Authors: Dan Decker
Text Copyright © 2015 Dan Decker
Cover Image © Can Stock Photo Inc./prometeus
All rights reserved
Published by Xander Revolutions LC
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my wife, son, and family.
War of the Fathers
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Years Since the Severing
Adar Rahid squinted through the early evening light as the wind blew dust into his face that had been kicked up by his horse. He stared at the remains of the ship while a hundred questions ran through his mind. The metal behemoth was rust covered and half buried in the ground. It was too large to move and too large to ignore.
How did they get those things up in the air?
It wasn’t his first time seeing the ship and it wouldn’t be the last time unanswerable questions assailed him.
A scream broke his concentration and he looked at the road ahead and was surprised to see a caravan of merchants. He’d been so engrossed in studying the ship that he’d forgotten to pay attention to the road. Sweat dripped into his eyes while he tried to make out the commotion and he blinked through the stinging sensation.
A grunt from behind caught his attention as another rider came to a stop beside him.
“A robbery in progress?” Maual asked. There was a hint of a challenge in the older man’s tone that Adar had become accustomed to in the last couple of weeks. Adar still wasn't certain if this was on purpose, or if it was just how the man was. That, combined with the way Maual kept his graying hair tied back in a ponytail, and the woman's silver ruby necklace he wore about his neck, made him a bit of a puzzle. He wasn’t the only oddity in the army of men Adar had been commissioned to lead, but he was among the most intriguing.
There was a story about the necklace, Adar was certain, but he hadn't yet tried to learn it. The lengthy hair would have been a bigger problem if Maual were a new draftee just filling his term, but he had taken the oaths and it had been customary to give the oath takers a bit more leeway.
“Probably,” Adar said. When Maual nodded in agreement, Adar picked up a hint of something that he couldn't place. Had Maual been testing his read of the situation?
Pushing his concerns about the man away, Adar turned his attention back to the scene ahead where there was a flurry of activity inside a grove of trees that he couldn't quite make out. Several wagons were pulled off the road and one had tipped over. He focused on the overturned wagon, trying to determine the cause. The horse team stood nearby in the brush. Had it been run off the road? Broken a wheel?
He frowned when what sounded like screaming and yelling made it to his ears. In between the trees he could make out flashes of running men. It was a bit closer to Rarbon than the other reported attacks had been. The thieves were becoming far more brazen. Even though the Rarbon city walls were still more than a couple of miles away, they loomed high enough in the dusky skyline that it was a formidable sight. That alone should have struck fear in the heart of anybody daring to make the roads a dangerous place.
It wasn’t too long ago when the thought of highway robbery this close to Rarbon would have been unthinkable, but times had changed. The Radim armies weren’t as respected as they once had been.
A sudden piercing scream removed any remaining doubt from his mind. He made a swirling motion with two fingers in the air that the men closest to him mimicked so that the others would see. With that sign, he communicated to his men that the first and second squads would go ahead while the third would follow behind after a few minutes. Normally, he would have sent a squad around the side to come from the other direction but this close to the wall there wasn't a need. Whoever was doing this would know that the guards at the gate would never let them through with a Radim patrol hot on their tail.
It had been a long several days of travel and even though Adar had been moving his men fast to ensure their arrival at Rarbon before evening, they looked ready and alert. Tomorrow was the first day that the Rarbon Council would meet since Adar had made his claim to become Ghar. The first task could be assigned at that time. There was also the matter of the ball as well. Adar hated social gatherings, but he didn’t have many opportunities for socializing and it would be a good thing for him to make an appearance at his father’s party. Perhaps he might even hear a rumor about what the Council would have him do.
It galled him to be beholden to the Council for the challenges he would have to face to assert his birthright. Growling to himself, he tried to push the thought away but was unable to do so.
While it was unlikely that the assignment would be made the next day, he didn't want to waste a moment's time in fulfilling it. Rarbon had been too long without a Ghar and he was determined to be the first Rahid set apart as Ghar in living memory.
The world was about to change—Adar could feel it coming every time he looked up into the sky—and he would need to be Ghar if they were going to have half a chance. If Semal was to be believed, the time of the Hunwei's foretold return was at hand and they weren't prepared. The best shot they had at defeating their enemy was getting into the Rarbon Portal, which was something he could do once he was made Ghar.
“Bandits or more fake Radim, General?” asked a low voice from beside him on the left.
