Troubles Of The Market Towns

From Charred Marble

Muad'Dib sat at his desk in his residence, looking at the papers which seemed to cover its surface. This is no job for a warrior, he thought. He finished reading the letter which was in his hands. Luckily this letter did not require a reply, simply an update on the garrison at Gelsiner. As usual it was almost uneventful, apart from two brigands who had been captured and now sat in cells at the tower.

Muad'Dib called several of his Fedaykin into the room, as he walked around to stand in front of his desk. He watched the four elite warriors walk into the room, Garven'Tor, Arra'Bin, Miran and Orden'Rak. He had a task for them, one which they were completely suited for.

Rakdal Morlan rode through the gates of Verdonsk, his horse tired and panting in the heat. His own body was sore and exhausted from riding, something he was little accustomed to doing. However, his position made the trip to Verdonsk a necessity, and haste was required. The outlying market towns of Ahm-Shere had long suffered under cruel laws that required massive taxes to be paid in order to be defended against the Lizardmen, something that Rakdal found appaling. He and the leaders of several other towns had stopped paying taxes to Verdonsk and had raised their own militias. They had also opened up trade with Villiath in the White Realm. However, several days prior, merchants had returned from a trip to Villiath with the news that the city had been razed to the ground and that there were thousands of dead White Realm soldiers littering the field. Something had destroyed Villiath and slain its defenders, and whatever it was could be heading to Ahm-Shere. He made his way to a guard and asked, "Where is the Lord Erkenbrand?"

"He is gone," said the guard.

"Who is in command of the city?" asked Rakdal.

"Muad'Dib."

"Can you take me to him?"

"Yes, follow me."

Muad'Dib was about to detail the task to the four Fedaykin when Fenn'Jorel stepped into view of the doorway and spoke, his voice monotone as it always was "Naib, there is a man named Rakdal Morlan here to see you."

Muad'Dib raised his eyebrows in surprise and said "Really? bring him in then." He turned to the others and said "We'll finish this later, return to your patrols."

Each of the four Fedaykin nodded and began to leave. Garven'Tor a smile on his face as usual, Arra'Bin quiet and reserved, as befitting Muad'Dib's best hunter and tracker. Behind the lean and tall forms of his most trusted and respect friends and advisors walked the slight figure of Miran, one of the few female warriors counted amongst the elite Fedaykin and finally Orden'Rak, heavily muscled and squat, left the room.

Fenn'Jorel returned and beckoned Rakdal Morlan to enter before he left for his post at the gates of the residence.

Rakdal nodded to the guard as he left before stepping inside. He took two steps inside before stopping, not willing to go any further until Muad'Dib acknowledged him; Rakdal was from the harsh desert, but his manners were refined.

Muad'Dib said "Welcome Rakdal Morlan. Please come in." Muad'Dib bowed low to his guest, lower than most of his rank would, but Muad'Dib had always been a man who showed great respect to those he trusted.

Rakdal walked up to Muad'Dib and bowed in return. "Thank you for accepting me on such short notice."

Muad'Dib replied warmly "Not at all my friend. Please, take a seat." He motioned to the simple chairs which sat before his desk, as he walked around to his own chair. He continued talking as he sat down "Tell me Rakdal, why have you come?"

"Thank you," said Rakdal, sitting down in one of the chairs Muad'Dib had offered. "I wish I could say I come to Verdonsk out of a desire to visit with old friends, but I'm afraid that is not the case; I believe Ahm-Shere is in danger."

Muad'Dib sighed, greatly troubled by what Rakdal had just said. He spoke, his voice low "I fear you are right my friend. But please explain."

"As you know, Magreb recently opened trade with Villiath," said Rakdal. "However, several days ago, some of our merchants returned from the city with news that it had been burned to the ground and thousands of Realmer soldiers lay slain on the field."

Muad'Dib was stunned by the news, even though he knew little of the White Realm. A force capable of destroying a large city, especially one well-garrisoned, was galling to a chieftain who dealt in mere thousands as a huge force. He responded to the news "Thousands dead? The war goes so badly for the White Realm? This is troubling news indeed Rakdal. Erkenbrand has gone to the aid of the White Realm and we have had no news of him since. Did the merchants see signs of enemies?"

Rakdal shook his head. "They claimed they saw no enemy dead, and there was no hint as to who had attacked the city. It must have been a very powerful force, however, to overrun the garrison and raze the city."

