The Epic Of Serpentorius

“I must possess all, or I possess nothing!” - Serpentorius

The Epic of Serpentorius is a detailed account of the events surrounding this warlord’s attempted conquest of Ahm-Shere, one of the most devastating and bloody parts of Ahm-Shere’s history. The Epic was turned into a play by the Remmus Theatre Players entitled “A Serpent in the Desert” roughly thirty years after the end of the conflict. Two hundred years later a small group of amateur actors in Umit created a parody of the play called “A Serpent in the Garden” where Serpentorius was an actual serpent and was beaten to death by Setti the Desert Man wielding a club. Suffice it to say, it is a foolish person or someone with a death-wish who mentions the parody within earshot of the Fremen or any other tribes who fought to save Ahm-Shere.

The Rise of Serpentorius

“Dead warlords are remembered. Successful ones are never forgotten!” - Serpentorius

Five hundred and fifty-eight years ago Ahm-Shere was a very different land. There was no Lord-General and Ahm-Shere was ruled by a steward. The country was troubled by raiders, many from the empire of Maga Khan and the military was hard-pressed to hunt them down. The people were discontent and the situation gave rise to one of the most terrible and bloody periods in Ahm-Shere’s long history. Rumour began to spread of a warrior making a fearsome reputation for himself.

He was from Ahm-Shere but had gathered a small force of raiders to his banner and had raided three small villages already. Many had died in the sudden attacks and much food, gold and supplies were stolen. Those who had survived the attacks fearfully whispered a name “Serpentorius.” They described him as a man of great stature riding a mighty warhorse, pitch black as night with a white mane and tail. Serpentorius wore armour of bronze, fashioned with many snake-like features. The one-piece breastplate, although carved with human musculature, seemed to have banding like a snake’s underbelly. His pauldrons were snakeheads, with emeralds set into the eyes. The greaves and vambraces had two snakes entwined running their length. Finally his helmet was fashioned like a cobra’s head, with an open mouth and fangs before his face. Serpentorius wore also a cloak of dark green which bore large scales which many thought to be the flayed hide of a Lizard from Ónk. He wore war-paint on his face which made it glisten like snakeskin of a brownish-green pallor. What people described most were his eyes. They said that whoever caught his gaze saw many things. They saw something divine and infernal, life and death, hope and despair, joy and fear.

Not content to simply raid Serpentorius issued a challenge to the steward to stop him, but it was ignored. Angered the raider burnt the next village to the ground and forced the villagers to walk to the nearest town without food or water. Only one villager survived the three day journey and he told all within earshot the tale before he collapsed and died. A force of one hundred soldiers was sent to find and defeat Serpentorius’ raiders, which had swelled its numbers to sixty as Serpentorius’ star was in ascendance with small bandit groups joining his ranks. The Ahm-Sheran soldiers found his camp and planned to attack at dawn from the north where they had cover and a cavalry charge from the west. The soldiers had twenty medium cavalry, twenty archers and sixty infantry, while Serpentorius had many cavalry lightly armed but only a handful of archers. With his men at rest their horses would be tethered and they would be cut down before a counter-charge could be mustered. The soldiers made their two camps and waited.

But Serpentorius had caught sight of the enemy scouts. He sent ten men to each camp that night. To the west they slew four guards and turned all the horses loose with no losses. To the north they fired burning arrows at the tents before retreating. Twelve died in the burning camp and while the Ahm-Sheran archers brought down two raiders it was little recompense. Dawn arrived and the northern force attacked, not knowing that the cavalry was now on foot trying to reach them through deep sand which would be no trouble for a horse, but slowed men to a crawl. Serpentorius had arrayed his cavalry south of the camp, out of range of the rocks which were the cover for the soldier’s bowmen. His few archers hid to the east of the rocks, waiting for the trap to be sprung. The infantry moved through the camp, thinking it was empty. As they passed the camp the infantry formed a hasty shield wall as it looked to them as if Serpentorius was marshalling his horsemen for a charge. The soldiers locked shields and pointed their spears like a hedge. Then the raiders on foot ran from their concealment in the camp and attacked the vulnerable shield wall from behind. As the archers broke cover to get into range of the attackers on foot, they were picked off by Serpentorius’ bowmen and pinned down. The shield wall fractured and turned in part to face the foes at their rear which had already slain a dozen or more soldiers. As soon as they turned, Serpentorius sounded the charge. His infantry broke off their attack with minimal losses and retreated to the camp before the cavalry hit home, leaving even more gaps in the wall as men chased their attackers to the camp. The wall was overturned and most died trampled or hacked down. Serpentorius’ infantry charged the archers, slaying nine and letting the last five flee, their bows abandoned. The few survivors of the Ahm-Sheran infantry were stripped of their armour and weapons before being sent east, away from the men who would soon arrive from the west. During the battle Serpentorius lost fourteen men, but he had gained another victory as well as better armour and weapons for his troops. When the sixteen men from the west reached the camp, they were quickly encircled by cavalry and told to lay down their arms. Given the choice of delivering a message to Verdonsk, death or joining his cause, four men chose the message while the others renounced their loyalty to the steward and joined the charismatic Serpentorius. The message he sent was the severed head of the captain who had led the Ahm-Sheran force, and a warning that it was foolish to ignore a man like Serpentorius. With the news of this victory still fresh on the lips of the citizens, the quickly decaying and maggot-ridden head was brought to Verdonsk, the four soldiers dumping out the sack at the feet of the steward. They were tired and demoralised, but the steward was vain and arrogant. He took their message as disrespect on their part, and had them hung.

