Tales From Ahm-Shere 3 - My Name


My Name is the third short story in the Tales From Ahm-Shere series. It focusses on Arra'Bin, one of the Fremen Fedaykin. It is set roughly fifteen years before the White War.

My Name

The knife slid in without much effort. As he pushed the knife into the man’s throat, he deftly put his other arm under the guard’s armpit and closed a firm hand over the man’s mouth. The actions were simultaneous; there was no sound beyond the quiet slice of the blade piercing flesh. He had put the knife in at the right point to puncture the vocal chords at the same time as the carotid artery. The guard could not have screamed even if he had the chance to. Taking the weight of the dead body, he pulled it further from the distant campfire light.

With the body suitably concealed he cleaned the blood from his Crysknife on the guard’s sleeve. Arra stood up and carefully checked his surroundings. The desert dunes appeared blue-grey in the pale moonlight. Silently he reflected that these deserts were not too dissimilar to the deserts of Ahm-Shere. Were it not for the plague which infested these lands he would have visited them in peace. But that plague was Maga Khan and this was his empire. Arra realised that he was taking too long; the guards would change in less than an hour. It was more than enough time, but he disliked wasting time when he could help it.

Carefully and calmly he knelt and unsheathed his scimitar. He pushed the blade into the dusty sand at an angle, dulling its sheen in preparation. There was no need to do the same with his Crysknife, carved as it was from dull ivory. Slowly he moved closer to the camp, leaving no discernable trace in the sand behind him. The Fremen were the most skilled warriors of the desert ways in all of the world. None could match them in the desert. They were light-footed and stealthy almost to the point of invisibility but Arra was one of the best even at his young age. He had not even completed his naming ritual yet and he surpassed the skill of many Fedaykin.

As he silently stalked nearer to the camp Arra wondered if Mass’Dib, chieftain of the Fremen tribe would accept him as Fedaykin once his naming ritual was complete. Wordlessly he snapped his attention back to what was rather than what may be. The camp ahead was small, and given the number of tents he could tell there were only twenty soldiers present. Four of those guards already lay dead from his knife work, and another four guarded the southern perimeter of the camp. He headed for one of the outermost tents, sliding down into a crawl as nimbly as a snake. Reaching the rear of the tent Arra halted. He tilted his head left, then right, patiently surveying his position. He gently touched the tent, feeling the rough texture of the animal hide used to make it. It would create too much noise and take too long to cut through the tent side. Instead he would take his cue from the burrowing beetle, for when one cannot go through, going under may be preferable to around. Arra smiled slightly, remembering that particular discussion with his second cousin. Bara’Dib was not the philosophical type, but his younger brother Muad was wise beyond his years. Arra was two years older than Muad and he was always impressed by his younger second cousin. Muad was only twelve and he would shortly begin his own naming ritual.

Moving up into a crouching position, Arra used his scimitar to cautiously scoop sand away from the tent side. He moved the sand quickly but quietly, and within a few moments he had created a sizeable bowl beneath the level of the tent side. He held his scimitar at an angle, moving it slightly and re-positioning it, until he could see into the tent by using the weapon like a mirror. There was a man within, but he was sleeping and was currently turned away from the rear of the tent. Lucky, Arra thought. He very gently sheathed his scimitar and drew his Crysknife. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Arra pulled his black Fremen cloak around himself to help keep his posture as straight and thin as possible. He put the grip of the knife between his teeth and slowly, placed his hands through the gap, stealthily moving the rest of his body through into the tent. Patiently he slithered closer to the sleeping man. To make noise now would be his death, but Arra made no sound. He got close enough to the man and came up slowly to one knee. For a few moments he watched the man sleep, gauging the right time to strike.

He took hold of his knife and with the darting speed and grace of a striking cobra; he clasped his hand over the man’s mouth and stabbed down with the knife even as the man’s eyes sprang open. The knife slammed through the side of the soldier’s neck and reached the bedroll beneath. Arra held the blade and covered the soldier’s mouth until the man’s eyes became glassy and he died. Only then did Arra silently and carefully remove the Crysknife. He covered the man with the blanket, preparing for the next stage of his attack. Killing one of the soldiers in his sleep was not his quest, for that he would have to systematically eliminate the other soldiers so that he could duel with the war leader in the centre of the camp.