Muad'Dib nodded "Yes, a powerful force indeed. I will make sure that the border patrols are increased to keep an eye out for any enemy forces attempting to enter Ahm-Shere. But I fear I have news which will not be good to hear. There is rumour of an unknown force which might make war on all lands, including Ahm-Shere. I also believe that such an invasion could lead to other enemies launching their own attacks, the Lizards of Onk or Maga Khan for example. It has been decided to send out the word that the towns and villages are to be emptied, and all citizens of Ahm-Shere to make for the cities. Valek is sending messengers to the townsfolk, while I have sent messengers to warn the tribes."

"I doubt the people of the outer cities will so easily flock towards Verdonsk and the 'safety' you might offer," said Rakdal. "The capital has not been their staunchest ally in the past."

"The cities will offer more safety than the towns for their inhabitants, they feel safe behind walls and the walls of the cities are stronger. I do not expect the tribes to come to the cities, nor would I bring my own people here." Muad'Dib replied. He took a few moments before he continued "The tribes are being told to simply be ready to hide their people and have their warriors ready for war, those who wish to travel to the cities are welcome, but few will come. I know this in my heart, the tribes find more protection in the desert than in cities. But the people of the villages and towns have grown used to stone around them."

Before either could continue, Muad'Dib heard a fluttering sound and saw a bird fly in through the window. As it landed calmly on his desk he recognised it "Erkenbrand's messenger bird!" Taking the scroll the bird carried, he opened it and began to read. As his eyes sped across the surface of the paper, reading its contents, his expression became concerned.

He said without looking up "Erkenbrand wants an army to march to the White Realm to aid them. I must convene a meeting of the Serpent Council immediately."

"Understandable," said Rakdal, getting up to leave.

Muad'Dib rose and walked Rakdal out of the residence. With a simple look at some of the Fedaykin, four of them fell into step behind their chieftain. As they walked through the garden, Muad'Dib saw his wife sitting in the shade, their children there as well. He looked at them for a long moment, as if trying to fix that image in his mind.

As the group left the gate of the residence Muad'Dib raised his hood and turned to Rakdal "I'm sorry to leave so abruptly, but hopefully we will talk again soon. For the time being goodbye Rakdal Morlan." He bowed and then turned sharply on his heel, his cloak flowing behind him as the four Fedaykin followed him to the royal palace where the Serpent Council would convene.

Muad'Dib left the streets of Verdonsk behind as he entered the royal palace, the most protected place in all of Ahm-Shere. He entered the secret meeting halls of the Serpent Council.

Vermen watched from across the streets as Muad'Dib led the black-bearded strong fellow out and returned. He heard the name being spoken, Rakdal Morlan. Vermen casually licked his lips before slowly following Muad'Dib and the four men guarding him. He did not need to be careful, the streets were filled with people.

Hours later, after the first meeting of Muad'Dib and High Priest Arkadai. "Rakdal Morlan!" a voice called.

Rakdal spun around and saw one of Muad'Dib's Fedaykin rushing towards him. "What is it?" asked Rakdal.

"If you could come with me," said the woman.

Rakdal nodded. "What is it about?" he asked, falling into step as the woman turned around.

"Muad'Dib needs to speak with you immediately," said the woman. She led Rakdal to Muad'Dib's home and said, "He is within. You should wait out here until he comes out."

Rakdal nodded. "Very well."

Lyse, one of the few female Fedaykin walked into the room and bowed to Muad'Dib and Liana. She said quietly "Chieftain, I'm sorry to disturb you… but Rakdal Morlan has arrived. He is waiting outside."

Muad'Dib looked up at her and said "Of course. I will be there shortly."

Lyse turned, her cloak flowing behind her as she left the room. Muad'Dib himself had not replaced the cloak he had wrapped around the arm of the palace guard which Valek had attacked. He pushed such thoughts aside. He kissed Liana gently on the forehead, stood up and left the room.

He arrived outside and called out "It is good that you are here Rakdal Morlan. There is much you need to know."

"Please, do tell," said Rakdal as Muad'Dib approached.

Muad'Dib sighed, feeling like a great burden was weighing on him. He spoke as if trying to make sense of all he had to say "A great deal has happened since we spoke before. I will tell you many things which will be difficult to believe, and I will also ask an important favour of you."

He looked away for a moment, then continued "As you know, Erkenbrand sent word to me, and asked for an army to aid the White Realm. The Serpent Council met to discuss the message, and vote on it. The vote to send the army was close, four against, three for. I voted to go, but others wished to stay rather than decrease the military of Ahm-Shere. So I used what Erkenbrand had granted me in the letter. He gave me permission to overturn the council's decision in favour of my own. So I did. In two days 20,000 of our soldiers will march for the White Realm, with myself, Mardat and Beregond commanding it." Muad'Dib stopped for a moment to let this sink in, as he wondered how to tell Rakdal the rest.

