The Hordes

The most important fact about those generally referred to as the "hordes" was that their society was well-structured and they were far from the uneducated barbarians many thought them to be. Admittedly, their social organization was not that adopted by most of those they fought. They had no king, no nobles and serfs. Mobility was a prime factor of their society, leading them to maintain few permanent settlements. Rather, they preferred tents and horses, with the number of wagons to slow their movements kept to a minimum. They were a people whose primary occupation was war and, as such, gained status, wealth, and power based on their prowess. The only exclusions to such battle training were those called to the service of their deity, those too old, young or injured to be effective fighters, women, and slaves. Even the young, old, or injured still participated in training to the extent that they were able, but it was recognized that their contributions either had been given already or would be in the future.

Those in service to the deity had their own ways to contribute to battle, able to turn nature against their enemies at need: rocks, earth, vegetation, weather, water, all of it could be used to bring their enemies to their knees, metaphorically speaking. These men, and the very occasional woman called to service, communicated most directly with their deity although any claimed by the group could be brought into such service at need. They tended to the well-being of all those under their care and, in the end, spent less time making war than they did in communing with the deity and tending to the religious requirements of their communities.

The women held a particular place, one so often associated with women. They were the wives, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters. Tending to the daily requirements of the maintenance of such a community was their livelihood. They gave birth to, and raised, the children until the boys were old enough to train. They provided food for all. They tended to clothing and living spaces, and produced many of the stories and art of their people. To assume that they had no skill with weapons would, however, be completely untrue. They were the hunters of their people, more than competent at bringing down game. They could kill when needed, but few mastered the tactical aspects of war that the men spent so much time learning. A very, very few were called to a particular service, joining an equally few number of men who served as the personal enforcers and assassins of the deity.

Shokaran was a more than competent warleader. He understood battles, understood not just the ability to fight and defeat a single opponent, but how to deal with a variety of situations. Taking advantage of any possible details, from terrain to the composition of the opposing groups. His understanding of tactics was impeccable, a fact that might have surprised all those who currently dismissed the hordes as being incapable of understanding more complex battle maneuvers, assuming them to be little more than crudely-trained warriors who fought each for themselves. It was to Shokaran that much of the credit for the current success and spread of the people went. The remained, of course, was given to their deity.

Beyond his mastery of tactics, he was not confined by some idea that battle itself should be honourable and that there were rules that must be followed. Although in any form of internal dispute and combat there were rules and regulations designed to prevent the unnecessary loss of able warriors, there were no delusions that war was a grand and pretty undertaking. Quite the opposite. It was at times a glorious display of skill and tactical thinking but, in the end, it was gory, dangerous, exhausting, and an unfortunate necessity. To expect rules was to avoid giving one's entire heart and soul to the battle; to hold back in that way was a dishonour. To die in battle was expected and accepted, but to bring defeat to one's enemies was the only true honour to be found.

It was as Shokaran sat high up in the branches of a tree, staring at the small village that appeared to have little thought for their own defense, that he contemplated the downfall of yet another civilisation. He had found it to be of little difficulty to make his way from the borders this far into a land ruled by unknown deities. The patrols he had seen were easy enough to avoid and even the warrior he followed had been unaware of his presence, or that of the few men who had come with him. It made him smile as he pulled the cowl of his cloak further forward to shadow his face. In truth he was little more than a shadow, the dappled fabric of his cloak blending easily with the leaves around him. None suspected that he perched watching them. None knew of his men hidden in a nearby copse awaiting his next orders.

Ashyrath, the deity of his people, had sent him here although he knew not why. His dreams, however, had been just as clear as the demands of the shaman he had consulted. He was to come to this village and wait. All would be made clear to him. Thinking to question such instructions, he had found himself traveling in the proper direction before he could even voice his objections. Clear enough, when his own body obeyed while his mind sought to refuse.

As he sat, the sun sending trickles of sweat down his sides beneath his rough shirt, he admitted that he was hardly indespensible to his people. Yes, he was a gifted leader, but there were others who could take his place. If Ashyrath had a task for him that was the task he must complete.

He found his mind wandering back to the warrior he had followed. The man had acquitted himself well enough in the skirmishes with his people on the border although something in his commitment had seemed lacking to Shokaran. At least until a group of young women, caught unawares while doing their washing, had been at risk. While Shokaran's men had seen easy pickings, a group of new slaves to collect and add to their tents, that man had appeared and thrust himself wholeheartedly into the protection of those women. It had surprised Shokaran, the passion and skill the man exhibited in that skirmish, even as he railed against the loss of three warriors who should never have been taken unawares so easily. Two had died and the third had been severely injured.

As Shokaran watched the man dismount and enter a building he assumed to be a temple his eyebrows rose in surprise. From what he knew of their culture he began to suspect that the man might be a particular servant of one of their gods. He did not know the different signs for the deities, finding the sheer number of different deities puzzling. It was one reason he felt little compunction in their defeat, this confusion of deities who could never stand united. Without such protection the people of Ashyrath would find their victory easy enough. And yet this warrior had impressed him.

Shifting his perch, he wished not for the first time to be in the comfort of his tents under the solicitous care of his slaves and children. That thought reminded him just how long it had been since his wife had died, illness doing what previous attacks on their group had not managed and felling a woman he had found to be all that was admirable. But such thoughts did little good. Perhaps on his return he would accept the advances of one of the many women who sought to join him in his bed. He was considered handsome, although his position alone would have garnered him attention. He was tall, standing around 6'2, his shoulders broad and well-muscled, his skin darkly tanned and his markings still standing out brightly on his skin even after many years.

It was the custom of his people to mark their life journeys on their skin, a rite performed by the shamans as part of communion with Ashyrath. Every person wore their affiliations on their skin, their deeds marked for all to read. Their clan markings as well as individual family symbols were the first they received, later followed by all worthy deeds and stories. It identified them easily to outsiders, and to one another, and kept slaves from running for the most part. Those slaves who were foolish enough to run usually found their reception at home to be far different than expected, the markings leading them to be treated as traitors. As slaves were generally well treated, almost all of them women captured in various raids and battles, it was their own fault for leaving the protection of the clan that had claimed them.

Shokaran's attention was again captured by movement in the village as he saw the man leave the temple, heading to a building that the warleader surmised to be the inn. His eyes narrowed and, as they did, his vision enhanced rather like that of an eagle. His eyes were the same golden as that of the bird whose sight he shared. It was a gift of Ashyrath, one of the abilities with which he had been gifted, and highly useful. In this moment it allowed him to see the disquieted expression on the face of the man he had followed. Idle curiosity led him to suspect that communion with the man's deity had been less than calming for him. Shokaran pitied him in that instant, again thankful for the guidance of Ashyrath.

But still he wondered just why he was here. Why had Ashyrath demanded he come to this place? There was nothing special about this place, although a quick attack might disquiet the ruler, cause him to be unsettled by just how easily they had invaded so far beyond the borders. But that was not reason enough. Ashyrath left such decisions to him. There was some other reason for his presence. Only time, however would bring him the answer.

The End

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