The Horde, Part One

Part 1 of 16 in The Horde

 

Part One: The Hard Way

by Thomas K. Martin

 

Dawn.

 

Minghis Mango collapsed into existence.  It was literally the most painful, and the only thing, he had ever experienced.  His first breath was a sharp gasp of frigid air.  He opened his eyes to survey his surroundings.

 

The sky was already lightening with the dawn, but the sun had not yet cleared the horizon.  That was only because they were in a mountain hex, however.  The ridge line to the east of him glowed with the impending appearance of the sun.

 

Then the sun peeked over the ridge, as though it were a coy maid stealing a glance at him.  He glared at the fiery orb as if he blamed it for the cold that was already beginning to penetrate his bones.  Then he heard a gasp of surprise from below him and a man’s voice said “Look!”

 

He glanced downward as the sun drove the shadows away from his feet and down the side of the crumbled curtain wall upon which he stood.  The blossoming dawn quickly revealed eight stabbers standing below him in the snow, looking up at him with expressions of awe.  Six men and two women wearing lamellar armor of leather and bronze and fleece cloaks.  They carried large curved swords and round shields fashioned of wicker covered with leather.  A glance at his hip showed that Minghis carried a similar weapon, although his own cloak was fur – wolf fur, from the look of it, and his shield was bronze.  There was something else, however.

 

He reached over his back and felt four light spears in a case on his back. Archer, specialist, javelin.  He glanced back down at the eight stabbers.

 

These were his people, his tribe...the Mango tribe.

 

“Stack and screen,” he ordered as he looked around to examine his surroundings.  The ruin resembled a city in miniature.  He had never seen a city, of course, but the knowledge of city structure had popped with him.  He stood upon a small outcrop of what would have been the courtyard walls in a true city.  What he had first taken to be a ridge line were, in fact, the crumbling remains of a small tower.  Of the outer walls, he could find no sign.

 

They had popped here, in this Titans-forsaken place with no side, no ruler, no hope – barbarians.  Minghis became aware of his purse, which contained a measly hundred and twenty shmuckers.  After four turns three of his men would disband for lack of upkeep.  He and the rest would follow them on the next turn.  A sneer, almost a snarl, formed at the corner of his mouth.  He looked up into the morning sky.

 

“I reject this fate,” he announced, as if speaking to the Titans themselves.

 

“What do you mean, oh Light of the Dawn?” asked one of his men.  Minghis smiled at that. Only heartbeats old and he had been given his first title.  To his troops it must have seemed as though he had simply appeared out of the darkness.  He would allow it.

 

“The Titans have popped us here to croak,” he said, turning his gaze to the stabber who had spoken – Kherlen, level one, hits nine, move nine, combat and defense of three.  The most powerful of his men.

 

“Without a source of upkeep, we have only four turns before we begin to disband”, he continued.  “I will not allow that to happen!”

 

“What are your orders, lord?” Kherlen asked.

 

“We will spend this turn searching the ruin,” Minghis replied.  “If we have popped here, then whatever was protecting this place has been croaked recently.  If there is a treasure here, we will claim it for ourselves.  And then we will leave this accursed place.”

 

*  *  *

 

The tower was a disappointment.  Missing all but the first two floors, with cracked walls and gaping windows, it would provide no shelter for them this night.  The wind from the snow hex to the northwest left piles of snow in its empty rooms.

 

Minghis now stood at the head of a curving stair leading into the dungeon beneath the tower.  Powerballs, dim and flickering with age, provided the barest relief to the darkness below.  Wordlessly, he ordered three of the men to precede him down the stairs. Kherlen, Lawrence and Moe advanced into the darkness and Minghis followed.  Behind him followed the rest of his tribe.

 

The snow which had choked these stairs had been dug away by someone.  Minghis did not know if it had been the previous inhabitants of this pile of rubble or if the stairs had been cleared by outsiders seeking treasure.  If it were the latter, this search might well be in vain.  More importantly, if it were the latter, they might still be here.

 

“Stay alert,” Minghis said quietly, accompanying his spoken order with an unspoken one to remain silent.

 

The stairs led down to a circular room about half the size of the tower above.  Tunnels led out of the room to the north, west and south.  Minghis gestured to the north and followed his men into the tunnel.

 

Decaying cells with rusting iron bars lined each side of the tunnel.  Black and white striped dungeon rats fled from their approach, scurrying toward the back of the tunnel.  Otherwise the cells were empty without even straw mats on the stone biers in the cells.  A torture chamber sat at the end of the hall.  A wooden rack, warped and twisted with age sat in the center of the room.  Rusting iron pokers crumbled in a bronze brazier in one corner of the room by iron rings set into the walls.  At Minghis’ silent order his troops did an about face and headed back to the circular room.

 

Before they could reach the central chamber, a huge hulking figure appeared in the entrance to the tunnel and attacked the front of his stack with a roar of anger.  Sonja ducked beneath the swing of a massive club, but Arnold was not so fortunate.  The impact from the club lifted the massive warrior from his feet and slammed him against the wall.  Minghis felt his stack bonus drop by one.

 

“Twoll!” Minghis shouted. “Attack!”

 

To their credit, the members of his tribe had already engaged the beast.  The Twoll had shown unusual cunning, trapping them in this narrow tunnel where only a few of them could attack it at a time.  Only Sonja and Douglas could reach the beast.  Sonja dodged another swing of the club as Douglas’ blade grazed the side of their opponent.  If this continued for much longer Minghis would lose another of his tribe.

 

Fortunately, the Twoll stood head and shoulders above his troops.  Minghis pulled a javelin from the case on his back and hurled it over the heads of his stack.  The spear flew true and buried its hungry head into the Twoll’s left shoulder just as Sonja’s blade sliced into the meat of its right calf.  The Twoll went down with a cry of pain and the stack surged forward, weapons raised to end the creature.  Ahead of them the entrance to the tunnel was clear.

 

“Hold!” Minghis commanded. “Fan out, guard the room!”

 

Minghis walked up to where the Twoll lay, incapacitated.  If they did not kill it, its wounds would heal at dawn, assuming it had eaten enough to fulfill its upkeep.  Minghis noted that the Twoll wore pants, tunic and a cloak of black and white striped fur.  Obviously it had been living off of the dungeon rats.  He felt an unexpected surge of sympathy.

 

 After a moment, Minghis knelt down and placed his hand on the Twoll’s heaving chest.  Iron manacles appeared on its wrists and ankles as Minghis became aware of its points.  He almost gasped when he saw the beast’s upkeep.  The Twoll would cost him as much as the rest of his surviving tribe combined.  Paying the upkeep for this creature would reduce them to three turns of life.  Perhaps this was a mistake.

 

“Why, lord?” Sonja asked.  Minghis bristled at hearing his own doubts voiced aloud, but, when he looked up to rebuke her, he saw only confusion on her face.  It was a lovely face he noticed for the first time.

 

“We are down a man,” Minghis replied, instead of rebuking her.  “And this creature was sentenced to the same accursed fate as us – to guard this pile of rocks and croak.  He is a mighty warrior.”