“That is near half Ahm-Shere’s army,” said Rakdal in amazement. He saw that Muad’dib was troubled and asked, “What else is there?”

Muad'Dib nodded "It is a large force, but I feel it is necessary. If the White Realm falls to the enemies we face, we will do no better with or without the reinforcing army. Erkenbrand had more to say in the letter though… he sent an arrest warrent for his brother Valek." As Muad'Dib said the name his face hardened into a scowl. He said "Valek is a traitor to Ahm-Shere and now sits in a cell at the palace to await Erkenbrand's return which will herald his execution."

Rakdal nodded, but he was conflicted and confused within. "Why are you telling me this? Is there something you want me to do?"

Muad'Dib replied "Yes, but there is more. After the council meeting, I was approached by the High Priest of the Lizards of Onk. He knows about these enemies, and his people fear them. There are two nations, called Shiverland and the Defiled Kingdom. They are the dark force waging war on all free lands. The Lizards want us to put aside our differences and stand united against the darkness. I have agreed to this, and they are also sending 20,000 of their soldiers to the White Realm to strike at the evil assailing it. We will be marching as a joint force. They will be here in three days to march with us." He sighed deeply, and said "The people must be made to understand what is going on, and that they must put aside old hatreds to survive the coming storm."

Muad'Dib finished by saying "With Mardat, Beregond, Erkenbrand and myself gone, there is nobody left with the strength of voice to make the people realise that times are changing, that Ahm-Shere can ill afford to rekindle old conflicts when new ones threaten our borders. The favour I ask of you now… is more important than armies and weapons. Words are needed here. I need you to speak to the people, tell them that unity under a banner of freedom is far better than slavery and death under a banner of conquest. There are many in the senate and council that still respect you greatly, and the people believe in your wisdom. Will you do this?"

Rakdal thought for a moment, shifted his weight, and then nodded, though his expression did not change.

Muad'Dib said "Thank you Rakdal. I know this is a burden, but the survival of Ahm-Shere is more important than settling old scores and warring over who is right or wrong." He walked over to a stone bench, made of the same stone as the residence, and sat down. Even though Muad'Dib was only twenty-seven, he looked visibly older after the past few days.

He looked at Rakdal and spoke "I can only hope that the reinforcements will be enough to turn the tide in this war."

Rakdal shrugged. "I hope so as well, but I'm no military man. I only want the people of Magreb to be safe."

Muad'Dib thought for a moment and said "Yes, yes of course. We all want to protect our homes and people. What size of forces do you have to protect Magreb and the market towns?"

Rakdal shrugged. "Not many, maybe a thousand at most split between our three towns."

Muad'Dib thought about this, weighing up the choices carefully. Finally he said "Then consider your forces doubled. I will send a messenger south to the Fremen lands. By the end of the week one thousand Fremen warriors will arrive at the market towns to protect them as you see fit. Twenty of those warriors will be elite Fedaykin. It is time Ahm-Shere protected it's people properly. They will follow your orders as if you were me."

Rakdal winced at the offer but luckily Muad'Dib did not see it; he was a proud man and normally would not accept help, especially not from one so associated with the central government. However, these were dire times, and the Fremen were known for their independent spirit despite their leader's high position in the country. "Thank you," said Rakdal. "I truly appreciate it."

Muad'Dib nodded "You are welcome my friend. Times are changing, and a great deal of wrongs will be redressed. But we have talked over-long, there is much to be done before the army can leave for the White Realm. After I leave, if you need to speak with the council, you will have to go to the royal palace, but if you need to speak to the Fremen themselves, Liana leads in my stead."

"Thank you again," said Rakdal. There was a silence, and he said, "You should be going. Good luck."

Muad'Dib bowed low to Rakdal Morlan and then turned and 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.

Muad'Dib left Rakdal wondering about the situation he had been placed in. The majority of Ahm-Shere's highest-ranking members would be leaving on this military expedition to aid the White Realm, along with almost half of the country's military. Verdonsk would be empty without them, and on the whole the country seemed even now to be even more poorly defended than Rakdal had long considered it to be. He called over a nearby sentry and asked, "Can you do me a favor?"

"Anything," said the sentry with respect.

"Compose a message to my daughter, Alisha, in Magreb, and tell her to come immediately to Verdonsk," said Rakdal.

"Of course," said the sentry, and he moved off to comply.

Rakdal looked out the window of the room he had been given to stay in temporarily and watched as the troops assembled. He was lonely, and wished his daughter would get here soon, but knew it would be several days at least before she could arrive. But until Muad'Dib and the others left, there really was nothing he could do, and so he sat in his room and looked out the window.