Arra moved towards the tent flap and risked a quick glimpse of the camp which lay beyond. He could see that none of the fires or soldiers were nearby; he had chosen the tent well it seemed. From the camp he could hear voices, the differing tones of several men talking in a relaxed manner. As some laughter drifted his way from the centre of the camp, he caught the scent of roasted meat, savoury sauces and a broth, as well as the smoke, both of campfire and herbs from pipes. There was also the musky, sweaty smell of the soldiers’ long march. Arra’s senses were heightened, trained in the intricacies of hunting and tracking. Feeling it was time, the young Fremen made his move. He left the tent and looked around in his hunched position, seeing no enemies in sight. He moved like a shadow ducking into a tent across from the first. Finding it also occupied he hastily grabbed the soldier from behind in a chokehold. The man made a startled gasp, but not loud enough to raise the alarm. He was shirtless, most likely getting changed to go on duty as a guard. Arra stabbed the knife upwards into the man’s back, aiming for his lung. He stabbed three times, four, as the air and life was driven out of the soldier’s body. Sensing the man was dead as the body went limp, Arra gently guided the body to the ground.

He could not go from tent to tent like this. It would take far too long and many of the soldiers were still carousing and relaxing in groups. For a brief moment he wondered if he had bitten off more than he could chew, but dismissed the thought. He was a Fremen warrior and was committed to this action. He would not abandon it regardless of the outcome. He sheathed his knife and took his short bow from where it was attached to his quiver of arrows. He selected an arrow and nestled it into place, fingers lightly holding the bowstring but not drawing yet. The bow and arrow were held down towards the ground as he left the tent and headed right. He moved unseen in the outer ring of tents and spied two soldiers sitting together talking quietly. He checked between the tents and saw no others looking in the direction of the two. Stepping away from the tent, Arra pulled the bowstring back and aimed for the throat of the further man. He let the arrow fly and even as it whistled through the air he reached for and readied the next arrow. As the first impaled the soldier’s throat and he pitched sideways, Arra released the second arrow. The other soldier had begun to stand and turn, before finding an arrow piercing his heart and he slumped forward onto the crate he had been sitting on. Quietly Arra put his bow away and jogged over to the bodies. Nobody had seen them yet, the noise of the other men covering the sounds of the bow. He checked the tent behind them, thankfully finding it empty. Carefully he dragged the first body into the tent before rolling the other one off the crate and into the tent. He pulled the tent flap closed and went into a crouch to search for other isolated targets. If his timing was right he still had roughly forty minutes before the change of guard. Eight men still stood in the camp; he would have to defeat them all.

Arra stalked his way further into the camp, his heavy black cloak aiding in his concealment in the darkness of the night. Stopping at the edge of a tent Arra moved into shadow and watched what was happening. There was a large group of soldiers sitting around a fire. Strewn about were bottles of alcohol and the men talked gruffly, joking and laughing gregariously. One of the men, with a scraggly beard and lank shoulder-length brown hair swigged at a bottle before adding it to a nearby pile of empties. He said with a thick Khanite accent “Kelk, you awake?” He nudged the man beside him and said “Uran wake Kelk, the lazy…”

The man called Uran picked up a rib bone from the animal they had roasted, a coyote it looked like, and tossed it at the slumbering man across from them. It hit him lightly on the cheek and landed on his lap. His eye twitched instinctively and he woke up. He looked at the bone, threw it aside and said “Oi, what’re you up to?”

Uran replied “Marik wants ya.”

The first man, Marik spoke again “Kelk, you still got that bottle of grog you took off that pirate scum? Go an’ fetch it here.”

Kelk replied “Alright, keep yer hair on Marik. I’ll go find it.” He stood up, swaying, slightly inebriated and staggered away towards his tent. Kelk, like many of the soldiers wore a leather jerkin with several strips of leather across the front which acted as fasteners. He had short black hair, which had been bound up into thin dreadlocks, exposing much of his scalp. As he stumbled along, the hair bounced and swung back and forth, matching his unsteady gait.

