Tales From Ahm-Shere 1 - A Return


A Return is the first of several short stories set in Ahm-Shere. This story focusses on Muad'Dib the current chieftain of the Fremen tribe and is set roughly three years before the White War.

A Return

The journey south was a long one. Muad’Dib often wondered if it was simply the longing to return south which made the journey longer. The chieftain of the Fremen tribe was used to a hard life, living in the desert, but still he was tired after riding from Verdonsk to the Fremen lands. He had stopped off a few times on the way, more to rest his horse, Whirlwind, than for himself. The last stop had been at the fort of Gelsiner, which was many miles to the north of the lands occupied by the Fremen and other nearby tribes. Muad’Dib had checked in on the garrison and spoken with the commander of the fort. No trouble had arisen near the fort for quite some time. Now Muad’Dib was on the last leg of his journey, and soon he would reach Fremen lands, and see his family. The young Naib sighed as his horse sped across the sand, kicking up plumes of dust as it went. Because of his commitments to Ahm-Shere and the Serpent Council he was unable to see his family all the time. Lord-General Erkenbrand had suggested to him that he move his family to the capital, but the city life was not for Fremen.

Pulling on the reins slightly, Muad’Dib slowed his horse to a trot. Its black coat glistened with sweat in the heat. Looking around Muad’Dib smiled to himself, realising he had finally crossed into Fremen lands. He instantly recognised the terrain; a lifetime of living in the desert had honed his skills and given him an uncanny sense of direction. Ahead was a small ridge, and over that the land became closer, with many sand dunes. Beyond that was where the Fremen tribe made its homes. Muad’Dib’s eyes flashed keenly in the early morning, his breathing increased and his heart leapt inside his chest. It had been almost a month since he had last been able to return to his family’s side.

As he slowly rode forward, up the ridge, Muad’Dib pulled the large, black, hooded cloak of the Fremen around him. Almost as soon as he reached the top of the ridge he could see men sitting around a campsite, sheltered from the sun by the dunes. The young chieftain bristled slightly, as he knew at once that these men did not belong here, not on Fremen lands and not even in Ahm-Shere. He boldly rode towards them at a steady pace, and the men saw him and got up moving towards him and talking amongst themselves.

The closest man, apparently the leader judging by his behaviour, walked up and shouted to Muad’Dib “Hoi, who are you and what are you doing here?”

Muad’Dib remained calm and replied “I could ask you the same thing. I am travelling through this area.”

The man put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest, attempting to be intimidating. He was tall and muscular, and for many he would be intimidating. But Muad’Dib was not impressed. The man spoke again “Take your business elsewhere, this land belongs to us. Go on, get lost.”

Muad’Dib laughed out loud, pulling back his hood at the same time. The dark red cloth which often covered his face was wrapped around his neck as the winds were low and no sandstorms were coming. His face was tanned, his hair short and black. The young man had a short, full beard. He said firmly “These lands do not belong to you, these are the Fremen lands. And even they make no such grand claims as to own the desert. Perhaps it is you who should leave.”

The men’s reaction was mixed, some laughed, while others scowled. The leader grew angry, balling his fists at his sides as he said “Who are these Fremen? And how would you know whelp? There’s a score of us and only one of you, so be smart and leave before we get rough.”

Muad’Dib shook his head sadly at the man. These men, clad though they were in leather armour and with weapons, had no idea what they were getting into. Muad’Dib looked passed them and saw the dune to their right, catching the small glint of metal just for an instant. He gave no indication that he had seen it; he made no movement or signal. He looked the man in the eyes and simply said “I am Fremen.”

Suddenly the sand around the edges of the group seemed to burst up in small circles, a plume of sand hiding the cause. The men looked around, and started to reach for their weapons. Out of the sand ran Fremen warriors, and at the same time Muad’Dib spurred Whirlwind forward, knocking the leader and the next closest man to the ground. He jumped down from the horse quickly, drawing his scimitar in a single, fluid motion. As the men drew their weapons, three were cut down by Fremen scimitars, a fourth lurched forward convulsively as a Crysknife pierced his heart from behind. The skirmish was fast, brutal and bloody, as are all such fights in close proximity, but it was in these conditions that the Fremen excelled, equally capable of using a knife or scimitar. Muad’Dib slew the first of the outsiders to reach him with a broad stroke across the jugular, turning as he did so, spraying arterial blood across his back and the sand. Such was the heat that the liquid actually hissed as it hit the ground. As one of the men his horse had knocked down began to stand, Muad’Dib dodged left of the thrusting sword and kicked the man back to the ground, spinning his scimitar downwards and plunging it into the man’s chest, before withdrawing the weapon and moving on quickly. As Muad’Dib left the other Fremen to deal with the remaining outsiders, he turned his attention to the leader of this group. He was on his back, scrabbling to release a short sword from its scabbard. He looked up, eyes darting and caught sight of the Fremen chieftain moving towards him with a grim expression. He moved backwards as quick as he could, unable to find his feet, crawling backwards as Muad’Dib slowly advanced. Just as he drew his blade, the young chieftain slammed his foot down on the man’s wrist, jarring the blade out of his grasp and pinning the arm against the hot sand. Placing the tip of his scimitar at the man’s throat, he said “These lands belong to nobody, but they are our homes. And we will protect them from any who would try to take them away.”