Adar looked over as Tere Heul rode up on his black and white horse; he was the default leader of the first squad. While Tere was shorter than Adar, he was still of about average height. The muscular man had been at Adar's side since they'd both enlisted in the Radim at age fifteen. The dirty blonde hair that had framed his face as a boy was now kept short and wasn't much longer than the few days growth of stubble on his face. Tere's dull green uniform was older but still managed to look as crisp as the new one that Adar had donned before setting out on the patrol. The patch with a red horned toad on Tere’s shoulder that signified Napael Army was a match for the red cord he had wrapped around the hilt of his Radim sword that peeked over his shoulder.
In answer to Tere's question, Adar shook his head while bringing up his hand forming a fist. Adar hadn't witnessed the Radim imposters first hand but he didn't doubt that the stories were true. He clenched his hand tighter at the thought of the deception. In order to restore the Radim to the glory of old, his first order of business would be to eradicate these men claiming to be Radim. No one doing such damage could be allowed to remain unchecked.
These attacks had been going on for the last month, starting right after Adar had been made General. The first one had been a grisly affair, with a merchant family of six dead, their goods pilfered and their wagons burned. Since that time, there had been half a dozen more. While some of the marauders had clashed with the Radim, none of the bands had been eradicated though the altercations had left men dead on either side. The captured bandits hadn’t survived for longer than a day in Rarbon. So far there had been three captives and each had died before they could be brought before the Rarbon Council. The first had been found poisoned in his cell, the second had died from a wound he’d taken during his capture, and the third had taken an arrow through the neck as he was being transported before the Council.
The fact that the attacks coincided with Adar’s assent and that the captives were ending up dead made him suspicious that this was somehow related to his commission.
He frowned as he watched his men prepare to attack the bandits. His original plan had been to return tomorrow, but he’d had an uneasy feeling for the last couple of weeks that there was a spy close to him. So he’d decided to return today, curious to see if anything interesting would turn up. It was an added bonus that he was back in time for the ball tonight
and would be on hand if the Council reached a decision. Perhaps the spy would be surprised to see Adar back so soon and make a mistake that would give him away.
If the attack they were about to interfere with was by the same men pretending to be Radim, this would be the second attack this week. The first group of bandits had escaped unscathed, even though General Smeth of Korew army had sent her best after them.
That wouldn't be the case today, even if Adar and his men had to spend the next week chasing after them. Tere brought his hand forward to a fist as he kicked his horse into a gallop. The other men in the first and second squads formed a column of four abreast behind Tere as they bore down on the grove of trees.
The men from the remaining groups spread out. After a moment's hesitation, Adar spoke to Colonel Lucas Brandesutter who waited several feet away. The tall lanky balding man didn't speak much. He was the sort that preferred his actions to do the talking for him. Adar wondered if the Redd Guard had ever tried to recruit him. He’d fit into their ranks perfectly. The Redd Guard were known for their silence and the sense of intrigue they went to great lengths to cultivate. In many ways, Lucas reminded him of the aloof organization and Adar was afraid that the man would be recruited while Adar wasn’t watching.
“I'm going ahead with the others,” Adar said to Lucas, “if they make a break for it, capture as many as you can but kill them rather than let them escape.” Lucas raised an eyebrow at the last part of the command but didn't open his mouth as he nodded.
Adar kicked his stallion—Slasher—into a gallop. Like Tere's animal, Slasher was black covered in white spots. Several of the spots along Slasher's side had reminded Adar of long crooked daggers when he'd chosen the name.
Slasher quickly covered the distance and closed the gap between Adar and the men he'd sent ahead. As he neared the grove of trees he had a better view of where the merchant’s wagons had left the road, tossing their contents when they’d done so.
There were several bodies in the grass to the side that hadn't been visible before, a man and a woman. By the look of their dress they were more likely to be merchants than thieves. Gripping Slasher’s reins, he kicked the horse ahead and didn't look down as he passed the bodies.
In a short amount of time Adar's men had managed to take control of the scene. Several of the thieves were trying to put up a fight, but Adar could tell that they weren't used to dealing with people that fought back.
Maual was fighting a tall broad shouldered man that had almost a foot on him. Adar gritted his teeth when he noticed that the big man was wearing a Radim uniform. He’d already known that the rumors were true, but it was one thing to have heard about it and quite another to witness it firsthand. Did these men know that the penalty for this crime was death? Adar doubted they did. That, combined with the bodies they'd left on the road would leave Adar with few options. He hoped that others would learn from the example he'd make of these men.
The big man dueling with Maual had a shaved head and even from this distance, Adar could make out an earring that looked like a fish hook that was skewering a small dead bird. The hook went in at the tail feathers and out the mouth. The entire piece looked to be made from copper. He'd seen it’s like before in a coastal city that he couldn't remember the name of. If his memory was correct it was a symbol of a gang known for its fondness of initiation rituals that left two out of three dead. He spent several seconds, trying to remember their name, but it wouldn't come to him.