top of his voice to his superior.

"Muad'Dib," shouted Beregond, lowering his head in respect. "My garrison is ready - 5,000 men-at-arms and two thousand heavy cavalry."

Muad'Dib watched the bird, or rather the High Priest fly away. He had little trust in Wryding ways, and not much more for Wyrds themselves. But he pushed the thoughts aside for the good of Ahm-Shere.

Turning, he addressed Beregond "That is good to hear. Make sure the rest of the forces already in Verdonsk are preparing. The messengers have been sent out to the nearby tribes and I've sent a messenger bird to the Glorians. It will be a day before the tribes forces arrive, and the Glorians will arrive on the third day. The Glorians will form our rearguard as we move, allowing them a few hours to rest here in Verdonsk as the main bulk of our force moves out from the city and forms up. There is something important we must speak of though." He had a serious look on his face, wondering how many would feel about allying with the Lizards.

Beregond looked suspiciously at the man before him. Little troubled Muad'Dib of the Fremen, and what bode ill for he bode ill for all.

"What is it, Muad'Dib?"

Muad'Dib sighed "You know that any force capable of being so damaging to the White Realm could strike any land just as easily. All lands must stand together, or we will fall. I have been approached by the High Priest of the Lizards of Onk. This Arkadai has told me the names of our enemies. The Defiled Kingdom and Shiverland. The Lizards are worried about these places, and want to see them destroyed. They are sending 20,000 of their number to join our reinforcements. They will be here in three days to leave with us. I have already sent out messengers to inform the west of their approach. We must make sure that our soldiers put aside their mistrust and hate in the face of a common enemy."

"Lizards?" Beregond exclaimed in a hush tone. "You think the men will be so forgiving after centuries of bitter conflict? The sands of Ahm-Shere and the plains of Umit have been scared with the blood of both our kinds."

The Commander of the Silver Lances paused and broke eye contact with Muad'Dib. He thought long and deliberately before continuing.

"You do realise if the people discover this, we could have civil war on our hands, Muad'Dib. And if this reaches the senate, they may vote to remove all power from the Serpent Council," Beregond informed. The man was no politician, but as Erkenbrand's Lieutenant, he was ever at the Lord-General's side.

Mardat saw Muad'Dib and Beregond standing mere paces from him. He walked towards them, overhearing the pair's conversation.

"Is this something I should know about," Mardat asked inquisitvely.

Muad'Dib nodded to Mardat. He said "Yes. As I was just telling Beregond, all lands are threatened by what we will face in the White Realm. I have been approached by the High Priest of the Lizards of Onk. They are sending a force of 20,000 to the White Realm. We must ally with them to face this foe. They have already told me the names of the enemies we face, the Defiled Kingdom and Shiverland."

The Fremen chieftain looked at both men and continued "I know that the people will be troubled by this. But you say we risk civil war Beregond? The market towns have already tried to seperate themselves from Ahm-Shere. This is a chance to bring them back. I've requested that Rakdal Morlan come here, so I can tell him this. If one of our oldest enemies is willing to stand side by side with us against this dark force, perhaps we can convince him to bring the market towns back to Ahm-Shere. The citizens would listen to him, perhaps he can make them see that hatred will only lead to our downfall. And the senate has caused the unrest of our land because of their taxations. Instead of strengthening our military, they have put us in a weaker position to defend our lands."

"War has its benefits," Mardat agreed. He looked at Beregond, who was deep in thought.

"I still do not believe this is a risk worth taking. We are joining a war, when the greater threat lies within our lands already," Beregond added. "However, as much I wish to debate, we have work to do. I have ordered for the nearby towns to half their garrisons and have part sent to Verdonsk. The Glorians have received word of our march and will be here by morning. At noon, tomorrow, we make our march," he insisted. "Good-day," he finished, before leaving the premises with a nod of courtesy to both men.

Muad'Dib nodded to Beregond as he left. The Fremen chieftain turned to Mardat and said "If you will excuse me, I have much to prepare before we march in two days time."

He turned and walked over to several of the Fedaykin who were waiting for Muad'Dib to speak with them.

Muad'Dib had gathered several of the Fedaykin around him, while the others tended to their duties. He looked at the gathered faces, knowing each one well. He began to speak "We are sending an army 20,000 strong to the White Realm to aid them, as has been requested by Lord-General Erkenbrand. I am going to lead this army, and will take some of you with me. Thirty-two of you travelled with me and my family to Verdonsk, but my family shall be remaining here. Three of you will remain behind to protect them. I thought long and hard about who should stay, and I have decided. Garven'Tor. You are my best friend and first among the Fedaykin. I would see you fight beside me this first time the Fremen have fought outside the borders of Ahm-Shere, but I need you to remain here. Look after my family, advise Liana as she leads our people in my absence."

