Verdonsk Waiting

From Charred Marble

Muad'Dib stood on the balcony of the residence he had been given as Vice-Speaker of the Serpent Council. Resting his hands on the balustrade, he looked out at the city around him. It was very early morning, and the sun had not even risen fully yet. But from here he could see so much of the city, hundreds upon hundreds of buildings. And yet the sights of the city still paled in comparison to the magnificance of the desert, at least to the eyes of a Fremen. He would have turned away from the large balcony then, and returned to begin whatever work was required of him today, but a voice convinced him to continue looking at the slowly rising sun in the distance "It looks so beautiful the way the light dances across the surface of the buildings."

Muad'Dib replied "Yes, it does Liana. I'm glad you are here to see this." Muad'Dib thought about it and he truly was. He had managed to convince his wife to come to Verdonsk with their children. He had said that they should see the city at least once, although that was not his only reason for wanting them here. A darkness was coming, and here he would be sure his family would be safe. No enemy had ever breached the walls of Verdonsk. He had even brought a bodyguard of thirty-two Fedaykin with him.

The rest of the Fremen tribe had been warned, as had other neighboring tribes, that war may come to Ahm-Shere. They would get the children, the women that did not fight and the old into hiding while the bulk of the Fremen warriors did what they do best, fight.

Valek, General of Ahm-Shere and the ranking member of the Ahm-Sheran royal family, was nervous. He had received no contact from his older brother Erkenbrand III for weeks; something unusual for the Lord-General, who alwasy sought to keep in touch with his family.

However, Valek and Erkenbrand had had a broken relationship for years. Ever since Gilint, their older brother was murdered in his sleep, Erkenbrand had been suspicious of Valek ever since. Ever since Valek had spoken to him days before their brother had been killed in his sleep; like a snake.

"Imagine the power… imagine the glory… Erkenbrand III of Ahm-Shere; the greatest Lord-General this land has ever seen…"

"That power is one too great for me to burden upon myself, brother," Erkenbrand replied. The chamber was dimly-lit and cold, adding to the feeling on tension that enveloped the entire room.

"It would be easy… we could rule together," Valek had replied. "One thrust of a knife, and all of this could be your's, or our's if thou prefers!"

"You would ask me to slay my own brother? What kind of sick bastard are you?"

Valek paused, thinking gravely. "If you will not assume what if rightly your's, I will take that power from you. I will… kill… Gilint, and be crowned… Lord-General…" he trailed off, his voice sickingly twisted by the prospect of power.

"Bastard!" cried Erkenbrand shrilly, throwing a punch with his right hand. Valek was immediately on the floor, as if attracted by some mystical entity. Slowly but surely, a red liquid began to trickle down his nostrils and drips from his lip. Valek looked in Erkenbrand's eyes, and he saw fear.

"Coward," jeered his brother. "One ill turn deserves another. Both you and I know that crown is rightfully your's!"

Two days later, Gilint was found dead and Valek had fled the country, only to return a month later.

Morning had arrived fully now, and Muad'Dib would need to begin his daily duties. As he finished putting on his belt, along with the scabbard and sheath which contained his scimitar and Crysknife, he turned towards the door. Liana sat on the edge of the bed, watching him prepare to leave. Muad'Dib was about to leave when he said "Where is Jora?"

Liana replied "She is looking around the city."

Muad'Dib said with a look of worry on his face "What?"

Liana walked calmly over to him and placed a hand gently on his shoulder "Do not worry, two of the Fedaykin are with her, she is safe."

Muad'Dib relaxed a little "Well, as long as the Fedaykin are with her. I do wish she would not be so inquisitive though."

Liana smiled, kissing him on the cheek and walking away to check on their younger child Baru "She's far too much like her father Muad'Dib. You might as well ask that the sun does not rise or the sands not to shift."

Muad'Dib nodded with a smile as he watched his wife leave the room. Liana was wiser than him, of that Muad'Dib had no doubt.

A day had passed uneventfully in the grand city of Verdonsk. Still no word had reached them of what was happening in the White Realm. Still no word from Lord-General Erkenbrand. Muad'Dib wondered what was going on in that far away country, even though part of it did border Ahm-Shere it seemed so far removed. He had never seen the White Realm, or in fact any other land, other than Ónk and the Empire of Maga Khan; both causes of many of Ahm-Shere's darker times.

As he walked out of the large hallway of his residence, across the white marble floor and passed the rounded columns that formed part of the doorway into the small courtyard beyond, he felt his neck and rubbed idly at the red mark hidden beneath his cloak. It was an ever present reminder of the Desert Fever, the mark would never fade.

