Here's an excerpt from my current project - one of five books I'm working on (at various stages of research, investigation, writing and editing) at the moment. Please let me know in Comments if you like it.
The noonday sun hung directly overhead, its heat seeming to sear through the cotton ghutra over his helmet, turning the metal into an instrument of torture that threatened to boil his brain. Taghri cursed softly to himself. The traders’ caravan had plodded its way through the heat for the past week. It would reach the city tonight. It couldn’t be soon enough for him.
He rose in his stirrups to peer ahead. The point escort was cresting a hill, followed by several dozen camels carrying heavy pack saddles. He twisted around to look behind him, where a score of heavily laden wagons drawn by teams of oxen labored up the rise, the animals’ chests heaving with their exertions, the shrill cries and prodding goads of the drovers urging them onward. They’d better be careful, he thought to himself. In this heat, if they push them too hard, the teams will founder before we reach the city. They can’t afford to have the wagons stuck outside the walls all night. This close to the city, there’ll be bandits and brigands aplenty, eager to relieve them of their burdens.
The vehicles were followed by the second half of the escort, another dozen men on horseback. He frowned. The guards were good enough fighters as individuals, but their tactics were poor. They should have fewer people at the head and tail, and a few guards spaced out along the length of the caravan, to cover against surprise attacks from the bushes that lined the road. He was the only armed man in the middle of the convoy, and he was only here because he didn’t want to eat the wagons’ dust all the way to Alconteral.
He glanced at the pack horse plodding obediently behind his mount. It was lightly loaded, so it was enduring the heat better than the camels. Even so, he hoped the caravan would halt soon to water the animals. They could use it – and so could he.
His musings were interrupted by faint shouts and noises at the head of the caravan. He jerked upright in his saddle, peering forward as the all-too-familiar clash of metal against metal was added to the hubbub. Raiders!
He reined his horse around, tugging on the lead rope, and tied his pack horse to the rear of the nearest wagon. He shouted to the nervous drover, “Stay with the wagon, and let my pack horse follow it! I’m going to help!” He glanced over his shoulder. The rear escorts had drawn their weapons, but were making no move to join their comrades at the front of the caravan.
As he galloped up the verge of the road, passing the laden camels, the noise grew louder. He reached down and drew the long-barreled pedrenyal from its saddle holster, cocking the lock and glancing down to make sure the flint was firmly seated. As he crested the hill, a confused whirling dust-cloud filled with fighting men opened to his gaze. Twenty to thirty raiders on foot were trying to close with half that number of mounted caravan guards and pull them off their horses. The riders were slashing left and right, trying to keep the attackers at a distance, but they couldn’t defend both sides of their bodies at once, and they weren’t covering each other. Even as he watched, a guard was dragged bodily from his saddle. A curved blade cut his throat as he hit the ground, and blood spouted. The bodies of two of his comrades already lay motionless in the dust. One of them was the escort commander, which explained the disorganization among the defenders.
Taghri raised his voice in a monstrous bellow. “GUARDS! TO ME! Fall back and form on me!”
As he spoke, he aimed at one of the raiders, a young man who was shouting and gesturing to his comrades, clearly giving orders. He was dressed and armed better than they were, too, with a full breastplate and helmet. That won’t help you against this piece, Taghri thought grimly as he pressed the trigger. With a throaty bellow, the long barrel spat smoke and flame, and a heavy ball spun through the air to slam into and through the raider’s breastplate. His face took on a momentary expression of agony as he staggered in his tracks, then he slumped to the ground.
A wail of dismay rose from the other raiders, even as the guards fell back and formed a line on either side of Taghri. The attackers wavered for a moment, eyes fixed on the fallen man as if in despair. He gave them no time to regroup. He re-holstered the pedrenyal as the last men joined him, then drew his scimitar. “With me, CHARGE!”
