Lloy was happily searching for lost sheep near his home village of Garhound. It was a job he was qualified to do, unlike that summer's adventure of chasing after pirates raiding the river valley, or the mystic quest to seek the aid of the king of birds to help stop a locust plague from reaching the river valley. Sure, there's good loot in adventuring, or even the opportunity to give albatrosses blue feet, but you can also die. More importantly, Lloy was less than a day's travel from a certain farm family and a friendly farmer's daughter. Why, he could even be back there for dinner, once that overly autonomous sheep had been rounded up.
Lloy cast around and found sheep tracks along the banks of a small stream; probably the mobile mutton had gotten thirsty. He followed the tracks up stream, coincidentally passing a large bullfrog whom was looking for Lloy. Froggie opened his foot wide mouth and croaked out something that sounded like "messenger up river". This could only be a job for Riverman! Since he wasn't around, Lloy decided he'd better go instead.
Leaving a few runes to mark his mission (River, Sheep, Arrow), Lloy worked his way up the stream. It might be a river to a frog, but it's just a stream to anyone larger and just a drinking pond to the sheep, which was a short distance away. Baaaa.
They continued upstream for half an hour and found the messenger. The young man was sitting slumped against a small tree, bleeding. After patching him up and giving him some water, Lloy got a few words out of him. "Nomads. Bison, last night. Need help. From southwest. Not Yelmalians." That sounded serious, so Lloy, the messenger (muttering something about needing godparents) and the sheep staggered down to the village of Garhound.
Lloy passed the messenger onto the village chief, and destination of tough problems nobody else wants to handle, Sir Davis. Lloy then smartly grabbed the opportunity to escape extra work and left quickly to a plain but enjoyable dinner.
Sir Davis found someone who could speak the Oasis Dweller language to the messenger and unravelled his story. Grandma Nephrid of the village MockBah on the northern Sun County border needed help to stop the nomad raiders, which she feared would be raiding in extra force this year to make up for losses from the summer locust plagues. If they don't get food, they'll take slaves to sell elsewhere for food. Nephrid has had enough and won't take any more. She's a former Llama rider slave, who had returned home long ago, who knows how nomads work, and who doesn't want to see her remaining family enslaved before she dies.
MockBah isn't actually part of Sun County, though they had a peace pact
because the village has been there for hundreds of years before Sun County was
founded. Sun County would be happy to see the ancient village disappear so
that they could colonize it with Sun County people, thus they won't help guard
the village. Nephrid had appealed to their village mud hole spirit (MockBah
literally means mud hole in the language of the Oasis Dwellers). It was also
apparently an aspect of Nova, the spirit of the new stream we had started
running a year or two ago, so we're godparents to it. Sir Davis informed the
river voices (that's us) that there was a mission available, and that we could
be spared from some harvest work to investigate the situation at MockBah.
The next morning, after Camathia had left her babies with relatives, and
the rest of the group had gotten their equipment together, we crossed into Sun
County and followed Nova's path. MockBah was off to the side, in the old
stream-bed we had bypassed with a bit of furtive ditch digging to trickily get
water flowing on the Garhound side of the border.
Future Ruins of MockBah (actually Mesa Verde in the U.S.A, photo courtesy of Peter Epstein)
It wasn't a very impressive place, just mud, goats (which upset Cam), sheep (these people aren't all useless), some fields, an orchard and poor villagers. The water came from a seep in the side of the big cliff cut by the former stream. The old stream had cut a huge crescent into the ground, deep enough to build mud huts on top of 12 feet of talus, leaving several more man-heights of overhanging cliff above that.
We found Grandma Nephrid at the small stream leading into the pond and mud in front of the huts. She was unhappy at the winds of change turning her home into a ghost village. The nomads were the last straw. Cam and Nephrid summoned the spirit, who looks like the spirit of Nova, except made of mud. She was thankful to her people for sustaining her life until restoration, and wants us to help them with the nomads. Rumours were that the Bison tribe braves were organizing a raid. They were not going to raid fortified towns, so they'll come here first for food and slaves. There were only three dozen people here, so any losses would hurt. The raiders aren't stupid, so they were expected to come after the harvest is in, and in sufficient numbers (around 20) to overwhelm the village.