 

That much was true.  The Twoll, whose name he now saw was Gomar, was level two.  Since he had attacked them alone, he was likely the only survivor of a stack which had popped here.  Presumably, he had levelled by croaking whatever had croaked his stack mates.

 

“Yes, lord,” Sonja replied, although he could hear doubt in her tone.

 

“Carry him to one of the cells,” he ordered his men.  It took all of them to lift the massive Twoll, but they managed to move him into one of the cells.  Minghis forced the door to the cell closed, but any lock the cell had once had was useless.

 

“Come,” Minghis ordered.  “We need that treasure now more than ever.”

 

The tunnel to the south had led them to what appeared to be a barracks.  They spent over an hour searching through the decaying furniture and trunks to no avail.

 

“There is nothing here, lord,” Kherlen informed him.

 

“I can see that,” Minghis snapped in reply.  He led his men back into the central chamber and down the tunnel to the west.  It was a forge.  The massive anvil was still intact, but the bellows had rotted out and the furnace was choked and useless.  Rusted weapons – spears, pikes, swords – hung from a rack along one wall.  The rust had eaten completely through them.  There was nothing usable here.

 

But then, he saw it.  A glint of gold caught his eye from a helmet covered in dust on a table.  Its steel dome shone in the dim light of the ancient powerballs, even beneath the dust which covered it.  Fur trimmed the spiked dome and the flaring neck guard was burnished bronze.  A golden crown was worked into the dome of the helmet.

 

Minghis had hoped to find gems with which to fill his purse.  He already had a helmet, although this one seemed superior to his own, and of a similar style.  He picked up the helmet to inspect it, half hoping he would be able to pry the gold crown loose and convert it to shmuckers.  As he brushed away the dust with the tail of his cloak, it became apparent that would not be possible.

 

“It is your crown, lord,” Sonja said in an almost reverent whisper.  Minghis smiled at the irony.  A crown with which to rule over a doomed tribe.  Still, he removed his own helmet and placed this one upon his head.  It fit perfectly, almost seeming to adjust to fit him.

 

His troops gasped in unison, and Minghis turned to see what had startled them.  With his warlord’s senses he could see what they had felt.  The leadership bonus he provided them had gone up by two points.  He removed the helmet and their leadership bonus returned to one point.  Minghis looked down at the helmet in his hands with new respect.  If he had had this helmet when the twoll had attacked them, Arnold might yet live.  He placed the helmet back on his head.

 

“Come,” he told them. “We must prepare to camp in this dungeon tonight.”

 

*  *  *

 

They camped in the five cells surrounding the cell in which Gomar was imprisoned.  He ordered three two-man watches of three hours each.  They had moved the bronze brazier from the torture room into the hall and filled it with wood from the moldering furnishings in the dungeon.  It made the cold barely tolerable.  Arnold’s corpse had been stripped of its gear and moved into the torture chamber where it would depop with the dawn.

 

Somehow, Minghis must have managed to fall asleep, because the last guards coming off watch woke him as he had ordered. It would soon be dawn.

 

He walked to the cell where they held Gomar.  The Twoll turned to look at him. It was awake but still incapacitated.

 

“What d’you want with me?” Gomar asked.

 

“I want you to join us,” Minghis replied.  The Twoll seemed puzzled by his answer.

 

“We are like you,” Minghis continued.  “The Titans popped us here only to starve and croak.  I refuse to stay here and eat rats.  My men and I are going to leave.  We are going to find a better fate.  I want you to come with us.”

 

“You would…take me?”

 

“I would,” Minghis assured the Twoll.  “I will pay your upkeep for as long as my purse allows.  It is…not long.  Unless we can find treasure.  Will you leave this accursed place and join with me?”

 

“Golly,” Gomar muttered.

 

“Will you?” Minghis repeated.

 

“Yes, lawd,” Gomar replied.

 

“Then stack with me,” Minghis ordered.  The Twoll’s manacles vanished and Minghis felt his stack bonus rise back to eight.

 

“Rest now,” Minghis told him.  “We will leave when you heal at dawn.”

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

Minghis’ troops quickly prepared for the march.  They had only what they had popped with, after all.  All of Arnold’s equipment was wrapped up in his fleece cloak.  Gomar could carry that and the brazier once he had healed.

 

Unable to see the dawn, it was announced by the popping of their rations.  Minghis’ felt almost a full third of his purse vanish with the appearance of the food.  Their rations consisted of a type of stew in a bowl fashioned from hard bread.  Gomar emerged from his cell carrying what looked to be an entire cooked ox leg.

 

“Rations, lawd!” he announced excitedly.

 

“Yes, Gomar,” Minghis agreed.  “Eat. We need to march, soon.”

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

Gomar ate his rations with gusto – the ox leg had to be better than the rats on which he had been surviving thus far, Minghis supposed.  His troops ate heartily as well.  Minghis’ rations, however, had a bitter aftertaste.  This would happen twice more and then they would all disband.  He had to prevent that from happening.  His stack depended on him, and that made him feel more helpless than anything he could imagine.  He had no idea how to save them.

 

Their first meal did not take long.  Minghis brushed the last crumbs from his wispy beard and rose to his feet.  Around him, his stack did the same, including Gomar.  Gomar picked up the bundle containing Arnold’s equipment and the brazier, already aware of his warlord’s desires.

 

“Let’s move out,” he said, heading for the tunnel to the stairs.  Once back on the surface, he looked around.  The mountains seemed higher to the west and south and seemed lower to the north and east.  They would exit the hex at the northeast boundary and he would reassess from there.

 

“Northeast,” he ordered.  The mountains made for slow progress.  The sun had climbed halfway toward noon before they reached the hex boundary.  Even with his heavy armor and the fur cloak, the cold had bitten into his bones long before that.

 

Minghis held up his hand, silently ordering the stack to a silent halt just before the hex boundary.  In front of him, a herd of big horned sheep grazed on the brush.  Two of them would be enough to cut their upkeep in half next turn.  The wind blew steadily from the snow hex to the northwest.  Minghis gestured to his right and the seven surviving stabbers obeyed his silent order to slip around the herd to the southeast.  He waited for them to reach position.  Their first battle had been against a twoll.  Their second, and by far most important battle, would be against a herd of dumb animals.  He carefully drew a javelin from the case on his back.

 

His throw was matched with his silent order for the stack to attack.  Minghis charged down the slope with Gomar behind him even before the javelin embedded itself in the flank of the trailing sheep.  His men burst out on the herd from the southeast as the deep blasts from the sheep’s horns echoed off the mountains.  They were able to cut an animal off from the herd and bring it down before the rest of the herd escaped across the hex boundary, including the one carrying his javelin in its left haunch.

 

He joined his men and women as they stood around the body of the slain mountain sheep.  Minghis took the bundle of Arnold’s gear from Gomar and ordered the twoll to pick up the ram.  Arnold’s gear he handed to Kherlen.

