Red Sands

A Royal Summons
12th August 1889
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Thoth
10th August 1889

Thoth reminded Sebastian somewhat of Indian Palaces he had seen; probably more so because they had entered what was seemingly a private and exclusive canal branch leading into the grounds of the Royal Palace.

Here the were beset by flunkies, and as the Princes was whisked off they were shown to a house in pleasant gardens which was to be their temporary residence. One of their servants spoke broken English, and she explained that they were now guests of the Prince, and would be sent for in due course.

Baths and clean clothing were a pleasant change after their trials. The clothing was martian of course. While Lady Glossop and Esmeralda admired the selection of martian female finery, Sebastian complained that he now looked like something out of a Pirate romance: still – it was better than the rags they had been wearing.

Rani scorned the canal martian finery, taking only a few simple kilts and tunics to replace worn items of her own raiment, including a few brightly coloured scarves. She seemed to sniff slightly at the martian servants.

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Pursuit
20th July 1889

As they rode along on their captured gashants, Lady Glossop eyed Rani curiously. She had learned that Rani belonged to one of the great steppe tribes which roamed large areas of the Nepenthes – Thoth Steppe. Their previous analogy to Red Indians was perhaps not quite right she thought – more like one of the Turcoman or Asiatic steppe tribes of the East. Even so she gathered that Rani was something of an oddity – a sort of Lone Wolf on some quest she found difficulty – or perhaps reluctance – in explaining.

She was also gathering some clarity on the differences between martians. Rani was a Steppe (or Hill) Martian – a sort of less civilised alternative to the Canal Martians such as the Princess and her Guards. The Canal Martians lived in City States like Thoth and the cultivated areas around their canals, while the Steppe Martian tribes lived a nomadic existence across their ranges in the outback. Physiologically she didn’t see that much difference – possibly the Canal Martians were an inch or two taller – but culturally they were clearly very different. She got the impression that Rani considered the canal martians ‘soft’.

They had beat off another attack by a patrol of Shastapsh cavalry: clearly they were hunting for the princess, and knew she was in the area. Lady Glossop considered the implications of this – perhaps this enmity might work to the advantage of the British.

Just before dark they arrived at a small village, and here were arrayed a larger entourage, as well as a grand looking barge. Boarding this they hoped that for a time at least, their troubles were at an end.

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Damsel in Distress
19th July 1889

The bluff overlooked a narrow strip with the canal only a few hundred yards away: they had been close to water after all, but their position on a plateau had prevented them form realising this earlier. The ground was also still very steppe like close to the canal, so in this area at least, time and neglect had clearly rendered its irrigation properties inoperable.

Below them about twenty gashant riders, organised into four groups, were attacking two huge hippo like beasts of burden, leading a pair of wagons. A few defenders were hidden in rocks sniping at the riders, who were riding close and firing their pistols before retreating to reload. There was no sign of Henry. Maako, Sebastian and a few others slipped quietly down the bluff, unseen.

The initial volley was lucky, given the paucity of their weaponry, and five of the riders fell from their saddles. Rani screamed and spurred her gashant down the slope towards one of the surprised riders, skewering one of them but then becoming engaged by several others. The ships’s officers followed with their pistols.

Although outnumbered, the quick firing weaponry of the rescuers were a telling advantage. Minutes later the surviving rider was fleeing off, only to be pursued and cut down by Sebastian, now far happier on a captured gashant. As the wounded were seen too, Lady Glossop limped towards the curious survivors of the caravan.

On a howdah atop one of the huge beasts – a Ruumet Breehir – a martian lady clearry of some status peered down imperiously. Beside her a smallish male martian dressed in fine robes addressed the group, in accented English.

“Her mightiness Princess Aramaranda of Thoth graciously thanks you for your assistance Foreign Devils, regardless of your audacity in trespassing in these lands.”

“Who” said Marko bluntly, “Are you, little man?” Lady Glossop put her hand on his forearm and shook her head. She stepped forward.