Garven'Tor nodded solemnly "Very well, I shall remain Muad'Dib."

Muad'Dib sighed and continued "Fenn'Jorel and Uldir'Anraph will also stay behind. I am counting on all three of you to be vigilent for any danger."

Both men bowed slightly and said in unison, although Fenn's voice was still monotone "Yes Naib."

Muad'Dib nodded in respect to them and said "The rest of you are coming with me. The first time the Fremen have gone to war outside of Ahm-Shere. This will be remembered in our songs, we will make sure such tales are worthy of remembering. Go now and tell the other Fedaykin what is happening. There is still much to plan."

With that Muad'Dib turned and walked into the residence to find Liana.

Muad'Dib found his wife Liana inside the residence. Silently he took her by the hand and led her over to a couch in one of the rooms. As they sat down, Muad'Dib looked at Liana and forced the memory of her face into his mind, making it so strong he would never forget it. He said slowly "We have had word from Erkenbrand. He has requested an army to travel to the White Realm to aid them. In three days 20,000 soldiers will march from Verdonsk. I will be leading them… to war."

Liana swallowed, her eyes grew watery, but she held back the tears and said "I understand Muad'Dib. You must lead this army, because you would not send them if you were not willing to go into the same danger. But there is danger here also, and I fear for Ahm-Shere in your absence."

Muad'Dib responded "There is danger in Ahm-Shere, but you will be safe. The tribe will be safe. I do not want to leave you, I have never wanted to leave your side, dear Liana. But I am honour-bound to ride to Erkenbrand's aid. I will not leave him to fight alone."

Liana replied "Then go Muad'Dib, and my hope will follow you always."

The couple kissed, and sat there holding each other for a time. Soon they would be parted, by war.

After his meeting with Rakdal Morlan, Muad'Dib headed off towards the gates of the city. One of the Fedaykin followed in his wake and as Muad'Dib looked back he saw that it was Arra'Bin, the tall and silent tracker. Muad'Dib was sure that some of the messengers which had been sent out would be returning shortly from the nearby tribes.

Arkadai stood at the city gates, where it awaited the arrival of Muad'Dib. It stood in another human form, for it knew that its true form would not be a welcome sight in this place. There was more to be discussed with the Fremen chieftain.

Muad'Dib arrived at the gates and quickly found two of the messengers which had returned. They were some of the original messengers he had sent out a couple of days earlier to tell the villages and towns to make for the cities and the tribes to be on their guard. He walked over to one of them and asked "How was your message received?"

The man saluted and said "The two towns I visited are following the council's warning. They have gathered what they can and began heading south before I left them. They will reach Verdonsk tomorrow."

Muad'Dib nodded "Good, the more citizens we can get into the cities, the easier it will be to protect them with the diminished military."

The soldier asked "Diminished, chieftain?"

Muad'Dib replied "Yes, war is spreading, and we are sending an army to the White Realm to aid our allies. More messengers were sent out this morning." Muad'Dib noticed that the light was now dimming, as early evening was approaching.

The soldier nodded "Very well chieftain. Is there anything else you wish of me?"

Muad'Dib shook his head "No, return to your barracks. You may receive new orders there if you have been chosen as part of the reinforcements I will be leading to the White Realm. Your officers will tell you when you reach there."

The soldier saluted again, and Muad'Dib bowed. The man turned and headed further into the city, leaving Muad'Dib to his thoughts.

Arkadai stepped forward. Still, it was hooded and cloaked, and still its eyes glowed a powerful gold.

"Greetings to you again, Muad'Dib."

The cloaked figured roused Muad'Dib from his thoughts. He replied "Greetings. I did not expect you to return again until the muster day."

"Word can be spread quickly by my people. The bonds of life flow strongly through us." The High Priest walked foward a few paces. "My army will be here, soon. And I do have another offer; eight thousand of my warriors are willing to be stationed throughout your lands, as you see fit, to aid in your defences. Please, know that I will understand if you should refuse. I have not forgotten the hate, and I am sure that many here would respond poorly to the presence of my kind. But, nonetheless, my offer stands."

Muad'Dib sighed deeply "I understand the gesture, I made a similar one not long since, but I cannot accept this. The people will struggle to understand and accept that we march to war beside your people, but to have them defending our lands is something the people would not tolorate. Not yet anway. I will have to decline your offer, although I thank you for making it."

Arkadai nodded. "As I said, I understand. Now, my army should arrive here when intended. I will be travelling with the army, but I must tell you that I am no warrior. No more do I walk that path. Masrogul, the Keeper of Battle, will lead the army. Masrogul is a close friend of mine; he can be relied upon for strength and courage in battle."

