Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Night Riders - SWG FanFic

Long after dark, in that close thick air that settles in a room as people sleep, Marek sat patiently, listening to the snoring, grunting and other night noises of his sleeping companions. His chair was resting back against the wall by the door, a blaster on his lap and two kusak hounds sprawled at his feet.

In the shadows he could see the sleeping forms of another six men, most recovering from the previous nights drinking, others twitching as dreams or nightmares rolled through troubled minds. These men slept on pallets, bedrolls or simply on the floor where they could find space. The only bed in the chamber was occupied by the large frame of their master and landlord, Brair of Mospic.

A large man, pale skinned with grey blue eyes, long dark hair and a beard that seemed to bristle when he was angered, Brair was the feudal overlord of the men who slept on the floor of this room, called here for his protection and to make a raiding party which would set out later in the night on behalf of his overlord, Huff Darklighter. Darklighter in turn was subservient to his master, tho he'd never admit it to your face, preferring to think of himself as first among equals.

Marek mused on this and smiled to himself at the thought of the towns people, the sort that lived in Espa, Eisley and Bestine, who looked down on the ranger clans as somehow 'primitive' but completely failed to see that they themselves were just as dependant on their superiors for protection, support, law and order as these people here, his extended family, were on the structired society that had allowed them to survive on the lawless wastes for centuries.

A sharp beeping in his pocket snapped him back to the real world, it was time. Standing up and kicking out at the nearest sleeping form he began waking the men. On the bed Brair's head raised, grunted then with a burst of energy that seemed misplaced in a frame as large as his, he kicked his feet out of the bed, rolled forward and roared "Wakey wakey!! Rise and SHINE! You've 'ad your fun, now I'll 'ave MINE!!" Much muttering and cursing rumbled round the room as the men stood, rubbed sleep from their eyes, gathered their equipment and argued about who was getting to the latrine first, who had kept who awake all night and just what sort of tiime was this for any good living son of the land to be about his business anyway.

Marek sluiced his face with a little precious water and, running his hands over his pockets and pack, mentally noted each piece of equipment, checked webbing and fastenings and with practised ease slid into the breast plate, hands blindly finding the clips and locking the light armour in place over a heavy hide jerkin. Already wearing trousers, reinforced in the seat and knees, and heavy leather boots that came up to the knee and were an idea place to stow a small flask of brandy or a backup blaster, he was ready to move out just a few minutes after his alarm had sounded.

All this was completed in the dark, preserving the groups night vision. Occaisional stumbles, curses and harsh words were to be expected and were ignored by all as everyone contentrated on the task in hand.

Brair strode past Marek into the next room where a breakfast had been left by the women of the house the night previously. Brairs wife, Emm Dee, was the only female to be seen as the raid party assembled in the room, drinking cool beer and eating breads, cheeses and meats from the platters on the table.

Emm Dee spoke to each man in turn, wished him "Safe out, safe in" and quietly checked that they all had their armour fastened properly, had remembered to gather their gear and that even the more nervous, younger men had a kind word to help calm them.

The ranger's women were by no means subservient to the men filling, as they did, a different but equal role in their structired society. While the men were away on raids, at the beck and call of their overlords, the women not only looked after the family and its livestock, but continued with the business of collecting rentals from the small farmers who held land off them, dealing with disputes and trading goods to and from town. Moreover, they were responsible for the defence of the homestead while their men were from home and the number of stories and ballads sung by the rangers of hard fighting womenfolk gave the lie to any notion that these were anything but the equals of their menfolk.

The raid party now moved out of the house and into the courtyard where their mounts were tethered. It was Brairs preference for his men to be mounted on specially bred carrion spats from a stud farm on Corellia. Each man was given a young spat when he came of age, though he owed payment for its upkeep to Brair as 'insurance' in case the beast was killed while on a raid. This payment was often made, not in credits, but in service, attending raids like this one and giving their time to patrol the clans homeland boundaries and protect them against incursion by the sand people, other clans and settlers trying to move out from the cities.

Tonights raid was against one of these settler communities. A group of families from Espa had decided to set up home in one of the side valleys leading from the Mospic plains up into the wastelands behind. This was grazing land for the clans bantha herd and also was the breeding ground of several valuable prey animals such as the desert dewback and Jundland eopie. Darklighter couldn't allow this incursion to go unchecked, not least because the small party sent out under Marek's command last week had failed to impress on the townspeople the need for them to pay adequate insurance for protection against, oh, sandpeople, squill, mysterious night raiders...

The raid party formed up in the large courtyard, palm trees black against the dark blue sky. Moonlight flooded the valley making it as easy for eyes accustomed to the dark to see as well as in daylight. The spats hissed and kicked out as the men wrapped sacking around the birds feet to deaden any sound. All kit was stowed securely and dark cloaks were drawn over their shoulders to further muffle any sound and save moonlight from glistening on blaster barrels or on the blades that most men carried.

Travelling south by south west the silent caravan used patches of shadow to make its way down the valley and up into the wastes, circling round behind the townspeoples settlement. Blair signalled for the men to form a wedge behind him as they came to rest on the blind side of a slight ridge near the collection of tents, half built houses and temporary shelters. A few camp fires burned in the distance, their smoke carrying the scent of roasted nuna and of zucca boar. "See, already they've begun stealing. This insult cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Not only do they steal our lord Darklighters land, they take food from our mouths..." Blair snarled.

Men freed their sword arms of the dark cloaks, others quickly untied the sacking from the spat's feet, keeping clear of the razor sharp hooked claws. Marek slipped the safety toggle off on his blasters, pushed them under the strapping at the front of his mounts saddle and drew the long, curved sword that had been his fathers from its sheath. Around him the faint sussuration of steel told him that others made the same grim preparation as he set his spat's head towards the small settlement, sleeping yet watchful, and waited.

Against the light of the campfires the raiders could see the shadows of several people walking to and fro. Pickets. But the light from the fires would also make their night vision less effective. Typical townies, don't want to stray too far from the light because it comforts them.

Brair turned to face his men and said "Right lads, have at them..." before wheeling round and, first at a trot, then at a full charge, led the raid directly into the new steading.

45 yards from the nearest figure a shout of alarm went up!

Before it was answered the raid party had closed to 10 yards, individual farmers and settlers could now be seen clearly, rushing to find weapons, rushing to find cover.

A split second later and the spats burst over the low sandy berm the farmers had built to keep their livestock within the settlement, the meagre effort at palisading kicked flat by the great powerful legs of the now enraged mounts.

One farmer had the lack of foresight to grab a rifle and bring it round to face directly at Marek's head. The sword blade flashed downwards, crashing through flesh, muscle and bone and reducing the farmers arm to a tattered shred. The laser rifle thudded into the dirt, the mans hand still grasping it.

The raid party charged straight through the settlement, targetting only livestock and the occaisional misguided fool, scattering small dark objects as they thundered through.

Less than a minute from the start of the raid the party burst through the low fence at the rear of the settlement where it split into two groups, one wheeling left, the other right. As the small flares dropped by the raid party began to explode, flooding the settlement with intolerably bright light, the raiders formed an arc, drew their blasters and opened fire on the farmstead. Again, targetting machinery and droids they left little undamaged before wheeling again, forming into a column and riding quietly away into the darkness before heading back northwards and across the valley to arrive back at Brairs homestead shortly before dawn.

Tomorrow a Darklighter liveried patrol would head out, neighbourly like, to enquire what all the noise and flashing was about last night. They'd offer help to relocate, perhaps to rebuild and of course, they'd offer their new neighbours every assistance in keeping the evil Night Riders away.

For a price.

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