With the apparent end of resistance, Dirk ordered the remaining guards to sweep the area of the ambush, looking for more attackers, both wounded and unwounded, booby traps, a camp, or anything else Duneraider related. Whilst the crawler crew were tasked with supplying first aid to the wounded, guards and crawler crew first, Duneraiders second. Dirk also had them all gathered together in the area chosen to make camp. They had been lucky, no-one had died, a few nasty wounds, but nothing life threatening – as yet. But if things were tough normally, the desert would be even more unforgiving to the injured. Dirk ensured that all the Duneraiders were tied up, and set a guard on them and a watch, in case they had friends out there. Arlana got a fire going, and once the surviving water container was brought up, started to brew tea for everyone.
Suddenly, the harsh cry of a Serik, one of the herbivores native to Enos, broke the stillness. Dirk’s head snapped up. From the survival briefing, he knew that Serik’s were diurnal, so one should not be screeching in the middle of the night. Glancing towards the sentry, Dirk saw him point Eastwards. Carefully climbing a boulder, Dirk glanced in the direction indicated. He could see nothing, though he imagined he could hear the soft rustle of feet upon sand. He glanced down at a quizzical Captain and shrugged. The Captain bent down and took something from one of the Duneraiders “try these” he whispered, handing Dirk a pair of Infra Red Goggles. Dirk, put them on and looked again. This time he could see a dozen or more shapes moving towards them. There was a small knot of them in the centre of the overall group, which did not appear to be making undue use of cover. So, not adopting a particularly military or aggressive stance thought Dirk.
Dirk quietly called for Arlana to obtain a pair of IR goggles and join him up on the rock. Once she had done so, he indicated the approaching shapes and whispered
“Company ! I’m guessing more Duneraiders, though they don’t seem to be forming up for an attack. They may not know our exact location, but given the recent commotion, they sure as hell know someone’s out here. Can you ask them to halt and state their business ? If you can imply that there are many of us and we have them covered, that may prove useful”.
“Sure” Arlana replied “leave it to me”. In the local language, she called out
“Stay where you are ! Who are you and why are you sneaking up on good sons of the desert as if to steal their water, like the wind over the oasis ?”
The figures stopped and a voice replied in the local language. Arlana whispered a translation to Dirk.
“He says he’s Salthar – that’s like a war leader – Eneshi and he’s come to find out who is trespassing on his tribes lands and engaging in warfare. He goes on, if we are really good sons of the desert and not thieves in the night, we will welcome him onto our camp and offer Hagashi – that is traditional Duneraider hospitality – so that this matter can be peacefully resolved”.
A hurried, whispered, conference was held between the Captain, Arlana, and Dirk. They concluded that as the approach had not been aggressive and that the crawler crew and guards were in no shape for another fight, the best course of action would be to parley with these Duneraiders and perhaps buy their help to escape the desert. Then Arlana called out in the local language
“We are truly good sons of the desert and have nothing to hide, so please come in peace and share our water”. Turning back to Dirk and the Captain she went on in Galanguic.
“I’ve asked them to join us, using the traditional phrases which invoke water hospitality. Things should be okay as long no one seriously insults them, but it is quite acceptable to have your weapons to hand. I suggest the guards take up positions at the edge of the group, and keep their weapons handy and their eyes peeled.”
The shapes quickly resolved themselves into humanoid figures as they approached, and then the individual Duneraiders could be made out. Salthar Eneshi bowed to Arlana, as she welcomed him and his men into the camp and introduced the Captain and Dirk. Salthar Eneshi bowed to each on turn. Arlana then invited him to sit by the camp fire, and asked if he would share their water, motioning to one of the crew to bring up the remaining water container and a bowl. Once it was filled, Arlana took a sip and then passed it on to the Salthar. It then went round the Salthar’s inner circle and back to the Captain and Dirk. The crew then offered water to the other Duneraiders.
Arlana told the Salthar about the sabotage of the crawler, the trek that night, and the encounter with the hostile Duneraiders. Salthar Eneshi asked to see the captives, and the four of them moved over to where the captives were being guarded. The Salthar spoke to the captives, and just got blank, sullen looks in reply. He then reached down and pulled open the robe at the neck of one of the captives. He grunted and spoke to Arlana, who looked shocked, and bent down to see for herself.
“He says these are not Duneraiders, but off worlders” announced Arlana “look at their clothes, they are wearing off-world clothes under their robes”.
They returned to sit by the fire, and as dawn was breaking, the Captain had one of the crew organise some of their rations, to share with the Salthar. As they were eating, Salthar Eneshi spoke to Arlana. He then raised his hand and loudly called out to his men. Meanwhile Arlana turned to the Captain and Dirk, to fill them in on what had been said.
“He says that his tribe is one of the more settled ones and they spend their time mainly in and around the Chargras Canyon, the oasis at its’ mouth in particular. For some months now, off-worlders have been wandering around the Canyon near a wrecked crawler, and trying to force the Duneraiders off their ancestral lands. These Chkrit’s are dressed the same as the others, the Duneraider robes are just a disguise. From his description of the markings on the crawler, it sounds like one of ours that was lost more than six months ago”.
At this point two Duneraiders walked up to them, half carrying, half dragging a figure between them. The Salthar carried on talking to Arlana, gesturing at the new prisoner. Arlana translated for the Captain and Dirk again
“This is another of the ambushers, Salthar Eneshi’s warband captured him half a klick east of here, trying to escape in an air raft. He is inviting us to join in his interrogation”.
