by The Sage
Poyran shifted his weight in his saddle as his heavy crodlu raised its head towards the sky to cry out its anguished suffering under the near midday crimson sun. He patted the rough reptilian skin of his faithful mounts neck as he whispered soothing words to calm his mount. After wiping away the salt that was caked onto his parched lips, Poyran shaded his eyes and looked out over his tribe and their herd of crodlu as they made their way to the shade of Samroan's Rock where they would wait out the hottest part of the day.
They were near the end of their eight day march to the newly freed city of Tyr where they planned to make their yearly sale of live stock in exchange for what few suppplies they were unable to make for themselves. Maybe there would be enough ceramics left over for a present or two . . . or maybe even a dagger of Tyrian iron. Poyran shook these thoughts of revelry out of his conciousness clearing his head to pay attention to the surrounding landscape.
While they were less then a half days walk to Dragon Claw Gorge, after which lay the verdant belt upon which the ancient city-state rested, and the land was become more level as they came out of the canyons behind them, there were still plenty of places where someone or something could hide in ambush. Despite the joy and relief of the others which even he felt, there was still plenty of danger about them. And as long as he and his men were alive and between the tribe and the dangers of the desert wastes, it was his job to ensure his people's safety.
Spotting no unknown movement, Poyran turned his attention to the other outriders under his command. Far to his right on the other side of the main body of the tribe Poyran could just make out Frestack, the mighty mount of his friend, Traduk. Poyran loosed the strings of his nearly empty water pouch and drank a few drops of the precious fluid. After moistening his aching vocal chords, he cried out in a high-pitched yelp mimicing that of the silver-skinned rascullin. Traduk replied in kind signalling that everything was clear his way. Olkreyn and Balsmran, the two foreriders likewise replied. Not being able to distinguish whether Ghathryll, who took up the rear, had replied or not among the echoing of his and the other three riders' yelps, Poyran turned round in his saddle to at least make visual contact. Something was just rising into view on the east ridge of the gully out of which they had just come. It could be Sattak, Ghathryll's heavy crodlu, but Poyran just couldn't tell. So he reached into his crodlu hide boot and pulled out the water-blue dyed cloth that was the symbol of his tribe. He waved it back and forth over his head. He sat tensely waiting and watching for the return of his visual signal. Finally after a few moments, his straining eyes caught sight of the tell-tale blue in what could only be Ghathryll's response. Realizing that he had been holding his breath, Poyran gave a sigh of relief. There was no danger in sight and the vangaurd of the tribe was only about ten minutes away from Samroan's Rock already enjoying the comfort of its shade. Then, suddenly, Poyran's relief was shattered by the roar of what could only be a dessert lion . . . and it was close.
Poyran turned forward again in his saddle as he deftly reigned in the leather straps to regain control of his agitated heavy crodlu. His experienced hand strained against the powerfully muscled neck of Armnrock reassuring the mount that its rider was still there and in control. Poyran looked in the direction of the noise desperately searching for the beast that made it hoping against reason that it was not the roar of the male desert lion. Armnrock took a few unsettled steps obviously agitated by what both it and Poyran saw. More than 600 yards ahead and off a little to his left on a butte not more than two men high stood a desert lion.
He was a terrible beast. Scrawny and muscular, its body was covered in a tawny hide of patchy yellow-browns designed to provide cammoflauge against the rocky walls of the desert canyons. He also had the scruffy black mane of the male. Worst of all, wherever the male is somewhere close by lying in ambush is the pride. The much more fierce lionesses, who are the lions mates, make up the rest of the pride. These large predatory cats are particularly feared due to their psionic abilities that allows them to down prey with with coordinated effeciency. They are every herders worst nightmare come true in 500 pounds of flesh-rending claws and throat-tearing fangs.
Poyran had fallen behind the rest of the tribe when he was checking up on his points. He was at least a heartbeat away at his mounts fastest run. Three lionesses which had seemingly appeared from nowhere were infront of him running down the herd of crodlu. Olkreyn and Balmsran had already spurred their heavy crodlus into a full run, but both the tribe and the herd lay between them and the lionesses. Frestack was bolting to the south. It had obviously thrown Traduk and was running in a panic out of the way of the oncoming herd which had also been panicked by the roar of the lion. The herd was moving for the most part as a single body towards the west at a right angle of the tribe most of whom were fleeing in terror to the north towards Samroan's Rock. Thus only Traduk lay in the path of the panicked crodlu. Ghathryll was even further behind than himself.
