The Oasis of Broken Bones
Part Nine – Blades in the Moonlight
The hooves of horses thrummed through the night, kicking up clouds of dust as the Hashalite band followed Halakir down from the hills, towards the deserts below. Ahead, they could see the gleam of moonlight reflecting off the dust kicked up by the company of guards who had departed the compound previous to them. The guards moved at a sedate pace, allowing the Hashalites to close with them.
Halakir stood up tall in his saddle and slashed his scimitar in the air above him. The whistling of the scimitar was accompanied by a terrible ululating warcry that echoed through the hills. “Take them, O Sons of the Sands!”
The guards wheeled their horses about at the thunder of hooves and the cry, their eyes widening as they watched the Hashalites come sweeping down from the hills above. Too late were they to react, only starting to ready their shields and weapons as arrows flashed through the dark, guided home by the keen eyes and wiry arms of the desert men. Few there were to equal the Hashalites with bow and horse, matched only by the riders of the steppes with whom they had a fierce rivalry. Riders tumbled as the arrows sleeted unerringly to their mark, sliding from saddles to crash to the ground.
Then the two bands slammed together with reckless ferocity.
The sound of the collision rent the night’s air as horses screamed and reared while men cried out, hacking at each other with savage fury. Steel rang and sparks danced as weapons clashed together, glowing with a silvery sheen from the moon above. All was chaos in the dust and the dim light of the moon. Men were thrown down from their horses, brought low by flashing blades and spears that struck like vipers.
The guards, mercenaries loyal to little more than the coin they received, unprepared for such an assault, proved little match for the desert warriors, men born and bred for battle, and with long experience with raids and plunder. The first charge of the Hashalites tore through the guards ranks, scattering them in their wake. Riders split off in all directions, the battle breaking apart into a series of individual running duels beneath the shimmering moon, of guards racing for safety while pursued by the Hashalites on their tough desert horses. Blades sung and danced as they exchanged blows as they rode.
Few of the guard made it through and away to safety, fleeing into the night and the deserts, and an uncertain fate. With them gone, the survivors of Halakir’s band descended upon the dead, stripping them of any values with swift, practised hands. Free running horses were rounded up and brought back to the band.
Halakir gazed ahead, to where the oasis awaited, a dark, leprous mass clinging low to the ground. A chill settled upon him at the sight of it, for he had been raised on the old tales of the place, of the all devouring beast that lurked there for the unwary. It remained a place of death and dread, more so in the long hours of the night, and those thoughts warred with his duty to his oaths.
“Leave our dead for now,” he ordered. “We will return for them later.”
So saying, he urged his horse forward, headed down to the darkness that waited expectantly for them.
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