 

“Follow me,” he ordered, taking the lead and examining the tracks of the herd.  He was no ranger, but the snow made following the animals easy.  He could even spot the trail of the one which carried his javelin.  The butt of the spear made a distinct trail in the snow.

 

“This way,” he said as they crossed the hex boundary.  He felt his move drop as they passed into the next hex.  They would only be able to cross one more hex this turn.  The sheep were mountain-capable, however, and would not have as severe a movement penalty.  He could only hope they had already used most of their move this turn.

 

About halfway through the hex, the trail turned toward the north.  Minghis followed.  He had intended to keep moving northeast, but they needed those rations.  It was a little after noon when they crossed the boundary into the next hex to the north.  His stack followed silently as he followed the trail left by the sheep.

 

At the third hex boundary, they found the herd.  Most had passed into the next hex, safely out of their reach.  However, the wounded ram must have lost too much move to be able to pass the boundary.  It bleated in fear and tried to run west as they approached.  In a single, fluid motion Minghis drew another javelin from his case and hurled it toward the fleeing animal.  He felt the crit almost before the javelin left his hand.

 

The spear impacted squarely in the animal’s chest.  Minghis smiled as the fleeing ram fell.  The rest of the herd across the hex boundary fled from them, but Minghis paid them no mind.  He had his prize.

 

“We camp here,” he said to his troops. “Gomar, can you prepare these sheep for dinner?”

 

“Need a knife, lawd,” the twoll replied.

 

“There is a sword in Arnold’s bundle,” Minghis informed him. “Use that.”

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

Soon Gomar had skinned and butchered the sheep and had the meat roasting over a large fire pit he had built from stones found nearby.  It would be a while before the food was ready.

 

“We need shelter,” Minghis told the twoll.  “Can you make us something large enough for all of us?”  This had been his main reason for turning the twoll.  If they were to survive, his fabrication special would be invaluable.

 

“Will try, lawd,” Gomar replied.

 

Minghis watched as the twoll used Arnold’s sword to cut down every sapling in sight.  Then he split them and wove them into a latticework circle.  As Gomar worked, he would occasionally pause to return to the fire and turn the cooking meat.

 

Once the latticework frame had been completed, Gomar took the fleece from the two sheep and Arnold’s cloak and wove the wool into a thin cover which he wrapped around the frame.  He finished off the structure with a peaked roof of pine boughs freshly cut from the trees around their campsite and a floor of pine needles.  By the time he had finished the sun was setting and the mutton had finally finished cooking.

 

“Everyone inside the…whatever this is,” Minghis said, not quite knowing what to call the structure Gomar had made.  It wasn’t quite a tent, nor quite a hut, but something in between.

 

“Is yurt, lawd,” Gomar said.  “What about the food?”

 

 “Serve it up and take it inside,” Minghis ordered.  With the disappearance of the sun, the temperature was dropping quickly.  He offered his shield for his own serving and Gomar placed a sizeable portion of meat upon it.  His troops followed suit and then Gomar piled the remaining meat on Arnold’s shield.

 

The inside of the yurt was cramped with all nine of them inside, but that was a good thing.  The thin felt wall would not hold in much heat.  They ate their mutton in silence, shivering from the cold.

 

You will not have us this easily, oh Titans, Minghis thought.  This food would sustain them.  There was more than enough to cut their next turn’s upkeep in half.  Minghis had eaten his fill and there was still almost a third of his portion left.  He set his shield at his feet with the portion of uneaten meat.

 

“Thank you, Gomar,” he heard Sonja say.  Everyone stopped eating to stare at her.

 

“Lady?” Gomar replied, confused.

 

“For the food,” she explained.  “And for this shelter. Thank you.”

 

“Yes, lady,” Gomar replied.

 

“I forgive you for Arnold,” she told him.  “I know you thought we were there to hurt you.”

 

We were, Minghis thought to himself.  If Arnold had not croaked, Minghis would not have been able to add the twoll to the stack.  There was an awkward pause before Gomar replied.

 

“Thank you, lady,” he said.  Around the yurt, Ming saw his troops nodding in agreement.  He nodded in agreement with them.

 

“We are all in the same tribe now,” Minghis said.  “We survive or croak together.  If we are fortunate, we will croak in battle as Arnold did and join him in the City of Heroes.”

 

There was muttered agreement to this and then Moe raised a fist in the air.

 

“To Arnold!” he said.

 

“To Arnold!” all of them, except Gomar replied.

 

“All right,” Minghis ordered.  “Put Gomar in the center.  Everyone else, sit with your backs against him and use your cloaks for cover.  The Titans shall not have us this night.”

 

They all settled in for the night.  Minghis was surprised at how warm and soft the twoll’s body was as he leaned back against it.  With his back to the twoll, Minghis could not see the small smile that appeared on Gomar’s face, but he did hear him whisper under his breath.

 

“My tribe.”

 

*  *  *

 

Minghis woke with the dawn as he felt almost a fourth of his remaining purse vanish.  Their rations were much lighter this morning – oat porridge with honey and some type of blue berry, even for Gomar, although his portion was much larger.  They ate quickly and stepped outside to see the morning.

 

It was still bitterly cold, but, with the light of the dawn Ming could see that their path still seemed to lead to the northeast.  The mountains were visibly shorter in that direction.

 

“Gomar, can we take this shelter with us?”

 

“Yes, lawd,” Gomar replied. “All but the roof.”

 

“Get a fire going and heat up our leftovers from last night,” Minghis ordered.

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

“Break camp,” Minghis ordered his men. “We march as soon as we have eaten.”

 

It was painfully obvious that there would not be enough meat left over from last night’s meal to reduce their upkeep.  Even if they fed all of it to Gomar it would not be enough to fully reduce his upkeep.  Minghis understood just enough mathamancy to know that it would be most effective to feed it to his troops instead of the twoll.

 

“Gomar, there’s not enough…” Minghis began.

 

“You take it, lawd” the twoll said before Minghis could finish. “We will find more food.”

 

Together he and Gomar divided the meat evenly among Minghis and his troops.  It would reduce the next turn’s upkeep some, but not completely by half. He hoped that Gomar was right.  They needed to find more food.  Before he left to eat his own portion, Minghis reached out and placed his hand on the twoll’s massive forearm.

 

“Gomar,” he said, “you are our strength.  Without you, all of us would have croaked already.”

 

“Lawd?” Gomar asked.

 

“I swear to you, that I will do all that I can to keep all of us alive,” Minghis continued.  “All of us.”

“Yes, lawd.”

 

While they ate, Minghis watched as Gomar stripped the felt walls from the yurt and unwove the latticework.  The twoll rolled up the wooden strips and Arnold’s equipment in the felt and slung the entire bundle over his shoulder.

 

“Move out,” Minghis ordered.

 

They left the snow behind in the next hex, a sure sign they were indeed leaving the mountains behind them.  As they left the cold behind, the spirits of the tribe improved along with the weather.  Even Minghis felt better although, unlike them, he knew they had only two more turns of upkeep remaining, at best – less if they could not find food.