We visited our Sun County friend Lady Vega in Goldbreath. She wasn't able send a file of soldiers to defend the village (the MockBah villagers don't have any relatives in Sun County so they don't count), but she could increase patrols in the area, so if they happened to run across the nomads, they'll fight them. She also warned us that Sun County doesn't let MockBah defend itself, meaning no fortified walls and no weapons other than hunting gear.
What can we do? Lloy thought of starting a snake cult so that the villagers could call on protective snake magic. Unfortunately that conflicted with their frog cult, which they liked because the frogs ate last year's plague of broo-mice. The Sun Count wasn't interested, and won't even listen to his river-wife who's related to Nova, though we still asked Nova to send dreams to her worshippers. It looks like we would have to work with just what's there.
During the next few weeks we made preparations. A sentry was appointed to the cliff top. We imported a dozen composite bows for the 8 archers I and Puck were training. The arbalest from the ship was dismounted and brought to the village's defence, since it is easy for a novice to use. Cam taught another 8 villagers in the use of a heavy flail. Gunther taught the remaining 8 adults how to use a two handed spear, figuring that spear and shield would be too much for them, and couldn't be explained as a hunting weapon. A couple of dozen older kids and adolescents practiced slinging stones. Even the really old elders tried a bit of stone throwing.
When they weren't harvesting or practising, the villagers prepared some defences. The mud huts at the ends of the crescent were reinforced, with arrow holes and thorn barriers. A low adobe / daub / stick wall pretending to be huts under construction was made along the crescent. It had places to hide behind and shoot out at the stream bed. There was an entrance arch in the middle of the wall, low enough to prevent someone from riding through and confined enough so that one attacker would face several defenders at once. Caltrops were placed just past the irrigation ditch the invaders' animals would have to jump over. Stimuli sticks were put in the water. Spare rocks were readied at the cliff top for dropping. The fence in the orchard was reinforced and the path through it was hidden. Nephrid summoned a gnome to make the landslide at the east side of the crescent look fresh and unstable, so that the nomads would prefer to come down the west side slope. Rope ladders were set up so that the villagers could quickly get over the mud hut wall. Landing pads were marked with flags, for the two Traskars - giant attack frogs capable of swallowing a person whole. We even practised the raid drill; the villagers were able to get from the fields to safety in two minutes.
We inventoried the magic available - Protection-2 in a battleaxe, Protection-3 from Rudy, the Fog spell, a heat-metal spell (but only touch range, so you can't heat up animal bits), an insane ghost, an undine, a gnome, a sylph, bludgeon-3 and a healing-3 matrix.
We dug in, leaving our horses (which Oasis Dwellers wouldn't have) at a village nearer to Garhound. Our positions were spread along the crescent. Going from west (where we hope the Nomads will appear) to east, we had Keith the axe man, Herodrick the farmer, Puck the farmer, looking into the archway entrance you'd see the great troll on the left, Cam on the right and Gunther in the center behind a barricade, then on the east were Rudy the hunter, Egil the bard and Lloy the shepherd. Don't Hit Me the trollkin was on a hut roof, slinging. One adolescent and one adult were on the cliff top watching, with a far-see matrix. The three weapon type groups of 8 village fighters were divided 5 to the west, 3 to the east side. Archers were on the roof tops, hiding behind baskets and hay bales. Spear wielders and flailers were behind the fake hut wall.
The attack came after the afternoon siesta. The panicking villagers rushed to their places quickly enough. As we had hoped, the bison riders came in from the west, going through the millet field at an easy canter. There were about 20 of them, and they didn't suspect a thing when they hit the first irrigation ditch planted with 5 inch pungie sticks in 6 inches of water. Three of their animals went down, lame at best, fatally wounded at worst. They stopped. Regrouped. Our archers opened with a little light arrow fire. Their leader responded bullheadedly, as fitting a bison tribe war party leader, and charged. The rest of them followed exuberantly into our trap, appropriately for herd animal nomads.