Muad'Dib nodded but replied "In the culture of the Fremen, we embody three sacred facets of existance: warrior, priest and life-giver. To be one in a lifetime is good, to be two is a great honour worthy of remembrance."

Arkadai bowed. "I am humbled by your words, Muad'Dib. Again, your wisdom impresses me. You give me hope for your kind." It looked around. "But now I must leave once more. Farewell Muad'Dib. I shall see you again when my army arrives."

Muad'Dib bowed as the High Priest departed. It was starting to darken. There would be other messengers returning, but those bringing the forces of the nearby tribes would arrive in the morning. Then another day would pass and the Glorians would arrive, at the same time as the army made ready to leave. Muad'Dib turned and headed back to his residence, Arra'Bin at his side, silent as ever. If all went as they planned, in two days, at mid-day they would leave Verdonsk and reach their first campsite that night.

Muad'Dib said to Arra'Bin "We face war in the White Realm Arra, we face death. But perhaps even in death we can give life to the future. Peace and freedom Arra'Bin."

"Peace and freedom chieftain." Arra'Bin replied.

The two men returned to the residence, as night pressed on.

Arkadai moved away from Muad'Dib, into a darkened alley. There, it found another human awaiting; and this human's eyes glowed red.

"High Priest." said the man, bowing.

"Rise, Masrogul." replied Arkadai.

"My Lord, did they accept your offer?"

The High Priest shook its head. "No, they did not. But it matters not."

"Is it truly needed to deceive them like this?"

"We must know if they can be trusted, Masrogul. We must know if our people can live in peace with them once more. If not, then we will be left with no choice but to destroy them."

The skies over Verdonsk grew dark as a lone, cloaked figure walked down the streets. There was an air of darkness about her.

Arkadai was quick to notice her. It stood still in a human form with Masrogul beside it. Masrogul reached for its sword instantly when it saw the woman approaching, but Arkadai put out its hand, signalling for Masrogul to stand his ground.

The High Priest turned to the woman who came to a halt roughly ten feet from the two lizards. "I know not why you have come, necromancer, but you will not succeed in your evil work. Not here, not now, not ever."

The woman only smiled.

Muad'Dib walked silently along the empty streets. He could feel something was wrong in Verdonsk, something dark and oppressive. It was something he had to hunt. He had left his residence alone, avoiding his own bodyguard of elite Fedaykin. This was no easy feat within itself, as they were very skilled, especially Garven'Tor and Arra'Bin. But he was sure that he could not afford to risk their lives in this.

He continued on his way, towards the gates.

Arkadai raised its hands and conjured a magical field around itself and Masrogul just as the stranger lashed out with a viscious bolt of dark power. The magic of the High Priest was tested as the shield almost shattered under the force of the woman's attack. It seemed she was far more powerful than Arkadai had expected.

Masrogul drew its sword and lunged towards her, but with a simple back-hand motion, she sent it flying through the air with a powerful spell. The lizard crashed into the wall of a nearby building and fell to the ground, shaken and wounded.

Arkadai took a few steps back. "Leave this place!"

It raised its hands once more and sent streams of flame towards the woman, but she vanished in a tempest of smoke before reappearing right behind the High Priest.

"Not without your blade, Arkadai." she said. Her voice was so empty of emotion and devoid of life that it made Arkadai shudder just to hear it.

The woman launched the High Priest forward with another spell. It rolled over after landing to stare back at her. Her skin was pale, barely hiding the bones beneath. Black streaks of evil power adorned her body, as if they were veins. And her eyes were cruel pockets of darkness.

Muad'Dib turned the corner and stopped dead in his tracks. Up ahead he saw a woman standing there. At first he thought it could be the High Priest in a human form, but his eyes quickly made out the form of the Lizard further away and another one by the wall of a building. Something was very wrong here, and Muad'Dib drew his scimitar with a clear ring of steel.

He took two steps forward, raising the sword before him, seeing it glint in the moon light.

The stranger turned to Muad'Dib. "Foolish mortal. Leave this place. This does not concern you."

She was then hit by a torrent of fire from Arkadai's fingertips. Her cloak burned and she cast it away, leaving her standing in dark robes. She launched a counter-attack towards the High Priest in the form of a series of small, fast-moving, winged creatures formed from shadow that sprung from her palm. The creatures moved with great speed, biting and tearing at Arkadai's skin as they moved around it.

"Go Muad'Dib! She is too powerful!" yelled Arkadai through whelps of pain.

The woman began walking towards Arkadai, but was hit by Masrogul as it came hurtling towards her and tackled her to the ground. Another flash followed which blasted the lizard off of her. She rose before summoning a number of malevolent creatures; the sand beneath her feet rose and twirled until it took the form of four vaguely humanoid forms. Dark energy filled and surrounded them. They slugged slowly towards Masrogul and Muad'Dib, ready to attack.