Now Serpentorius had not only gained a strong victory, but started an undercurrent of hate and mistrust towards the seemingly callous steward. His star was truly on the rise now.

The Cult of the Scorpion

“The Cult of the Scorpion, they will be an extension of my will. They will take Ahm-Shere for me. The fall of Ahm-Shere will be a loud and tumultuous affair or it will be so very quiet… that no one shall see it coming.” - Serpentorius

Three months had passed since Serpentorius’ first battle with Ahm-Shere’s military. His growing army was raiding towns now, and he had almost three hundred men. They were a mixture of raiders from the empire of Maga Khan, bandits, brigands and soldiers. Serpentorius had ambushed two separate merchant caravans, convincing many of the Ahm-Sheran soldiers to turn on their merchant paymasters and join him, promising riches and power. Such was the power of his gaze, the truth of his words, men flocked to his banner, forsaking oaths of loyalty to previous masters. Serpentorius was an intelligent man and master manipulator. He had spies in many places, finding for him all things secret, all things hidden. Serpentorius heard of a tribe in the west of Ahm-Shere which was struggling to survive and he saw an opportunity. Taking forty of his men, he met with the tribal elders and gave them large quantities of food and water. In return he asked for nothing, a carefully timed act of charity. The tribe honoured him, praised him, and asked what they could do to repay him but he waved them off, appearing lordly and generous. Later, as his force prepared to move on he made veiled references to his cause, his quest, something about setting things right in Ahm-Shere and stopping tyranny. Even here tribes had heard of the troubles and discontent and it took little effort on Serpentorius’ part to get the entire tribe, some two thousand people of which eight hundred were fit warriors, to join his ‘cause’. The tribe stayed where they were, being told that when the time was right he would send for them to rise up.

Serpentorius was putting pieces into place, a grand scheme which could shake the very foundations of Ahm-Shere. Serpentorius required the military of Ahm-Shere divided, distracted and weakened. To this end, he began spying on several officers in the north of Ahm-Shere. Three took his interest, Captain Barra, Captain Therai and Lord Alhar. Barra was deeply loyal to the leadership of Ahm-Shere, regardless of who held the position. He was loyal to the point that he would follow orders without question. Therai was different. He questioned authority if the orders went against his morals and sense of justice and honour. Barra led a garrison of two hundred soldiers in a watch tower and compound to the east of a town called Hassen, watching over the roads and surrounding areas of several settlements. Therai had fifty men under his command, the force which patrolled and protected Hassen itself. This minor posting for Therai was because he was out of favour amongst the court of the steward. It was a mean joke which he bore dutifully.

Serpentorius set his plan into action. Timing his attack, he led a small force into the town, slaughtering dozens of civilians before retreating. Therai was caught completely by surprise and could do little but double his patrols and notify Barra and his superiors of the attack. Captain Therai was made to look incompetent. Serpentorius began to twist the knife further. He sent men into the populous to incite them to riot over the lack of protection. The people were already angry over the dead and the situation in the country and quickly took to the streets, smashing up the market area of Hassen and throwing rocks at the barracks of the garrison. Captain Therai had no choice but to have his soldiers attempt to disperse the crowds, but this was made more difficult by Serpentorius’ men. They made their move, stabbing one of the soldiers before slipping back into the crowd. Shocked by one of their own slain, the soldiers lost control and beat the rioters with the clubs they had, causing the situation to erupt into a brawl. Several more soldiers were injured as were many citizens before the crowds fled back to their homes. Therai had some men sent to the watch tower of Captain Barra to inform him of the riots and ask for more troops. Barra sensed an opportunity to raise his station again while putting down Captain Therai and he contacted his superiors. The steward himself issued orders for Barra to move into the town and crush the uprising, as well as remove Therai from command.