Rakdal watched as the army assembled and began to think; it would be at least another day before his daughter arrived, and then things would finally be at the point where he could do something. He hated waiting and watching, and he longed to see his daughter, the beautiful girl that she was. Standing up, Rakdal left his room and found a nearby guard who was one of the Fremen. "Excuse me, but do you know who of the Council is staying behind?"

The Fremen guard, Jagga'Bin, replied in his gravelly voice "The three state governors and Lord-General Erkenbrand's son Theodore are remaining. My chieftain told us that Mardat is remaining in Ahm-Shere, but has ridden for Dorsgiliath."

"Theodore. How old is he now?" asked Rakdal.

Jagga'Bin answered "I do not know. He is a young man, but old enough."

Rakdal nodded. "Thank you. Do you know where he is?"

Jagga'Bin said "You will most likely find him at the royal palace."

"And the state governors?" asked Rakdal. "Who are they, and where can they be found?"

Jagga'Bin replied "The state governors are, Vorder of Remmus, Grimhorn of Umit and Aleksi of Dorsgiliath. They all have residences set aside for them near to where Naib Muad'Dib resides."

Out of the corner of his eye, Jagga'Bin spied his comrade Arra'Bin. The silent tracker was sitting upon his horse, and he motioned for Jagga'Bin to follow before turning his horse and heading away. Jagga'Bin picked up the short lance which rested against the wall beside him and bowed to Rakdal Morlan, saying "I am called away now, the army must be departing. I hope I have been of help to you, but now I must go."

Quickly he ran to his nearby horse, untied the reins and mounted up. With a final nod to the other man the Fedaykin turned and headed away in the direction of the gates.

Rakdal nodded and said to himself. "Yes, very helpful."

Rakdal watched as the Ahm-Sheran army and their marched and rode away, leaving Verdonsk and a trail of dust behind them. Rakdal shook his head as their new lizard allies followed close behind. The lizards could not be trusted; they never had been friendly towards the tribal people of the Ahm-Sheran deserts. Indeed, the Serpent Council had not been friendly towards the tribal people either as of late. An unholy alliance. This will not stand.

Two days later, Rakdal was sitting alone in his room when there came a knock on his door. "Come in!" he called. The door swung open and Rakdal turned to see a beautiful girl standing in the doorway. She was no older than twenty had skin darkened by living in the desert with black hair and brown eyes, with a gorgeous figure honed by running and riding.

"Father!" she cried, and ran across the room and wrapped Rakdal in an embrace.

"Alisha! How are you?"

"Very well, father, and you?" she asked with a smile.

"Excellent," he said.

"You sent for me," she said.

"I did," said Rakdal. "The army has marched away, heading for the White Realm to fight on a crusade."

"Against who?" asked Alisha.

Rakdal shrugged. "I know not. But they have left me with a great deal of power here. I have been charged with keeping everyone together and united in this crisis."

Alisha smiled. "A fitting duty."

"Aye," said Rakdal. "Aye."

"What do you wish me to do?" asked Alisha, sitting down beside her father.

"There are three men in charge here in the Lord Erkenbrand's stead," said Rakdal. "Vorder, Grimholm, and Aleksi. They are state governors and all live near the center of Verdonsk."

"Aye," said Alisha, getting up.

"Now here is what you need to do for me…"

Alisha walked quickly through the streets of Verdonsk as night enveloped the city, pulling her dark cloak tightly around her. Candle lights began to come on in buildings, and she took care to avoid them. Eventually she made it to the center of the city, where the state governors were staying, and walked up to the door of the building. There were two guards there, and they crossed their spears to stop her.

"What is your business here?" asked one of the guards.

Alisha pulled her hood back to reveal that she was wearing a pink veil and said, "I have been hired by the governors to entertain them tonight. I am a dancer."

The guards looked at each other, not sure if they believed her, and she opened her cloak up so that they could see she was indeed wearing a belly dancer's outfit. "Very well," said one of the guards, nodding. They pulled their spears back. "You can enter."

"Thank you," said Alisha, passing them and entering the building.

Alisha made her way through the building quickly, finding the first governor's room and pushing the door open. A man in his late forties sat up quickly in bed. "Who are you?" he asked.

"Shh," said Alisha softly, and she dropped her cloak, revealing her gorgeous body clad only in a scanty dancer's outfit. "I am here to entertain you tonight." She began to dance, but the governor stood up.

"I'm not interested in dancing," he said, walking up to her. "I'm interested in another kind of entertainment."