Muad'Dib hefted his scimitar and spat the words "Wyrd! You defile the very sands of Ahm-Shere, then you are my enemy."

He walked forward towards the creatures, ready to fight.

The stranger ignored the new-commer, allowing her creations to deal with him. She walked towards Arkadai. The High Priest lay on the ground having only just fended off her shadow creatures.

"Pathetic." said the woman as she raised her hand high.

Dark energy formed in her hand, waiting to be unleashed upon the lizard. She smiled darkly.

Muad'Dib darted aside as one of the creatures attacked him. He brought the scimitar up and blocked, slicing into what seemed like an arm, but it had little effect. Unfazed, the Fremen chieftain continued his attack.

As the woman launched her spell, Arkadai's eyes flared with sudden power. The magical attack slammed into an unseen field before erupting violently, sending the woman rocketing backwards.

Arkadai rose slowly, but when he looked up, the woman was nowhere to be seen. And then came the searing pain. Looking down, Arkadai saw that it was bleeding. Turning slowly, it saw the woman behind it, a cruel blade held in her hand and dug deep into the High Priest's side. She tore it free and then grabbed Arkadai's sword.

The darkness withdrew as the woman laughed and slowly faded away, smiling darkly once more. The sand creatures fell away, crumbling to nothing.

Arkadai fell to the ground, breathing heavily. Masrogul was at its master's side in an instant.

"High Priest! Arkadai!"

That was all Arkadai heard before blacking out.

As the sand creatures crumbled away to sand once more, the wind catching it and blowing it as it began to settle back to the ground, Muad'Dib swept his scimitar around looking for enemies. Gone, he thought. He had no like for magic, it seemed an affront to a warrior.

He rushed over to the fallen Lizard and it's comrade.

"Fremen, please, you must help the High Priest." pleaded Masrogul. "Are there any healers nearby that we could go to?"

Muad'Dib spoke quickly "There is one a few streets to the east. I do not know if he will be able to help, but he is the only one close at hand." He pointed in the general direction.

Masrogul took off its cloak and bound it tightly about Arkadai's wound. Then, with almost no effort, it hoisted the High Priest onto its shoulders.

"Lead the way, Muad'Dib."

Without another word Muad'Dib headed off in the direction of the healers home. He kept an eye out for others on the streets, but none had ventured from the buildings to see what had happened outside. As he moved, his eyes roved the shadows, searching for any other attackers. Muad'Dib was a highly skilled hunter, his eyes keen and sharp, if there had been an attacker he would see them.

They arrived at the healers home and Muad'Dib banged on the door and said "Damar, it is Muad'Dib. Open up quickly."

The door opened and a man appeared. Muad'Dib wasted no time with explaination and urgently ushered the Lizard to get inside.

Masrogul passed through before laying the High Priest on a bed. He turned to the new human. "Healer, do what you must to save the High Priest. I beg of you!"

Muad'Dib shut the door to the healers house and turned back to the healer.

Damar looked at the Fremen chieftain and said "Fetch cloth and bandage, and water in a bowl." Muad'Dib did as he was instructed, Damar knew his craft and wasted no time in being curteous.

Muad'Dib returned with the items requested and put them down on a small table beside the bed occupied by Arkadai.

Damar looked over the man, removing the cloak which covered the wound. He said gruffly "Not good, the wound needs to be cleaned." Both the Lizards were in human forms and even to a skilled healer they appeared to be just that, men. Damar could see that the wound was deep in Arkadai's side, and the blood which issued forth was dark. He replaced the cloak and said to the other man "Keep pressure here."

Masrogul did as it was commanded; it kept tight pressure on the indicated area.

It looked down on Arkadai, its millennia-old friend and mentor, and it knew that the High Priest just had to survive this. He would survive this. He had to survive this.

Damar turned to a shelf behind him and selected one of the many containers which sat there. He pulled off the string which bound the animal hide over the opening to keep what was inside fresh, removing the hide as well. Damar reached into the jar and took out a small handful of dried leaves which gave off a heady aroma. Putting the jar down he walked quickly back to the injured man.

Damar deftly crushed the leaves into the bowl of water. Then he put a piece of cloth into the water. Removing the cloth, he motioned for the second man to move the cloak on the wound aside. Quickly, Damar washed the wound, clearing away any dirt in or around the cut. He moved the cloak back into place for the other man to continue holding.