Captain Barra led one hundred and fifty soldiers to Hassen, leaving only fifty at the watch tower. His troops began moving street by street, house by house, dragging people out of their homes and killing those who resisted, which was many of the population. Captain Therai got news of this and mustered his men, telling them that these orders were reprehensible and he was going to stop Barra from killing everyone who lived in Hassen. As a good portion of the soldiers originally came from Hassen, they stood beside their captain. Therai led his smaller force against their own comrades, trying to pick them apart piecemeal. Barra ordered his men to move on the centre of town, where the barracks was situated. Therai had started there, so Barra knew he would be caught. But he did not count on the citizens. Seeing the slaughter, the people took up arms and attacked the soldiers, but with two forces wearing the same armour and livery, the citizens were attacking both Barra and Therai’s forces. The soldiers turned on the citizens to defend themselves and the town was full of the sounds of battle.

Serpentorius let them fight, while his full force assaulted the watch tower. The fifty soldiers in their palisade put up some defence, killing around thirty of Serpentorius’ overwhelming force before they were destroyed to the last man. Now a portion of the north of Ahm-Shere would be poorly protected and blind to the surrounding land. Returning his forces to their hidden camps in the north of Ahm-Shere, Serpentorius sent scouts to find out what was happening in Hassen. The scouts found the town almost entirely deserted, corpses littering the streets. At the centre of town, they watched from shadowed doorways and rooftops. They watched the last stand of Captain Therai and his men. Captain Alain Therai stood with his twenty-two remaining men and valiantly tried to hold off the larger force of Captain Vraik Barra, numbering around sixty. The citizens had been slaughtered, perhaps only thirty people, mostly women and children being able to escape south towards safety. Therai stood to the last, and before he could be felled, he struck Barra a mortal blow. His longsword punched through the gap in Barra’s armour beneath the armpit, skewering the man on the sword even as Barra’s men hacked Therai to the ground. Such was the hatred Barra had fuelled his men with; they were not content to kill Captain Therai and proceeded to hew the body and then hang him from the roof of the town barracks, his blood staining the banner of Ahm-Shere which was displayed on the front of the building.

Serpentorius was pleased. Not only had both captains been slain and their forces reduced to almost nothing, but Barra’s men had brutally proven to the people of Ahm-Shere that their soldiers could not be trusted. Rebellion would rise in time, and Serpentorius would be there to help it. Now he turned his attention to the third man he had spied on. Lord Alhar was both a noble lord and an officer in the military of Ahm-Shere. But he was corrupt. Serpentorius knew that Lord Alhar had a sizable military force under his direct command, two thousand soldiers, and he had influence with others which could net Serpentorius a proper force to take over Ahm-Shere. He bribed Alhar, and carefully manipulated the man into weeding out men from his command who would oppose rebellion, even going so far as to put some of Serpentorius own men into key positions. Then Serpentorius made Alhar secretly begin to meet with other nobles, merchants and others who would be needed to side against the steward.

The warlord knew that many would still oppose him, even if they did not truly side with the steward. And so Serpentorius began a contingency plan, one which could strike at any time, even if Serpentorius was long dead. He founded the Cult of the Scorpion. This cult was no mere religious group, it was a secret order based on secretly taking power over Ahm-Shere by any means necessary. Serpentorius knew that he was a visible and clear target, and he had made himself a target for this very reason. If he was successful and took control of Ahm-Shere, the Cult of the Scorpion would be his secret praetorians, enforcing his will upon the people, removing all rivals and keeping him safe. And when he died, as was inevitable, another would rise from their ranks and take up the name of Serpentorius and continue to rule Ahm-Shere with an iron fist. If he were to fail, the Cult of the Scorpion would go on, working behind the scenes until they could carry out their purpose. The fall of Ahm-Shere would be a thunderous thing or it would be so quiet that nobody would hear it; nobody would see it, until it was too late.

