A pair of hours passed, and the Enkan gates again swung open. Through the ripples of near midday heat, Hyrcurian watched Nemeses lead a company of fifty soldiers out onto the field. That the number of Leothite soldiers in the settlement rivalled his own was the biggest shock to the Tigrisian leader.
“My apologies, Hyrcurian, but I must tell you something.”
Hyrcurian rounded on Pouya, angry that he should be distracted from assessing the threat now marching towards him. “The time for battle has finally arrived, and therefore your news can wait. See to your men.”
Pouya bowed his head, stifling a yawn as he returned to his group. Trying to think straight on barely three hours sleep was difficult, let alone when the enemy was walking out to face them.
As Hyrcurian turned back to his opponents, he noticed that a group of Leothite ladies had dashed out of the gates and were dragging their dead back inside the Enkan. One lioness walked at the back of the procession, the sharp sound of her sharpening her blades carrying to him. Despite the hot wind, a cold chill ran through him as he considered the fate of the carcasses.
As the Enkan gates boomed shut, the Leothite army came to a halt. The sun reflecting off the many golden manes and furs narrowed the eyes of the Tigrisians, whose orange and onyx pelts ruffled in the warm breeze. The warriors of both sides sneered at each other, flashing their teeth and roaring derision at their opponents.
The Tigrisian leader looked back to the Enkan. From the walkway above the gates, the multitude of lionesses and children watched their men walk off to war. His superior eyesight managed to see their expressions. The sadness on all of their visages drew his memory back to when he was a cub, watching his father rally his ancestors for the last attack upon their former stronghold, now held by the hated enemy. Seeing his own emotions mirrored in the loved ones of his opponents gave him pause.
Nemeses walked along the front line of his army, speaking words of encouragement and hatred. The barbs that their leader made at their opponent’s expense drew twisted smiles and laughter.
Hyrcurian’s mind drew back to the present, and the tigresses that had been left behind in the Serengi. He thought of those many faithful women, who fought in the harshest conditions imaginable to support their cubs, and who had watched their husbands march off again in the never-ending cycle of conflict. Was he right to lead another generation of Tigrisian men to their deaths?
A great din arose from the Leothite ranks. Every soldier was equipped with a solid wooden shield, and was banging the hilt of their swords upon them. The Tigrisians had only their pairs of swords. The caches Hyrcurian had uncovered over the years had not had any defensive items, only the swords. Having two weapons to attack with, instead of one offensive item and one defensive item, seemed to imply that whoever had stocked the caches believed that offense was the best defense.
Hyrcurian turned back to his leaders, who stood at the front of their groups.
The Tigrisian ranks watched in shock, and the deafening ruckus of the Leothites quickly drew silent, as Hyrcurian calmly walked towards his opponents. Nemeses watched in bemusement, allowing a small moment of appreciation for his opposite.
“You seek certain death, young Tigrisian?” Nemeses sneered. “Leaving your men behind is never the wisest tactic.”
“It is when you wish to avoid bloodshed.”
The Leothite leader roared with mirth. “You bring your group of desert-dwellers to my home, armed to the teeth, and yet you speak of peaceful resolution? Your actions do not match your words.”
Hyrcurian nodded. “I agree with you.” He tilted his head towards the settlement. “I thought of the many warriors on both sides who have died in the many conflicts before us. Do we wish to continue the cycle, until both our lines are a memory? Do you wish for your loved ones to see you die?”
“Such is the way of things, young cub. To hold the Enkan has always been the goals of both our tribes, as far back as our memories go.”
“And yet your soldier numbers barely rise above ours. Both our tribes teeter on the brink, and yet we would fight again?”
Nemeses narrowed his eyes. “Philosophy means little on the battlefield. Speak your mind.”
“We fight. Our warriors need not be involved. Send your men back, and I order mine to stand down.”
“You mean for us to fight? What terms did you have in mind?”
“Whoever wins will foster a new future. The Enkan is large enough to support both tribes now, and not just one as it has in the past. Once we have fought, our animosity will be left behind.”
Nemeses gave a grim grin. “That puts a lot of trust in the victor. You assume I would not send my men to slaughter your tribe, and that you would not do the same with yours.”
Hyrcurian returned the smile. “As your tribe has always said, it is all about survival. I am offering it to you, win or lose.”
The Leothite pondered the offer for some time, while soldiers of both sides watched in anticipation of the outcome.
“Leothites! Fall back.”
– T –