The Tomb Of The Tagosa Kings
In the depths of arid country, the adventurer and historian Professor Halir and his escorts, men of the Queen’s Own Iskaeri Light Infantry, find themselves under attack by fierce Nacatori raiders as he seeks to unlock the secrets of a long lost tomb.
What lies within the tomb may be off a much bigger threat than that posed by the raiders…
The Tomb of the Tagosa Kings
By Andrew Warwick
“Raiders! Raiders!” The bellowed cry echoed through the camp and the dig site, originating from the ridge above, where three soldiers were stationed on picket duty. They appeared tumbling over the ridge, holding their shakos tight to their heads. Canteens, bayonets and flintlock muskets jangled during their scrambled decent down the slope, dislodging dry earth and stone as they ran. The jackets they wore were of rusty brown, blending in with the colours of the barren hills around.
“Raiders!” In a cloud of choking dust they reached the foot of the slope, sprinting back across a dried out riverbed, the earth parched and cracked beneath a blazing sun. Commotion gripped the camp as the three guards raced towards it, men spilling from tents, grabbing for weapons and pulling on jackets and shakos, while workers scattered, running for cover.
A slender young officer in an elegantly tailored uniform stepped forward, slim bladed sword in hand. While his jacket was of the same rusty brown as the soldiers around, his was neither patched nor faded like so many of those of the soldiers, and was tightly buttoned to the throat, despite the overbearing heat. His face was red beneath his bicorne and pale hair.
“What did you see, corporal?” he asked of one of the trio of guards who had come to a sudden halt upon reaching the camp. The man, his dusty jacket unbuttoned and chest heaving as he sucked down air, pointed back towards the ridge.
“Nacatori,” he gasped out as he breathed heavily. “Raiders. Must be a hundred strong, headed straight for us.”
The officer nodded before calling out commands, attempting to impose some order on the chaos around. “Form on me Queen’s Own!” A tall, raw-boned corporal came to his side, jacket half un-buttoned and head bare. His hair, the colour of dry straw, was cut roughly short.
A short and stocky sergeant took up the commands, bellowing and harrying the soldiers into two ranks near the young officer, facing across the riverbed towards the ridge. There they stood, a mere forty men stoically waiting for the coming foe.
It was not long until the enemy arrived, a mass of horsemen appearing atop the ridge, silhouetted against the washed out blue of the cloudless sky, made hazy by the overwhelming heat. They wore the loose fitting and brightly coloured robes and headscarves of the Nacatori, dozens of men wielding a wide assortment and variety of weapons. There were swords and sabres and lances, ready for the mad plunging charge down the hill and into the camp, as well as muskets and bows should the need arise, mismatched and archaic, but deadly none the less in the numbers present.
Lieutenant Elraes glanced nervously around the campsite, his palms sweaty as he gripped tight at the hilt of his sword. He wished he could loosen his jacket, as many of the men had, to get some relief from the heat, but he was meant to be setting the example for the men to follow, even if most did not do so. They were in a long dried out riverbed, a cluster of robust grey trees and shrubs along its banks all but the only indication of its existence. Hills rose up towards the west, hardy stone-grass and rocks littering the red earth of their slopes. Behind him, along the eastern side of the riverbed, the ground rose up steeply, almost cliff like in nature, some ten metres in height. Long ago a cave had burrowed back into the cliffs, but fallen rocks now blocked the entrance. It was that cave that had brought them to this place, and where workers had been busy digging out the fallen rocks and earth under the commands of a wiry, grey-haired professor.
Elraes’ glance took in the tall corporal at his side, Harry Ban, a fearsome looking man. At one stage his nose had been broken and reset at an angle, while his face was scarred by pock marks and weathered by the elements. Harry gave the lieutenant a broad, reassuring grin as his pulled back the hammer on his flintlock rifle.
Elraes looked back to the raiders who were still lined up along the western ridge, observing the camp and the small band of soldiers that opposed them. One of them rode forward, gesturing with his sword even as he talked to his men.
“Harry,” Elraes said quietly.
“I see him, sir.” Harry knelt down on one knee, rifle coming up to his shoulder. The enemy were over a hundred metres away, at a range beyond that of which a musket could expect to regularly hit what it was aiming for, but for the rifle with its grooved barrel the shot was not difficult. That accuracy was offset by being slower to reload. The merits of the rifle were the subject of debate, a fierce debate. Those who had seen them in use by Nacatori raiders had realised their value, and among the Light Infantry, the scouts and skirmishers of the army, a number of men such as Harry had obtained one even though they were not meant to carry them.
Harry pulled the trigger, the flint struck and the powder in the priming pan flared. The rifle fired, putting out a cloud of acrid smoke that obscured Harry’s vision, but the cheers that came from the men around told him that his shot had struck true.
It provoked a startled, undisciplined volley from the Nacatori, muskets blazing away from horseback, but the range and lack of a stable firing platform hampered them. Not a man was hit, the shots falling short, kicking up puffs of dirt as they pattered across the ground before them.
Following the ragged volley, the enemy horsemen began spurring their horses forward, starting the decent down the slope. Elraes knew that they could not hold them, not so few in number against so many, out in the open.
“Back to the cliffs, back!” he yelled. The men turned and ran, back through the camp as the horsemen erupted into cheers and urged their mounts down the hill faster, the running infantry now an ideal and inviting target for their lances and swords.
