Chapter 50: Hakim's move
13 March 1261
Last time I write an entry, I described the dreams that plagued me the last three months of the year of Our Lord 1260: how I met myself twice each time, each copy running away in a different direction. But the morning I wrote that down, I had quite a different one. As always I walked through the empty streets of Khudan, with no-one around to help me, or explain anything. As all the dreams the previous week, I dragged myself forward, expecting to enter another situation where I had to choose one way or the other. Not this time. When I raised my head a little, I saw a bright light shining over the rooftops. There was something new, at the other end of the town. I was drawn to it, like a moth to a candle. Through the empty streets, along countless corners, past closed houses: I felt a flash of hope while I ran through the cold snow. What had changed? Had I finally found the right path? The light appeared to be coming from my palace, from the front gates. I expected my two copies to await me there, but instead of seeing my own face twice, I met just one person, standing in the most radiant armor I've ever seen. Black as the night, but with metal shining as the full moon: this man embodied everything I could and wanted to be. When I approached him, he stepped aside to let me enter through the heavy gates. His heavily armored hands rested on my shoulders while the two gatedoors opened each to another side, letting a warm glow out, melting the snow around me. It felt like coming home. As I stepped through, the morning sun shining through my window woke me up.A bright light and a beacon of hope... My dream shows a vision of days soon to come.
Before I could write this down last December, I was interrupted by a messenger running up the stairs. 'War!' he shouted. Fear engulfed my heart for a moment: my army wasn't ready yet for another confrontation. I opened the door, to let the messenger in my room, only to have him fall into my arms with a knife in his back. A shadow ran downstairs, to quick to catch. With his last breath the man in my arms assured me, to my relieve, that no-one has declared war on me. Holland was save for another day. Life slipped away from him, leaving me puzzled. It wasn't until the end of that day I discovered by other sources that sultan Hakim had declared war on the Rhodoks, the only country that seemed to stay out of the major wars for the past time. Who remembered king Graveth and his diminished and quiet kingdom anyway? They were unimportant in the international politics, yet still they held three cities. Every ruler had retracted himself in a safe cocoon, enjoying Hakim's peace. But now his real motives became clear. Had Hakim planned this from the beginning, or did he see the signs as I did, and decided to act accordingly?
Whatever his motives were, he showed in the first two weeks of January that he had learned form my last war. His spies had crawled the lands for months, learning every aspect of my tactics. How could I have missed that? Was I so blinded by my own success? Hakim led his soldiers out of the desert, into the southern mountains. The horses galloped over the mountain passes while the Rhodok outposts were overrun. Veluca was their first destination. This city, where I have my oil industry stationed, was conquered in merely two days. After this success Hakim didn't stop: he turned south, and one week later Jelkala was the second Rhodok city to fall. After these initial conquests, it became much harder for these desert warriors to continue their march west. The Rhodoks knew the mountains, and knew where to strike back.
The first week of the Sarranid invasion I didn't knew that he would use the same tactics I had used half a year earlier. All I knew was my dream, a vision of light and hope, came to me the moment war had been declared. The time to be soft was over: if war was the life juice of these lands, than war it could get. The dream had shown me road I should take. I wandered towards the nearest blacksmith, and ordered the armor from my dreams. It took the man a while to craft it, but as I can say now, it was well worth every denar I spent on it. Not only does it protect me better that my previous battle suit, it scares most enemies away. I put it on, and rode through Calradia as a bearer of ill news.After I got new armor, I rode the land as a bearer of ill news.
While city after city fell to the Sarranid might, I still had to face the assassins. The death of the messenger clearly showed me that they hadn't ceased their attempts.But how could I stop them? Who were they? There was no point in waiting for them to come here and try another time to slit my throat. I needed to find them
, and return the favour. I assembled a group of highly skilled soldiers. Together we disguised ourselves as wandering merchants, traveling from city to city inspecting our warehouses and conducting our weekly trades. Even tough that was exactly what we were doing, it wasn't our main focus: in each town we visited, we carefully inspected each tavern, looking for clues. From Praven to Bariyye we found puzzle pieces, all pointing towards the dangerous war zone. I needed to travel to the mountains myself, and walk through the fallen cities to find the ones responsible for all those attempts.
Together with my men I rode south, over the major roads connecting the ever-changing factions together. Even tough we were on the lookout for attacks by bandits or maybe assassins, the roads became awfully quiet the more south we came. No fellow travellers to meet. Burning fires in the forests. Smoke over the mountain tops. These lands have never seen a devastation as is displayed here, right now. Even my men, hardened by my own conquest in the north, fell silent by seeing the result of the Sarranids ploughing west. Without exchanging as much as a glance to each other, we passed burning houses, saw dead people and heard the screams of many soldiers dying in the passes each day. Is this the peace Hakim had in mind for all of us?
Finally, after what seemed like ages, we arrived in Veluca. I hadn't visited any Rhodok city in quite a while, so I wondered how my oil business was doing these days. It had seemed like a save investment at the time, buying a workshop in the ever-quiet Rhodok lands, but I wasn't that sure anymore. All around me houses were lying in ruins, smoldering after some big fires that had devastated half the city during the siege. It must have been the hand of God that my place was in the only save and untouched part of the city. When I entered the large workshop, the master craftsman came towards me and thanked me for coming. During the war he had been unable to get any of his products out for sale, and now his stock was almost beyond his capacity. All these flasks of oil were just waiting to be sold. Velucan oil was a scarce good these days, so a good profit could be mad with those. The thought of the riches that awaited me almost made me forget my real purpose here: to find those assassins.