 

Halfway through the mountain hex, Gomar’s little bit of predictamancy came true.  They came upon the same herd of sheep they had driven from higher in the mountains.  Unfortunately, the animals caught sight of them as soon as they themselves were sighted.  As the sheep bolted, Minghis drew a javelin from his case and hurled it after the last animal in the herd.  Whether it was a blessing from the Titan’s, which he doubted, or his own desperation, the javelin arched up and came down right at the base of the animal’s skull, croaking it instantly.

 

Minghis ordered two of his men to take the bundled up yurt from Gomar so that the twoll could carry the ewe.  Tonight in camp Gomar would skin it and cook it and they would survive for another turn.

 

They left the mountains at the next hex boundary and crossed into foothills.  The hills were mostly grass with the occasional small copse of trees marking the horizon.  With the drop in movement penalty, they would be able to cross one more hex before making camp.

 

They made camp next to one of the rare copses of trees so that Gomar might find enough dead wood to cook their meal.  While the meat was cooking, Gomar set up the yurt again, only this time with a roof of woven grass.  Tonight, they ate outside the tent.  The night was cold, but not the bitter cold of the mountains.  Minghis ordered three two man watches again, as he had in the dungeon.  This time he spared Sonja from watch duty.

 

“Do you mind camping outside tonight, Gomar?” Minghis asked.

 

“No, lawd,” Gomar agreed.  There would be more room in the yurt without the large twoll.  The six of them settled in for the night with Dalia and Kherlen standing the first watch.

 

“Lord?” he heard Sonja call softly from behind him.

 

“Yes, Sonja?”

 

“Might I share my cloak with you?” she asked.  “It is not as cold as last night, but it is still cold.”

 

Minghis rolled onto his back and looked in the direction of her voice.  He could see nothing in the darkness of the yurt, but he could remember the beauty of her face beneath her helm.

 

“Yes,” he agreed.  He felt her slide under his cloak beside him and draw her own cloak over the two of them.  As she slid her leg over him with only their small clothes between them, he had to agree this was much warmer.  For the first time he wished he had brought one of the ancient powerballs from the ruin, but none of them would likely have survived being removed.

 

“Sleep well, lord,” she whispered. Not likely.

 

“You too,” he said.

* * *

 

He was surprised before dawn by Lawrence’s gentle tap against the sole of his foot.  Apparently he had been able to sleep after all.  Quite soundly, in fact.

 

“Dawn approaches, lord,” Lawrence told him.

 

“I am awake,” Minghis assured his stabber.  Lawrence left the yurt and, in the short time the flap was open, Minghis could see that the others had already ventured outside.  He felt Sonja snuggle in against him.

 

“It seems we have the yurt to ourselves for a little while,” she whispered to him.  Indeed they did.

 

The first light of pre-dawn was lightening the sky when they stepped out of the yurt. Minghis watched the sky with dread, waiting for his purse to lighten as well. He felt the total of his purse drop just before the sun peeked over the grassy hills. Their rations were the same as yesterday, except for Gomar.  He and the stabbers received bowls of porridge again, but another ox haunch popped for Gomar.  He had not eaten enough yesterday to fully reduce his upkeep. Minghis’ purse no longer contained enough for all of their upkeep, even if they did find enough food to reduce their upkeep this turn.

 

With a heavy heart he selected Gomar as the first to disband the next morning.  It was either the twoll or all of the rest of his tribe.  Then he arranged the order of disbandment from weakest to strongest, except for Sonja.  Her he set for last.  He silently cursed the Titans for bringing him to this point.

 

Once they had eaten their rations, Minghis ordered the camp struck.  He walked over to where Gomar was unlacing the felt cover from the lattice work of the yurt.

 

“Gomar,” he said quietly,  “I need to speak with you.”

 

“Lawd?”

 

“I no longer have enough in my purse for all of our upkeep,” he told the twoll.

 

“Will…I disband, lawd?”

 

“It is either you, or everyone else,” Minghis explained.  Gomar looked around at the rest of the tribe getting ready for the turn’s march.  His gaze lingered on Sonja for a moment.

 

“Me first, then,” he agreed.

 

“I am sorry, my friend,” he told the twoll.  “I have failed you.”

 

“No, lawd,” Gomar said.  “I would have croaked the next turn.  I attacked because I thought you were the same who croaked my first tribe.  I wanted to take you with me before I croaked.  You gave me three more turns – the three best turns.”

 

“Did you croak those who killed your brethren?” Minghis asked.  Gomar straightened his shoulders in pride and Minghis saw a fire in his eyes.

 

“Yes, lawd,” Gomar said proudly.  “I croaked three wounded stabbers and their warlord.”  That certainly explained how the twoll had leveled before Minghis and his stabbers had encountered him.

 

“Then, if you do disband at dawn, I hope to see you again if I make it to the City of Heroes,” Minghis said.

 

“You will, lawd,” Gomar said.  “And I will have your yurt ready, for you and the lady.”

 

“Thank you,” Minghis said.  “Now finish taking down the yurt.  We need to move out.  We have a miracle to find.”

 

“Yes, lawd!”

 

After two more hexes, the hills levelled out onto a grassy plain.  The sun had almost climbed to noon and the plain was downright hot.  They surprised a covey of veepquail, but Minghis’ javelin flew harmlessly past them as they took to the air.  Perhaps the Titans were punishing him for his silent blasphemies.

 

A spring gurgled from the base of one of the last hills and fed a small creek which flowed out onto the plain.  The grass along the sides of the creek was lush and green.  If they were to find food or game, the creek would be their best bet.  Minghis ordered his men down into the creekbed.  It would make them less visible and they would have the best chance of finding berries, or perhaps even fish.

 

Halfway through the second plains hex, Minghis’ strategy paid off.  He, Kherlen and Sonja hid in the tall grass of the plain and examined the small elf village near the creek.  Minghis could hardly believe their good fortune.  Had the elves been the natural allies of a side, the interruption of their turn by the arrival of his tribe in this hex would have alerted the elves to their presence.  Since both the Mango tribe and the elves were barbarian, however, they shared the same turn.

 

 The males were tall and wore strange blue trousers with a panel which covered their torsos. Straps from the upper part of the garment went over their shoulders to hold it up.  Over this they wore long white coats trimmed with fox fur and broad brimmed white hats.  Minghis, however, was much more interested in the gold chains they wore around their necks.  Those necklaces had to be worth at least twenty shmuckers each.

 

Kherlen, on the other hand, seemed more interested in the females.  They wore extremely short pants and tops which barely covered anything.  Minghis could not figure out how they managed to walk on the tall spiky heels of their shoes.

 

“Ho elves,” he said.  The males and females both worked tending to the gardens of their village. There looked to be enough food here to feed his tribe for many turns.  Add to that the shmuckers they would gain from the gold and there was no choice – no choice at all.

 

“Six men,” Kherlen whispered.  “Nine women. It will not be easy.”

 

“What has ever been easy for us?” Minghis asked.  “Besides, do you want to live forever, or croak in battle?”

 

“Battle, lord,” Sonja answered.

