As per his dictate to his soldiers, Nemeses was barely able to see their cloaked forms as he strode confidently through the almost empty lanes of the Enkan settlement. He had informed them of the points of weakness in the fortifications, and stationed four soldiers at each. As a precaution, should the Tigrisians find some way to breach the defences, he had set a soldier at the end of each street to fall upon the intruders.
His military mind scorned those in the settlement who shirked their duty of learning warfare and honing combat skills. Despite himself, the cloaks that the seamsfolk had created were undoubtedly useful for stealthy movement in the low light conditions of night time. In the daytime, another style of cloak could blend almost perfectly with the bleached sand they walked upon, as well as the sandstone buildings if one stayed perfectly still. Even when one knew what to look for, a second look at a perceived inconsistency in a path or wall was usually required.
Approaching the westernmost wall, he slowed his walk as a breach in the fortification became apparent. No flicker of movement was visible outside of the defensive partition, allowing him to stalk towards a bunker blanketed in the same fabric as the cloaks.
“Lord Nemeses,” an urgent whisper issued from a nearby location. “Quickly! There has been movement recently.”
The edge of the path turned up, an abyssal darkness contained underneath it. Nemeses checked quickly for Tigrisians before sliding under the blanket and resetting it. Four soldiers were in the bunker, their features hidden in the dark.
The voice that had beckoned Nemeses spoke again. “A group of six Tigrisians passed by not long ago. They considered the hole in the fortification, but continued on. The little I could hear indicated that they considered the entry point too narrow.”
Nemeses sneered. “If they think that we would willingly have defensive holes that they could march three or four wide through, they are dumber than we thought. How long ago did they pass?”
“The blanket obscured our view of the stars, as did not want the glint of our eyes betraying our position. I would hazard a guess of several hours.”
Their leader considered the words. “That seems longer than expected. Keep your position, and advise me at the end of your rotation. If they do not return, an investigation may be needed.”
Subtly lifting the edge of the blanket, Nemeses surveyed the defensive gap for several minutes before he was comfortable moving out of it. Keeping to the shadows of the stone buildings, he cursed the Tigrisian leader for their tactics. Sending six people in a group to scout the walls gave them superior numbers against his hidden forces. They have not given me reason to underestimate them, so I must err on the side of caution, Nemeses thought to himself.
Working through the city, each soldier he passed informed him that nothing of note had been seen. That the inner buildings were secure gave him some sense of security, though doubts lingered from his memory of surveying the enemy from atop the settlement gates. His necklace had always been able to detect threats, unexplainably growing cold to the touch. Trusted lieutenants had told him to his face that he was paranoid, which had made them a hearty meal to the populace. Looking upon the field of Tigrisians and their upstart leader, the chill from the adornment had grown to the point he had had to force himself not to grimace.
The fool may be more trouble than he looks, Nemeses thought to himself. The first two Tigrisian incursions he had faced were brutal affairs, with each side incurring significant casualty rates. He remembered walking amongst hundreds of fallen Tigrisians and Leothites in the first conflict, and his elation at the victory. The number of fighters had continued to fall in the following two battles, to the point that the fighters he could call upon for this conflict would be lucky to surpass fifty. The others within the Enkan were women and children, essential pieces in ensuring the survival of the Leothite race. To field them would be the largest gamble he could possibly take, and even in the full flush of desperation he knew he could not do so. All that we know is survival, his father’s dying words echoed through his mind.
Approaching each fortification weakness, they advised much the same as the westernmost wall defenders. Another six Tigrisian scouts had been observed on the eastern walls, also hesitant to step through the wall gaps. It was noted by one group that the intruders had taken handfuls of loose stones and positioned them in a particular way.
Nemeses grinned at the report. “Do not disturb their stones; the women and children will also be warned. We will reinforce each breach with extra soldiers in two night’s time, by which time they should be confident enough to commit to an attack. Maintain current numbers until then.”
He considered his tactics as he approached the final wall breach. Committing forty soldiers to this gap and the others would leave not even a token force if they were overwhelmed. All he could do is position more soldiers during the day across the walltops, giving the impression that vastly superior numbers awaited the Tigrisians should they make their way into the settlement proper.
Reaching the final defensive group, he asked their leader for a report.
“Six intruders have been moving outside the walls. They passed by twice within three hours, though I sensed something peculiar.”
Nemeses’ eyes narrowed. “How so?”
“It was as if another was there. It was like a ghost seen out of the corner of my eye, but once I focused upon the spot they were gone.”
“How fatigued do you feel?”
“A little, Lord Nemeses, but not enough to be seeing visions.”
“It is an interesting observation. I will keep it in mind when finalising the plans for tonight.”
His rounds completed, Nemeses headed home. Anger flared within him, knowing his desire for Tigrisian heads would not be fulfilled by his soldiers this night, and he could not scold them for it.
– L –