All hints had pointed to this city. Who could I trust? Who would betray me? I didn't tell the master craftsman my real purpose, but just stuck with the story I had been telling at every tavern: that I was here to conduct business. As always I went that night up to my room, located this time in the heart of my Velucan business empire. This time tough I didn't went to sleep. Some men stood guard, while others kept a close eye on the men and women working in here. When the full moon rose over the city and the stars twinkled, I crawled through the window and sneaked out. The roofs were steep, and I almost fell down when I saw another person crawl out of another window. the moonlight shone of his face, revealing the master craftsman himself. He slipped away, and walked through the many narrow streets. Many times he looked back to see if he wasn't been followed, but the streets were empty. He was all alone. Or so he thought. Never did he look up, or else he would have seen a bright light shining over the rooftops, as the moonlight reflected on my new armor while I ran over the houses, or what was left of them.I had sneaked out of my own place, to seek the assassins.
The master entered a building quite a few blocks away. Climbing these roofs had taken almost all of my energy. Running back for backup wasn't an option. At least, for the next dozens of long and deep breaths. I sat down on the straw roof. Trough it - or was it through the nearby chimney? - I could hear voices. There were at least a dozen men in there, discussing something. The master craftsman was doing most of the talking. I couldn't make out what he was saying, altough I suspected him selling me out. Why else would he sneak out in the middle of the night, the moment I had arrived? The chimney was close, so I crawled higher up the roof. It made a dangerous creaking sound. For a moment I sat still, not daring to make any movement. Each heartbeat took forever to take, and believe me, it was beating like the devil had appeared on my doorsteps. Then the roof collapsed.
Time passed so slowly that I could feel each of the fast heartbeats, and ponder over it. Beat. I fell through the straw roof. Beat. All I saw was straw dwindling down, like feathers from a scratched pillow. Beat. I didn't even feel it when I hit the first floor. The world was spinning around me, especially when the wood tore by the weight of my armor. Beat. Motes flew all around me, mixing with the straw. Beat. With my head down I felt how the horns on my helmet hit something soft. Beat. Silent screams in the eyes of several men around me. Beat. The floor coloured red. Beat. No-one dared to say something for a moment, all stunned. Even my heart forgot to beat.
Reality quickly returned to all of us. Weapons were drawn all around me. I was surrounded in a cramped space. But when I stepped up - still dizzy after the fall - and drew my bastard sword, they all made a step back. There was blood dripping down my cheeks. No time to think about that. Bones cracked under my metal boots as I took stance. I didn't take my eyes of the crowd to look down to whom I had crushed in my fall. A few of them did. That's the moment I used to attack. The first few fell even before they had time to raise their eyes to me again. While blood kept on dripping over my face, a red haze covered my eyes. One slash after another I sliced through flesh. Some managed to fire their little crossbows, throw their daggers or hit me with a hidden sword, but none were able to penetrate my new armor before I hit them. When I finally wiped my face, I was the last man standing. The room was filled with blood and lifeless bodies, with the master craftsman lying in the middle. His skull was pierced and ribcage crushed. Outside the streets finally started to fill with people. Guards, by the sound of them. They must have come down to the noise of a collapsing building. As I sneaked out the back door, they burst through the front. I could almost hear them grasp for breath, looking at the slain bodies of a dozen men. The entire route back I pondered over what had happened. What have I done? I didn't even knew for sure that they were the assassins. My world was falling apart with each step I took, and all I could think about was: 'I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.' When I entered my workshop, I was certain of it: Calradia has chosen me to fill its veins with the life force it requires: war, death and destruction. Hakim shall not take that role away from me.As I'm once again victorious, I know that my enemies will tremble before me.
There was nothing more for us to seek in Veluca, so we left the very next day. The world had become a very different one now. Time after time I looked at my own mortal hands, and could only see the power they held. The power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life. The gauntlets I wear can crush through a man's skull, the sword I swing can decapitate anyone who dares to stand in my way. I need to complete the training of my men, and conquer the rest of the Nords. Hakim has shown here in the south that a race is on. A race for power, a race with the same tactics. Hakim is my real opponent. Calradia has sown the wind, but now it shall reap the whirlwind.
And the Sarranid invasion of the Rhodoks? Just like my own initial success, Hakim's quick conquest soon wore out. The war dragged on for over two and a half months of guerrilla fighting in the high mountains. King Graveth couldn't do anything to regain his lost territories, while Hakim couldn't march forward. So today they signed a peace treaty. A little over half the country has been conquered. Now Hakim even controls more cities than I do. Something needs to be done, and quick. I expect him to finish the job sooner than later, and then his eyes can only reach north, towards the Nord and me. The veins of Calradia will flow again with war, and I can't let him dominate the stream. War is upon us. War is the bright hope for Calradia. War is all I need.
Here is a picture of Floris' current stats:
As you can see, Sultan Hakim has conquered half of the Rhodok territory, including two of their cities.