 

He silently ordered Gomar to follow the creek east of the village.  His stabbers, except for Kherlen and Sonja, he ordered to the west of the village.  He, Kherlen and Sonja crept slowly through the tall grass toward the village from the south.  Minghis carried all of his javelins but one in his shield hand.

 

As soon as they were in javelin range, Minghis stood and hurled his first javelin along with a silent order to attack.  Kherlen and Sonja charged forward, screaming a vicious battle cry.  From the west he heard similar battle cries from his charging troops.  Gomar was not to be heard, as Minghis had commanded.

 

“Bro’s before Ho’s!” Minghis shouted, clarifying his attack orders as he watched his first javelin strike a bro in the shoulder just before Sonja’s blade sliced into his abdomen, croaking him.  Minghis’ second javelin was already in flight as the five stabbers to the west reached the village.

 

As he had expected, the panicked ho elves fled for the cover of the creek.  Minghis ordered Gomar to attack as he hurled another javelin into the fray.  With a truly fearsome roar, the twoll emerged from the tall grass of the creek bank and caught a fleeing bro with his massive club, hurling him through the air and halting the others in their tracks.  As Minghis threw his last javelin he saw Sonja engage another bro.  Minghis drew his own blade and charged into the battle himself.

 

It took only moments after that to defeat the remaining ho elves.  All of the bro’s had been croaked as had two of the ho’s.  The surviving ho’s had been taken prisoner.  Minghis, Sonja and Kherlen had leveled.  Thank the Titans, Gomar had not.  Minghis’ purse would not have been able to deal with that increase in upkeep.

 

Unfortunately, the Mango tribe had lost one of their own in the battle.  Minghis knelt beside the body of Tangent.  Tangent had croaked one of the bro’s before a ho had caught him with a pitchfork in the side.  His death was not a complete surprise.  He had always been easily distracted.

 

“I will see you in the City of Heroes, my brother,” Minghis said.

 

“Strip the bodies,” Minghis ordered.  “All of the bodies.  Carry Tangent out in the grass and place the two dead ho’s with him.  He can take them with him to the City of Heroes as his prize.  I don’t care what you do with the bro’s.”

 

“Yes, lord,” his men agreed.

 

Minghis took the six gold chains he had taken from the bodies of the bro’s.  One by one, he converted them into shmuckers, adding one hundred and eighty shmuckers to his purse.  With their current upkeep and what he already had in his purse, that should provide them with five turns of upkeep, provided they had enough food for those five turns.  They would easily have that much food if they could find a way to carry it.

 

Minghis walked over to where Gomar was picking through the pile of loot.

 

“Gomar, we need something so that each of us can carry six turns of food,” Minghis told him.  “Can you make us something out of all of this?”

 

Gomar looked around at the pile of clothing, pitchforks and weapons.  He thought for a long while before answering.

 

“Yes, lawd,” he said.  “Will take all night.”

 

“Do it,” Minghis commanded.  “You can rest tomorrow night.”

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

Throughout the village his men were dragging the captured ho elves into huts.  Dalia and Sonja sat by the village’s firepit.  Sonja got up and walked over to where Minghis was looking over a couple of manacled ho’s.

 

“The men are certainly enjoying themselves,” Sonja said.  She had removed her helmet and Minghis could see that she had let down the long red hair that she hid beneath it.

 

“Would you deny them the spoils of their victory?” Minghis asked.

 

“Of course not,” Sonja replied.  “But you left none for me or Dalia.”

 

Minghis laughed, imagining Sonja, or the more petite Dalia, having their way with the bro’s.

 

“I guess you will have to claim something else,” Minghis told her.

 

“Very well,” Sonja agreed.  “I claim you.”

 

Minghis looked at her sharply and saw the mischievous glint in her eye.  His expression softened into a smile.

 

“Is that so?” he said.

 

“Yes,” she replied.

 

“Well, I suppose it is the least I could do, considering.”

 

“Yes, it is,” Sonja agreed.  “Now leave these worthless ho’s and come with me.”

 

“I am your humble prisoner, my lady.”

 

“Now there’s an interesting thought,” Sonja said, taking him by the hand to lead him to one of the unclaimed huts.

 

“Gomar!” Minghis called.  Gomar looked up from his pile.  “Wake me two hours before dawn.”

 

“Yes, lawd!” Gomar replied.

 

“What makes you think you are getting any sleep tonight, prisoner?” Sonja asked him.

 

* * *

 

Despite her threats, they did indeed get some sleep before dawn.  Gomar’s heavy knock on the door of the hut woke him abruptly.

 

“Time to get up, lawd,” Gomar called through the door.

 

“I am awake, Gomar,” Minghis called back, climbing out of bed.

 

“Why so early?” Sonja complained.  For a moment Minghis was completely distracted by the sight of her muscular body stretching on the fleece mattress of the cot in the hut.

 

“We have much to do before dawn,” Minghis replied, pulling his mind back to matters at hand.  “Get up and prepare for the march.”

 

“Yes, lord,” Sonja said, climbing quickly from the bed.  Once again, he was the warlord and she the subordinate.

 

As he dressed himself, Minghis mentally sent the same order he had given Sonja to the rest of his stack.  Beside him, Sonja dressed quickly as well.

 

“What are your plans, my lord?” she asked.

 

“We need to get rid of the ho’s before dawn,” he told her.  “I refuse to pay their upkeep when I need it for my tribe.”

 

“It shouldn’t take too long to kill them all,” Sonja said.  Minghis smiled. She was wonderfully direct.

 

“We’re not going to kill them,” he told her.  “Meet me outside.”

 

Kherlen was already waiting outside in full armor and ready for the march, talking to Gomar.  The huge twoll looked tired, but happy.  Their breath frosted in the predawn air.  It seemed curious to Minghis that the night was so cold after the heat of the day.

 

“Good morning, lawd,” Gomar said as Minghis approached them.

 

“Yes, it is,” Minghis agreed.  “This raid has paid our upkeep for several turns.”

 

“Golly,” Gomar replied.

 

Things had changed much since last night.  What was left of Gomar’s pile had been loaded into the one cart in the village along with several barrels of water.  Seven large bags, and one truly enormous bag laid on the ground.  Gomar’s bag was attached to some kind of wooden frame.  At the bottom of each bag was a rolled up fleece filled…thing.

 

“What are these, Gomar?” Minghis asked.

 

“Bedrolls, lawd,” Gomar replied.

 

“You made bedrolls for all of us?” Minghis asked, incredulously.

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

“Gomar, you are amazing.”

 

“Thank you, lawd.”

 

“Is the food ready?” Minghis asked.

 

“Almost, lawd.”

 

Minghis walked over to where a large cauldron boiled over the village’s fire pit.  Not for the first time he wondered where the elves had gotten such a thing.  Had the village popped with the elves?  Or had they traded with someone for it?  Sonja had interrupted him before he could interrogate any of the ho’s last night, so those questions would have to go unanswered.

 

The smell from the cauldron was very appetizing, but this food was not for them.  Kherlen walked up beside him.

 

“May I speak, Light of the Dawn?” Kherlen asked.