Arra followed him behind the tents which stood between him and the centre of the camp, moving parallel to his enemy. Silently he drew his scimitar, watching for the soldier to enter a tent. He moved closer, keeping out of sight. When Kelk dipped his head and walked into a tent, Arra struck. He thrust the scimitar through the man’s back and out of his chest. Arra pulled the weapon free as the enemy’s body fell down inside the tent. Kicking a stray foot out of sight, Arra moved back to hide behind the tent across from Kelk’s. He took a risk and tried to imitate Kelk’s voice, getting a fairly good approximation “Oi, Marik, Uran. I can’t find it. Come an’ give me a hand.”

He stood up slightly and saw the two men getting up and talking to each other as they began to make their way over to Kelk’s tent. Arra ducked back as he heard Marik say something about Kelk not finding his own arse with a mirror and map. The scimitar was gripped tightly in his right hand, his knife sheathed for the time being. As the two men reached the tent, Marik ducked into start looking. Uran waited until there was room. With the speed of a plains gazelle, Arra stepped up and sliced with his scimitar. Uran’s head came clean off his shoulders, and the body fell down. It had been a split second, and Marik had only just entered the tent and realised Kelk was dead. He rushed back out of the tent, seeing the young warrior before him. Marik was too drunk to react quickly enough, barely getting his hand to his weapon before Arra slit the man’s throat and slashed the scimitar down the length of his torso. Marik fell dead, and now Arra had little choice but to attempt to defeat the remaining soldiers in direct combat. There could be no more tricks and snares of the mind.

He headed back along the line of tents, until he reached the position he had used previously. He checked the centre of the camp, seeing the remaining four soldiers still sitting there talking and laughing. Arra sighed in relief, as they were not alarmed or aware of the other men’s deaths. He drew his knife in a downward position in his left hand, still holding his scimitar in his right. Arra moved out from behind the tent and walked forward, moving quickly but almost without sound. He was not noticed until he left the shade and the light of the fire illuminated his figure. One of the soldiers facing him opened his mouth in surprise and said “What the…” Arra threw his Crysknife with unerring accuracy, and it lodged in the man’s throat. The Impact of this tipped the soldier backwards on the log he had been sitting on. Arra had kept walking quickly and now had reached the other soldiers. The closest man with his back to Arra started to raise his arm as he turned, pulling a cutlass from his belt. Arra hacked down on the man’s arm with the scimitar, before he struck down on the side of the man’s head. The scimitar clove deep into the man’s skull before Arra swept it out again. A second soldier leapt up from his seat at Arra’s left, drawing a dagger, but the Fremen kicked out sideways, sending the small blade flying from the soldier’s hand and into the dark sand away from the fire’s light. Now weapon-less, the soldier growled and charged at Arra, hoping to knock the smaller fighter to the ground with his weight. Arra held his ground, and holding his scimitar in both hands, he raised his arms, slamming them down in a sledge-like move on the soldier’s upper back, sending him face first into the sand. The man spluttered and spat sand, trying to clear his move and eyes. Arra turned his scimitar downward in a simple movement and quickly stabbed the man in the back of the neck once before stepping over his body to face the last soldier. The whole fight had taken perhaps two or three seconds, and the final soldier only had time to pick up his hand axe and make two swings at Arra, one downward at the left, and one across to the right. The Fremen boy swayed right then stepped back, avoiding both strokes. He calmly struck with his scimitar, decapitating the man. As the body fell down, the head bounce once and landed against a crate.

The noise had been enough though, and Arra froze as he heard shouting from within the large tent nearby, the leader’s tent. The man shouted, a deep and rumbling sound, like thunder or rock scrapping on rock “Oi, quiet down out there you idiots, or I’ll come and beat the lot of you. Girl, bring me more wine.” A few moments passed, and no reply came. No sound was made. The leader shouted again “Girl! Slave girl! Bring me more wine now!”

Arra’s eyes widened, there was a slave here somewhere. He could not let some girl walk through here and raise the alarm. His mind raced as he tried to figure out what to do.