Without saying a word he turned back to the shelf and picked up a small container. Opening it, he scooped out a wad of a thick paste mixed from a number of herbs. It had a horrible, pungent smell. He packed the wound with the paste, taking two more handfuls of it from the container before the wound was covered fully. He said to Muad'Dib and the second man "This will help slow the bleeding and allow the wound to heal. I'll dress and bind the wound as well. Then you should let him rest for a few hours." The healer turned back to his work.

Masrogul nodded. "Thank you."

Damar finished bandaging the wound and said "Hrumph. No need to thank me, perhaps you should all stop flinging yourselves into battles. Not that you'll listen to an old healer."

Muad'Dib smiled slightly and replied "I'm sorry Damar, but some battles must be fought. You should be thankful that so few of those seeking your aid are wounded from battle."

The Fremen chieftain turned to Masrogul and said "Will you be fine here alone for a while? I should return to my wife and children."

The lizard nodded. "Of course. I will remain to watch over my friend."

Muad'Dib nodded and left the healers home. He made his way back towards his own residence.

Muad'Dib sat motionless in the wicker chair by the doors to the balcony. It was still dark in the room as well as outside; the sun had not risen yet. The young Fremen chieftain was content to simply watch his wife sleep as he waited for sunrise and the news of the muster. He wondered what he would see in the White Realm, and what could happen in his absence here, but pushed the thoughts aside.

Liana stirred in the bed across the room, moving her arm to where her husband would have been. She turned and sat up, looking across at Muad'Dib and said "You should come back to bed; nothing can be done until the tribes arrive. You cannot worry about every trouble in the world Muad’Dib; one person can only do so much."

Muad'Dib sighed and walked over to her, replying "Perhaps I can only do so much, but it will never stop me from thinking I should do more Liana."

Muad'Dib arrived at the large courtyard before the gates to the city. It was mid-morning and the word had reached him of the imminent arrival of the tribal forces which would ride to the White Realm as part of the reinforcement's Lord-General Erkenbrand had requested. He sat atop his horse, Whirlwind, who had brought him to battle many times, and this time would bring him to war in a foreign land. Muad'Dib thought back to earlier in the morning, when he had kissed his wife goodbye as he left their residence. How he wished he could simply stay with his family, but his loyalty prevented him such a luxury.

As the gates opened, he could see the shadowed silhouettes of the tribesmen who slowly began to ride into the city. In the van were the chiefs of the various tribes who lived close to the city of Verdonsk. Muad'Dib slowly rode towards them, off to the side so that the troops could continue to flow into the city. The chieftain's pulled off to the side as well and one by one they gripped the extended forearm of Muad'Dib in a sign of the warrior's greeting.

He watched the warriors ride in, so many had not been mustered for long years of relative peace, but the time was upon them that peace would stand or fall unless the darkness could be cast down. It took several hours for the full force to enter the city and be directed to barracks and staging areas. Muad'Dib saw the full count of them. Eight hundred light cavalry riding a mixture of horses and camels. They wore light armour, mostly leather but some wore a chainmail hauberk instead, or padded materials of many layers. Each warrior carried with them a bow and a quiver of arrows, with a short, straight-bladed sword at their side. Behind the cavalry marched three hundred tribesmen on foot. Muad'Dib smiled when he saw they were armed with Khetars. It was a polearm which the warriors of the desert used to great effect. They also wore light leather armour like their mounted brethren.

Mardat stood in silence as the desert tribes gathered in their great numbers. To his immediate left he saw the shadowy figure of Muad'Dib. He too was quiet, admiring the heraldry of the desert tribesmen. Mardat walked to Erkenbrand's most trusted Captain.

"It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that I have urgent business in Dorsgiliath," he began. "I have made word for the garrison commander of Umit to rendevouz with the main force at Avalon. He brings with him 300 able-bodied cavalry."

Muad'Dib nodded and said "Very well. It would have been good to ride to battle with you Mardat, but our duty to Ahm-Shere outweighs glory. The army will make camp near to the mountains to wait for the garrison commander of Umit. Another day, and the Glorians will arrive, as will the Lizard's army and we will begin our march. Ahm-Shere will be safe in the hands of those who remain."

"Farewell, old friend. Despite our long companionship, it seems we shall never fight as brothers-in-arms," Mardat said heavyheartedly, yet with a knowing smile. "I shall see you again, Muad'Dib of the Fremen," Mardat finished as he mounted his horse.

Muad'Dib nodded and replied "Yes, we will meet again. If not in this life, then the next." He checked the reins of his horse, keeping the animal still and calm. Muad'Dib extended his arm to Mardat.

Mardat took Muad'Dib's hand and shook it firmly. Still smiling, he spoke softly to his horse, and would not be seen again in Verdonsk for many months.