 

“You never need my permission to speak, Kherlen,” Minghis told him.  “You are the best of my men.”

 

“This has truly been the best night of our lives,” Kherlen told him.  “I am glad that I have popped to serve such a great warrior.”

 

Minghis smiled and placed his hand on Kherlen’s shoulder.

 

“Yes,” he agreed.  “This is what is best in life.  To drive your enemies before you, see them fall, take all that they have and hear the lamentations of their women.”

 

Kherlen laughed – a deep, menacing sound.

 

“Indeed,” he agreed.

 

By now the rest of the tribe had finished preparing for the march and had assembled around the cauldron.

 

“Gather all the ho’s and bring them here,” Minghis ordered.  “Then take up your packs and prepare to march.”

 

All of the captured ho’s were led in chains to the village center where Minghis ordered them to sit.  He had not allowed any of them to eat last night and several were stealing hungry glances at the steaming cauldron.

 

“Prepare to march,” Minghis ordered.  His men looked confused.  It was still an hour before dawn after all, but they did not question him.  The packs had straps which fit over their shoulders and belts which tied about their waists.  They were very heavy.

 

Minghis led his men past the edge of the village, about a hundred feet from the village center.  Then he ordered them to halt and turned to face the village.

 

“Ho elves!” he shouted.  “We thank you for all of your wonderful gifts and, most especially, for your warm hospitality.  Now we must take our leave of you, but we will cherish our memories of you forever.  You are hereby freed.”

 

The chains and manacles holding the ho elves in thrall evaporated like so much smoke and the elves leapt to their feet, newly popped pitchforks, scythes and hoes in their hands.  They took a few steps toward their tormentors and Minghis ordered his stack to prepare for battle.  Swords were drawn and shields were raised.

 

“Lord?” Sonja asked in the absence of further orders.

 

“Stand fast,” Minghis ordered.

 

The ho elves ceased their advance and looked back at the steaming cookpot.  If they wanted to survive the dawn, it would be necessary for them to spend all of their time from now to dawn eating.  Minghis smiled as, almost in unison, they dropped their tools and rushed for the cookpot.

 

“Move out to the north,” he commanded.  “I want to be at the hex boundary by dawn.”  Gomar tossed his club into the cart and picked up the yoke rails, one in each hand.  He followed behind as they marched north.  Once in the next hex they would turn northeast and continue their march.

 

“How did you know that would work?” Sonja asked him.

 

“They are not warriors,” Minghis explained.  “For them survival is more important than vengeance.”

 

Sonja snorted derisively.  Minghis smiled.  She was most definitely a warrior.  She had demonstrated that to his satisfaction repeatedly on the field and again in the hut they had shared last night.

 

“Why did you let them live?” she asked after a few more moments.

 

“For the same reason you do not wipe out an entire herd of sheep,” Minghis explained.  “So they may pop more for you to hunt later.”

 

Sonja laughed aloud at that, no doubt imagining the ho elves as sheep.

 

As dawn broke and their rations popped, Minghis ordered his tribe across the hex boundary.

 

* * *

 

They were adrift in a vast sea of grass.  The creek had dried away to nothing not long after leaving the ho elves and now they had only the sun and the hex boundaries by which to chart their course.  Minghis kept them heading to the northeast, away from the mountains in which they had popped.

 

Today, two turns after their battle at the village, Minghis, Kherlen and Sonja lay on their bellies in the tall grass looking down at the small water hole before them.  A small herd of hobby horses had gathered around the muddy pool, six in all.  They were more pony than horse, but their forelegs were just as long as any full horse.  This gave them good vision over the tall grass, but their slanted backs would make for difficult riding.

 

Minghis began to crawl backwards away from the water hole.  Sonja and Kherlen followed.  Once they were far enough away from the herd, Minghis rose to his feet and approached the rest of his tribe.

 

“We need to capture two of those hobby horses,” Minghis told them.  “Gomar, can you make me a net or something?”

 

Gomar looked through his cart to see what he had available.

 

“No net, lawd,” he said.  “Not enough rope.”

 

“Anything?”

 

“Can catch one,” he said.  “Make lasso.”

 

“Do it,” Minghis ordered.  As Gomar worked, he examined the cart.  One hobby horse would not be enough to pull it – it would cut the animal’s move in half, which would even be below Dalia’s move of seven.  However, if they captured one and tamed it, perhaps Gomar could make something that would allow Dalia to ride the awkward beast.  She was not a knight, so she would apply a movement penalty to the horse, but it would still raise her move up with the rest of the tribe.  Higher, actually.

 

Soon, the lasso was ready and Minghis examined the device.  A large loop at one end had been stiffened with sinew.  Minghis had only to throw this over the head of one of the horses and they would be able to capture the animal.  Only.

 

True, he had the archery special, but only with javelins.  His penalty for this would not be insurmountable, but he would get only one attempt.  If he missed and the horses bolted, they would not get another opportunity.

 

Then I had best not miss, he thought.

 

Again, Minghis, Kherlen and Sonja crawled through the grass toward the herd.  They had drunk their fill and were now feasting on the lush green grass around the water hole.  One was a little apart from the rest of the herd.  Minghis moved toward the southeast of the herd, still crawling.  A shift in the wind could end this hunt before it truly began.

 

The wind held steady and Minghis rose to his feet and began swinging the lasso over his head.  He felt the wind on his face, watched the bend of the grass, gauging his throw.  Finally he could wait no longer.

 

Even as he threw the lasso, he knew it would miss and land on the animal’s back.  He had failed.  Then the lead stallion spied him and whinnied an alarm to the herd.  Minghis’ target raised its head at the sound of the alarm and the loop of the lasso fell neatly over its head.

 

Minghis quickly hauled back on the rope, tightening the loop around the animal’s neck.

 

“To me!” he shouted as the mare began to fight the rope.  Sonja and Kherlen grabbed the rope just before the mare could pull him from his feet.  Even with the three of them on the rope, the beast threatened to dislodge their footing.  Minghis glanced over to see the rest of the herd stampeding away from them.

 

Except for the stallion.  To Minghis’ surprise, the stallion charged straight for him, snorting angrily.  If he let go of the rope to defend himself, the mare could very well escape them.  If he did not…

 

Gomar burst from the tall grass and scooped the charging animal up in his arms.  The stallion screamed in fear and delivered a vicious kick to Gomar’s ribs, breaking his grip on the animal.  Gomar fell to the ground with a cry of pain just as the rest of the tribe arrived to assist with the mare.

 

Minghis released the rope and ran to where Gomar had fallen.  He knew the twoll had not croaked, but that was all.  Gomar lay on the ground clutching his chest where the stallion had kicked him.

 

“Sorry, lawd,” he said as Minghis ran up to him.  “It got away.”

 

“That’s all right,” Minghis assured him.  “Can you stand?”

 

“Yes, lawd.”

 

Thank the Titans that Gomar had not been incapacitated.  In fact, his injury was not even severe enough to have cost him any move.  That kick would have killed Minghis or any of his stabbers.   Gomar would no longer be able to pull the cart today, however.  Now they had no choice but to tame this mare and hitch her to the wagon.

