I was there the day our beloved sultan was beheaded. I fought in that last battle alongside my kinsmen and countrymen. I was there the day Sulta Ixen became a puppet.
Three years prior, an emissary of the accursed Vesperian state announced that Sultan Harmmaan Nile was to bend the knee in fealty to King Simon Rex III. I remember well because I was not supposed to be in the court that day, but a mix up with reagents left my master’s hands burnt, and thus I attended in his stead while he remained in bed rest.
At first the sultan found such a thing ordered from a lowly diplomat to be quite humorous. The laughter quickly soured to threats of defiance. I will never forget my sultan’s words: “This cannot be a serious request. Your king cannot even be bothered to show his face with such an audacious statement. That or he is a coward. Either way, House Nile will never serve.”
“Apologies, your grace,” the diplomat solemnly began, ”but many events command our king’s attention at this time. I assure you, I am fully authorized by the crown to-”
“We will never yield to you! We are the masters of the sands, not you!”
“Please, Sultan, I beseech you reconsider,” the emissary pleaded, his draconian surprisingly precise, “if you do not willingly bow to the crown, then you will be destroyed. This is not a negotiation, this is a direct command from our gracious king, ordained by the Gods. The peace of this land depends on your servitude.”
“The dragon’s flame burns in our hearts!” the sultan shot back, “You can never hope to challenge us. The sands will swallow you whole, and those that survive we will hunt like dogs. Tell your masters we will be ready when they come! IF they can even make it here. Begone from my sight!”
And so the diplomat left, his mission a failure. We all believed the sultan’s words with all of our hearts. Our people have lead a rich and cultured life. Our warriors were tested against the unmerciful elements. Our spears were sharp, our arrows, true, and our armor, thick. Our leaders brimmed with sorcery. We were untouchable.
We thought we could never be conquered. We thought the city of Sulta Ixen was invulnerable.
We were wrong.
Three years passed us by in relative peace. Towards the end of the third year, the winter was unusually mild. No sign of Vesperian banners. It was assumed their king saw reason: that an attempt to challenge us on the field of battle would be folly. Sulta Ixen had never fallen, after all – a standing testament to the Red One. Until one day when breathless, one of our scouts rushed in, begging to see the sultan.
Seventeen thousand, five hundred men, with three hundred siege engines were headed our way, all under the banner decorated with a volcano and the tools of craftsmen: the banner of King Simon Rex. I would only learn later that they survived the perils of the Sterile Sands by being guided through the safest routes by the treacherous sand people.
We were outnumbered five to one. I think the sultan knew then that the city was lost. I think that’s why he ordered our main forces outside the city to meet them in battle; to save our people, we couldn’t allow the city to come under heavy siege. But his pride would not let him surrender. And so we rode out.
The red dragons adorning our flags, magically animated to roar, the troubadours riding ranks blaring our song of victory with their trumpets, the sultan’s speech of assured victory, punctuated by dazzling displays of prestidigitation… None of it was right. When I looked into the red hot spiraling eyes of my sultan, I saw unquenchable rage for his foes, I saw the immense, incalculable pride for his people… But behind all of that, I saw resignation.
The battle was fierce, as to be expected. Our people fought bravely, and for every one of us cut down, we sent two of them to the abyss. Though my knowledge of the healing arts was taxed that day, the battle did end swiftly.
I suppose the sorcerer kings of Sulta Ixen carried some repute for their magical prowess, for good or evil. The Vesperians were ready for the worst with a powerful weapon the likes of which I had never heard of before. An elite squad of mage slayers, outfitted with jet black plate mail. Somehow they managed to absorb every spell, rote or cantrip thrown at them. The magic just seemed to wink out of existence in their vicinity.
It wasn’t long before they captured Sultan Harmmaan. The battle was lost.
He was denied any parting words; his mouth was gagged, and his hands were totally bound and encased more of that black steel. They weren’t taking chances with this one. The Vesperians were a lot of things, but they weren’t stupid.
Their general, a tall man in his thirties, made a declaration that the city and its people now belonged to Vesper, and promptly decapitated the sultan. Our spirit was broken. My thoughts turned to my sultana…
* * *
The unwelcome visitor walked grimly into her room – the tall general who murdered her husband. Still, even his sight was a relief from the boredom and anxiety of waiting. The sultana had been left here under house arrest since news of the battle’s loss arrived the day before. The Vesperian army marched through the streets, with every Ixenian soldier, nobleman and commoner forced to surrender any weapons they had.
He drew his blade, and frankly told her in the common tongue, “You know why I am here.”
She responded with acid on her breath, “You and your people are monsters. Your king will have a special place in the nine hells. I have no doubt you will serve him again there.”
He paused and gave her a quizzical look. “I never could understand what you people say.”
“I said,” the sultana began, this time in common albeit with thick draconian accent, “that you and your king will burn in the hells.”
“Ah, that’s much better. Although I think you’ll find that you are quite mistaken. You were given a choice for survival and you opted against it. So blame yourself, or the gods. There’s no point now in being a sore loser.”
“Tell me,” she said, “why have you done this? What have our people ever done to you?”
“My lady, the peace of the land depends on this: we must all of us work in harmony, or soon you’ll find we work against each other. And then where would we be?”
Her eyes narrowed, her blood boiling. “We were fine without you before!”
He sighed. “I know you don’t believe me. It doesn’t matter anymore.” He took a step towards her. “I am not an unreasonable man, but orders are orders, and my orders are to gut the sorcerer kings. All of them.”
She suddenly rushed to him, “Wait, please!” Her tone transformed drastically to a more frantic one. The general was surprised by this. He didn’t expect the sultana to fear her own death. “My son… He is innocent in this. He’s… “
Oh, the boy. “Ah, yes, the late sultan’s heir… I hear he is sickly,” was all the general could offer.
“I, yes, I, please spare him. Please.” Her tearful eyes searched his and he seemed to consider her words.
“Very well,” the general stated contemplatively, almost to himself, “Perhaps the boy can be spared. The people will want to serve one of their own after all. Much less bloody that way.” She listened to him verbally work it out with great intent. At least her child would survive.
“Of course we’ll have to install a vizier to ensure obedience,” the general tidily concluded.
“And,” he finished his thoughts as he swiftly plunged his sword into her abdomen, “far be it for me to deny a dying woman her final wish.”