Muad'Dib watched Mardat leaving then turned his horse and headed back to his residence. Now that the tribesmen had arrived and were being sent to barracks and other areas to camp there was little to do beyond waiting for the next day, the final day of the muster and the beginning of their march to the White Realm.

Muad'Dib sat in his study with Garven'Tor and Arra'Bin. Evening was fast approaching. Muad'Dib looked at the parchment before him and said to the others "The muster has gone well, the tribes have seen the need of Ahm-Shere and have not held back warriors which are sorely needed to remain."

Garven'Tor asked "And what of the rest of the muster?"

Muad'Dib looked at his two most trusted warriors and said "The military is ready. Nine hundred Silver Lances, five hundred each of medium and Verdonsk cavalry, ten thousand infantry from Verdonsk, one thousand archers and two hundred of the Serpent Archers."

Arra'Bin said "And all we await now is tomorrow morning when the Glorian Veterans will arrive."

Muad'Dib nodded "Yes, five thousand and eight hundred we have asked for. Hopefully they will all come. When they arrive the rest of the army will begin to move out. It will take many hours, giving them time to rest. The Glorians will form our rearguard behind the infantry. The army will march east to our camp at the Avalon River. There we will await the arrival of the garrison commander of Umit and his bodyguard."

After he finished speaking with his Fedaykin, Muad'Dib headed out of his residence, bringing only Garven'Tor with him. As the two Fremen walked the chieftain said "I want to check and see how Arkadai is. Tomorrow we ride out to the White Realm and if he is unable to lead his army with us it will be problematic."

Garven'Tor replied "How so? They will surely just follow in our wake when he is ready."

Muad'Dib nodded but said "Yes, but if they have to remain behind and do not depart with Ahm-Shere's army, then the people will not like it. I do not know how they will react when they see the Lizard army anyway and I hope that Rakdal Morlan can help keep them calm."

They arrived at the small home of Damar the healer and knocking on the door, they entered.

Masrogul looked up, his hand on his sword. The healer moved to the door and opened it, the Lizard warrior standing close by and out of sight from the doorway.

Muad'Dib stepped inside first, saying "Damar. Sorry I was not back sooner, but there is much to be done for the muster."

The two Fremen walked into the healers home, Garven'Tor keeping a respectful distance.

Masrogul, in human form, moved quickly from behind the door, his sword raised in the direction of Muad'Dib's companion.

"Who is the other?" asked the Lizard, speaking to Muad'Dib whilst keeping his eyes fixed on the other ma

Muad'Dib spoke calmly "This is Garven'Tor. He is one of my Fedaykin, the best warriors of my tribe. He is a friend."

It had been several long hours since Mardat had left Ahm-Shere. Dusk had fallen suddenly over the capital of Verdonsk, and there was little natural light offered save for the now-crimson coloured sun which hovered gently above the horizon, knowing any moment it could disappear behind the towering sand dunes that surrounded the city.

Alben had sat patienly for much of the muster. He was stationary, smoking a pipe and conversing with his fellow officers. In times of war, Captains of Ahm-Shere were little more than veterans of war though this may have been regarded as an insult to Alben. A skilled horseman who was keen of eye and deadly with his shortbow, the Captain and his garrison had arrived from Pascal de Gamma some six days before Erkenbrand's messenger bird, Kirus had been sent from Thunderton. He had arrived with a mere fifty men to deliver a notice from the Avalon Parliament to Erkenbrand the Lord-General, but His Grace had been absent for almost a fortnight. Initially instructed to wait for Erkenbrand to return within the fall of the month, he was later told to gather his men and prepare to lead the muster of Ahm-Shere. Some 20,000 men would gather at Verdonsk to march to the aid of the White Realm, and a further 200 would join them on the road to Avalon. At the River Town their leaders - Urikkon; captain of Umit, Beregond; General of Dorsgiliath and Commander of the Silver Lances and Muad'Dib of the Fremen; the second most powerful figure in all the country - would then lead the march to the White Realm, and on to war.

"This waiting is driving me steadily insane," the man opposite him spoke. He had grey hair and a look of experience to his ageing features. He had just one eye, for he had suffered hideous injuries in his youth. His long hair disguised the eyepatch.

Alben smiled and inhaled deeply. The pipe was the only warmth in the cold evening.

Masrogul lowered his blade slowly before stepping back. "Why have you come, Muad'Dib?"

Muad'Dib answered "I need to know if Arkadai will be fit to leave with his army tomorrow, as that is the final day of the muster and when the Ahm-Shere army must depart. He has had only a day to heal, and will only have til mid-morning before we must leave Verdonsk."

Masrogul looked at the High Priest; he was unconscious for the time-being. After taking a moment more to consider, Masrogul turned back to the Fremen chief.

