King Lorren expected the attack. How could he not? His advisors and scouts had been warning him for three weeks that the steppe riders were coming. Lightly armored and ill equipped these warriors nonetheless had proven themselves to be extremely vicious, highly skilled and well commanded. Their specialty was butchery.
Less than four days ride from the borders of Ryder the steppe men had descended on the town of Berber. The initial attack came at night, came without warning and coupled with hell raising war cries and screams of unfettered bloodlust. The townsmen fell first barely able to offer even token resistance.
The thick bladed curved scimitars of the steppe warriors were more akin to sickles than swords. Wielded from horseback the sole virtue of the weapon was in its unmatched ability to dislodge a man’s head from his neck with but a single stroke.
Within two hours of the attack townsmen’s heads could be found in any open space in the town ranging from overturned water cisterns, to open saddle bags and even hanging from the belt of pillaging steppes men.
Those were the adjectives the scouts used to describe the slaughter. But King Lorren merely mumbled to those gathered that it was neither. It was simply war. Red war. Not the glamorous feudal wars the people of Ryder had grown accustomed to over the past 150 years. Feudal wars with knights and their personal attendants; sieges and terms of surrender; prizes and ransoms. Feudal wars adorned with majestic war banners, unit standards, coats of arms, fair maidens and regal funeral processions.
Perhaps it was unfortunate, but King Lorren knew war better than that. Lorren knew War well – “death’s herdsman” was what his people called the hooded apparition armed with a scythe made of bones. Lorren grew up in the lap of war and as such knew war better than most men know their own heart and its dark desires.
He had suckled on its breast as a youth in the jungles of his homeland Dimmier where ‘tribe speared tribe’ for claims to river streams and forest clearings.
Later, as he grew older, he put a price on his sword and fought wherever, and for whatever reason, the highest bidder was willing to pay. His campaigns, or tours of duty, would come to span some fifteen years and six continents before a battle would be fought by the side of a close friend which would eventually lead him to the throne of Ryder.
There was the conflict in West where he commanded his first unit of mercenaries; then came the massacre at Delbin where ten of his best friends died and he was impaled on a spear and left for dead; he would survive however and conduct his first siege at the Engagement at Castle Jade; then came the War of Lunven where he and his men found themselves fighting both Dwarves and Elves to keep them from engaging each other in a war that could have spread throughout the known world. Afterward he almost welcomed the long, harsh winter campaigns that came next in Northern Nimrod and the tundras of Yorr; and in-between Yorr and The Crimson Wars of Ryder there were over a hundred other battles, skirmishes, ambushes, ambuscades, chevauchees and assaults fought throughout Harbor Rock and in virtually every kingdom in the alliance .
He knew war. And these steppe men knew it too.