Conan: Blades of Shadizar

Session II: Unwilling Glory

From the writings of Menelaus of Koth

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In the time when Strabonus ruled Koth, and sought to extend his hand across the principalities along the eastern border of that realm, the savage desert tribes of Shem rose up in defiance of that king. It had amused the cruel king to prey upon the divergent tribes to the south of Koth, and those who wished his favor followed his example. In the midst of this injustice arose my Lord Andronicus.

From Khoraja he rode, on camel-back, accompanied by his lady, Maya. My lord was unmoved by the monuments to the deeds of other men which he passed as he took to the sands on his way to Nippr. His lady, Maya, had told him that the tents of her people were likely to be gathered around that Shemite city for the great festival of Derketo which was held there every year. Heeding her counsel, my lord made haste across the sands, reaching that city in haste. Finding the tents of her father, Maya was reunited with her blood.

The ways of the desert barbarians of Shem are strange. Know that they look down upon the civilized men of the cities, thinking them men of no honor and undeserving of respect. My lord, knowing this, was quick to take offense the the sheikh offered him reward for the rescue of his daughter. While not yet an expert in their ways, my lord gambled that this was an insult among them. He allowed his temper to flare, storming out of the tent with murder in his eyes. The sheikh followed my lord, shouting apologies, declaring my lord to be an honourable and valiant man, and beseeching my lord to forgive and accept the hospitality of his tent. My lord allowed himself to be prevailed upon. Such was his cunning, even then!

Once my lord has allowed his rage to me mollified, he allowed the sheikh to draw out the purpose of his visit. My lord spoke passionately of the wrongs Strabonus had inflicted upon the Sons of Shem and the opportunity for justice and vengeance which lay before them. His words pleased the sheikh, who readily agreed to join in such an undertaking and influence others to join, but for a price.

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The price the sheikh sought for his participation and support was marriage. “Take my daughter, Maya, to wife.” said the sheikh. “This shall bind us, and as my son, you shall have my full support and carry more weight among the tribes.” Though my lord was young, and had not begun to consider such entanglements, his word to Princess Yasmela of Koth had bound him to the success of this undertaking. Moreover, his sentiments were not in opposition to such a union. With all solemnity, my lord agreed and took Maya to wife in the tents of her father’s people in the shadow of the walls of Nippr. The union was blessed by Derketo and witnessed by the gathered sheikhs. Lady Maya’s father, it must be said, was wise in the ways of politics among the tribes. With the wedding as an excuse to gather the other sheikhs, he took the opportunity to lay the foundation for my lord’s undertaking. This done, my lord convinced the sheikhs individually and with some ease.

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Within days, there was a movement of the warriors of the desert tribes such as has not been seen in living memory, before or since! They moved swiftly, avoiding the cities of the meadow Shemites, and made for the pass hard by the city of Khyfa. My lord listened when the sheikhs spoke, and when he spoke he offered advice with humility. In so doing, he rose in their esteem each day. By the time they had reached Khyfa, the sheikhs had chosen my Lord Andronicus to speak with the voice of them all to that mountain city’s king. My lord more than put Khyfa’s king at ease, he convinced the king to add a number of his asshuri to the gathered forces. The city maintained a Kothian population, and their blood ran in the veins of the king’s daughter and heir. There was a faction within the city which wished to see the absorption of the realm into the kingdom of Koth. Chief within this faction was the high priest of Mitra! The high priest was in secret communication with the commander of the spahi garrison on the Kothian side of the pass, and had entered into a plot to place the princess upon the throne as the prelude to absorption into Koth.

Lord Andronicus was wily and, suspecting treachery, had men and hawks placed further up the pass to intercept any message sent north from the city. This precaution would bear fruit, when a rider was intercepted and killed bearing a message from the high priest to the spahi commander detailing the numbers and intentions of the nomad host. This message would later form part of the evidence which would seal the fates of the high priest and his daughter.

The night before proceeding through the pass, my lord found the princess of Khyfa in his tent. Her step-mother, a Zamorian, was keen to force the princess upon my lord. My lord, who had never been anything but forthcoming about his origins as a thief in Khorshemish, contended that a bootless adventurer was no proper match for a princess and heiress. The princess, for her part, confessed that she was a mere pawn and begged to be allowed to accompany my lord into Koth. This was, she said, for her own safety as well as that of the city of Khyfa and the king, her father. Though my lord did not know that her apprehensions were well-founded, he consented upon her promise to prepare a letter to inform her father.

When the host rode forth, my lord rode with the advance scouts. Soon enough, they located an advance force of two hundred Kothic spahis. These men, led by the commander of the garrison on the Kothic side of the pass were searching for the rider who had been intercepted on my lord’s orders. The high priest of Mitra in Khyfa had sent a message when the nomads were first sighted by his most trusted messenger, his daughter. He had promised details of the nomad host and their plans by a messenger, and that messenger was overdue.