"Yes, my Lord Arkadai will be ready to leave. His powers of regeneration are greater than most."

Muad'Dib replied "That is good. I will leave now, and see you again when the armies begin the journey to the White Realm. The first stop on our march is when we make camp on the western bank of the Avalon river, where we will be joined by the garrison commander of Umit."

Muad'Dib bowed slightly and turned to leave the healer's home and head back to his own residence.

"The army of the Lizards will assemble outside your city. We would not want to intrude."

Muad'Dib stopped and nodded, saying over his shoulder "That would be wise. The people will need time to understand that we should not be enemies. Goodbye Masrogul."

With that the Fremen chieftain left the building and walked back to his residence with Garven'Tor.

Muad'Dib had only this last night to spend with his family before the army left tomorrow. It would be a long time before he returned to Ahm-Shere, although the young chieftain also knew that he might never return or see them again. He spent the time well, playing with Jora and Baru, telling them stories of the Fremen tribe. Then, once the children had been put to bed, and the Fedaykin set to their guard duties, Muad'Dib and Liana retired to their bedroom.

Muad'Dib burnt each moment into his mind, every thought, every sensation. He was adamant that he would not forget a single second of that night. Lying with his wife, Muad'Dib slept well in the knowledge that the night could not have been a more fitting last night should he not return.

Early morning came and quietly Muad'Dib said his farewells to his wife, kissing her softly as she slept. He could not stand to say goodbye while she was awake, not when he was going to war so far from home. As silent as any Fremen Muad'Dib walked into the rooms of his children and said goodbye to them as well.

As he walked out into the garden of his estate, it was still dawn, still before sunrise. He had the other Fedaykin who would ride with him to the White Realm to gather with him. The thirty Fremen warriors travelled to a nearby barracks as the sun began to rise. There they prepared themselves for war. Each had their own weapons and armour, the garb of their tribe worn proudly. But to prepare for this war, more was required. Each Fedaykin wore the heavy black cloak of the Fremen tribe, the sand coloured clothes, the dark red sash and face coverings already in place. Each wore a short-sleeved shirt of chainmail underneath the boiled leather jerkin. The jerkin was faced with bamboo. Muad'Dib's armour only differed in the gold banding on the armour and various patterns etched into the bamboo. They also wore greaves and vambraces in a similar style.

The weaponry of the Fremen tribe had always been the scimitar, the Crysknife and the bow. It had held true through the tribe's entire history, five hundred and sixty-six years. Each warrior had their scimitar and Crysknife in scabbard and sheath at their belt and with a bow and quiver slung over their back.

All of them now annointed themselves with sanctified herbs, flowers and other items made into a liquid or oil. It was the same oil used in the naming rituals of the tribe and other rituals. It was also used when the Fremen went into war, not just a single battle but the beginning of a war.

After the ritual was completed, they each selected a short lance from the armoury and placed a pennant on the end of it, which displayed the heraldry of the Fremen tribe. They went to the stables where their horses were kept, and prepared them to leave as well. Muad'Dib prepared Whirlwind for this journey, and the great horse was as calm as his master.

A few hours had past, and Muad'Dib, along with his bodyguard had moved out towards the city gates in readyness for the muster. Other forces were marshalling and moving out of the city to take up position in the column.

After a messenger approached, Muad'Dib and Arra'Bin rode quickly out of the gate and turned off towards the west. The Glorian Veterans were approaching the city, and as hoped for five thousand, eight hundred of their number had marched to Ahm-Shere's call to arms.

Arkadai awoke in the middle of the night. Masrogul was by his bed, vigilant as always. The High Priest found that his wounds were all but healed completely. He rose slowly.

"The army will be arriving in the early hours of the morning." said the High Priest. "We must be ready to meet them."

Masrogul only nodded.

Many hours later, the vast army of Lizards stood assembled and ready outside Verdonsk. Arkadai and Masrogul surveyed the force.

"This is good. Thirty thousand of our warriors stand ready before you, High Priest." said Masrogul.

"Yes, but darkness has grown strong in the lands we journey to. I pray that this will be enough."

Beregond rode ahead to the gates of Verdonsk. His banner bearer rode silently behind him, making no sound as he held the Standard of the Silver Lances. Behind rode the Glorian Veterans, their heavy armour glinting in the low light of the early sun, and further behind were the remaining number of the Silver Lances who had accompanied the Commander of Ahm-Shere to that far western town. He looked around for Muad'Dib.

Muad'Dib watched the Glorian Veterans march towards the city, row upon row of quick marching infantry. Even though they were no longer full-time soldiers, they moved with a speed which seemed shocking given the amount of armour and arms they bore. He could see that they would have no trouble acting as the rearguard of the force, able to keep up with the rest of the column despite the large number of cavalry which Ahm-Shere had mustered.