As he walked through the courtyard he saw his wife Liana, and their two children Jora and Baru sitting in the shaded area. Several of the Fedaykin stood on guard in the courtyard, ensuring the safety of his family. Rather than join his family, Muad'Dib had to leave, there was much to do. He opened the iron-wrought gate in the wall, stepping through into the street on the other side. He was about to close the gate when he noticed Garven'Tor quickly and silently join him. He waited for his friend and comrade to walk through and then closed the gate. Together they walked off in the direction of the royal palace. Muad'Dib would check and see if the royal family had received news of Erkenbrand before he did anything else today. Silently the two Fremen walked through the streets.

Valek stood silently upon the battlements of Verdonsk. He regularly asked guards to report to the city wall to ask for messengers, but none such had been delivered.

Muad'Dib and Garven'Tor arrived at the royal palace and approached the nearest guards. Muad'Dib nodded to them and said "I must speak with one of the royal family, take us to them."

Knowing Muad'Dib by both sight and reputation, the guards saluted and one of them led the two Fremen inside the palace to find one of the royal family.

An hour had passed since Valek had stood as a solitary figure atop the city battlements. Now he was within the confines of his home; the Royal Palace of the Lord General. With Erkenbrand's departure to the White Realm, Valek was by default put at charge of the royal line, although Maud'Dib was in total command of the city itself.

It was then when that same man entered Valek's chambers.

Muad'Dib nodded in greeting to Valek. He then turned to the guard and Garven'Tor motioning for them to wait outside. The two men, one clad in the armour of the city, the other in the cloak, chainmail and bamboo of the Fremen, closed the doors and waited outside on guard.

Muad'Dib turned back to Valek and said "Has there been any word from your brother Valek?"

"Not a single word," informed Valek, sighing. "Kirus the messenger bird has not been seen on our borders for a month."

Muad'Dib said gravely "I find that I am worried by this silence. We need to know what is happening in the White Realm, what Lord-General Erkenbrand has found there." Then, almost to himself, but still clear enough to be heard, he muttered "I fear the meaning of my dream may hold great peril, not just for the White Realm, but all lands, Ahm-Shere included."

"Ahm-Shere shall not fall whilst brave men like yourself and my brother defend her beauty," Valek replied, trying to contain his anger. Though not an aggressive person, Valek was easily offended and had a great love for his kin and country. For someone to question the future of his lands was regarded to the Lord-Commander as blasphemous.

He smiled in apology. "I am sorry for my tone, Muad'Dib. Times are troubling me and I am growing old. I have done some evil things in my youth and now my age has caught up with me. But I can assure you," he insisted, his tone muted but clear; "my spirit remains undeterred!"

Muad'Dib nodded slowly, wondering for a moment what Valek truly meant. He then replied "It is good to hear your spirit is still strong. Our spirit and will is what makes us truly strong, that more than a strong swordarm is why Ahm-Sherans not only survive here, but flourish. When this threat arrives, I think that both shall be tested though, but as always we will outlast our foes."

He looked at Valek and said "A great man once said, never forget where you came from, or you will stumble on the road to where you are going."

"Ahm-Shere may have its foundations torn in two, but the fortress cities of Verdonsk and Remmus must now become sanctuaries to all in the country," Valek said. "Order for all to move to the fortress cities immediately; war is around the corner."

Muad'Dib shook his head "No, not all. I have already sent word to many tribes. They will go into hiding when the threat comes, but they will not go to the cities. They find no sanctuary there, and have places far more cunning to wait. But the word will be sent to those that need the safety of these walls." He turned slightly, looking around the room for a moment. Then the Fremen chieftain continued "The warriors of the Fremen and other tribes will bide their time in the desert, as they have always done, and strike down all those who would seek to invade these lands, all those who would seek to defile them."

"When the time comes, I shall marshall all of Ahm-Shere and march on any threat to my country. But, that decision is done to you, Muad'Dib," Valek.

"What would a Lord have me do?"

Muad'Dib replied sharply "I am no Lord! I hold no claim on land or wealth. Such things mean nothing to the desert and nothing to the Fremen."

Taking a deep breath he said "Have the armies stand to alert. When they are needed, they must answer the call. Empty the towns and villages; they will require the cities as refuge. I will finish sending word to the tribes of Ahm-Shere. Some may seek the cities, but most prefer the space to fight their own way. Beyond that, there is nothing we can do until we get word from Lord-General Erkenbrand."

"It is with a heavy heart that I feel the Lord General will send no message," Valek replied.