“Forgive our trespass” she said diplomatically. “We are the poor survivors of a cloud ship which crashed many miles to the west some days ago. We sought only water – and one of our missing companions who was scouting ahead.” There was a brief conference.

“I am Kalamir, trusted Aide to Her Majesty” said the martian. “The Princess witnessed this calamity in the sky several days ago, so I suppose this story has the ring of truth.”

“As a sign of her generosity, Her Highness forgives you and demands that you escort her to her Royal Barge, one day to the north. Here you can perhaps be given assistance to return to your own people.”

“Just like a bloody Indian Maharanee” muttered Sebastian. “Spoilt to the hilt. Needs a good spanking but best to humour her.”

“We would be honoured to serve her Highness in this regard” replied Lady Glossop. “Once my companions have tended to their wounds and conducted a quick search for our friend, we will depart as she requests.”

Henry was staked out in a small camp about a mile distant. Bone spikes had been pierced below his nipples, clearly as a device of torture. Although faint and hurting, he seemed other wise unharmed. Molly was lying nearby, along with his pistol and some other booty.

After a couple of hours, and watered and fed at last, they were ready to depart.

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Rani
19th July 1889

“Her name is Rani I think”, translated Lady Glossop. “She says the Shastapshi patrol which captured our friend is less than a mile away – and they’ re attacking a caravan.”

They gazed at the female martian in curiosity; the bare thighs and arms would certainly set the pulses racing at home, and the tribal appearance was very unusual.

“She says she’s been shadowing the patrols – I don’t understand why – until she saw the ship crash a few days ago.”

But this doesn’t make sense." said Sebastian. “Shastapsh is occupied by the British – it’s friendly.”

“Not any more” continued Lady Glossop. “They rose up against the Garrison – massacres in the streets. They’re with the rebels now.”

This was certainly food for thought.

“I say,” said Bertie. “Then they’ve captured Henry.”

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A New Twist
19th July 1889

“There you go” gloated Sebastian. “Afghanistan. British military experience: it always counts in the end.” He cast a superior look at Bertie as he doled out the half dozen brown cucumber things he had found to the others.

He was still glowering about Henry, but had fended off the many questions of the others regardless, saying that he was scouting ahead.

Smith had said that these martian canals generally had a swath of fertile land for some miles either side: these areas were the basis of martian agriculture, where they were cultivated. According to what that Bounder Henry had said before sneaking off, he’d estimated that if they made decent progress today, regardless of the effort, they might actually reach such an area – and who knows, maybe a farm or camp?

With spirits risen slightly now they staggered on, and they noticed that the clumps of plants were becoming slightly more frequent: at least he hoped it was so. There was another development also.

“It is definately a rider” said Marko, lowering his spyglass. “Keeping distance perhaps, but no longer trying to hide completely.” It appeared that the rider was shadowing them at a distance. Marko passed his glass to Sebastian.

Adjusting the glass Sebastian could definately see the riding lizard – an ugly brute, though definately accoutred with saddles and other furniture. On this sat his first glimpse of an actual martian. At this distance human like and with long hair. He had heard that the martian complexion was somewhat ochre – like, but in this case seemed more like heavily tanned.

The general appearance reminded him somewhat of photographs he had seen of American indians, and he guessed that this was one of the Steppe Nomads rather than one of the more civilised Canal Martians.

As the rider came into slightly closer view – still maintaining a good distance he realised with a shock that the figure was actually female!

“Good Heavens!” he thought. “It’s a Gel !!” He took in the bare arms and thighs, and muttered to himself. He kept looking however.

The rider was armed, with a rifle or musket perhaps slung over one shoulder, and appeared to carry knives and other weapons. Occasionally the rider glanced in their direction, and he caught a glimpse of an elfin face and those strange pointed and ridged martian ears.

And then he caught the sound of gunfire ahead of them. The rider looked round, and then spurred forward and disappeared over a fold in the land. Minutes later she appeared again, and this time rode straight towards them.

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A Turn of Events
19th July 1889

“I’ll be damned if I’ll sneak off like a coward with extra water supplies when we’re short as it is” said Sebastian. He and Henry were conferring at the edge of the camp.