My lord had no wish to allow his bold venture to fail before its birth, and hatched a cunning plan to undo the priest’s treachery. At night, while spahis were encamped, and distracted by their pursuit of dubious pleasures, my lord gathered together a small party from the gathered host. Twenty of the sons of Shem were chosen for their courage and facility to move without sound. Brave they were perforce, as none but the most bold would set forth as one and twenty against five score with any hope of survival! Yet set forth they did! And under the cloak of darkness they entered the encampment of their foes. My lord, ever mindful of the safety of those who placed their lives in his charge, placed an after-guard of six men in a place where the terrain was perfect for ambush. Should aught go awry, my lord intended that the men following him should retreat by this path. Six men with Shemite bows could, in such a place, make the way impassible to pursuing foes. My lord, however, had no intention of taking such an option for himself. In the event of disaster, he intended to sell his life dearly to gain time for the retreat of the others. May Mitra be thanked that this did not prove necessary!

The bold party moved forward without a sound, and the sentries were dealt with quickly. The party fanned out throughout the camp and my lord slipped silently into the great pavillion tent at the center. Within, my lord found the commander of the spahis with a surprising companion…none other than the daughter of the high priest! Sent by her father to inform them of the gathered host, she was returning home escorted by the overconfident spahis. My lord confronted the commander, and at the first clash of steel his small party moved to the attack. The spahis were taken entirely by surprise and were unprepared for the fury of the attack. Upon felling the enemy commander, my lord sounded the horn which had brought for this purpose, signalling the body of the Shemite host to pour in to finish the job. The spahis never had a chance.

One member of the party in particular, a Shemite known as Azrael, showed particular valour in this engagement and was noted for it by my lord. My lord, in recognition of that valour, chose Azrael to ride with him the next day with a party to be arrayed as the Spahis only just slain. So arrayed, the party would gain entry into the border fortress on the Kothian side of the pass and hold the gates until the main body of the horsemen arrived. Azrael proved worthy of my lord’s trust, again distinguishing himself for valour and being richly rewarded in plunder. By day’s end, the town and fortress had fallen.

It was discovered by my lord that the king of Koth had appointed Kothian governor to rule Khyfa once it had fallen through the high priest’s treachery. A document to that effect, signed in the king’s own hand, was found among the possessions of the newly appointed governor and was promptly sent to the king of Khyfa along with the governor’s head and the captive daughter of the high priest. The governor’s daughter, a maiden of beauty and purity, was found hidden in the treasury and taken by my lord into his own care for her better protection. Proofs offered in the form of the document, the governor’s head, and the high priest’s daughter, were sent back in the charge of the princess of that city, escorted by a party of asshuri. In so doing, my lord reasoned that her father’s throne might be preserved and the princess’ own position would be strengthened in the process.

Thus did my lord reenter the kingdom of Koth. Knowing that the best way to control the independent desert nomads was to not control them, he gathered the sheiks together in conference. I was decided that each sheik would lead his warriors in a different direction, and in that way the sons of the desert would sweep across the kingdom and avenge themselves upon Strabonus. To my lord fell the asshuri of Khyfa and warriors of each tribe.
The young warriors of each tribe vied for the privilege of being given the honor of following my lord into battle. Among those so honored was Azrael, who had proven his valour and worth time and time again.

True in his intent, my lord moved across the land crushing any opposition Strabonus had left in the west. Towns and manors were sacked and chaos spread. In the course of his progress, my lord discovered that there was a fortress in which Strabonus held captive the daughter of one of his nobles. This noble, one of the few men of honor and decency left living in the kingdom ready to stand against the injustices of Strabonus, was rendered powerless while Strabonus held his only child. My lord, to his credit, vowed to liberate the damsel and altered the progress of his host to that end.

Reaching the fortress, the host was arrayed and camp set beyond bowshot. It was at this time that I first met my lord. The lord given charge over this fortress and the prisoner by Strabonus was a fool. He was even more dangerous because he was an arrogant fool. Sadly, I was his herald. I had, in my youth, dreamed of serving a noble lord and chronicling his valiant deeds. I had resigned myself to a fate not in keeping with the dreams of my youth. Upon the arrival of the Shemite host, this castellan ordered me forth carrying threats and insults. I had long ago resolved to hold to the highest standard for heralds, regardless of the qualities of he who I served. Resigned to my fate, I mounted my horse and rode through the gates. The desert Shemites were not known to brook insults lightly.

I was unready for the reception I was to receive. Brought into my lord’s presence, I found myself facing a Kothian rather than a Shemite. Receiving the threats and insults of the castellan, my lord kept his temper in check. Instead of taking my head, my lord offered me refreshment. I received a goblet from my lord’s own hand and marveled at him. Truly this was all that lord should be! his answer was kindly, but brooked no dispute. The castellan had no hope of victory. Were he to surrender his fortress and his charge, he and the garrison would be spared and given safe passage. Were he to resist, the fortress would surely fall, and many lives were sure to be lost to no advantage.

Returning to the fortress, I was not surprised when the man I served refused to even consider the sad position he found himself in. I credit him with finding some remnant of the knightly virtues within himself, even though he discovered it in time for folly. Leading the garrison, he rode forth through the gate. The battle, if it may be called such, was short. Within minutes, the garrison lay dead in the dust and my lord and his host entered the fortress. The few people remaining in the fortress gave no opposition, and the prisoner was liberated.

Finding myself once more before my lord, I knew that fate had placed me here in this moment for a reason. Falling to my knees, I begged leave to serve him. My lord was humble, one of his many graces, and bid me rise.

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