Serpentorius inducted his best followers into the Cult, instilling in them the seriousness of their charge. He gathered to him the best spies, the greatest tacticians, the most skilled assassins. Each was more than capable of making the scorpion sting which would signal their rise to power over Ahm-Shere. The warlord made sure that the Cult of the Scorpion was watching his own officers most notably Lord Alhar as closely as those leaders who were not under his sway. More than just an order comprising spies and killers, it was steeped in mystical practices and rituals. Serpentorius also gave membership to two followers which would be even more useful to him than assassins. The first was a being of darkness from a far off land, one who could see the power in Serpentorius and the usefulness of a secret alliance. While this being had powers of its own, it served a vastly more powerful master. Serpentorius had need of allies outside of Ahm-Shere. He would rule his homeland, but he also realised that other powers wanted to rule the world. By allying himself with this dark being, he could secure his homeland as his own, while aiding these others would not require his servitude, only that he continued his plans.

The second follower was a woman from Ahm-Shere. She had the bearing of a priestess and the powers of a Wyrd. In other lands such people were referred to as mages or magic users, but in Ahm-Shere magic was rare and often feared or mistrusted. A tribesman who had magical powers was known as a Shaman, and only remained in the good graces of their tribes by using their skills as healers, and those who did not belong to a tribe, including those of the cities or outsiders from beyond Ahm-Shere’s borders were called Wyrds. Over the years, magic-users in Ahm-Shere have virtually disappeared, and mistrust of them has only grown. This woman was Serpentorius’ prophetess and concubine, using her powers to grant him victory and avoid the still much larger forces of the Ahm-Sheran military.

The Cult of the Scorpion has always remained hidden, and under Serpentorius’ guidance, they could have brought Ahm-Shere to its knees.

The Fall of Serpentorius

“The jewel is within reach, the very heart of Ahm-Shere. I will hold it in my hand, feel it beating, and slowly, as I close my hand inch by inch, the heart will stop.” - Serpentorius

“I will never allow Ahm-Shere to be despoiled in such a way again. I will strike down any who would stand against us in the name of freedom and honour. For the Fremen! For the tribes! For Ahm-Shere!” - Seth’Dib

Six months after creating the Cult of the Scorpion, Serpentorius made one of the biggest moves of his campaign. He made threats to the steward that he would destroy the city of Umit, burn it to the ground and then Verdonsk would be next. The leadership of Ahm-Shere were not so quick to laugh at these threats, knowing the chaos his vast army had caused. The steward sent large numbers of troops to reinforce Umit and Verdonsk. As Serpentorius had expected Umit was too well defended for him to take without heavy casualties. So he followed through on his true plan, to attack the smaller city of Kallus. The city was sacked after a two day siege and the Ahm-Sheran military, and more importantly the steward seemed impotent before the might of Serpentorius and his army. Kallus was far to the south west of Umit so troops were not sent to engage the warlord, as their leaders took a defensive stance.

Serpentorius wanted to capture Verdonsk next, a feat which had never been completed in all Ahm-Shere’s history. He had consulted his top advisors and agreed that by taking Verdonsk they would send a message to all Ahm-Sherans which could make their victory all but assured. Serpentorius hoped that he could end any thoughts of reprisal by ending the life of the steward. Within days the forces of Lord Alhar revealed their true colours, raising the banners of Serpentorius and turning on the few loyalists still amongst them as the men he had corrupted in other parts of Ahm-Shere did the same. They travelled from the north to gather with their true master. Serpentorius called on the tribal warriors he had secured months earlier, who travelled east in the wake of Serpentorius own army. More than this, Maga Khan, seeing an opportunity, sent an army of four thousand northwards to aid Serpentorius.

Roughly one month before the razing of Kallus, Serpentorius had sent his priestess away into hiding, along with ten of his cult followers. She was pregnant with his child and Serpentorius wanted her hidden until he could end the conflict. She would give birth in five months and Serpentorius believed that the fighting would last another three months before it would be safe enough to bring her to Verdonsk where he would rule. This meant that he was cut off from the visions and advice she gave him. Had they been together, he might have learnt of future events and avoided what was to come.

As his army gathered together, Serpentorius prepared for the siege of Verdonsk. He would bypass the other cities such as Remmus and Dorsgiliath and attack the capital directly. He had little to fear from the garrisons of the other cities, they had become increasingly insular, and expecting attacks such as what had happened to Kallus. They would be listening to the many rumours of the vastness of his army, the multiple forces he had all over the country. Just as Serpentorius had planned, his agents had weaved their propaganda well. When he looked over the full size of his army, Serpentorius was pleased. The vast army numbered nineteen thousand, five hundred and fifty. But Serpentorius was playing a dangerous game, as many of the troops in the army were not completely loyal to him, gained through gold or deception. With the army mustered, he began to march on the eastern part of Ahm-Shere and Verdonsk itself.