The line sprang forward. Now that they had someone giving orders, who clearly knew what he was about, the guards were much steadier. They slammed into the nearest raiders, knocking some of them off their feet, slashing at the heads and shoulders of those who tried to stand their ground. Another wavering cry rose from the attackers, then they turned as one and ran for the bushes. Some of the guards made as if to follow them, but one of their number raised his voice. “Stand! Stand! Don’t go after them! We must stay with the caravan!”
Taghri turned to look at him, his face incredulous. “Why, in the name of all the gods?”
“We’re paid to guard the merchants’ goods, not go charging off after bandits!” the other shouted back. “We can’t guard against more of those scum if we’re chasing this group!”
“There can’t be more of them! Look, you can see their galley on the beach, half a parasang away!” He pointed. “A small ship like that can’t have more than a hundred slaves, chained to the oars, and thirty or so fighting men – and we’ve killed nine of them here!” He gestured to the bodies on the ground, some still moving. “We can get there faster on horseback than they can on foot, and cut the rest off!”
“No! That’s not our job!”
“Then to hell with you!” he shouted back savagely. He sheathed his scimitar, heedless of the blood on its blade, then spurred his horse into the bushes.
He stayed away from the path the raiders had taken as he spurred his steed around trees and through brush towards the ship. He heard scattered shouts from behind him, and some curses from the raiders as they spotted him, but he ignored them all as he drove his horse mercilessly. He had to get as far ahead of the raiders as possible, to give himself time to deal with any of them guarding the ship, before the others arrived.
His horse burst out of the bushes and hit the soft sand of the beach, staggering as it strove to keep its balance. The bow of the ship, grounded on the sand, was very close now. Three raiders stood waiting next to it. They shouted with anger as they saw him. Two drew short, stubby swords, while the third reached for an arrow from a quiver at his side and put it to his bowstring.
Mustn’t give them time to get organized! Taghri thought as he spurred his horse towards them. He pulled off the cord wound around his ghutrah, holding the cloth over the steel helmet, and shook it loose with his right hand as he reached into his waist pouch with his left, controlling the horse with his knees. He pulled a smooth, round stone from the pouch as the archer launched his first arrow. It soared into the air, then swooped down, driving deep into his horse’s neck. The animal screamed in pain, stumbling. Taghri almost lost his balance, and was forced to grab at the saddle with one hand. He savagely spurred the horse onward.
As the archer withdrew a second arrow from the quiver, Taghri dropped the stone into the pocket prepared for it in the middle of the cord, then swung the sling in a figure-eight pattern across and over his shoulders, to gain the maximum energy. A longer sling would have produced greater power and range, but couldn’t be used from the saddle for fear of hitting the horse. Before the bowman could shoot again, he launched the stone with all his strength. It flew straight and true. He was close enough by now to hear the crack of breaking bone as it slammed into the archer’s ribs. The bowman cried out in agony, dropping his weapon and falling to his knees as he clutched at the point of impact. His two comrades stared at him with disbelieving eyes.
Fools! he sneered mentally as he covered the last few paces. He slid from the saddle of the staggering horse, dropping the sling and drawing his scimitar once more. The first raider parried awkwardly, but Taghri’s expert sideways cut, driven with the full power of his muscular body and all his hard-won experience, sliced into his right arm. He felt the jolt as his blade struck bone, and withdrew it with a sliding, carving motion, almost severing the limb. His victim screamed and dropped his cutlass, falling to the sand, clutching his arm as blood fountained.
The last opponent flinched bodily as he heard the shout of agony, and slashed wildly at the looming figure; but he was no swordsman. Taghri parried his clumsy blow contemptuously, then swung his scimitar in an overhand blow that came down on the top of his opponent’s head and cleaved it in half, right down to the chin. The man dropped without a sound.
Ignoring the men on the sand and his horse staggering beyond them, blood pouring down its neck from the arrow wound, he charged up the gangplank. He rose above the bulwarks between the two bow cannon. A hundred-odd naked slaves, chained two to an oar on either side of a central walkway, looked up at him, desperation, fear and confusion in their eyes.
“WHERE ARE THE KEYS TO YOUR CHAINS?” Taghri bellowed.
So, what did you think?