 

Minghis looked back to where is stabbers fought to control the mare.  She was tiring.  Soon she would be captured and Minghis could approach her.  Of the rest of the herd, there was no sign.

 

An angry whinny in the distance led his gaze back to the stallion, about a hundred feet from them.  The animal snorted, tossed its head and stamped its hooves in anger and frustration.  Minghis smiled.  It was a brave beast, but it knew it was outnumbered.

 

“She is mine now!” Minghis called to the stallion which earned him another bout of angry snorts and stomping.  If this had been a man, he would have been shouting his defiance at the entire tribe.  A noble beast.  Minghis could not help but admire it.

 

The mare had collapsed, surrendering to her captors.  Minghis took the pack from his back and pulled out a handful of raw carrots before walking up to her.  The mare whinned as he approached.

 

“It’s all right,” Minghis said to her quietly.  “Do you want a carrot?  A nice, fresh carrot?  Hm?”

 

He knelt down and laid the bundle of carrots beside him, offering one to the mare.  She snapped at his hand at first but then she caught the smell of the carrot.  He stroked her neck gently as he again offered her the carrot.  She took it from him timidly and ate it.  He offered her another.

 

By the sixth carrot, she had been tamed.  Minghis ordered her to her feet and loosened the rope around her neck before feeding her a seventh.

 

“Good girl,” he said.  The mare still had her full move of twelve.  The cart would reduce that to six, but that was still more move than the rest of them had left.

 

“Good girl,” Minghis said again.  “Gomar, can you hitch her to the wagon?”

 

“Yes, lawd,” Gomar replied breathlessly.  That kick had taken the wind from him.  Minghis scanned the horizon as Gomar led the newly tamed mare away.  When his gaze found the stallion it again snorted its defiance at him.

 

“Dalia, you will drive the wagon,” Minghis ordered.

 

“Yes lord,” she agreed.

 

* * *

 

They made camp one hex further to the northeast than they would have if they had not tamed the horse.  Tomorrow would be another story, however.  With only the one horse, the cart would actually slow them down.  Minghis was considering harvesting the horse for food before dawn to avoid paying its upkeep.

 

He sat outside with his back to the fire pit watching Gomar sleep.  The twoll’s sleep was restless because of the pain where the stallion had kicked him.  Behind him Sonja and Kherlen stood the first watch.  The rest of the stabbers slept inside the yurt dreaming of what the Titans only knew.

 

He heard the whicker of a horse in the distance.  Too far to be the mare tethered to the wagon.  Minghis’ gaze snapped to the horizon.  There, in the darkness.  Had that been movement?  Was an enemy stalking them?  Minghis did not think so – he believed he knew what the source of that sound had been.

 

Minghis rose to his feet and quietly slipped into the yurt, leaving the flap open long enough to retrieve Sonja’s pack.  He brought it out into the night and opened it.

 

“I’m taking your carrots,” he told her.

 

“Of course, lord,” she replied in a tone that spoke more meaning than her words alone.

 

“I think our friend the stallion has followed us,” he explained.

 

“Ah!”

 

“Wait here,” he commanded.

 

Minghis jogged out into the tall grass around the campsite in the direction from which he had seen movement.  About fifty feet from the camp he stopped, both to let his eyes adjust to the darkness and to listen for more sounds.  After a few minutes he heard a soft snort ahead of him to the right.  This time he could definitely see movement from that direction.  He crouched down below the height of the grass and crept forward.

 

The moon was almost new, shedding almost no light on the sea of grass.  But there, ahead of him in the night, was the stallion.  It must have followed them for the last four hexes they had travelled.

 

Was she your mate? he wondered.  Or are you like me?  The warlord of your little herd, responsible for their protection?

 

He crept forward a few more feet.  A shift in the wind carried his scent to the stallion and it froze, looking in his direction.  Minghis slowly raised his hand with the carrots in the air, letting the wind carry that scent as well.  The horse’s ears twitched forward and it took a step toward him.

 

That’s right, Minghis thought.  Come get the tasty carrots.

 

The stallion took another step, then another.  Finally, the smell of man in its nostrils frightened it more than the smell of carrots enticed it.  It stopped and took a pace back, pawing nervously at the ground.

 

“It’s all right,” Minghis said quietly, taking a step forward.  “I’m not going to hurt you…”

 

But the horse had already bolted away from him.  Minghis jogged after it, giving up all pretense of stealth.  The horse stopped about fifty feet from him and turned to face him in the darkness.

 

“It’s all right,” Minghis said again, slowing to a stop before again taking careful steps toward the horse.  “Want a carrot?  Smell the carrots?”

 

Apparently at that moment the stallion realized that Minghis was alone.  The animal snorted at him and charged.  Minghis laughed.

 

“Oh, yes,” he said.  “You are a warrior!”

 

When the horse was about six feet from him, Minghis ran off to the right.  The stallion could not turn fast enough to trample him and charged past him.

 

“You’re not going to get the carrots that way!” Minghis called after the animal.  The stallion stopped about twenty feet from him and turned to face him again.  Minghis renewed his slow advance.

 

“Come on, boy,” he said calmly.  “Nice crunchy carrots, just for you.  No need to fight.”

 

The horse trotted away from him another ten feet or so but Minghis kept advancing.  The stallion reared up on its hind legs and stamped the ground, tossing its head and snorting.

 

“That’s right,” Minghis said calmly.  “You are a strong, valiant beast.  I respect that.”

 

The horse ran off to his right without increasing the distance between them.  Minghis turned to advance on it.  Soon he was within reach of the animal.  The stallion snapped at his hand as Minghis offered the first carrot.

 

“Calm down, boy,” Minghis said quietly.  “No one is going to hurt you.  Here, have a carrot.”

 

It took only five carrots to tame the stallion, but Minghis fed it a sixth anyway.  Then he knotted his fingers into the animal’s mane and climbed onto its sloping back, holding on tightly with his knees and wrapping his arms around the stallion’s neck.

 

“Good boy,” Minghis whispered in the stallion’s ear.  “Now let’s go back to camp.”

 

Lawrence and Moe had joined Sonja and Kherlen on watch by the time he rode back into camp.  The four stabbers cheered loudly, waking Gomar and their fellows in the yurt.

 

“Lawd, you found it!” Gomar exclaimed.

 

“And tamed it,” Minghis replied.  “Tether him next to his mate, Gomar.  Then go back to bed.”

 

“Yes, lawd!”

 

“Well done, lord,” Sonja told him when he walked back to the fire pit.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” Minghis asked, jokingly.

 

“Not when my lord is away in the night,” she said with no trace of humor in her reply.

 

“Well, I am back now,” he said.

 

“Yes you are,” she agreed.  “Let us go to bed, oh Master of Horses.”

 

Minghis smiled.  Another title.  He would allow it.