Those loyal to Ahm-Shere were not idle though. As the steward cowered within the walls of Verdonsk, the tribes of Ahm-Shere decided that enough was enough. It began with the Fremen tribe, who had found their feet under the guidance of Seth’Dib and were one of the larger tribes in the south. The First spoke with two other tribal leaders who lived near to him and declared “If the military cannot protect the people, then it is left to us, the tribes of Ahm-Shere to end this warlord’s reign of terror. I hold no allegiance to a man who hides behind walls in fear, I hold allegiance to the desert.” Such sentiments would be echoed many centuries later by the Fremen chieftain Muad’Dib. All three tribes agreed to muster their full warrior strength and gather other tribes and any of the military willing to march with them and head off the army of Serpentorius. It was common knowledge where his army was, but the military without orders from the steward were stuck and unable to go on the offensive. The tribal chieftains hoped that some in the military would realise the folly of waiting for orders which would never come from a coward.

So the tribes arranged to march northward. Those who could not fight stayed behind; ready to go into hiding if the need arose. The tribal warriors raised many banners displaying their heraldry, the symbols of their tribes and most importantly the symbols of Ahm-Shere and even the sun symbols of Verdonsk to openly declare where they stood. Three thousand, five hundred and fifty warriors, the full count of the tribes’ power marched north to the fort of Gelsiner. Seth’Dib and the two other tribal chieftains rode forward to speak with the garrison commander. They told him that they were gathering a force to defeat Serpentorius and asked if the garrison would ride to war with them. Unfortunately the garrison commander felt it was more important for the fort to be held and for reinforcements should Verdonsk call for them. He agreed to let one hundred of his soldiers leave with the tribes to aid them.

The force moved on, quickly meeting with other tribe leaders and through the passionate speeches of Seth’Dib many tribes joined them, both large and small. As they got closer to Verdonsk, where they would turn aside and head west to face Serpentorius head on, the force numbered nine thousand, nine hundred and sixty. It was a small force compared to the vast army of the warlord, but this was not about victory for them, it was to show the people of Ahm-Shere that some were willing to fight for their freedom. Seth’Dib believed that win or lose they could stir the other tribes to rise up, and that the military would ignore the steward and do what was right. One way or another, the threat of Serpentorius would be ended. Seth’Dib had word from another tribe which would bring another six hundred warriors to his cause, but they were further north than Verdonsk and would have to meet with the main force at the site arranged for their stand. So it was with just over ten thousand they would battle Serpentorius’ army roughly south of Remmus.

The tribal army led by Seth’Dib arrived at the place where they would do battle. It was a large bowl-shaped area of the desert, with dunes to the north and east and rocky outcrops to the south. The scouts had watched the progress of Serpentorius’ army, and it was approaching, a day distant perhaps. The tribes camped just away from the bowl, out of sight, but prepared their plans and positions for the coming battle. The plan was simple, hold Serpentorius’ army long enough for the Fremen chieftain and his Fedaykin to break through the press and slay the warlord and those closest to him, hopefully splintering his forces and driving them to disarray. During the evening, the north tribe arrived at the meeting place and much to the joy of the tribes they were not alone. They had brought five hundred soldiers from the city of Remmus. When the tribe began its journey, it went via Remmus and spoke with the garrison. While the commanders did not want to leave the city defenceless, they were loyal to Ahm-Shere before they were loyal to a caretaker like the steward. Disobeying orders to remain in the city, the garrison commander ordered five hundred of his best troops, two hundred of which were medium cavalry, to join the tribes. This would lead the Remmus garrison to trouble if it came to light that they had disobeyed the steward’s direct orders, but they believed that something had to be done. The medium cavalry would join the Fedaykin’s dagger strike, giving them a much greater chance of success. The dagger strike is one of the Fremen’s tactics on the battlefield. Much like a single warrior can kill another with a well placed dagger strike, the Fremen use the same principle when the objective is to kill a particular target. It is often employed by mounted warriors, most notably Fedaykin. They form a dagger shaped wedge of cavalry, aim for a certain point in the enemy line, usually a weak point or the closest point to where the enemy leaders are and charge. They maintain the wedge right through the enemy line, before splitting off into two smaller wedges on the return, called the serpent strike for the likeness to the fangs of a snake. It is not always effective, but when successful can be utterly devastating when combined with other tactics.