Alisha smiled and pushed him back onto the bed. She climbed up onto the bed with him and straddled him. He reached up but she knocked his hands away. "Relax," she said, and the governor leaned back. "Close your eyes." The governor complied. Alisha pulled her transparent pink scarf off from where it was wrapped around her neck and slid it slowly under the governor's head. She pulled his head up with it, and he opened his eyes. She smiled and began to rub the scarf back and forth, and then suddenly yanked the two ends towards each other, crossing them over and pulling the scarf taught around the man's neck. His eyes went wide in horror and he tried to scream, but could not. Alisha clenched her teeth and pulled harder with her hands and pushed her legs together harder to hold the man in place as she strangled him. After a few moments, it was over and the governor went limp; he was dead.

Alisha got up, put her scarf and cloack back on, and left the room. She made her way to the front of the building and pushed the front door open. Where the two guards had once stood now stood two desert warriors, dressed in tribal clothing with thick scarves wrapped tightly around their heads, showing only their eyes. Alisha nodded to them and they nodded back before she closed the door and made her way towards the second governor's room.

Alisha climbed off the freshly-dead body of the third and final governor and pulled her scarf from around his neck. She wrapped it around her shoulders, picked up her cloak, and walked to the front door and opened it. "It is done," she told the two guards there. They nodded and one of them put his hands to his mouth and imitated the call of a small desert bird. Three more men dressed in desert cloaks and heavy scarves covering their faces emerged from the shadows, carrying unlit torches. They entered the building and Alisha watched as each of them lit their torches with flint and steel and set fire to each individual room. They then all threw their torches into the massive fireplace before leaving the building and shutting the door. "Go," said Alisha to them, and they quietly dispersed into the city.

Alisha made her way quickly back to her father's room and knocked three times on the door.

"Come in," called Rakdal, and Alisha threw the door open.

"It is done," she said.

"Will anyone know?" asked Rakdal.

Alisha shook her head. "The building will be burned down in a short time. The bodies will be burned to ashes, and it will appear as if a fire in the fireplace got out of control. No one will know."

Rakdal nodded. "Good, good. Did anyone see you?"

Alisha shook her head again. "We were careful."

"Alright, get some rest," said Rakdal. "Tomorrow will be a big day."

Rakdal Morlan awoke and walked over to the window, throwing it open to allow the sun to warm his body. He closed his eyes and leaned back, presenting his face to the sun and feeling its heat on his bearded face. He breathed deeply and thought, Today is the first day of a new Ahm-Shere.

There were three knocks on the door, and Rakdal called, "Come in!" The door opened and he turned around to see Alisha walk in, dressed in a fine white and purple dress. "Good morning, daughter," said Rakdal, walking over and kissing Alisha on the forehead. "You look lovely."

"Thank you, father," said Alisha.

"Are you ready to go out?" asked Rakdal.

"Yes," said Alisha.

"Good," said Rakdal. "There are a few people in the city I have to talk to to gather the people to hear me."

"Will they listen, though?" asked Alisha, somewhat skeptical.

"If they are smart, they will," said Rakdal. "Come."

The Senate chambers were wide but dimly lit as Rakdal walked in, and only a few Senators were there. Spotting a man with a ring of gray hair around his head, Rakdal walked up and exclaimed, "Mohal!"

"Rakdal!" shouted the man in surprise and happiness. "It is good to see you here!"

"It's been a long time since I've been in these chambers," said Rakdal, looking around. "How are things?"

"Not well, as I'm sure you can imagine," said the Senator. "I thought you vowed never to return to Verdonsk?"

Rakdal nodded. "I did, but with recent events, the Council has asked me to speak with the people, to make sure everything continues to run smoothly while most of them are away."

"That was a good choice," said Mohal with a smile. "Many on the Senate still respect you greatly."

"That is what I came to talk to you about," said Rakdal.

"Oh?"

"Could you speak with the other Senators and get the people rallied up in the central square?" asked Rakdal. "I want to address them about the current state of affairs."

"Of course," said Mohal.

"And I'd also like to invite you to my temporary residence afterwards," said Rakdal. "And anyone else who still 'respects' me, as you put it." He laughed.

"I would be honored," said Mohal, "and I'm sure they would be too. I'll get right to it."

"Thank you, old friend."

After the large gathering in the Verdonsk square Rakdal walked quickly through the streets with Alisha. "This certainly complicates matters," Rakdal said under his breath to his daughter.

"It does indeed," said Alisha. "What shall we do, father?"

"I do not know yet," said Rakdal. "The State governors are alive and well, and I do not see any way of getting to them now. We will need the full support of the people to pull this one off."

"And the Senate," said Alisha.

"Of course, of course."

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