Liam shaded his eyes against the rising sun. The gesture was almost unnecessary, seeing as the eastern horizon was clouded by smoke from the ruins of Dhetheru. The City of Silence was earning its name. There was only the sound of flames rising into the dawn. No cries of survivors or the weeping of prisoners greeted his ears. It was almost eerie.
Liam glanced across the line of prisoners that were sitting bound, facing their ruined city. There were surprisingly few of them. Liam took some cold satisfaction from the fact that this was due to the small number of desert men set as a garrison than any atrocities on the part of his men. Or Lysander’s.
He turned his back on the ruined city, no longer able to stand the sight. That was entirely Lysander’s doing. Liam shook his head as he recalled the events of the last few days. The infantry had been sieging the city for several weeks. Liam’s griffins had made several passes over the city and had seen few signs of life. Liam had offered to ferry Lysander’s men into the apparently empty city, but Lysander had been cautious. Liam thought it was unnecessary, but he didn’t often see Lysander exercise caution, so he didn’t want to discourage it.
When Lysander finally took Liam up on his offer, he was furious. He personally led his men over the walls, a small strike force designed to force open the gates. There had been a pitched battle, but when it finally ended, the gates were opened and the infantry stormed the city. They found it empty. Aside from a token defense, designed to make the city appear occupied, the city was an empty shell.
Lysander’s temper got the better of him. He ordered the city put to the torch. Liam had been stationed outside the walls. Otherwise, he would have countermanded the order. Unfortunately, by the time he became aware of the order, the city was in flames.
Initially, questioning had proven fruitless. Only when Lysander had ordered all of the defenders put to death did one of the desert men speak. Liam had no intention of letting Lysander follow through on his threat, but the man spoke before Liam could make that clear. According to this man, the city was several hundred years old and had never been home to more than a token defense force.
Early in their history, the desert folk had learned that “wetlanders” as they called them, were used to siege warfare. They liked cities to attack. So the largely nomadic desert people had built them a city to attack. It had worked. Wetlander armies wasted their time sitting outside the city walls while the desert bands went about their lives relatively unmolested. However, the Pact of Dhereshu had ended wetlander raids into the deep deserts and Imperial memory had faded. That was why the ploy had worked.
Liam cast his eyes over the ranks of infantry men outside the city. They looked demoralized. They had wasted weeks and when battle finally came, it was an empty victory. They knew there was no reason to celebrate and so they weren’t. Many of them were eying the prisoners with open distaste. Liam didn’t like those looks. He turned back to the prisoners, counting quickly. Then, without turning, he raised his voice.
A young member of the griffin cavalry stepped forward and saluted. “Commander.”
“Take thirty griffins and transport the prisoners back to Debobat. Have them transported to Osh’riyo for questioning.”
“Yes sir!” The lieutenant started barking orders and his cavalrymen began to move. Lysander wouldn’t be happy, but Liam didn’t care. He would explain that prisoners would only slow them down. He didn’t envy these desert men a stay in Laris’s dungeons. But at least they would be alive. And it would be weeks before they arrived on the island. He couldn’t guarantee they’d make it that long with this group.
Liam sighed. He had been commander of the Imperial Cavalry for over a quarter of a century, but this was beyond anything he had ever experienced. This war, if you could call it that, was quickly turning his stomach. An odd feeling for a soldier, he knew, but he felt it nonetheless. He envied his Lieutenant. He would have led the contingent to take the prisoners back to the coast if he felt he could leave Lysander alone. But based on what he saw last night, he knew he couldn’t live with himself if he left and something worse happened.
The wind blew smoke across the camp and it quickly stung Liam’s eyes. At least, that seemed the most plausible explanation for the tear that slowly crept down one cheek.