During the night, scouts were sent out from the tribal camp to keep an eye on the army of Serpentorius. While they were very skilled in hunting and scouting, they could not avoid coming into contact with the scouts of Serpentorius’ army. In a short exchange of close combat, three of the warlord’s scouts were killed and two of the tribal scouts died. This short yet bloody fight alerted Serpentorius to the presence of hostile tribes. He planned to advance with more caution, as he could only guess that the scouts came from a nearby tribe who did not take kindly to trespassers. If he had known of Seth’Dib and the army he had gathered, the warlord would likely have taken a different route towards Verdonsk.

The day of the battle arrived, and very quickly, just as the sun was beginning to rise, the tribes moved into position. On the eastern dunes, the bulk of the force waited. The centre of the force was held by the hundred soldiers from Gelsiner and the warriors of the Fremen and Kherha tribes. On the left flank, Seth’Dib and his mounted Fedaykin and the medium cavalry from Remmus, led by Captain Sharick were prepared to guard the flank and eventually engage Serpentorius himself. The right flank was guarded by some ordinary Fremen warriors on horseback, as well as cavalry from the Kherha and Sallar tribes. Most of the other cavalry the tribes possessed waited behind the infantry concealed, so that when the army advanced, they would be able to fire arrows at the enemy from the raised position of the dunes. Roughly five hundred of the tribes’ archers headed into the rocky outcrops to the south and concealed themselves. They would wait until the enemy was within range and then do as much damage as possible.

Serpentorius advanced his army cautiously until they arrived at the bowl from the west. Seeing the tribal army, with what seemed like a meagre amount of cavalry, Serpentorius became overconfident. Without the counsel of his prophetess, Serpentorius believed everything he saw was without deception, a fatal mistake in war. The sly and evil being from the far away land advised caution in spite of the small army which stood against them. The tribal army at full strength was outnumbered almost two to one, so with part of it concealed, it looked like a minor obstacle. Serpentorius conceded the point to Kor’Mor’Oka, the vampire was intelligent, if a little paranoid. They would advance into battle but keep their eyes and ears open.

Serpentorius sent his infantry first, and kept a solid core of cavalry around him at the rear centre of his lines. He moved a group of cavalry to each flank, mirroring the enemy who had still not advanced. He placed Lord Alhar and some of his infantry to the north-western corner of the bowl to await further instructions and kept the tribal warriors at the very rear behind even him in the hopes that they would not see properly who they were fighting. This would later prove to be a mistake.

When Serpentorius was close enough, the tribal army advanced slowly. This was the signal for the five hundred archers to make their move. Their first volley was well aimed, landing in the front centre of the warlord’s lines, killing almost one hundred and fifty soldiers. As the second volley was being launched Serpentorius quickly ordered the infantry and cavalry to continue the advance while the bulk of his archers held their ground and returned fire to attempt to pin the enemy archers until battle could be properly joined. The plains warriors he had brought from western Ahm-Shere remained to guard the archers. As both forces neared each other, the bow fire continued, Serpentorius archers killed some of the enemy, but mostly hit only rock. The archers in the rocks fired into the cavalry on the closest flank, taking as many as sixty down despite having to keep hidden as the warlord’s archers bombarded their position, killing more and more as time went on.

At this point the battle was still heavily in Serpentorius’ favour. But the remainder of the tribal cavalry now advanced, coming up over the dunes which had kept them from sight. They added their bow fire to the enemy, causing many casualties in the middle of Serpentorius’ force, weakening it for the dagger strike.

The chieftain of the plains warriors could see that his master’s archers were not stopping the enemy in the rocks, so he dispatched one hundred warriors to attack from the western edge of the rocks. As they reached the enemy archers they clashed but soon realised that the archers were not soldiers of the steward as they had been led to believe but tribal warriors. The plains warriors retreated and returned to their chieftain, telling him they had been tricked.

Meanwhile the two armies were about to charge. Seeing the moment, Seth’Dib shouted out to his men and began the dagger strike. They came from the left flank and hit near the centre of the enemy lines. At the same time the tribal cavalry on the right flank charged their opposites and the infantry came in around the sides of the dagger strike. The rest of the cavalry advanced, still firing arrows towards the rear of Serpentorius’ army. The archers in the rocks fired one last volley, doing significant damage to Serpentorius’ allied army from the Empire of Maga Khan. They then drew their swords and swept down from the rocks to hit the right flank cavalry.

Serpentorius’ archers continued to fire, thinning the ranks of the tribal cavalry at the rear. The chieftain of the plains warriors decided that he could not stand idly by as the other tribes fought and died. He realised that the tribes were against Serpentorius and that meant his tribe should be as well. His warriors attacked Serpentorius’ archers taking them completely by surprise. Many were killed before they could react but the numbers of the archers began to bog the plains warriors down and many of them died.

