These being the tales of the Journey of Cilor Negial into the Redlands…
I heard the stirring in the camp and stood up quickly…and then sat down quicker swiping ineffectually at the spreading ink stain on my breaches. As I swabbed at the black mess I peered intently at the returning patrol.
Rascaliun, called the Iron Talon had led this foray into the Redlands when he heard about a band of Pentan raiders. I remember his look of disdain as I rode up on my charger and asked to accompany him; what followed was two days of hard riding with me bumping along uncomfortably on my horse trying to keep up with the clutch of augners and their brightly coloured riders. They would have looked funny with all of those feathers were it not for the deadly serious way they looked at the world around them and the brutally efficient look to their weapons.
Rascaliun paused from grooming his augner – he called it Rend – to watch the approaching rider. The sergeant’s feathers swayed as the augner strode down the hill with its unique bobbing gait, very different from a horse’s, but then the augner was no horse. Augners were tall birds, their backs were as high off the ground as a horse’s and their heads reached as far again off of the ground. They could carry a small man and his equipment faster than a horse could but did not quite have the same endurance. They were brightly coloured with red, blue and even some emerald green feathers. Their claws were murderous and their beaks worse – the cursed animals seemed to take positive delight in plucking eyes out.
The sergeant, the Rinliddi called them Second Talons, leaped to the ground before Rascaliun in a flurry of blue feathers. Besides the three-foot technicolour monstrosities swaying from the crest of his helm, he had a series of hues sewn to his shirt, the shiny ones that seemed to drip with colour as he moved. He threw a jaunty salute at Rascaliun and snapped off a contact report in the Rinliddi tongue. I racked my mind to translate as Rascaliun strode away shouting orders; the Second Talon had seen the horse nomads and marked where they had made camp for the night. The Iron Talon was rousing his clutch and making ready to strike the Pentans that night.
The clutch rode out an hour later. The riders had sharpened their spears, the augners their talons and all had preened their feathers. They made a magnificent sight riding over the hill with our glorious Yelm settling into the underworld, each wore a feathered cloak reflecting their tastes and family. The only thing that was the same on the eight riders were the three blood-red feathers that jutted from the front of their helmet crests, they all belonged to the Red-Eye-Bright nest; a more fervent band of the Goddess’ warriors I challenge you to find.
I was glad that this expedition was nearing its conclusion as I was quite tired of the constant preening and strutting that seems to characterise the Rinliddi nobleman. And the way they treated my mount was criminal, Bolarillo is a pure-breed Jillaro stallion! And the terrible squawking and scampering about when they pray was truly un-nerving.
Rascaliun arrayed his clutch in a line just within the trees overlooking the dell where the nomads had made their camp. The scouts had reported a score of riders in the camp and that was now born out. Two of the demons rode quietly around opposite sides of the camp’s perimeter keeping a keen watch. I could see little in the starlight but the avilry were peering about themselves with the eyes of the eagle and claimed to be able to see as well as in daylight.
Rascaliun held his hand before him and cried out. I was shocked to hear that scree come from a man’s throat. Shortly a dully-glowing form dropped from the sky and lit on his shoulder. A vast eagle it was, glowing with an inner light. Rascaliun later told me how he had befriended one of Vrimak’s golden children. The majestic bird cooed in Rascaliun’s ear and he chirped back. With a nod of his head the great bird leapt moonward and swooped from the trees. The riders gripped their spears and darts and readied for the charge.
The nearer nomad did not see what happened. The eagle soared past him and tore his throat with one mighty sweep of its talons. Bursting into his full blazing glory the eagle screamed in delight as it hurled itself at the second picket. The sudden burst of light startled the man and he had just flung up a hand to shield his eyes when the burning raptor struck him and silenced him for good.
The clutch started from the trees as soon as the eagle screamed and their cries joined the birds as they flung themselves at the camp. I found it hard not to laugh at the image they made as they bobbed improbably down the hill on the backs of their augners with feathered panoplies swaying in the night, only the wildly distorted faces and blood-thirsty caws sobered my mood. Their cries were indistinguishable from those of the eagle still ripping at the second rider.
The clutch swooped into the camp and began the symphony known across this world and the next, the rise and fall of ruddy swords, the hissing flights of hard-thrown darts, the murderous cawing of the attackers and the terrified screams of the surprised. The riders swarmed the camp, their augners tore Pentans with their talons and ripped their faces with their beaks. 5, 7, 11, 13 were down before any fought back; their champion leapt screaming atop a bird and bore the rider and his mount to the ground stabbing madly with his dagger. A dripping spear reached out and stilled the barbarian forever.
When the symphony ended, two of Rascaliun’s men lay broken on the ground and 19 Pentans would never harry the Empire again. Rascaliun had the horse-demon’s bodies impaled, tied his own fallen to their saddles, chirped to Rend and led his clutch back to their nest. When I asked about the horses he was bring back he told me that the best one would be given to the Emperor, the rest would be sacrificed to Veng and his father Vrimak.
As I followed them back I was struck at how the beauty of their garb was no longer, the brightly coloured cloaks and gaily swaying headdresses were a warning to the world. The Empire is friendly and peaceful, but still has talons of iron.