Daughter of the Windswept Hills
Part Nine – First Blood
The first riders out of Abas Sul met them short of the walls of the small city, a dozen men on wiry horses. They were alike in appearance, in spiked helms, and armour of silks and irons. Curved scimitars were at their sides, lances and small shields in hand and from their saddles hung quivers of arrows, as well as short composite horsebows. The riders took one look at the oncoming Aedring and drove their lances into the ground. They drew their horsebows and strung arrows to them. Riding in closer to the Aedring, they wheeled about at the last moment, sending arrows flickering through the air to rain down upon the body of the hillsmen. Few arrows there were, but they sent flight after flight, all the while guiding their horses with their legs to keep them at range. The arrows dropped into the mass of men and women, here and there defeating shield and armour to slay a man, but few they were in comparison to those they faced, some of whom carried bows of their own.
The Aedring sent their arrows back towards the riders, thought their bows lacked the strength and range of those carried by the riders, for they were not Ishmarites, but their desert cousins, the Hashalites, experts with horse and bow and nearly as untamed and wild as the Aedring. Yet the arrows were not without success against them, and rained down in numbers. First one man fell, then another, feathered shafts protruding from them. When a fourth had fallen, the remaining men wheeled about one last time, riding away. They snatched up their lances as they went, headed back for Abas Sul.
On came the hordes of the Aedring, towards the city, an inexorable tide that could not be stopped. All that stood before it would be swept away. As the riders streamed back into Abas Sul, the gates were shut behind them. Horns sounded up and down the length of it, sounding warning and calling men to arms. Yet not the entirety of the city lay secure within the walls, for it had spilled out beyond that protection as the city grew, and into the ramshackle maze of houses came the Aedring. Not all had been able to make the safety of the city, and among the houses battles were fought and blood spilled. Buildings were set to the torch and soon the city was ringed with an inferno of flames and smoke.
Those who would not fight streamed away from the flames, hounded by grim Aedring warriors, left to flee out onto the plains. All manner of loot they took from the city before it had caught aflame, anything of value they could find. Money, ale and wine, carpets and cookware, bags of grain and vegetables, dried meats and cheeses, all that and more they took and piled before the feet of Hraega.
And as the fires raged and the pillars of smoke billowed high into the sky, Hraega stood on the banks of Far’hadal and watched it all and planned. It took a long time for the fires to burn out, but once the outer town had been reduced to smouldering ashes, he sent forth a herald to speak with the defenders.
“This is what Hraega of the Aedring says to you,” the herald called out in a loud, thunderous voice. “You have wronged us by your actions, and the devices of your sheik, Mashraf. Therefore your city and all that it contains is forfeit to us. Surrender now and all who are within shall be spared, but for the sheik. Any who resist will be put to the sword and the city reduced to rubble.”
But the herald was met with naught but jeers, and arrows, for some upon the wall were without honour. They saw that the walls stood strong and tall, and those upon it were confident that it could hold, as the Aedring had no weapons of war to siege them with. Their actions the Aedring remembered, and it was held against them as further proof of their sins.
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