Sorenan woke at the noise of someone moving in the tent he shared with Marcos. He reached a hand up to the knife he had beneath the folded cloak he used as a pillow on his cot. As he did so, he watched the shadows, searching for the interloper. After a moment, he found them standing near the cot that Marcos was sleeping on. They stood over the unconscious man for a long moment before producing something from beneath their cloak.
Sorenan rolled off the cot and crossed the space between himself and the man with his back to him on cat's feet. Seizing the man's hair and pulling his head back in a violently swift gesture, Sorenan brought his knife up and put it to his prisoner's throat. "One noise and you're dead," he muttered in the man's ear. The would be assassin moved his arm slightly. Sorenan put pressure on the blade and the man went still. "Who sent you?" he demanded. The man he had captured said nothing.
Before them, Marcos had awakened and watched the sight above him. As the man who was going to kill him tried to stealthily position himself to stab Sorenan, Marcos sat up and wrenched the knife out of his hand. The man made an awkward noise of surprise. Sorenan looked at Marcos. "I don't think he has a tongue," he said. Marcos nodded. "Get rid of him?" Sorenan asked. Marcos nodded again.
Sorenan roughly turned himself and his prisoner so that they were facing the entrance of the tent. As he slit the man's throat, Marcos rose to his feet.
Marcos quietly moved to the flap of the tend and looked out. Laying on the ground, lifeless and in pools of their own blood, the guards stared unseeingly up at the sky. It was nearly time for false dawn to break over the horizon. As he looked about the encampment, he could hear the noises of people beginning to stir. "How do you think he got this close?" Marcos said. Sorenan nudged the body of the assassin on the ground with his foot.
"Probably killed one of the foot soldiers and made his way through the camp under false pretense," the mercenary said. He sat down on his cot and picked up his boots. Sorenan turned them over to dump out any insects or small creatures that crawled in during the night. As he shook the boots to make sure they were empty, he listened to Marcos across the tent. It was their eight night on the march. Sorenan was pleasantly surprised by how Marcos took to the rigors of march. Marcos approached the sparse conditions with a calm acceptance that Sorenan had not expected.
As their forces moved towards the sand plain, General Zalaz had constant reports from his underlings. The scouts out ahead of them had sent word that the Temna encampment had been seen. While Sorenan thought that a night time excursion into the camp would have been an excellent way to cut down Temna's numbers, the General and Marcos decided against it. Sorenan was fairly certain that they were going to meet the enemy that day. The air had the charged feeling it did before he engaged foes. He couldn't explain how he knew it was going to happen, only that all the world seemed to take on a sharper edge and more vivid sensations as he drew closer to combat.
With out the assistance of servants, Sorenan put on his armor. When he was finished, he helped Marcos into his own. When they emerged from the tent, the guards who were to relieve the dead men had arrived and were beginning to call for the general. When Sorenan and Marcos emerged unharmed, the guards calmed. "Get rid of the bodies," Sorenan said. The guards acknowledged his order as one of Marcos's servants approached, surprised that the pair were awake early. When the servant spotted the corpses, his expression was one of shock and horror.
The sword bearers of Ashur ignored the servant's expression and went in search of General Zalaz. They found him talking quietly with one of his sergeants. As the black haired man looked over, he rose. "They have found the invasion force," Zalaz said, "Word has been put through the camp that all are to awake. We're going to hit them at daybreak before they have had a chance to gather their wits." Sorenan looked over at Marcos, curious as to what the priest-king and Emperor of Dacia would say.
"The sand plains behind them are going to be rough ground for the chariots to go over," he said. Zalaz nodded. "How are we going to force them to go south?" Marcos asked. Zalaz looked over as a captain was giving orders to one of his men. He watched the pair separate and spread word of his orders to yet more people.
"The plan it to have not enough of them left alive to be worth driving south into the black sands," Zalaz said. Marcos scratched at his jaw. His beard was nothing impressive. While he preferred to keep his face more cleanly shaven, Marcos ignored his growing beard in favor of focusing on making time to plot strategy with Zalaz and Sorenan. "Are you sure that you want to lead the main force forward?" Zalaz said, looking over at the two men at his side.
"Yes," Marcos said, "It is Ashur's will." Zalaz shook his head. He didn't like the idea of Marcos standing on the front line. He had protested against it for the last three days. Marcos, however, refused to acquiesce to Zalaz's concerns. Sorenan said nothing on the matter, deciding that his place was to protect Marcos's back, where ever he stood in the battle.
Author's note: I'm not particularly happy with how this installment came out. I apologize for how rough it is. Try as I may, however, this is the best I can manage. Hopefully next week's installment will be better.