The man spat “Bastard! All these lands, all of Ahm-Shere, you can have it and rot here. But they’ll be taken from you eventually. You can kill me, but you’ll never survive what’s coming.”

Muad’Dib took a step back and said “You are a fool, but as you wish.” With one swift movement he punched the tip of his blade into the man’s throat and pulled it back, turning back to survey the skirmish. The last outsider blocked a scimitar strike with his sword, and turned the next attack away, but before he could do anything a second and third Fremen warrior plunged their scimitars into him from behind and in front to his left. For a second he seemed to hang in the air, suspended by the metal piercing him. Then as the Fremen withdrew, he dropped to the ground. Walking forward Muad’Dib saw one of the Fremen pull back his hood and he called out to the man when he recognised him “Garven’Tor! It is good to see you my old friend.”

The man looked about the same age as Muad’Dib, who was twenty-four. He smiled as he wiped clean his scimitar and returned it to its scabbard. He was much taller than Muad’Dib, but where Muad’Dib was broad-shouldered and muscular, Garven’Tor was lean and wiry. Garven’Tor replied “Hello old friend, you’re lucky we were here when you returned. It could have been some trouble if you’d been alone.” Both men were childhood friends, and Garven’Tor was one of Muad’Dib’s Fedaykin, the elite of the Fremen tribe.

Muad’Dib laughed and said “Do you have so little confidence in my fighting ability Garv?”

When they stood in front of each other, they gripped the forearm of the other man in what was both a form of greeting and a test of strength amongst comrades. Garven’Tor replied “I’m sure you could handle yourself Muad’Dib, I merely meant that it would take us much longer to clean up the mess if you’d been fighting them alone, your technique is a little sloppy.”

Both men laughed, and Muad’Dib was happy. It felt good to joke with a friend after a battle. He said “It must be all that time I’m spending in the city. I’m getting lazy.” Turning the conversation to more serious matters he asked “So who are they?” indicating the outsiders with a nod. “And what were they doing here?”

Garven’Tor walked over to one of the corpses, kicking it over onto its back. He answered his chieftain “They are mercenaries.”

Muad’Dib nodded. He said “That much is apparent from their pale skin and manner of speaking.”

Garven’Tor continued “Yes, clearly from some savage land in the east. Uncouth and vulgar in my opinion.”

Muad’Dib smiled and replied “Yes, it seems to be a big part of their lives to be rude. Although some lands might consider Ahm-Shere savage for its harshness, at least the desert breeds manners.”

Garven’Tor returned to his report “They travelled from the south, and bypassed the tribes completely to camp here. Perhaps they simply found no trace of us, as the Fremen and other tribes know the desert so well.” This was true, as Muad’Dib thought of the expressions on the faces of the outsiders when the ambush was sprung. The Fremen knew how to dig pits into the right areas of the sand, covering them with a simple wooden frame with stretched animal hide across it. Over this a layer of sand would be replaced, leaving no trace that anyone had been there, but concealing a Fremen warrior ready for an ambush. It was said that the Fremen were so in tune with the desert that it could talk to them, and give them signs. At the right time the hide would be cut and the Fremen would leap quickly out of the hole, creating the plume of sand which hid them as they attacked. Many foes had fallen to that style of ambush. Few lived to tell about it, other than stories of fierce warriors who sprang from the ground as if they were made of sand. Garven’Tor continued “It seems unlikely they were waiting to attack you, or they would have known who to expect. Even we did not know you were returning here. But there can be no doubt as to who sent them.”

As one both men said the name with scorn and hatred “Maga Khan.”

Muad’Dib said with more than a little bit of contempt “He sends mercenaries against our people now? Has he grown so bored of having his own people’s blood spilt while trying to take Ahm-Shere?”

Garven’Tor sighed and said “What should we do now?”

Muad’Dib said darkly “I’ll have to inform the Serpent Council. And we should increase the patrols of our lands in case they send more. The other tribes should be warned as well. I don’t know what plot Maga Khan is brewing, but it won’t work.”

Garven’Tor frowned and replied “You’ve just returned, will you turn around and abandon us again right now?”

Muad’Dib understood what he meant and answered “No. I’m not going away again for a while.”

Garven’Tor asked “Then what are you going to do?”

Muad’Dib responded with a hint of cheer, despite the bitterness of his return “I’m going to see my family.”

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