As the peak of the day’s heat arrived, Nemeses and his opponent stared at each other from across the battlefield.
Hyrcurian exuded strength and menace, the glare in his eyes as honed as the Leothite’s cherished blade. Nemeses considered his challenger, taking in all aspects of his appearance. The muscles rippling underneath the orange and black stripes, the imposing height even from a distance of one hundred feet, the bared teeth and withering gaze combined into a powerful form that any hardened warrior would think twice about engaging in battle.
The Leothite’s appraising eyes moved to the glittering gauntlets of his enemy, the air itself seeming to bend around the pieces of armour in a way that the heat did not. His necklace suddenly chilled against his chest, a feeling of unease ran through Nemeses, who was shocked to realise that it was a feeling very close to terror. Such a feeling he had not felt in almost four tenyears, in the days prior to successfully leading the Leothites in evicting the forebears of these Tigrisians from the Enkan.
Moving his hands to his sword hilt and his necklace, the emotion subsided just as quickly as it had appeared. His thoughts remained in the past, and the joy that had overwhelmed him and his warriors when the Tigrisians surrendered the Enkan. His tribe had spent seven tenyears in disgrace, dejectedly wandering the Serengi as they lusted after their return to the only fertile lands beneath the cliff face. While those years cut at the tribe’s pride, it had forged in them strength of character and a ruthlessness that had allowed them to regain the Enkan.
The years after their success were a blessing, just as the fleeting month of plentiful waters that marked the arrival of Airebuk had been. But the bounty they had fought for did not maliciously disappear for the remaining eleven months of the year, leaving them to scavenge for whichever hardy insect or serpent able to flourish in the crushing heat of Olameyu. The one thing that taunted them was the knowledge that had been exiled with the Tigrisians, who had done marvellous work in their tending of the Enkan’s fields. Such fertility of crops had never been matched by the Leothites, and the loss of tribe numbers over the years had contributed greatly to the degradation of the Enkan, in both food and the empty buildings now falling into disrepair.
His mind returning to the present, Nemeses considered how he would gain an advantage against this powerful adversary. Hyrcurian’s followers stood dutifully behind their leader, doing their best to match his aura of power. Despite their efforts, they remained a sorry lot. The lustre of their furs had been dulled by desert dust and prolonged exposure to the Sun, their muscles stringy, and not one of them stood above their commander’s shoulder. As he mentally scoffed at their pitiful state, an idea entered his head.
Returning his gaze to their leader, he gave a contemptuous sneer before turning on his heel and walking back to his men. The audible murmur behind his back confirmed his tactic as he walked up to one of his generals.
“How does my opponent look?”
The Leothite looked behind Nemeses to his challenger. “He bristles with anger.”
“Very good. Treat them with disrespect, and watch their hackles rise.”
“Their leader stands above them in both visible strength and air of command, as if he is one of their gods walking amongst them. One cannot help but feel awed into begrudging respect.”
Nemeses gave him a knowing wink. “You are correct. You can respect an opponent, but they earn a degree of controllable power when you acknowledge it directly. Hide your feelings behind contempt, and the anger it causes them seeps control from them. They will attack with greater fury, but their technique will suffer, keeping the advantage with us.”
The general nodded. “Masterful tactics. What would you have us do?”
“Bide your time. Observe his soldiers, making sure they do not attempt an unexpected attack. Should I lose the advantage in this fight for an extended period of time, attack.”
Hyrcurian’s voice carried to Nemeses and the Leothites, the barely contained rage evident. “Cease your stalling. Turn and fight honourably, for once in your pitiful life.”
Nemeses gave his general a sly smile. “Watch this. Let us see how easily he can be goaded.”
Ensuring his face feigned disinterest, he turned and walked back to the centre of the battlefield, standing several paces from his opponent. He could see that Hyrcurian was already struggling to keep his emotions in check, and the indifferent attitude he was projecting towards the Tigrisian was having the desired effect.
“My pitiful life, you say? I succeeded where four generations of your tribe has failed dismally. Like those who have come before you, you shall fall.” His eyes spanned the Tigrisian army behind Hyrcurian. “However, I grow weary of these attacks. Should you fail, your warriors shall be slaughtered, and we will hunt down the loved ones you have left to bake on the Serengi. The land of Asamai will no longer be tarnished by the presence of Tigrisians.”
Hyrcurian’s hands were curled into tight fists, shaking with the pressure of the clench. “You would not honour the terms of our fight? I should have expected no less of you. When you are defeated, I will prove to be the better man both in combat and honour. I will merge our tribes, and create a better future for all, one of peace and plenty. And I shall not fail.”
Nemeses laughed mockingly. “Speaking of failure, shall I tell you of how the last leader of a Tigrisian incursion died? He mewled like a newborn cub, begging for his life.” Drawing his sword from his belt, he made a show of assessing it. “After such a pitiful act, I used this blade to put him out of his misery.”
With a guttural roar of pure rage, the Tigrisian leader charged.
– L –