We shot at them more seriously as they came closer. Cam cast a demoralize spell at one rider who then yelled "Look out, it's a trap!" in Praxian. Nobody listened, but he was right. More arrows flew, two more bison dropped to the ground as the rest advanced closer to the village. An eager young buck rode up the 12 foot slope to the huts, a dangerous tactic, and had his bison promptly shot out from under him by Gunther's multiple independent spear headed javelin (multimissile spell). He rolled down the slope and ran away with Puck adding additional pain to his pains by shooting arrows in his back. Lots of pain, no gain.
The leader Khan also tried riding up, followed by his herd of followers. Since they were now close enough, the gnome was released with orders to sink bison and riders into the earth. Another round of arrows, rocks and sling stones smashed into the brave bison riders. Their leader managed to get to the entrance, where he bravely didn't dismount. The low arch didn't care much about bravery and almost scraped him off his bison. When they say that Bison riders stay in the saddle, they really meant it. With the khan stuck in the arch, only the troll could hit, and only at his mount. The other nomads were stuck outside in the rain of arrows and rocks. One of them suffered from fatal rain damage. The two remaining Bison clan archers shot back to exact deadly revenge on one of the village's hapless adolescents.
While the riders were preoccupied with the villagers, the giant Traskar frogs snuck up and started attacking. The smaller one grabbed a rider's leg with its tongue and tugged for half a minute until it had dragged the flailing rider under a mud pile. The other tried an ineffective magical attack then decisively grabbed an arm, hauled in the poor guy, swallowed him and jumped back to the village landing pad. One of the frog food's buddies chased after and cut a front leg from the frog before it got away.
Puck demoralized one of the two archers. They retaliated by throwing javelins, with fair success. One impaled Lloy in the arm, taking him out of action for a while. I told you this adventuring was dangerous. Another more comically threw some of his armour off along with his javelin, both failed to injure their target.
Meanwhile, back under the arch, the troll heartily mauled the front of the bison while the bison angrily gored the troll. The bison won that one, cutting a huge slice from the troll while the troll only smashed a medium sized hunk of bison. The khan dismounted while the bison bravely (unusual for a bison) scrambled forwards towards the troll. Cam could still only attack magically and succeeded in demoralizing the khan, though that didn't really affect him much for the expected reason. Gunther whacked the bison's front resoundingly as only he can do with a pole axe. Cam finally was able to hit, and mightily bashed the khan's shield with her heavy flail, wearing it down but not actually hurting the khan. Cam and Gunther continued to pound on the khan, but he just parried the hits, with sparks flying from his iron sword and splinters flying from his rapidly disintegrating shield. After Cam shot an Orlanthi magical lightning bolt at his leg, the khan and his bison finally got the message and retreated outside.
Outside, the khan avoided the undine generated waves in the ditch and the riderless bison stuck in the slope, hotly pursued by Gunther and Cam. Cam swung her flail into the khan's leg again. Because he failed to parry, he was now legless and fell to the ground. Gunther hacked some more meat off the bison. A hastily mounted rescue mission distracted Cam and Gunther with a few flying javelins; one actually slightly scratched Gunther's skin. Another rider charged up with a lance aimed at Gunther, who dodged behind the khan and took the opportunity to hit him some more, though he got parried. The lance missed Gunther, but kept him occupied while the khan leap from the ground onto the bison, and threw his sword away for a better one handed grip on the mane.
The riders left under trailing arrow fire. One of them managed to recover the sword, while our inept sylph was looking for it. They left behind 6 dead riders, one captive, 4 dead bison and one live one, while the villagers lost one adolescent.
The nomad raiders regrouped in a field, out of arrow range, and healed up. They were jolted from their misery by an arbalest bolt, reminding them that things weren't yet over. We sent the sylph with a scrap of leather with a message to Lady Vega saying that there were 15 bison riders at MockBah. Maybe she'd get it and send help, we still needed it.
We rudely asked the prisoner for information, and found out that they were Waha followers. That means they had animal magic, possibly enough to make an enlightened brave bull.