 

* * *

 

They had continued northeast for another two turns.  The only game they encountered were veepquail, of which Minghis bagged two with his javelins, and ring-tailed pheasants which flew too high for his javelins to reach.  The latter was most unfortunate, for the gold rings on their tails would have added a few shmuckers to his purse.  Minghis was beginning to believe that, beyond the mountains, the world was nothing but an endless sea of grass, even though he knew that was not the case.  His mind contained tactical knowledge of forest and jungle hexes, lake and sea hexes, desert hexes, plains hexes, like those through which they now travelled, and even swamp hexes.

 

Now, however, what preoccupied his mind were the dwindling contents of his purse.  He had had enough upkeep for all of them for today but not tomorrow.  Even the stabbers were noticing how low their supplies were getting.  They still had food, but they would disband from lack of upkeep now that the shmuckers in his purse had fallen too low to support them.  What would he say to the Titans when they asked why he had allowed his tribe to starve to death?

 

He would curse the Titans for popping them only to croak, is what he would say to their faces before they cast him into Hellabad.  He glanced over toward Sonja and she gave him a sad smile.  She alone had been told just how dire their situation truly was.  At least this time he had not been forced to choose who would disband first.

 

With the dawn, all of them would cease to be.  Would books pop in the libraries of the cities of Erf about the history of the Mango tribe?  What would they say?  Would they tell how Minghis had fought with all that he knew to save his people?  Or would the books simply say that the tribe had survived for nine turns and fought no major battles?  Minghis would rather that no books about them were ever popped than to be remembered that way.

 

Suddenly, without warning, they emerged from the sea of grass onto a cleared path running to the northwest and southeast.  Minghis felt their movement cost drop by half.  They had stumbled onto a road.  Was this a blessing or just another cruel jest?

 

Minghis stood and looked up and down the road.  Which way should they go?  Did it matter? Would one direction save them?  Or would they vanish with the dawn no matter which way they went?

 

He looked down at the road itself.  The stones of the road were worn and cracked and the grass of the plains had begun to force them apart.  This road was ancient and uncared for.

 

“Which way should we go, lord?” Kherlen asked.

 

“I am not certain…” Minghis began.  Something in the sky to the southeast caught his gaze.  A bird – perhaps a pheasant?

 

As the bird grew closer Minghis realized that it was no mere pheasant.  It was much, much too large for that.

 

“Warhawk!” Minghis shouted, pulling all four javelins from his case.  Three he placed in his shield hand and one he readied to throw.

 

“Protect the horses!” he commanded.  “Protect yourselves!”

 

As the warhawk entered their hex it began to circle them to the south.  Minghis watched as the vicious bird circled them.  Soon…soon, it would dive to attack them.

 

But it never did.  Instead, once it was northwest of them, it turned and continued along the road to the northwest.  Minghis watched in disbelief as the massive hawk disappeared into the distance.

 

“Why did it not attack, lord?” Sonja asked.

 

“I…do not know,” Minghis replied quietly.  His limited knowledge of the animal told him that warhawks were vicious and implacable – that they would attack on sight even if they did not need food.  They loved nothing more than combat and death.  Minghis continued to stare to the northwest.

 

“Which way should we go, lord?” Kherlen asked again.  This time Minghis had an answer for him.

 

“Northwest,” he said.  “This was a sign.  We follow the warhawk to the northwest.”

 

* * *

 

The sun was falling low in the west when they came upon the abandoned capital site.  They had followed the road for six hexes to the northwest since sighting the warhawk and it had led them here.  Minghis had not dared to allow himself to hope that he might be able to save his people, but here stood their salvation – a ruined pile of rubble and earth.  The irony was not lost on him.  He led his people across the hex boundary into the capital site.

 

Almost immediately, he knew what to do.  At his merest command, he could claim this site and raise a mighty city here.  He had to name the city, name the side and choose his livery.  The sun slipped lower in the sky.  Soon their turn would end and he would no longer be able to claim this city.  He closed his eyes and issued the command.

 

There was a sound like a massive wind chime followed by a blast of trumpets.  Minghis opened his eyes as enormous, blinding, magical sparkles filled his vision.  And then Mango City of Mangolia stood laid out before him.  It was a level one city, just a wooden palisade for an outer wall with a low stone wall surrounding the courtyard.  Yurts hugged the interior of the outer wall and huts, similar to those of the ho elves, surrounded the walls of the courtyard.  The Tower was six floors tall and square with eaves at each floor.  Banners flew from the Tower and from the wooden towers of the outer wall.  They showed a warhawk diving with its talons extended.

 

Minghis’ new city could pop archers, stabbers, twolls and hobby horses.  Somehow he knew that his actions until now had defined the nature of his side.  His city had popped with four stacks of stabbers and four stacks of archers, all of the Mango tribe.  He silently ordered the city to begin producing stabbers.  The city would produce enough income to support all of his tribe, and more, with ease.

 

The newest members of his tribe stood before him, all sixty-four of them.  There was roughly an even mix of men and women.  More men than women among the stabbers and more women than men among the archers.

 

Minghis could have known all of this with his eyes closed.  His newly acquired ruler senses told him the location of every unit beneath his rule.  He could command any or all of them with nothing more than a thought.  And if any of them displeased him, he could end their existence with nothing more than a command.  He mentally ordered his new subjects to kneel and they did so in unison.

 

“Gaw-lee,” he heard Gomar whisper beside him in awe.

 

They could live here forever, and every unit in this city would be his slave, subject to his every whim.  Minghis felt the bile rise in his throat at the very thought.  He glared up into the night sky as the sun settled below the horizon.

 

“I reject this fate,” he told the Titans.

 

Part 1 of 16 in The Horde

Comments

  • HighJumper

    Great beginning. Good mesh of canon and new ideas. Deciding how to pronounce Mango and Mangolia is a fun thought experiment. I'm leaning toward Mawn-go to match the Side, although sticking with the fruit and pronouncing the Side Main-goalie-uh is also amusing.

    Any plans to include archer capable riders? Hobby horses don't seem favorable to that connection, but I'm sure the Horde is going to be different than the Stupidworld raiders they are so cunningly based on, yet different from. Keep it up!

  • ThousandCats

    niiiiiiiice

  • falcore51

    great start

  • SomeGuy411 (Tipped by 1 person!)

    Ming the merciless meets Genghis Khan meets Conan? Do not mess with that warlord. How long before they fabricate stirruped saddled with heeled shoes to better stand in while shooting, I wonder?

    Looking forward to where this is going. Could probably spend 10 minutes just picking puns out. The Larry, Curly, Moe one at the start was nicely hidden in plain sight, and I had to look a few times KNOWING it had to be there to figure it out

    I greatly anticipate the next chapter, would that I had shmuckers to tip you

  • ArkenSaw

    Thanks for the great comments and the tips. I'm glad you're enjoying the story. :)

  • tadthornhill

    Nice work, here's a schmucker from me and on for Someguy411.

  • DunkelMentat

     Siiiiick.

  • paddywagon man

    Wasn't Genghis a title? He was born Temujin if I recall correctly. 

     

    Love the idea though, and I look forward to seeing how this goes down. Have a Shmucker!