Seth’Dib and his dagger strike managed to break through the infantry and engaged Serpentorius cavalry. As the battle raged around them the two men met, almost as if their charismatic auras drew them together for a head on collision.

Despite the plains warriors turning on Serpentorius things were still looking dark for the tribes. For every one of the enemy they killed more pressed in around them. The cavalry on the left flank were free to punish the tribe’s left until the rearward tribal cavalry arrived, who were still hard pressed to push Serpentorius’ mounted soldiers back.

Then, on the north western horizon a new army arrived. The tribes despaired but fought on regardless. As the army approached, it became apparent who they were. Two thousand, three hundred and ninety warriors of the Jagar tribe and one thousand, two hundred of the Raish tribe from the northern regions of Ahm-Shere were marching to battle. After the butcher of Hassen they had waited for Serpentorius to make a move for the Verdonsk state so they could hit him from an unexpected angle. When they heard news from Remmus of what was happening with the Fremen they followed in the wake of the Remmus forces sent south, missing the others by almost a day.

Instantly they charged Lord Alhar’s force, numbering only one thousand infantry. The other tribes cheered and yelled as they fought with renewed vigour. Kor’Mor’Oka saw that the battle was doomed and that Serpentorius would never have enough forces left to lay siege to Verdonsk if he could even win the battle. He changed to his true form as he took to the air. Arrows were fired at him, three finding their mark and he fled back to the Defiled Kingdom badly wounded.

Serpentorius and Seth’Dib clashed, the cavalry around them fighting to the death. Both men fought with the scimitar and both were highly skilled. A stray arrow hit and killed Serpentorius’ horse and as it crashed to the ground he tumbled and rolled, rising to his feet slowly. Seth’Dib circled his horse, cutting down a soldier from the Empire of Maga Khan. A mercenary on horseback attacked but Seth’Dib blocked, slashed the man’s chest then thrust the blade into the back of the mercenary as he passed. He charged forward and leapt from his horse, striking out at Serpentorius. The two men exchanged words and swordplay as the battle raged around them.

The Jagar had made short work of Lord Alhar’s forces such was the furiousness of their onset. The cavalry smashed through the infantry, and the warriors who followed behind carved a bloody path through those who were left standing. Lord Alhar himself tried to turn his horse and flee, but quickly found six horsemen hot on his tail. They caught him and ran him through, before regrouping with their kin and joining the plains warriors to see off the remaining archers.

In between fighting Seth’Dib, Serpentorius ordered some of his infantry to retreat from combat and turn to face the new foe. Roughly three thousand managed to pull back from the fighting and rush to their new positions. They arranged their spears to the front and swordsmen with shields waited behind. The force of the Jagar, Raish and plains tribe gathered, fired a volley of arrows, killing dozens of the men in the front ranks, before charging headlong into the enemy. The cavalry hit first, and took casualties against the spears, but the infantry crashed into the line moments later and the impact broke the lines and allowed the cavalry to force their way through. The cavalry of the Jagar and Raish continued on to attack the rear of Serpentorius main force as the warriors battled furiously with the rearguard. The battle was entering the final stages, and something would have to tip the balance one way or the other. The tribal army had fought well, and thanks to reinforcements and perhaps a bit of luck they were holding their own. But the size of Serpentorius’ army despite losses was still comparable if not superior to the forces remaining to the tribes.

It was perhaps clear to all within sight of the duel between Seth’Dib and Serpentorius that it was they who would decide the outcome of the battle. Whichever one died, their followers would lose heart and flee, causing a rout if they were not careful. The chieftain and the warlord found that they were very evenly matched, as if they were fighting themselves. Serpentorius had an advantage in height and perhaps in strength, but he was outmatched in speed and agility by the Fremen Naib. Their duel had lasted close to half an hour at this point, and both were tired from the battle, yet neither had managed to even wound the other. The physical drain of fighting in the desert heat was starting to show on both men. Serpentorius made a clumsy lunge and Seth’Dib jumped aside, but he stumbled in his tired state and by the time he brought his own weapon down in a strike at his enemy, Serpentorius was able to block. Both men backed off for a few moments, eyeing each other cautiously for a weakness, an opening. No others dared to become involved in the duel now, even amongst the turncoat soldiers, mercenaries and raiders of Serpentorius’ army they considered the personal duel sacred and not to be interfered with.