After a while, a rider appeared at the irrigation ditch and stuck her lance in the ground. Egil could talk Praxian and translated "Hail diggers of dirt, you have made a mistake." The khan was obviously very upset at being foiled by the humble Oasis Dwellers and left them two choices - submit or be exterminated. Cam explained the new situation to the spokesrider - if they get exterminated, the Sun County people will move in and set up a fortified village, and the nomads will get nothing. The bison raiders have two choices - compromise or get nothing. The messenger left, and we noticed a lot of discussion at the bison riders' camp that night. They're still there. Will they attack again, or could we come up with a plan by morning?
As part of the plan to pretend to be tribute takers who happened to beat the raiders to the village, we asked the villagers what the usual amounts were for tribute. The captive also estimated his ransom as two bulls. After a rehearsal of a discussion between a nomad and us (Cam made a good fake nomad), we went over to the bison rider's camp for the real thing. They bought our explanation, and we sold them a captive too, but only for one bull plus the ones we already had. The khan, Tarkil One-Eye, asked us to leave rune staves out next time to mark the ownership of tribute, to avoid the unpleasantness of unexpected battles. When he heard about the tribute we were getting, he said we were getting cheated by the villagers, you could easily get half again as much out of them.
We also explained the politics behind not wiping out the villagers, and added that if they joined the Lunar empire, they would get protection against both the nomads and Sun County, as well as upsetting us. Thus it would be best to let them remain as Oasis Dwellers and not push them into becoming Lunars. We explained what would happen: the initial Lunar missionaries would partially be there to help, and partially as an excuse to get a foothold and build a fort, which would stop the nomads. Besides the fort, the Lunars are better at fighting nomads because they have their Sable rider allies to help. Sun County would be upset by the threatening fort, right in the middle of their land. Lunar settlers would move in to farm (a missionary marries a local, they start farming, and it just gets worse from there). Us Orlanthi at Garhound would be upset by the Lunars moving into the neighbourhood and spreading their cult while restricting Orlanth; that's why we left Sartar. So, we asked, for the sake of us all (except the MockBahites), don't push them too hard! Of course, we didn't tell the MockBah people about this Lunar possiblity.
That night we had a feast with the raiders. It was a bit delicate, since we weren't sure if they would ambush us and they outnumbered us 14 to 8. To be safe, most of the group went, and the troll stayed nearby in the shadows. Fortunately our palm wine (tribute from the villagers, twice as much alcohol, tastes nice) was stronger than their kumis, so they decided that it would be a bad idea to attack while drunk (or maybe they weren't going to attack us, we'll never know). That didn't mean that no fighting went on; Puck and Lloy went at it again, though Puck was easily able to knock the breath out of Lloy. Fortunately the gods ignored Lloy's request to turn Puck into an easy to herd sheep, which would have been awkward to explain (and undo) when sober the next day.
The next morning, our sentry spotted a cloud of dust being stirred up by a dozen chariots coming from Sun County. We warned the bison riders, saying that they could be facing the Templars (knights of Sun County). They quickly mounted up and left, nursing their hangovers while riding away.
The chariots were lead by Lady Vega who must have gotten our message. They weren't Templars, just the Sandy Lot and Goldbreath militia, but none the less eager to chase nomads, which they did. When they came back, they wanted our story. Mentioning the possibility of Lunar missionaries, we got the Sun County people to consider honouring the peace treaty better by doing more to get rid of the nomads. They also inspected the defences, looking for illegal things like shields, helmets, defensive works and other weaponry, but didn't find anything which we couldn't explain away. Now they understand how we won two court cases against the Lunars.
That was pretty much that. We packed up, took along some tribute (palm wine, oil and fruits mostly), and went back to Garhound. We did promise to return and help them with their "agricultural" and "hunting" training, and even with beer making which they sorely lacked. Back at Garhound, the harvest was pretty good, only spoilt by the appearance of Lunar tax collectors. But that's another story.
Copyright © 2002 by Alexander G. M. Smith.