Poyran took in this whole scene in the same split second that he spurred Armnrock into a full sprint. Poyran tore one of his flint tipped spears from the tethers holding it to the side of the saddle with his right hand as he pulled the reigns with his left arm to vear Armnrock's path towards the rearmost lioness. His heart raced keeping beat with Armnrock's footfalls. It throbbed in his ears drowning out all sound. He knew he was screaming a fierce battle cry only by the strain in his throat from is parched and cracking vocal cords.
Poyran gained on the predator thanks to the speed afforded to the heavy crodlu by its powerfully muscled legs. There are few things that can outrun a crodlu. While his mount had been bred for size and power, thereby sacrifice some in speed, Armnrock is more than capable of outrunning a desert lioness. The desert lionesses are usually only able to pick off the stragglers, the young or elderly, the sick, or those born slower. However, due to the fear-inducing roar of the lion, the herd has become panicked, aiding the lionesses in a more ambitious hunt to take down a full-grown and healthy adult which in its panick has had the misfortune of falling, whether by a misstep or the press of the other panicked adults.
As Armnrock approached the lioness from behind, Poyran braced himself in his stirrups for the impact of spearing the lioness. Poyran aimed his blow for the left front flank just behind the left foreleg which, if it passes between the ribs, will kill the lioness instantly by piercing its heart. The lioness is too cunning and agile for that reacting in less than a heartbeat to the sound of Armnrock's charging footfalls. Poyran is an experienced warrior though, and, responding nearly as quickly, he placed the spear between himself and the oncoming onslaught of the lioness. The spear struck the solid muscle of the creatures left rear flank jarring Poyran nearly knocking him of his saddle. While the blow missed its mark, it was still a mortal wound. The lioness roared in pain and rage as it broke the shaft of spear with on swipe of its mighty paw. Before Poyran could respond or even recover his balance, the lioness was upon him. She mauled his right thigh. Her fierce claws rending the underlying flesh and exposing the bone. Poyran, fighting the bolts of pain and the encroaching blackness at the sides of his vision, fumbled for his bone long sword. Armnrock turned his head back around on his flexible neck snapping its powerful beack at the lionesses flank.
Warded off slightly by Armnrock the lioness let up just enough for Poyran to mack a desperate hack at the creatures right shoulder. The bone blade bit into the flesh of the lioness but sank shallowly before striking bone and stopping. But it was enough to back the lioness off giving Armnrock the oppurtunity to attack. The heavy crodlu lashed out in instinct to protect itself kicking the lioness with the gut sickening crunchh of broken bone. The deadly kick of the heavy crodlu's powerful leg sent the lioness flying a few feet away. The lioness struggled to get up, its back obviously broken, for only a few more heartbeats before it gave into its wounds with a defeated growl. Having no time to stop and bind his wounds, Poyran looked up towards the herd. One of the other lionesses had already downed one of the crodlu and was finishing it off. The other had cut across and was driving the panicked herd back the other direction. It was now headed for the main body of the tribe. The warriors among the tribe helpless to stop an oncoming stampede, the tribe gave over to panic trampling and falling over one another to scramble out of the way of the panic-stricken crodlu.
Poyran urged his mount after the herd, but it was of no use. The herd crashed into the helpless crowd of people. It was a scene of sheer chaos as the crodlu jumped or veered or tried to stop to avoid the people who either ran blindly or froze in terror. The momentum of both groups swept each other away injuring many as they were knocked to the ground or trammpled under by the press of the crowd. The herd broke up scattering in small groups. Those of the tribe still standing rushed as a whole, for the most part towards Samroan's Rock. A few altruistic souls tried to help those who had fallen and were still alive to regain their feet. The warriors had held their ground protecting the tribe as best they could. Three men lay broken on the ground having given their lives for the tribe. Those who were able met the pursuing lioness spears ready. Without missing a beat the lioness jumped the smallest warrior knocking him down as she tore into his flesh with all four paws and tried to gain a hold of his throat with powerful jaws. The man's screams were blood curdling until the lioness had gotten a hold of his jugular. Then he emitted only a sickening gurgling as his ravaged body grudgingly gave up his spirit. The other warriors had come to his aid as quickly as possible killing the lioness with their spears, but it was too late to save Haushratzin.
Still riding towards the tribe determined to avoid anymore needless deaths, Poyran's attention was diverted from the death scene of Haushratzin by a women's scream. Ayrilia, the chieftain's daughter, was sitting on the ground holding her left ankle which she had obviously twisted on the uneven ground in her haste to get to the safety of Samroan's Rock. A group of ten or so crodlu were, in their blind panic, headed straight for her. Ayrilia lay helpless before the crazed beasts onslaught with no warrior there to help her. Poyran without a thought urged Armnrock to a full sprint pushing it ever faster towards Ayrilia.