Oshim knelt down on the white clay walls of Debobat, looking out over the armed camp that ringed the front of the city. He had been on watch for the last three days, but nothing ever seemed to change. The men had arrived in a fleet of somewhat ragged ships, pulling into the harbor in greater and greater numbers. Armed men had disembarked and began the orderly business of setting up the tents.
There were two odd things about the camp. First, it appeared to be divided into four separate camps, although there was nothing distinctive about it to most outsiders. But to the trained eyes of one who had grown up in the desert, it was obvious. Small things, like the groupings of the banners, and the marks on the armor of the men told the tale to anyone who cared to look. But as far as Oshim could tell, despite the obvious divisions, there seemed to be no rancor between the men of the separate camps.
The other odd thing was the chosen location. They had set up well back from the city and off to the side of the main road. The ships, once they had disgorged their cargoes, had withdrawn to the middle of the harbor, but did not appear to be setting up a blockade. The main roads to and from the city were left clear as well. If this was a siege, it was the oddest siege that Oshim had ever heard of.
True, commerce in the city had been cut off. But that was because the Desert Folk had closed the gates when the troops began to arrive. The invaders had taken no overt steps to try and harm the people of the city, or disrupt their lives. Each day, a small delegation had approached the main gate and sought entrance. But each day, they had been denied shade and their offer of water declined.
In the ways of the Desert Folk, this was the gravest of insults. A part of Oshim felt shamed by the actions of his leaders. But that part was small and very quiet. He was a survivor of the last invasion by Imperial forces. His wife, Faisal, had not been so lucky. Though she had fought well, she had fallen to the leader of the Imperial Infantry.
Of course, he hadn’t been there to see it, and that thought caused him endless shame. He knew that she had fallen in a duel, trying to save the lives of those around her. But she had failed and that thought stabbed him like a knife every time he had it. It was why he had volunteered when the call went out for an emissary to the invaders. He knew it might be a suicide mission. Deep down within himself, he hoped it was.
He spied movement from the tents and noted five men meet at the center of the camp, turning toward the city and making for the main gate. It appeared to be the same five men who had appeared the previous two days. Four of them wore their armor easily and it appeared that one came from each of the four camps. The fifth, while wearing armor, looked incredibly uncomfortable, as if he were unused to the sensation. Despite this, the others seemed to defer to this man, who was also not of Et’alash. Stranger and stranger.
Oshim drew back from the wall and headed for the ladder that would lead him back down to the ground. As he did so, he grabbed the short, leaf-shaped spear that he always carried with him. It had belonged to Faisal, and she had been holding it when she died. He whispered a prayer to Borabakil, God of the Deserts, that he would be reunited with her in death. He then turned to the men on guard at the gates and nodded. The massive doors shuddered as the men strained and opened a small crack. He quickly slipped through and walked out to meet the invaders.