The Riders of the King's Own

Week One
Gylepi

Nyan rana yn Gylepi, di nyan yn Maralu.

Fifteen against two hundredÖ Thatís one way of looking at it, I suppose. I prefer to look at it as fifteen against ten or so groups of between five and thirty.

Well, as it would figure, the heatwave ended the day we were due to depart. It even rained in the morning, just as I was buying some extra bowstrings, because the mission I forget to bring extras will be the mission when it breaks. I plan on buying some in Kazin though, since Kazinian bows are as good as Raykinian swords. This kingdom would do well to learn some of those techniques.

I hate the last few days before a mission, knowing itís the last time Iím able to see my family for, in this case, probably three months. And of course thereís the niggling thought that I think we all have but never mention, that it could well be the last time I see them at all.

Iím fine once Iím out of Ni-Yana, but the ďfarewell paradeĒ as we leave is something I canít stand. Iím not sure exactly why people line the streets every time, whether it is just well wishes and good luck, or whether people are shallow enough to want to do nothing more than ogle us, or something entirely different. I hate it. Iíd much rather just gallop down the road and have it done with, but the combination of tradition and the fact that most of the other guys regard it as the best part of the mission means I canít get out of it.

However, that particular aspect of the mission is in the past, so we can forget about that now and start dispelling a few rumours, as is the aim of this document.

As Nol noted in the introduction, I do have some desert blood in me, but itís from so many generations back that all Iíve been left of it is the height, which doesnít bother me in the slightest, especially in Kazin. Iím actually taller than a few of them, which is a bit of a novelty.

I donít have any of the ďdesert instinctĒ either, which is actually magic rather than instinct, but that debateís been raging for so long that one archer canít change the minds of an entire people, even if he does ride with the Own, so I wonít bother trying to convince anyone of that. I donít have any of it though. It has to be taught to some degree; itís not ingrained into the mind of anyone with desert blood.

Nimay, on the other hand, does. Evidently she was taught enough of it before her memory was wiped and she arrived at the palace so she could use it. Itís certainly enough to trim a week or two off our travel time.

Yes, we cross the desert from Ni-Yana to Ni-Mytaa rather than follow the river in what we term the ring route. We used to follow the river, but as of a few years back, when Nimay joined the group, weíve been able to cut across the desert.

Desert magic, for the uneducated, basically means the user can find water and other desert people with ease. We always take enough water to last the journey without needing any oases along the way, but it means she knows where the Ra-Lin is so we donít get lost. It by no means makes the journey easy, but itís definitely quicker.

While Iím on the topic, do not make this journey yourself, even if you have desert magic or someone with desert magic with you. If the sun or the heat doesnít take you, then the desert people surely will. Their vicious reputation is not undeserved. Theyíve never attacked us, but really, would you? Even the desert people know about the only horse riders in the kingdom.

Weíve never directly bothered them, though Iím sure theyíre less than happy about us being in their desert at all, even if all weíre doing is passing through, not touching any of the water thatís more precious than gold there.

And so, our first week is spent in the desert. We leave Ni-Yana late in the afternoon (so the poor saps who decide to queue up at dawn on the day weíre due to leave can stop that now) and follow the river to the end of the gorge, by which time the sun has set and we can cross the desert without keeling over from heat exhaustion. In Winter weíd camp there and travel during the day, since the sunís not nearly so strong, but as weíre still at the Summer end of Autumn, night travel is the more comfortable option.

Iíve been put in charge of week one, I think mainly because I actually like desert travel. Iíve never quite understood why nobody else in the Own does.

ďItís boring,Ē Nolís just informed me. Well, each to his own.

The desert is really quite beautiful if you take the time to actually look at it, especially by night. Everything takes on a silver sheen, and the stars overhead are just stunning. Not only that, but the sounds are amplified somehow. On the odd occasion that the guys are actually silent, itís possible to hear the smallest animal running over the sand, I kid you not.

By day, itís somehow different to the desert around Ni-Yana, or any of the desert by the Ra-Lin, in fact. The spinifex and saltbush is sparser, so the sand looks redder.

What I love most is the relative solitude. In Ni-Yana, itís near-impossible to avoid recognition, but in the desert itís just us, and we obviously donít idolise each other. That would be too strange. We generally stick to our own weapons, since we tend to be horrific with anything but. Most of us areÖ useful, I guess, with a sword and daggers, Emon and Kaen are unnaturally good with just about anything, but I donít think any of us could get higher than Third Company with anything but our weapon of choice. Thereís a bit more rumour-dispelling for you.

Of course, we have the standard ďmy weaponís better than yoursĒ debates that are commonplace in the army, especially between blade archers and the more refined bow archers. Because everyone knows an arrow flies further than a flying dagger, and theyíre easier to carry. They have their own arguments, but they donít hold half as much weight. Plus there are four of us and only two of them.

Inevitably, these arguments result in a swordfight between Yoryl and Nol, which the rest of the Own then gets in on for whatever reason, and a fun time is had by all. Except whoever loses, but they tend to be equally appalling. You can just see the swordies itching to get their weapon out and show them how itís done. Itís painful enough for me to watch, and Iím an archer! The scary thing though is that Nol actually trains with the thing, albeit not often. Yoryl only ever unsheathes his during these contests.

Very, very occasionally Kaen and I take up the challenge of blade versus bow, since weíre the best swordsmen without a red shirt, but itís never as much fun. Itís really only fun because theyíre just so bad. And the triumph on their faces when they eventually win, itís just fantastic. It must look interesting to any observing desert tribes, I must say.

