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Old 02-07-2018, 08:50 PM   #9
Benny Mon
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
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Default Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Far from the city of Qala, over a week’s ride to the east, the sun was rising on Lajjar’s eastern border, where mountains approaching from North and South both gave way to low, rolling hills that separated Lajjar’s fertile soils from the steppe beyond. It was a cold, distant sun, all light and no heat, that shone on the nomads gathering in the hills, reflecting off their dark, ruddy skin. They were two hundred men and women, all on horseback, some of the best warriors of the Acchan nation. Not many months before, there was little Acchan nation to speak of - the nomads all shared a language but lived in small units of extended family, no more than twenty at a time, capable of supporting themselves independently through hunting and raiding. But Lajjar’s aggressive new slave raids had forced the families to band together in a larger coalition - against the might and aggression of the great kingdom to the west, they only stood a chance when they stood together.

Rulu gripped her reins restlessly. Her broad hips and meaty thighs spread a little when she sat in the saddle, but she was lean, muscular. She had known little leisure in her life, a promising hunter in her youth and now a budding warrior. She was twenty years old but had only been fighting the Lajjari for six months - the slave raids had started mere weeks after she began training for her new role. But she was a natural, and everyone who rode with her, who looked at her now with her black hair pulled into a bun and her body covered in close-fitting leather armor, was that much happier to be riding with her. They had that much better chance of survival.

On the horse to her right, her buddy Dosum rubbed his hands in the chill morning air and looked over at her playfully. “I’ve heard their new Queen needs a hundred hands feeding her all day, every day. And that’s why they’re taking us.”

She glared at him. “This isn’t a joke. At this rate every Acchan will be enslaved in three years. If we don’t stop them now, we’re done.”

Dosum looked down, the hint of a smile still on his lips, and brushed off his palms like they were dirty, though they weren’t. “I know. People really do say that, you know. Or that she eats them. Or that they’re going to take our land and need to clear us out first.”

“They can’t grow anything out here,” scoffed Rulu.

“I know. I have no idea what they’re doing with us. I’m just trying to keep laughing a little bit, you know?”

She did know, but she hadn’t brought herself to laugh for a long time. “I don’t know if we can learn our lessons fast enough,” she said. “The new queen terrifies me. I think she’s changed things for good. I don’t know if we can go back to the way things were.” And while she’d never say it to her brothers and sisters, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Rulu may have been one of the most promising hunters the Acchan had seen in a generation, but her life had been hard, full of work and action. Her spirit was empty. She was mastering the Acchan way of life, and still she found it wasn’t worth it.

Dosum looked back, no longer smiling. “What choice do we have?”

Their conversation was abruptly cut off when Jalpum, who led the entirety of the two hundred assembled warriors, cried out “Here they come!” And sure enough they saw the approaching Lajjari contingent, dozens of horsemen in plate armor riding steadily toward them. The Acchan warriors couldn’t make out their faces but saw a fog trailing above their heads, their breath visible in the cold morning air. Normally the Lajjari would press through the hills into the steppe beyond, terrorizing the first Acchan encampment they found and rounding up as slaves those they didn’t kill. But today, for the first time, they would find a band of Acchan in the hills, a larger contingent than they had ever encountered. The nomads formed into ranks and files and waited for the inevitable clash.

It didn’t last long. The Acchan outnumbered the Lajjari three to one, and without metal armor they were half again as fast. Archers in the rear disposed of a handful of Lajjari while they were still at a distance, and then the rest rode into the fray with swords drawn and long spears hefted. Rulu hacked with her sword, laying out one man and then another, more nimble and more experienced than her foes and less seized by fear. She could see the fear in their eyes as they toppled from their mounts, but she never lingered: she would double back to fell her next victim. Minutes later the Acchan looked over a secure victory: the ground was littered with Lajjari corpses, but there were at most a dozen serious injuries among the Acchan, nothing a sling and some rest wouldn’t heal. Several warriors tended to their wounded brothers and sisters while others rounded up the enemy horses who hadn’t fled. Most just cheered and cried, the blood still rushing in their veins.

“Jalpum!” Rulu cried out to her leader, riding up to him. “It doesn’t have to stop here. Those soldiers came from somewhere - a fort, a village. We can ride on and do some real damage to the kingdom, take some prisoners of our own!”

Jalpum shook his head, his short black hair bristling in the wind. “It’s too risky. We don’t know how many soldiers they have out there, and we have injured men and women to tend to.”

“Hardly any! And a few of us can stay behind to tend them. But when will we have a better opportunity? They’ll never expect us less than they do now. There are hundreds of us. We can do this.”

He looked at her, saw the intensity in her eyes, and nodded quickly. “Ok. We’ll try. But we fall back the moment we’re at risk.”

Jalpum called out to his men and women, rallied them for another push. Rulu turned her mount in a circle and then pushed on with the rest. They rode past the hills and onto the Amman Plateau, their horses hooves’ kicking up the fertile black dirt. Before long fields came into view, fenced off rows where beets grew in warmer weather, and they hurdled the fences and pressed on, streaming in parallel rows through the ploughed fields.

And then a village came into view. It wasn’t much, no larger than one of the beet fields itself, but it was the first time Rulu had ever seen a Lajjari settlement of any kind. A handful of permanent wooden structures sat at the center, surrounded by thatched huts on all sides where, she assumed, the peasants lived. There was a military encampment in a larger square where the resident army company kept its horses and other large equipment, including a pen that held a dozen captured Acchan, with only a dirty rag around each of their waists. And there was a small wooden building just beyond, larger and sturdier than the huts, though it looked like it had just been built.