The leader was growing more impatient by the second and shouted out “Oi you bastards. Get off your rumps and do something for a change. Find that lazy slave girl and get her to hurry up with my wine. Whip her if she doesn’t move quick enough. Don’t make me come out there, damn it.”

Arra could not let the slave raise the alarm or warn the leader, he could not give his opponent that much chance to prepare. He also could not prevent her from going to the leader, or he would exit the tent anyway. Arra saw the slave girl come out of a tent over on the other side of the camp, the south side far behind the leader’s large tent. She was carrying a tall vase of wine, her head held down, as if fixed in place. She had not seen him or the scene around him yet. Arra did what he had to, and picked up the severed head of one of the soldiers by the hair. He chucked the head underarm into the leader’s tent, hearing it land with a wet thump on the dry sand. Arra pulled his Crysknife out of the soldier’s throat and stood ready before the tent opening. The slave girl looked up and saw the dead soldiers, bodies laying everywhere, and the blood. She dropped the vase which smashed on the sand, liquid pouring forth, and then she screamed. The girl screamed in shock, then ran to hide in the tent she had come from.

The leader left his tent, saying “So that’s what you’ve been up to. Fighting amongst yourselves. Who killed Grif then?” The man came up short, stopping and seeing his butchered men and the young boy standing amongst them. He laughed slightly and said “Well, well, what have we here? Who are you boy?”

Arra stood still and said calmly “My name is Arra. I am Fremen and I am here to kill you. Fight me!”

The leader stood up to his full height. Even though Arra was tall for his age, the man towered at least two feet above him. The leader laughed raucously and said “Fight you? You must be joking boy; I’ll crush you with my bare hands.” The leader wore a similar uniform to his men, only of better quality. He had loose, baggy trousers of a thin black material, and shin-height brown leather boots. His long sleeved shirt was made of the same material as his trousers, but it was a dark royal blue. It seemed to billow out from beneath the leather jerkin the man wore. As he stepped into the light, Arra saw his face. It was rotund, but still dangerous-looking. He had a short strip of a beard from his lower lip to the end of his chin, and long black hair held back with two silver metal bands clasped at either side of his head. The metal bands bore the mark of Maga Khan, and on the man’s face, covering the right side from temple to cheek, he had a black tattoo. The tattoo was also the symbol of Maga Khan, like a brand to display who the man belonged to. From the symbol, there were three waving line markings. From what Arra knew of the Empire of Maga Khan, this tattoo indicated that the man was an officer in Maga Khan’s army. The three markings acted like rank insignia, making the man a captain.

Arra did not flinch from the man’s threatening behaviour, but said “Your men were no challenge for me. Perhaps you are too much of a coward to fight me.”

The man was enraged; the thought of a boy calling him a coward galled him. His laughter died away and he snarled “Then let’s get to it boy, I’ll carve you up and feed you to the carrion-eaters myself.” He pulled a short cutlass from a loop of leather on his belt. Then he reached back into the tent and picked up a long-handled hammer, with a wicked looking spike on the other side of the hammer head. He wielded it single-handedly, with the cutlass in his other meaty paw. He stomped towards Arra, fuming and growling in anger and hatred.