The Lizard army had arrived as well, larger than expected. Muad'Dib's lands were in the south-east of Ahm-Shere and he had had little contact with the Lizards beyond a few minor skirmishes years ago, although whether those Lizards were renegades and bandits, or proper military forces, he did not know. He pushed such thoughts aside, in this they had a common enemy, one which was strong enough to threaten all lands.

He could see Beregond in the van of the approaching Glorian Veterans, and many of the Silver Lances were with them as well. Muad'Dib waited with Arra'Bin on their horses for Beregond to reach them.

Much of the army was now ready. They would depart within the hour. Muad'Dib turned Whirlwind, his horse and said to Arra'Bin "Gather the others, we will be leaving soon."

Arra'Bin nodded and rode off back towards the gates to find the rest of the Fremen Fedaykin.

The Lizard army was currently moving to stand with the Ahm-Shere forces. The vast majority of the soldiers were infantry, for such was the focus of Onk's military strength. Along with the infantry, who wielded large shields and either pikes or swords for the most part, there were cavalry. The Lizard cavalry rode atop creatures that to most of the world appeared strange and almost mythical. Some were simply large, four-legged reptiles. Others looked more like large hunting cats with scales. And then there was a selection of larger creatures, few in number yet powerful none the less.

Arkadai approached Muad'Dib in his true form. "My warriors stand by your side, Fremen chief."

Muad'Dib replied "Good. They are an impressive force. The armies will soon be leaving, once all of the Ahm-Sheran forces make their way out of the city and are arrayed in the column. The force approaching are the Glorian Veterans, they will act as rearguard for the Ahm-Sheran column." He watched them getting closer, Beregond was probably within shouting distance, but Muad'Dib decided against it. He said to Arkadai "When we reach the camp at the western bank of the Avalon, the leaders will likely gather to discuss the rest of the journey. I think it would be of great use to us if you could tell us more about the enemies we face."

Beregond spied out Muad'Dib and rode to meet him. The Glorian Veterans had remained stationary in their tight ranks, standing erect as shining knights in an hour of darkness. Only the Commander of the Silver Lances and his Standard bearer, Halal, made way towards the Chieftain of the Fremen.

"It is done. The Glorians are not unhappy to ride to war for one final time," he said.

Muad'Dib nodded to Beregond "That is good, for this might be the final war. The column is still not complete, many are still leaving the city. That gives the Glorian Veterans time to rest before they take their place as rearguard of the column. Where will the Silver Lances ride in the column?"

Arkadai nodded. "As you wish, Muad'Dib. At this gathering of leaders, I will share all that I know of our enemy."

"At the fore," Beregond said dismissively. "The Glorians shall form the rearguard."

Muad'Dib ignored Beregond's attitude and nodded to Arkadai "Thank you Arkadai. We should depart in an hour."

As the Fedaykin rode out of the gate, Muad'Dib looked around. He saw all twenty-nine of them ready to ride and took a deep breath. He turned to Arkadai and Beregond and said "It is time, the column is ready to move. We will reach the camp at the banks of the Avalon before nightfall."

Quickly he pulled on the reins and Whirlwind turned and galloped off to join the other Fedaykin. They moved to the head of the column. The Glorian Veterans had moved into their position at the rear of the column and all others were ready. The tribal chieftains and a small number of their mounted warriors would ride alongside Muad'Dib in the vanguard of the Ahm-Sheran column.

The Fremen chieftain nodded to Miran. She was only twenty-one, but she was a skilled warrior, and a great shot with a bow. The female Fedaykin took an ivory horn from one of her horse's saddle-bags and blew a great blast on it. The keening, haunting note hung on the air and was answered by several more down the length of the column. As one, the Ahm-Sheran column, twenty thousand soldiers and warriors began to move off, heading east towards the river Avalon.

Muad'Dib kept pace amongst the Fedaykin, but every now and then he would look back towards the walls of Verdonsk as the army moved passed their reach.

Arkadai brought his power forth; two wings sprouted from his back and he took flight into the air. He made his way back to where his own soldiers stood asembled.

"Follow the Ahm-Shere armies in their march. Stand tall and proud, my people, for we travel to defend far more than ourselves. We must fight against evils that threaten to break this world. It is time for us to remember the days when battle was what we breathed, for the present calls for such days to return!" called the High Priest.

After an inspiring series of cheers, the Lizard army began its march.

Masrogul approached Arkadai. "Your warriors know what may be required of them. Each stands ready to do their duty."

Arkadai nodded. "Good, although I pray that such action will not be needed."

The large army left Verdonsk and headed for the camp on the western bank of the Avalon River, the first leg on their journey to the White Realm.

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