“Us finding water and coming back is their best chance " protested Henry.

“I won’t and that’s final.” said Sebastian. “It’s the action of an absolute Bounder. Or maybe they see things differently in the colonies.” Sebastian’s eyes were hard and there was something of a sneer in his voice.

“Sneak off if you like Henry, but you’ll not be taking any extra water” said Sebastian, his hand hovering briefly over his sabre. “You’re the survival expert and navigator. And you can abandon these others if you like: but I won’t”

“But its….”

“Get out of my sight” said Sebastian, and turned his back. He gathered the water supplies and started doling them out.

“Mr. Rothmann will be scouting ahead” he announced. “We’ll follow on as best we can.”

With no apparent way out of the situation, Henry started off.

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A Night Visitor
19th July 1889

“Waterskins” said Sebastian. “Four of ’em, pretty full. And what look like a bunch of brown rock hard cucumbers”

Henry examined one curiously, and pared at it with his knife. When he made a hole, moisture seeped out. Putting it to his lips he drank the cool liquid, which tasted slightly tepid, but like water nonetheless. He made a calculation.

“There are maybe a full days water rations for seven people here, or half rations for fourteen.”

“But who?” said Sebastian. “I never saw any blasted Fuzzies”

“Perhaps you are not observant enough Kaptan Shaw” commented Marko. Henry saw Sebastian grit his teeth.

“Whoever it is they mean us well” interrupted Lady Glossop, " So you shouldn’t be so rude Sebastian."

“After all old chap what with all your bally military experience, you haven’t found us an ice lolly’s worth yet eh? What?” snickered Bertie, Before Lady Glossop, noticing the bloom growing in Sebastian’s face, stood on his toe.

“Any tracks?” asked Esmeralda.

“Well a set of lightly booted footprints, and some way off errrr….”

“Yes?”

“Well, some sort of big toed beast, with a tail. Our visitor was riding it I’d guess.”

“A Gashant Sir” interrupted Mr. Smith. “A riding lizard. The Nomads use ’em extensively. Even the Powers do, there not being so many horses on Mars.”

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Thirst
18th July 1889

Learning the lesson of the previous day, Henry decided that they would break their march today – taking what shade they could during the hottest part of the day, and then moving a second stint afterwards. By the time of their break the strain was starting to show, and the last dregs had been drained from empty canteens.

Bertie and Lady Glossop were bearing up, but strain and fatigue was showing in the faces of the other survivors. Henry knew that tomorrow would be much worse. Henry had tried to egg them on earlier in the day, but all he received were blank stares.

Marko however seemed to have received his second wind, and as a result their pace had picked up slightly today.

Bertie was also a bit jumpy. He thought he’d caught a glimpse of something and had a feeling they were being shadowed. Off to their left – the north – more than once he thought that he saw something. Always near a low rise or perhaps a fold in the ground. A native perhaps? Or perhaps some alien predator smelling their weakness?

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The Plains of Nepenthes Thoth
17th July 1889

The Steppe was just not not dry enough to be desert, but having said that you’d said it all. There were no trees, only a few areas of scrub. Henry guessed that if there were a wet season, there would likely be a short growing season when moisture percolated through the soil, during which the flora of the steppes might bloom for a short while. For now there was some evidence of scorched grass.

They had decided to trek roughly south east, hoping to hit the canal at some point closer to Shastapsh: surely the British Garrison there would be able to offer some assistance. Water was clearly a problem: Henry doubted the capacity of some of the passengers to make it. If truth be told their best bet was to encounter some natives, assuming they were not hostile.

Information about Martians was sparse: he vaguely remembered that the more civilised natives lived along the canals in their cities, but that wilder nomadic tribes roamed the outback.

The march had been searingly hot, and much of their water supply had now been used up. They had covered maybe two dozen miles in total across the featureless plain, broken only by a few very low hills. Henry had experimented with a few prickly plants and found some to provide a limited source of moisture, but not too much.

He shook his had worriedly, and wondered how they would fare on the morrow, with their supplies all but used up.

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