Serpentorius’ rearguard was mostly made up of his own loyal followers. They were disciplined, well trained and heavily indoctrinated in the Cult of the Scorpion. After their formation was broken, the men from the Empire of Maga Khan retreated south in disarray, but Serpentorius’ officers reformed their own troops as they moved backwards a few paces. Then they planted their feet firmly and drove back against the tribal warriors, cutting down dozens of men and women with sword and spear. The plains chieftain urged his warriors and the other tribes to spread out and surround the soldiers. His quick thinking prevented the rearguard from destroying them. As the tribal warriors spread out and presented too many targets, they began to slowly eat away at the block of enemy soldiers.

For the main forces, such formations and tactics were now long past use. They were too tired and firmly entrenched in combat to do anything other than fight. The armies had spread out, flowing naturally to cover most of the bowl, giving the room for almost all combatants to fight easily.

Serpentorius and Seth’Dib continued their fight. When Serpentorius tried a complex combination of sword techniques to defeat Seth’Dib, the Fremen chieftain did not fall for the trick and it likely saved him from death. Instead of trying to match techniques which were unknown to him, he stood back and made simple but effective blocks. This wasted Serpentorius momentum and Seth’Dib reached down deep and used whatever reserve of energy he could find to launch an offensive of his own. He followed his strengths, speed and agility, managing to break through Serpentorius’ guard and score two hits on his enemy. One strike hit his shoulder pauldron, but alas the armour was too thick and Serpentorius was not wounded. But the other sliced the side of his leg, where his armour was thinner and drew blood. The warlord winced in pain but it was a shallow cut, and while it seemed to give the advantage to Seth’Dib, it would not be the deciding factor in the duel. Both men raised their scimitars again and began to fight, the few seconds of waiting over, and this time Serpentorius took the advantage. He crossed scimitars and as both men pushed against each other, Serpentorius grabbed Seth’Dib by the shoulder slid his sword to move his opponent’s blade aside and then head-butted the chieftain in the face before pulling back and kicking the man in the side of the knee hard. His helmet was metal and one of the metal snake fangs scrapped a cut above Seth’Dib’s eye. The kick to the knee was not enough to break the leg or do serious damage, but enough to slow him down. Regardless Seth’Dib stood proud and fended off Serpentorius next few swipes, slashes and thrusts. Finally Seth’Dib was able to break through Serpentorius’ defences. With the last of his strength and energy Seth’Dib slashed his enemy across the chest twice, weakening his armour before plunging his scimitar directly into Serpentorius’ heart.

As Serpentorius died, his army lost focus. He had held the various groups together by sheer force of will and personality. Now that he was dead, many realised that the battle was lost and tried to flee. The remainder of the allied army from the Empire of Maga Khan broke out on the northern flanks and tried to retreat and return to their master. It is said that by the time they managed to travel and fight their way across the border there were less than one hundred soldiers left of four thousand. The Fremen harried them all the way across the border, and this started the Fremen’s many battles against the Empire of Maga Khan throughout their history. The mercenaries attempted to surrender, hoping they could bargain for their safe passage out of Ahm-Shere, but the tribes blood was running hot and they would not let the mercenaries leave, killing a score of them before the mercenaries realised their plan had failed and continued fighting. Many of the raiders and bandits fled this way and that, some escaping, others being cut down. The only force which fought on was that which was completely loyal to Serpentorius either in death or life. The tribes eventually defeated them, but it cost many a heavy price in blood.

In the aftermath of the battle, many things changed in Ahm-Shere. The military and people returned to their proper places instead of being crowded into the cities. The Spymaster of Ahm-Shere and his agents brought many of the bandits who had fled the battle to justice. The steward’s position had become shaky indeed. The Spymaster of Ahm-Shere and many others called for him to step down, others called out for blood. The Spymaster himself had only recently returned from seclusion as he had been all but exiled by the steward from his court because the Spymaster spoke his mind and the truth. A few weeks after the battle the steward was found in his bedchamber dead with a vial of poison in his hand. Some believed it was foul play, but others disagreed. The Spymaster confirmed that the steward had always kept a vial of poison with him should he ever be ‘captured’. The Spymaster said “He was a coward in life and a coward in death.”

Five months later, in hiding, the prophetess gave birth to Serpentorius’ son. Those followers of the Cult of the Scorpion who had gone with her had now been joined by several others who had escaped the battle or had been spread around Ahm-Shere carrying out secret missions for their master. The time was not right to take over Ahm-Shere, they were too weak. But nobody in the world knew of the Cult of the Scorpion apart from those within the cult. Slowly over the centuries they rebuilt and have remained hidden. The only people who have ever learnt of the cult have either joined or died. Eventually the time would come for the Cult of the Scorpion to make their move.

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