At the sight of the stooped and bound figure, Ranold Halfeson let out a small cry. Salthar Eneshi rounded on him in an instant, jabbering away in the local language. Arlana translated once more
“He’s calling you a traitor and saying that you’re in league with this man. He wants our permission for you to join in the interrogation, and you won’t be asking the questions. What have you got to say for yourself Ranold, how do you know this man ?”.
Halfeson’s face had gone white, and he kept throwing nervous glances towards the Duneraider Warlord.
“If I tells ya wot I know, will ya keep us away from these savages ? he asks.
Thinking it through quickly, Arlana nods and replies
“As long as you can convince me you’re telling the truth, then I’ll extend my claim for vengeance over the two of you. But let’s be clear, all that means is that you’ll be prosecuted when we get back to the starport”.
“Sure I unnerstand ya, I just heard what them savages do to their prisoners, ‘specially the off-world ones. An’ I don’t want no sun baked savage carving me up and feeding me ter what passes fer scorpions round here”.
Arlana spoke to the Salthar and the conversation became quite heated. Eventually, however, they seemed to reach agreement and the Salthar called to his men who then brought the other prisoner over and shoved him down next to Halfeson.
“OK, tell me what you know, and make it convincing” Arlana said.
“Well, this is ma bruvver, Donald, and we woz ‘ired by Drakkar minerals to cause a bit o’mischief. I joined ya crew and woz to stop ya making enough money to pay ya lease. After we found them radioactives, they would a sold fer a pretty penny, sose ya coulda made the payment. I ad a crate in the hold, which contained a bomb, I sets this off and the engine goes kaput – no more radioactives. I also fries the electrics in one o’ the airrafts. I was plannin to leave with the other airraft, but it were broken, so I ad to stay put. Donald ere, was on the crawler team, searching for summat.”
“And what is your part in all this Donald ?” asked Arlana.
“Well I was working on one o’ the crawlers out in Chagradas Canyon. We was looking for summat, minerals I ‘spose, coz we ad a crawler. Well, we met up with the other two crawlers at the wreck site, that was ya crawler miss, and then we runs search patterns along the canyon. We gets a call that ya crawler was wrecked a couple of days ago and that ya woz organised and heading out on foot. So, the boss rounded a few of us up and came out here to set an ambush. Ya knows how that went” he said miserably.
Arlana explained what had been learnt to the Salthar, resulting in a short discussion.
Turning back to Donald, she said
“The Salthar says you have been harassing his tribe, killing livestock and attacking people. Is this true ?”
Donald looked uncomfortable
“Ya miss, Drakkar wanted the Duneraiders out of the way so they could keep whatever it is their searching for to themselves”.
Arlana held a further conversation with the Salthar, then drew the Captain and Dirk aside.
“Salthar Eneshi says he will help us, he is willing to guide us to his oasis encampment, provide care for our sick and injured, and then let us take the airrafts back to the starport with Ronald and Donald. In return, he claims the rest of the ambushers, and invokes the responsibilities of hospitality, saying that his enemy is our enemy. What he wants is our help in driving the rest of the Drakkar men out of the Canyon. To be honest, I’m keen to know what has gotten Drakkar so fired up, and why they are prepared to steal our lease. Are you in ?”
“As long as I can keep Ms Etye safely out of the way, then I’ll help” replied Dirk.
“Good, now I’ll see what the rest of the crew think” and Arlana turned to call her crew into a huddle. Dennecheck was nowhere to be seen. The crew split up to search for him while Arlana explains what is going on to the Salthar.
A short while later, the crew have regathered, having found Dennecheck wandering around beyond the firelight.
“Geez, can’t a guy have a whizz in peace nowadays ?” he exclaimed ruefully.
There were murmurs of apologies from the crew members, but several questioning glances, if Dirk was any judge.
There was a further conference between Arlana and Salthar Eneshi, which culminated in what appeared to be more formal language, and a clasping of forearms. The agreement was reached, presumably.
The Duneraiders then led them to the site where the air rafts had been parked, and rigged some kind of netting between them and some boulders. It did not look much, but provided a surprisingly adequate shade from the sun. The heat of the day, therefore, was mainly passed in sleep, idle conversation, or maintenance of clothing and equipment. A couple of the Crawler crew did spend time going over the air rafts to see if they were serviceable and could be started. Much to everyone’s relief, they were pronounced as functioning. Both the Duneraiders and the Arlana’s team maintained a watch, partly on the desert, and partly on their new found allies. Once night was beginning to fall again, the Duneraiders brewed some tea which they shared all around, and brought out some kind of Jerky, which they also offered to all. Most declined, pulling out their own rat bars instead. Once the meal was complete and the netting packed away a long, Arlana, Dirk, Ms Etye, and the more injured crew boarded the air rafts with Salthar Eneshi and his guard. The Captain had been asked to come along as well, but declined, preferring to stay with his crew.
It was not long, therefore, before Dirk found himself in the Duneraider settlement. The rest of the party arrived several hours later, looking hot and tired. The prisoners were herded into a solid looking building and locked in, the rest were offered the use of another building, pretty basic, but quite comfortable after the past few nights hardships. Ms Etye was invited to join the Duneraider women in their house, and from which men were excluded, and she accepted gratefully, hoping for a few more creature comforts.
Once people were settled into their new quarters and somewhat refreshed, Dirk joined Arlana, the Captain, Salthar Eneshi and a couple of his lieutenants for a council of war.