As the Nacatori reached the base of the hill they broke into a gallop, streaming across the riverbed towards the camp, hooves pounding the hard ground. The running soldiers scrambled on, fear driving them, gasping in lungfuls of hot air as they sought the relative safety of the cliff face and the cave entrance in it. Risking a quick glance behind, Elraes could see that it would be a close run thing and cursed himself for not having fallen back to the cave entrance initially, where the workers they had come to protect had already sought refuge, such as it offered.
The first of the men were reaching the wide entrance when from above, from the top of the cliffs, there came a yell and a volley of fire rang out. Horses and men screamed as the shots tore into them and cut them down. Horses tumbled and men toppled from saddles, breaking apart the charge. It was the turn for the fleeing soldiers to now raise their own cheers.
“Turn, turn!” Elraes barked out. The soldiers span around, shuffling into a rough semblance of a line, ready for the enemy, but the volley from above had done the job and the Nacatori had scattered, leaving behind the bodies of a dozen men and horses. One of the horses thrashed about, its leg broken. Its screams were quickly silenced as a short, dark-haired soldier, unable to bear the noise anymore, dashed forward to put a musket ball into its head.
Elraes could not see who was atop the cliff, but he knew that the musket fire could only have been from one source, from the captain and the rest of the company who had been on patrol and had returned, just in time.
“Close, sir,” Harry noted dryly, reloading his rifle. A hand pulled a paper wrapped cartridge from the pouch at his side, raising it to his mouth to bite the end off. The pan was primed with a pinch of powder before the rest of the powder, the lead ball and the wadding that wrapped the cartridge were pushed into the barrel. A ramrod was drawn, driving the ball down passed the rifled grooves of the barrel.
Elraes nodded in agreement, wiping at the sweat on his brow. “Too close.”
“That lot will scamper. Can’t see them attacking again. Not now that the whole company is back together.”
“Depends on how rational they are willing to be, or how much of that Carnaci gibberish they have ascribed to.”
“We’ve dealt with the most suicidal of those followers already. Still,” Harry added, “If this lot want to join them, we shall have to accommodate them.”
“Most obliging of you, Harry.”
Harry smiled happily, even as he nodded off towards where the Nacatori had regrouped and were slowly riding off. “Looks like these are sensible Rats.”
The captain was a portly man, his features flushed from the heat even more so than Elraes’. He and the rest of the company slowly picked their way down a narrow trail from the cliff top to the riverbed below.
“You arrived just in time, sir,” Elraes stated as they joined up. The captain waved away the comment.
“Not out of the woods yet, young Elraes.”
“There are more of them out there?”
The captain nodded in reply, concern written evident across his red, sweating face. “That lot were just a forward patrol. There are plenty more out to the west. Five or six hundred at least. Where is the professor?”
“I’m here, Halraen.” One of the workers, a wiry man whose short cut hair and beard were mostly grey, stepped forward to join them. A pair of pistols was thrust through his belt, while his clothes were dusty and smudges of dirt were on his tanned face.
“Mister Ban,” Captain Halraen said, motioning Harry across. “Take two of the lads and establish yourself up there, on the ridge. Keep an eye on the Nacatori and let me know what they are up too.”
“No worries, boss.”
“We appear to have ourselves a bit of a dilemma here, professor,” Halraen continued on as Harry moved off to follow his orders.
“Abawe, Horse, with me.” Two soldiers broke away from where the rest were milling about, some pulling out pipes or sipping from canteens, others going through the bodies of the fallen Nacatori searching for loot.
One of the pair was tall, taller even than Harry himself, but thinner, his skin black and hair very short. He was a Tagosa, one of the tribesmen who lived in the region, and not alone of his people to fight alongside the Maedari against the old foe of his people, the Nacatori.
The other had bright red hair and a thick beard and, like Harry, was from the Maedari nations to the south. He was a short and solidly built man and, unusually, still wore the old style tricornes that were being replaced by shakos.
“What is happening, Harry?” Abawe asked in his unmistakable Tagosa accent.
“We are heading up there,” Harry replied, pointing up to the top of ridge, even as they walked. “Got a large band of Nacatori blundering around here and we are going to keep an eye on them for the captain.”
Horse raised an eyebrow at Harry’s words. “We ain’t leaving?”
“Doubt it. We’ve got the professor’s men to worry about and we’d just be surrounded and overwhelmed out there on the plains.”
“So we just dig in here,” Horse mused as he scratched at his beard. “Not the best of places.”
“Could be worse,” Harry dryly commented.
“Maybe we could hide out in the cave,” Abawe suggested.
“They haven’t cleared the entrance yet,” Horse pointed out to him.
“Then this should spur them on to finish, yes?” Abawe’s grin was broad, provoking a laugh from Harry.
“Come on, let’s get up the hill.”
The Tomb of the Tagosa Kings came about to give an idea of how the ‘gunpowder age’ of Sharael looked, a time seldom touched by fantasy settings.
At the time I was contemplating the first novel for the time period and so this was written to showcase it, and introduce a couple of important characters; Heric “Harry” Ban and Professor Halir, plus some minor ones like Horse and Abawe.
Then there was the whole archaeological aspect; exploring lost ruins and ancient civilisations. Of course, with fantasy, there are always things in tombs that can jump out at you…