We had one such contest last night. Or I guess technically early this morning, since weíve turned nocturnal for the week. Before we bedded down for the day, that makes life easier. It was an epic battle, as always, with much swearing from both parties, gratingly obvious openings left that would have been nothing but deliberate were they two professional swordsmen in the ring, and huge but devilish grins on both faces. Fantastic, as I say.

Naturally we play by the more traditional rules. That is, first blood-draw from the torso. None of this prissy first to disarm stuff. Real men fight with real blood. Unless theyíre a woman. Sorry Ďmay.

Much to my chagrin, and the chagrin of Garuk and Murali and a few others who lost coin over that epic battle, our dear Imperial Highness came away with the blood on his shirt. The four of us have already suffered Lin knows how many pebbles, sticks and bits of spinifex during tonightís ride.

On the plus side, Garukís in the process of cooking what weíre calling dinner, despite it being at sunrise, so the pair of them can expect something interesting in the next few minutes.

This fight has, of course, set the tone for the next three months, though itís nothing different to what weíre accustomed to. Blade versus bow is an eternal war that has raged since the weapons were invented, as the other men in the army will know, and far be it from the six of us archers and pseudo-archers to put the war to an end. Especially when the blue shirts win most of the mini-battles.

And that would be my call to arms, which means itís my turn tomorrow. This could be interestingÖ

Garuk was disappointing, but I guess you can only be so inventive with a communal stew pot and flatbread to dip in it. Even so, disappointing effort there, Garuk.

Weíve been out here for six days now, so weather permitting we should see Ni-Mytaa on the horizon tomorrow. Of course thereís little chance of any kind of storm, be it with rain or sand, but you never know. I presume weíd keep riding in rain, but I donít know if Ďmayís desert magic would be thrown off by there being water everywhere. Strangely enough itís never rained before while weíve been trekking across that desert.

Weíve endured one or two sandstorms, though not as many as one might think. Sandstorms out here are no more common than in the cities. Same intensity and duration; the only difference is that we have no shelter beyond a sheet of tent canvas.

Horses, unlike camels, donít have the instinct that gets them through a sandstorm, so they have to be trained from a young age. For our horses, two gentle taps between their shoulder blades makes them lie down on one side, close their eyes and flatten their ears as best a horse can flatten them.

We, as Iíve already said, huddle under our tent canvas for however long it takes for the storm to pass. Itís an even more uncomfortable experience than waiting one out indoors, but strangely enough it doesnít drive a man so stir crazy. At least we know that all weíd be doing otherwise is walking. So far weíve only ever encountered relatively small ones, so weíve lost little more than an hour or two, but Iím sure weíre bound for a day-long storm sooner or later. Iíll be laughing if itís tomorrow that it happens.

There was a bit of drama when we made camp this morning which almost resulted in us losing a member without having even seen Kazinian soil, let alone any Kazinian bandits. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit, but you can never be too careful.

Nol spotted a thrai. It would figure that the Maralu most paranoid of snakes who would be the one to find it. It really is ridiculously amusing to see his Imperial Highness, one of the fifteen best warriors in the kingdom, yelp out so loudly that Ni-Mytaa must have heard and dance over to the other side of the camp site, only to trip over a clump of spinifex. Even if it is a thrai heís running from, itís justÖ oh blood of the goddesses you have to be there.

Kaen calmly chopped the violently hissing serpentís head off and is planning on having it professionally skinned when we get into Ni-Mytaa tomorrow and turned into a belt. Itíll be some talking point, I have to say. He keeps offering the decapitated body to Nol with exaggerated goodwill and casualness, poor guy.

I donít want to know what happened to the head. Iím sure Yorylís got it and is going to bring it up in a week or two.

One might think that after that it would have been another day to the blade archers, but Iíve called an urgent meeting between the four of us blue shirts. We definitely have to win this leg of the journey, and that means having the last laugh. Hiding daggers or sanding the stew is too amateurish for the likes of us. We need to bring out the heavy artillery. Iím not quite certain what that is just yet, but that will be discussed during the meeting.

Kaen and Yoryl knew we were up to something all night, as did the pikemen and the swordies, but they donít matter in our (completely unchildish) games. Whatís important is that they knew we were going to do something, but that they could do nothing about it.

Weíve been riding in formation for no apparent reason, either all four abreast, two in front two directly behind, a diamond. Also tried something of a bird formation. You know how birds in flocks sometimes fly in an arrowhead shape? It doesnít work so well when there are only the four of us, since the only way we can get a proper point on the arrowhead is to have it skewed slightly.

Then we dropped back to the rear, where the blade archers always ride, ditching pebbles and whatnot at anyone close by, and kind of acted like an escort, two of us on their left flanks and two on the right, two in front and two behind.

ďLovely weather weíre having,Ē Nol noted casually. I have no idea where it came from, but honestly, pure genius. Both blade archers stared up at the sky and scanned the horizon with expressions that made it incredibly difficult to keep a straight face.

Weíve been exchanging sickeningly mischievous grins as well, like we know something they donít. Which is true enough, I guess.

We at least know we donít have a plan. Nothing beyond making the pair of them absolutely paranoid, anyway. Weíll come up with something suitably evil sooner or later, but for now weíll just let them suffer with the anticipation. Weíll be having more discussions this morning over dinner.

Whatever we come up with, it will be the most incredibly satisfying feeling, I kid you not. I think we may implement it as soon as Yoryl dispenses with the thrai head, as heís bound to do.

And you thought desert travel was boring. Oh, no, itís war out here, let me assure you.

Mission Brief      Week 2