“THEY’VE BROKEN THROUGH!”
Suladan jumped to his feet as the Khandish warriors tore down what remained of Varnakh’s gate. Their savage faces reflected their lust for battle, and the cruel Variag axes were raised high and looked ready to reap a tithe of blood. Yet as they poured from the gate, the Haradrim cavalry instantly reacted. Suladan could only watch as the horsemen charged into the Khands, lest he be lost in the death amongst them. The clash of giant axes and horses was phenomenal, and even the most skilled warrior could be suddenly clove in two or trampled on. As the chaos of the initial charge began to clear, Suladan ran to meet the battle, his scimitar raised high and glittering in the sun. He glanced at his father Talkhir, who still stood unscathed and made his commanding prescence felt amongst the enemy. Roaring a battle cry, Suladan entered the battle, jumping onto an unsuspecting Variag who fell under the young warrior’s weight and had little time to live before Suladan’s blade stabbed down into his neck. Rising from the fresh corpse, Suladan searched for another foe to fight. Yet he did not need to, for one of the dead man’s comrades bellowed a challenge at him and charged at him, his axe at waist height as to knock Suladan backwards. Quickly evading the blow, Suladan swung another strike at the Variag, but not enough strength was in it and so the blade bounced lazily off the Khandish armour. Grinning, the Variag knocked Suladan to the floor with a push of his axe. This is it, he thought as the mocking Khandish warrior stood over him, axe held ready to finish him.
Suladan closed his eyes, wondering when the strike would fall. Time seemed to go slower, and though this was not the death he dreamed of their was nothing he could do. But then, from the bleakness of his mind, a loud, golden thought emerged:
I will not die here.
He opened his eyes again to see a man knock back the Khandish warrior, exchanging attacks as they were locked in a fierce duel. His senses coming back to him, Suladan leapt to his feet to see the man who had saved his life – Captain Melkir.
“Stop gawping lad!” commanded Melkir. “Get fighting!”
Suladan briefly nodded his head and returned to the fight.
Haradrim warriors sat by or on the walls, resting after the conflict and cheering cries of victory. Some grimly carried out the dead Khandish corpses and those fellow Southrons that had also fallen. It had been a close fight, yet the tactics of the Haradrim had won through. Suladan sat with his father, gulping down water from his dusty cantine.
They were both relatively unhurt, though many soldiers from their tribe had fallen. Suladan began to recall how he nearly lost his life as Melkir had intercepted and slain the Variag. “You gave yourself too big a task – he was apparently a captain,” Melkir had said to Suladan after the battle. His father had won renown in the conflict, managing to kill the Khandish King despite his lethal chariot.
“So how was your first real battle, son?” asked Talkhir.
Suladan had no time to answer, as Melkir strode over to them.
“Captain, I believe I owe you a life debt?” said Suladan.
“It was nothing, lad, really. Besides, I’ve got the feeling we’ll meet again some day apart from that our roles will have changed.”
Suladan considered this as Talkhir stood up.
“Well, with victory assured, our tribe should be making for home. I want to be back by nightfall, so we may celebrate our victory!”
Though the sound of home sounded good, Suladan had a bad feeling about the village, one which he could not describe.
Fortunately for Talkhir, his men reached the settlement just before the moon shone. Yet, unfortunately for him, something sinister had happened whilst they were away. Upon coming into the village area, the column discovered a dead body in the sand – a screaming woman with her back torn open with a cruel and jagged weapon. Was this the doing of the Khandish? The wound did not look like a Variag’s axe.
“What atrocity is this?” said a shocked and distraught Talkhir.
When setting foot in the village, the warriors found the majority of the tribe was dead. Broken, slashed villagers lay lifeless across the village, their blood dying the sand crimson. The tents were splattered with red, and many of them were torn. The villagers had been defenceless with all the warriors at Varnakh, and Suladan knew Talkhir felt like killing himself for letting this happen to his people.
There was no trace of any of Suladan’s younger brothers, or of his elusive sister. But he still searched the site, looking for any sign of light. It seemed not one shelter was clean of crimson. As he saw another heap of dead bodies, Suladan heard a familiar voice from the shadows . . .
“Welcome home, little brother.”