Muad'Dib nodded and said "Perhaps he will not. Perhaps there will be no need for a message and this threat, whatever it is, will pass over Ahm-Shere or be so focussed on other lands as to be blind to us. But if Erkenbrand learns of anything which could threaten Ahm-Shere he will send word. We do not know what is happening in the White Realm, or why their allies would go to war with them."

Muad'Dib thought for a moment and then spoke "Regardless of what threat could be approaching, or what is happening in other lands, Ahm-Shere must not appear weak. The armies should be on their guard at all times. We must be vigilent for this threat, or threats better known to us. If Ahm-Shere is attacked, it could stir the Lizards of Onk or the forces of Maga Khan to join in."

Muad'Dib looked at Valek for a few seconds, then he nodded in salute and said "I will go to the city gates and continue spreading the word to the tribes. Good day Valek." With that he turned and made his way out of the room, Garven'Tor falling into step beside him as he left the palace and headed to the city gates.

Valek watched as the Fremen walked out of his quarters. Valek had no liking or trust of the man, but that was not something he held against people. Valek had learned the hard way not to trust anyone, especially yourself. He still had the scars on his right arm to prove that point.

Valek thought. It was all he had time for. A busy man, Valek often troubled himself by biting off more than he could. Whilst more of a devious business man than a noble lord of a large, wealthy realm, Valek was a dependable man who often put work before other commitments. As one of the Governors of Ahm-Shere, he often participated in the politics of the country. Despite his anti-social impression to the casual eye, Valek, much like his brother (and the rest of his family for that matter) was an easy-going and popular person. He had a great deal of respect and love for those he considered to be friends, and it times of war the number of men who fell under either category had decreased dramatically.

Valek stared into the oblivion that he often referred to as his mind. Thoughts ricocheted about his brain as his face lost all expression. His vacant look was contributed to by the dim morning light; even for summer in Ahm-Shere, the morn was unusually dark. The moon was still visible in the sky which was ice-cold.

Something was wrong with the world.

Muad'Dib tried to forget talking with Valek. As soon as he had met Erkenbrand's brother he had taken an instant dislike for the man. Muad'Dib had always been a good judge of character, something which had led to his widespread reputation amongst many others in Ahm-Shere, both of the tribal leaders and those of the towns and cities as a wise chieftain. He considered Valek untrustworthy, shifty, underhanded, and not honourable.

He arrived at the city gates, seeing the busy atmosphere. Garven'Tor and Muad'Dib gathered several messengers and began to give them their instructions. They would need to make haste across much of Ahm-Shere to the various tribes and pass on Muad'Dib's message. All the tribes south of the fort of Gelsiner had already been warned, but only some tribes north of the fort had so far been told.

Valek, the thirty-ninth Lord Commander of Ahm-Shere sat silently on an armchair when his servant approached him. He was caryring a silver tray. Sat at the centre of the platter was a single golden goblet, which was encrusted with precious stones from across the known world. Inside was a tick red liquid. Valek took the wine and drank heartily. He drained the goblet immediately and placed it back on the tray. The servent was about to leave before Valek spoke.

"Wait," he commanded. "What is your name, slave?"

The servant was confused; never before had Valek, a man of such power ever spoke to him. "Jalal, sir," he said. His brow was frowning.

"Jalal, I have no need for slaves. I do, however, have need of a messenger. You are to visit Grathnjir of Remmus. You are to bring him to my quarters. That is my frist missions to you."

Vermen Kabal finally arrived at the city-gates of Verdonsk. He arrived his powerful warhorse slowly through the crowd, watching the busy people walking in either direction. He pulled his thick desert cloak higher up to cover himself from a wind blowing a thick sky of sand through the crowd.

He eyed the people of Ahm-Shere carefullty below the shadows of the thick, dark scarf covering his head. He had to talk to someone who could tell him the laws of his city, he though as he slowly removed his hand from the spear hanging across his saddle as he felt the eyes of some of the guards of the gate upon him.

Muad'Dib noticed the stranger arriving through the gates. Nothing unusual about that, he thought. Travellers arrived in Verdonsk all the time but still, there was something about this man which caught the Fremen's attention. And he noticed that some of the guards were eyeing the outsider cautiously. Muad'Dib walked over to the guards, and said "Keep to your posts, I'll handle the newcomer."

He walked over to the man on the horse, Garven'Tor keeping a respectful distance, but had his hand resting on the hilt of his scimitar beneath his cloak. Muad'Dib said to the man "Welcome to Verdonsk traveller."