All this Rulu took in in an instant as they rode into the village and sent it into a panic. There weren’t many soldiers left behind, twenty at the most, and it only took the deaths of two at the tips of Acchan arrows to send the rest scrambling onto horses and fleeing the village. About a third of the Acchan warriors chased after them while a few liberated their imprisoned brothers and sisters, and the rest set to taking apart the village. Peasants scrambled in all directions, wailing like they were mad, as the nomads hacked apart their huts, pillaged their granary, and probed at their black, powdery stores of fertilizer. Rulu wondered where they would go as they poured out into the surrounding fields. She knew they would have no village to return to when the Acchan were done. What she did know was that the Acchan would not kill them. They would not do to Lajjari innocents what the kingdom had done to them.

The front door of the newer wooden building burst open and a man of a very different sort burst out: chubby, middle-aged, and bearded, clad in flowing green robes. His expression turned from anger to fear as he grasped the source of the commotion, and he ran back inside, slamming the door behind him.

Rulu couldn’t resist. She leapt from her horse and broke down the door, only to see a remarkable sight. The chubby man was desperately rooting through a small, beautiful armoire, and the whole building - just one room - was full of such beautiful furniture: a writing desk, a table, a bed. It was a simple room, clearly thrown together for this man’s benefit not long ago, and the furniture had probably been made elsewhere and transported to this remote destination. But the truly remarkable thing was the third person in the room, the most incomprehensibly fat woman Rulu had ever seen. In fact, Rulu had never seen a single fat person, and now she was treated to what she imagined had to be one of the fattest ones in all of Lajjar. She sat on the bed, which sagged visible under her weight, and wearing a white garment that was probably supposed to be a dress but seemed little more than a shift on her enormous body. Her thighs were like barrels and jutted away from her at awkward angles, leaving tiny feet to wiggle at the end of massive calves. Her thighs also forced up her belly and breasts, a little smaller but no less impressive, and her huge, fleshy arms were rippling wildly as she flapped her arms in panic and screamed endlessly.

The man started at Rulu’s arrival, stumbling back and accidentally toppling the draw he’d opened to the floor. Each person just looked at the other two, unsure of what to do.

“I can’t believe you brought me out here!” screamed the woman as she finally found language again. Rulu tensed, ready for action, but hesitated. She didn’t speak Lajjari and had no idea what the woman was saying.

You’re the one who wanted to come!” yelled the man. “‘To see life on the frontier!’”

“It’s all Sadesh’s fault anyway,” she grumbled. “If he hadn’t sent you to supervise this shithole district we wouldn’t have been--”

“Shut up!” yelled Rulu, losing her patience, and at the sudden noise the man and woman fell silent. And then Rulu saw it: out of the drawer had fallen a short curved blade, and it lay on the ground between her and the man. “So that’s what he was looking for,” she muttered. In a split second he lunged forward toward the blade while Rulu sprung toward him and began to draw her sword. Time slowed down, and she thought she was going to beat him, angling to the right and extending her blade just ahead of his reach toward the ground for his own.

And then a tremendous explosion rocked the building, light and heat pouring in through the windows and ripping through a wall, shattering glass and sending everyone flying toward the opposite wall. For a moment Rulu’s head was spinning, but when she collected herself she realized the man’s body was directly on top of her, run through with her sword, lifeless. She heaved him off her and looked over at the woman on the floor beside the bed: her light brown skin red from the heat ,and scrapes here and there from flying glass, but otherwise intact.

“You’re lucky,” said Rulu. “All that fat probably saved you. Any less and that glass would have cut through your vital organs.” The woman didn’t even acknowledge her, even more confused and terrified than before.

“But you need to get out,” Rulu said. The woman didn’t budge. “GO!” This she understood: she pulled herself to her feet and waddled out the door with as much haste as she could muster. Rulu watched her go, heaving her bulk barefoot through the village square, massive ass cheeks and thighs rumbling as she advanced stiffly and slowly. The last few straggling villagers coalesced around her and tried to help her along as they too fled. Rulu hated this woman, but it wasn’t because of her riches or her corpulence. Rulu hated her because she knew she didn’t deserve the life she had. Fatness nourished by slavery and conquest wasn’t fatness worth having. But the woman also planted a seed in Rulu’s mind: another life was possible. Life didn’t have to be an unrelenting series of hunts and raids and skirmishes. It could be full of fine and beautiful things, of leisure and softness and indulgence. Rulu resolved then and there never to stop fighting Lajjar until she could take their ill-gotten wealth and make it her own. She realized for the first time something she had known all along: that this Lajjari woman and all her noble peers were living the life that Rulu was meant to live.

She turned back again to the center of the village, toward the source of the explosion, and saw scorched earth where one of the wooden buildings used to be. Dosum was approaching it cautiously on his horse, which lowered its head to smell what looked like incinerated rags.

“What happened?” she yelled to him, and she ran over to check it out herself.

“I...I don’t know,” he said. “This was the place where they kept their fertilizer. One of the villagers just ran up to it with an oil lamp and tossed it in, and then there was that huge fire. Not much left of him now”--he gestured at the blackened rags--“and our men and women were far enough away that they old suffered some minor burns. But...Rulu, I think we just learned something really important. This fertilizer is a weapon.”

Rulu’s eyes went wide. “Do you think they know?”

Jalpum rode up and inserted himself into the conversation. “I’m not sure. But we know. You were right to bring us here, Rulu. We still need to figure out how to safely make use of it, but we’ve just gained a new weapon.”

Rulu looked back at the charred ground and tightened her fists. She knew they could win this war. “I guess we need to find some more fertilizer.”
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