Arra took up a defensive stance as the man came towards him. The captain swiped sideways with the cutlass, and Arra blocked with his scimitar. The hammer swung down and Arra stepped back, twisting his body to avoid the weapon as it thumped into the sand. Even as it landed the captain hefted it again, his bicep and other muscles cording and flexing as he brought the hammer up diagonally at Arra, the spike aimed for his chin. The Fremen pulled back, the weapon going through the air mere inches from his head. Arra made a slice, but the captain parried with his cutlass and swung his arm, striking down with the hammer. Arra had to jump backwards, but his foot caught on the leg of one of the soldiers and he fell to the ground, rolling backwards and over onto his feet again. The hammer smashed down, crushing and shattering the other leg of the dead soldier. Arra looked passed the captain and saw the girl, kneeling at the entrance to her tent, watching through her fingers. Standing up quickly, Arra resumed his defensive stance. The captain advanced again, sensing the fight was close to ending. He lunged with the cutlass leading, the hammer at his side. The captain thrust with the cutlass, but Arra was quicker. He dodged aside, brought his scimitar down on the cutlass, jarring it from the captain’s grasp. Without waiting Arra rolled left, feeling the air whoosh as the captain brought the hammer around, chasing the impact. But he was denied the Fremen boy was too fast. Arra came up to his feet and spun. Before the captain could swing the hammer back Arra slashed with his sword, slicing through shirt and muscle. The hammer dropped as the man yelled in pain. Arra did not wait, could not wait, sweeping the scimitar across the thick throat of the captain. Hot blood splashed on warm sand as the body collapsed sideways to the ground, blood pouring from the wound. Arra backed off, trying to catch his breath. He stabbed the scimitar into the sand, leaving it sticking there. The Fremen turned and found the hand axe which had belonged to one of the soldiers, picking it up and testing its weight. With a mighty blow, he severed the captain’s head from his shoulders and tossed the axe away. Arra took a sack from amongst his belongings. It smelt of the oils and unguents it had been coated in, to help preserve the head. Carefully he lifted the head by the hair and tied it to the tent. He would have to let the blood drain before placing it in the sack. Putting the sack nearby, he picked up and sheathed his scimitar. For a moment, he thought, working out how long the fighting had taken. Ten minutes, perhaps a little more, and the guards would return. Rushing, he pulled out his bow and fixed an arrow. He ran to the southern side of the camp, ignoring the slave girl. He searched for signs of the guards, and pinpointed where they stood. The girl said “What are you doing? Who are you?”

Arra looked at her, his face covered by the dark red cloth ghutra. He did not answer her questions, simply saying “Stay quiet.” Raising the bow, he took aim and fired. One of the guards fell dead. He took another arrow, moving forward to get a better position. He fired and again, a guard slumped over, and arrow protruding from his back. Arra waited, seeing one of the guards turn and notice the bodies, before putting an arrow through the man’s eye. The fourth guard was further away and not paying attention. Arra put the bow up, sighting along the arrow, squinting slightly. Then he stopped and thought about it. He put the bow and arrow away. Better to leave a witness to this than leave Maga Khan’s empire unaware of our reach. Better to make such men worry and fixate and quake as they wonder just how unprotected they truly are, Arra thought. He walked over to the girl. She was perhaps a couple of years older than he was, but he was slightly taller. She wore a simple tan dress, little more than rags really. But to Arra’s eyes she did not seem like a slave, he could see courage or defiance in her eyes. She asked again “Who are you?”

Arra was about to reply, when he stopped himself. He thought for a moment, realising that she had heard what he said to the captain before they began the duel. He answered “My name is Arra’Bin. I am Fremen, and you are free. Go north from the camp and wait for me. I will take you away from here.”

The girl seemed lost for words, she licked at her lips and her eyes moved from side to side, she was thinking of the right words. Finally she said “Thank you.” The girl turned and ran north. Arra waited at the camp, watching the blood slowly dripping and running from the severed head onto the tent side. He looked up at the sky, the stars and the moon. He remarked that these deserts were different to his home in Ahm-Shere, but only because of who resided here. Ten minutes passed, perhaps a little more. The guard returned to the camp to find his companions dead.

Arra swept out of the shadows, knocking the man down and taking his weapon, placing his scimitar at the nape of the man’s neck. He said “Tell your people about this. Tell your Khan that a fourteen year old Fremen boy killed your friends and your captain like the filth they were. Tell your precious Khan that one day a Fremen blade might be at his throat, and one day your people might be free, like my people are free. Like I am free. Leave and deliver this message, or die.”

Arra stepped back, keeping his scimitar ready. The man pushed himself backwards with his hands and feet, spraying sand as he did so. He got to his feet and ran south, and Arra did not see him stop until the man was out of sight. Arra checked the head and decided he had waited long enough, placing it into the sack. He headed north and found the girl, before guiding her to where his horse waited. They rode north through the night, and as Arra took one last look back, he thought, my name is Arra’Bin. I am Fremen.

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