Vermen halted his horse with small movement with his legs before removing his scarf. He felt it would be wise to maybe show this man some honor, he seemed important. And where Vermen Kabal hailed from it was an act of utter dishonor hiding your face meeting a man for the first time.

Removing his scarf revealed a deep tan in his skin. His hair was short, thick and curly, though his cheek was shaved and showed no sign of facial hair. He nodded to the man slowly. "Thank you, my friend," speaking in a dialect of the common tongue hailing from the south of the realm of Ahm-Shere.

Muad'Dib followed suit and pulled the hood of his cloak down to reveal his own face. His black hair was straight and short, and he had a full but short beard. Muad'Dib spoke again "My name is Muad'Dib. I am chieftain of the Fremen tribe of Ahm-Shere, as well as Vice-Speaker of the Serpent Council."

"The Fremen tribe," Vermen Kabal spoke, more to himself than to the stranger. "My name is Kabela Achman. Nothing but a lone wanderer from the south, seeking to offer others my services. In a city such as this I hope that they might be of use to someone."

Muad'Dib nodded and replied "And what services do you offer, lone wanderer from the south?"

The lips of Vermen Kandar curved into a smile as he patted the spear hanging across his saddle, and gestured towards the quiver of arrows and short throwing spears he also carried with him.

"A mercenary?" Muad'Dib asked with a slight smile, "Unless you just sell weapons."

"These tools are not for sale," Verman laughed as he let his fingers run across the shaft of the spear. "I value my own craft far too highly to put them in hands that wants to misuse them. No, my friend, these are my weapons and my tools. A mercenary you might call me, but I myself, I call myself a weapon master."

Muad'Dib said "A weapon master. I'm sure you will find someone seeking your services here then. There are many taverns and Inns within the city if you are looking for somewhere to stay and stable your horse. I would recommend the Yawning Lion Inn."

"Thank you my lord," Vermen nodded to Muad'Dib, and covered himself with the scarf before continuing to ride into the city.

Muad'Dib watched the man ride off, further into the large city. He pulled his hood back up to cover his face from the sun and said to Garven'Tor "Why does everyone keep calling me a lord? Do I look like some pampered merchant who has never lifted a sword?"

Garven'Tor, his closest friend since childhood replied with a wide grin "Perhaps you've spent too long in this city getting soft, my lord."

Muad'Dib laughed and responded "Thank you for that old friend. I'm sure you can think on that while you are scrubbing the wall clean tonight." He started to walk back towards his residence to see what parchments and messages awaited his attention.

Garven'Tor scowled slightly and then walked after his friend saying "Which wall, the outer wall or the residence wall?"

"No, no, Garv. The city walls." Muad'Dib said over his shoulder with a laugh.

Vermen rode far into the city and found the inn Muad'Dib had talked about, the Yawning Lion Inn. He stood outside of it for a long time before turning , looking around and slowly carrying on into the city.

This he did until he found another suitable inn, a little north of the grand palace. There he entered and presented himself with the same name he had used when speaking to Muad'Dib, Kabela Achman.

Soon he sat on his room, looking from his window. He had a good view towards the palace of the city.

Valek stood opposite his tutor; his sword raised to a high guard. He took one step forward; the man opposite took one back. The syncronised movement of the pair was down to years of martial training. Soon, one would strike.

Valek lunged with his blade, biting at the flesh of the tutor. In reply, the black-skinned man swung wildly, forcing the Lord-Commander back. Neatly, Valek swung his blade in an arc before bring his blade down with such for his tutor was knocked to the ground. Preparing for the kill, Valek hesitated. With sufficient time, the tutor kicked Valek's knee, giving himself allowance to reach his weapon. Rolling across the ground, he leapt to his feet as Valek tightly held his injured knee; blood escaping from the cut.

In a fit of anger, Valek leapt forward. The tutor stood back and planted a kick into the man's midriff, flooring him instantly.

"Your anger needs to be controlled!" he declared defiantly. "Eight years of practise, and yet you cannot contain your emotion. There is no place on the battlefield for you, Valek, save behind your own bodygua…"

The tutor's voice fell quiet as his head tumbled from his shoulders and onto the floor. Moments later, the body fell to one side as Valek wiped the blood on his sweaty garments.

Vermen had cleaned himself up, and rearranged his room so he was more prepared for what could come. From the innkeeper he had learned news. Most interesting was the fact that Lord General Erkenbrand the third had left for the White Realm a long time. That meant Lord Commander Valek, his brother, was in charge of the city. Knowing that, Vermen left the inn and made his way through the busy and dusty streets of Verdonsk, towards the palace.

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