There was... quite a variety of the enemy, marching over the border from Ma'aktu to Palm Springs. And not that few of them either.

The Merisusi archers, the walking trees, the Mameluks, the Lyzar cohorts and the surprisingly disciplined Free Islands rabble - and is that a bunch of Malathians, and a unit of facets in the bargain, and a golem, and a Kamakuran bushi, and a pretty serious looking Merisusi mokosh, and... and some myrmidons for good measure? Between all of those there were maybe two hundred of them, many of them significantly good in a fight, although Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion is still more impressive than most of them.

We took one look at their forces, especially the ballistae, the archers and the fine range of greatmaces and great clavates, and decided that even a single standard confrontation in the field to draw them out was not on the cards. Sure, we're all well disciplined soldiers here, but we also quite like living.

Time for an inventive solution.

That scallywag Free Islander in the Eagle's Claws got us our first blood. He did some quality overhearing, then rounded up the Allegiance Soldiers Second Battalion, the Masjid Marines and the Amir's Guard to go sneaking around in the dark. There was a big argument outside this lovely open-air amphitheatre, that fortunately they didn't overhear; no true Rukhi wants to risk the sacred bond of hospitality, after all, and it was clear the Malathians listening to the local entertainment had been invited there under hospitable circumstances.

But it wasn't us that invited them, so eventually they decided to go for it. Turned out those Malathians were archers. Didn't do very well at close quarters. They scattered like bastards, but the Allegiance Soldiers Second Battalion tagged a good few of them and we got several on the floor. Seven confirmed bodies on the spot and two more dead back at camp, we hear.

After that, they got a bit smarter, but we blended in with the populace. Waited until it was dark and took them out in the night, especially those Weaver-damned walking tree monstrosities.

It was working pretty well until we saw that one. Tree-thing itself, just wandering down the road as casual as you please; Tree-thing, the cause of so much impenetrable forest and so many disappearances in the night. Well, we were trying not to do too much in the daylight, but there were a lot of us in position just in case; Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion, Amir's Harem Guard Second Battalion, Eagle's Claws and 2nd Rukhi Colonial Marines could all see each other across the fields.

We figured fifty of us could do some damage before they got their act together, as they weren't visibly formed up and the ballistae and the bugs had been taken over the other side of the Springs, by those poor foolish Lyzar looking for their lost friends.

Okay, maybe we didn't figure it. Maybe someone in Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion just got a really bad case of itchy sword. In any case, they broke cover and went for him, and then there was nothing for it but for everyone to get in a full formation and try to salvage the situation.

I mean, of course it was a trap. We knew about traps, we were there to set one. But while we didn't get our major target, it was definitely a trap worth springing, even if we had our major losses of the engagement in the resulting battle.

They'd got those facets, the golem, and some incredibly sneaky Free Islanders lying silently in wait. That was about half as many as we had. The golem had some nice cuir boulli, which always seems a bit strange and pointless on something that's made of rock anyway, but it seemed to keep it standing up longer as it methodically destroyed our front line with one of the ubiquitous greatmaces - and it had a whacking great two-handed sword strapped to its back, presumably just in case!

Our field day didn't last that long, although we smashed a good few of those annoying facet creatures. A good-sized force of Mameluks swiftly headed over, clearly having been aware something was about to kick off over here despite marching in an entirely different direction a few moments before. They were all pretty handy with those greatmaces, some incredibly so, although none more deadly than Nivyan at the front of the pack who sliced a few of our people down with pergeas and spatha; the brown one with a shield and a morningstar, Bakar, was no slouch either! We were going to start the retreat as soon as we saw the mameluks, but that threat certainly got us into gear...

They tried to ambush us with some extra trees, but we were used to that by now, and the trees aren't exactly quick movers. It helps that the place is basically flat and not so much as a bush of anything but sylladan was growing; the plantation means most of the land in Palm Springs is plucked bare for better production.

We were so close to pulling off the second part of our plan, it was unbelievable. It would have been such a vindication of the seven mourned sons of Rukh who didn't make it - Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion lost two, as did Eagle's Claws, and Amir's Harem Guard Second Battalion and 2nd Rukhi Colonial Marines had one casualty each.

They were chasing us right out of the fields, dead straight towards Western Watch and the waiting arms of the Capitol Defence Force, when who comes up at a dead run but Abassa, clanking merrily in gothic plate, and Marcus Al-Tora himself, the main man of the enemy forces. Both of them waving and gesturing and yelling their heads off about how it was a trap, how their troops had to turn back now or be destroyed.

They were being followed by half the rest of their forces each, more mameluks and a load more free islanders and the remnant of the Malathians, so we decided the dance was well and truly done with, and turned on the speed and the scattering into the fields like sensible daughters of the desert.

I mean, it probably saved my life, but it was a bit of a bitter ending.

We did a bit more harrying, but then we got the word there was a smaller force just come in to Rukh Reach, so we went to have a few pointed words with them instead…

---

It's very quiet out in Palm Springs.

Too quiet. Julius Octavius Mark Anthony Agrippa expected to have control of these fields by now, the Altairian Fields, but the locals politely insist they haven't seen hide nor hair of the troops he sent earlier in the season. There are plenty of Rukhi here. They are quite friendly and very industrious, and appear to be mostly concerned with growing endless waving fields of sylladan. They are not interested in getting in your way or having any kind of dispute with you, although they would quite like you to stop trampling the crops, if you wouldn't mind.

Some of them peddle their wares to your troops; new bootlaces, shiny scarves, and tempting snacks. It doesn't seem to bother them who the land belongs to, as long as they can make a few coins.

Most of the troops are having none of it. The mameluks, myrmidons and awakened don't exactly have much in the way of disposable income anyhow, the Lyzars are too disciplined, and the Free Islanders know better than to take food from the enemy in a warzone. The Grey Kerns accept an invitation to some local entertainment one evening, however. They're not afraid of a few birdies, and anyway they are being so hospitable, it would be rude to refuse.

Close quarters are a terrible place to fight with longbows. Most of them weren't stupid enough to let themselves be disarmed first, but the raid that takes place leaves nine of them dead before they can straggle back to the lines and only the quick work of Amenhet Ibn-Bakri Malaaj keeps more of them from succumbing to their wounds. The Kerns are very keen to point out that it wasn't those who invited them away who did the deed, but some opportunists who struck in the night; many amongst the army are less keen on making any distinction between Rukhi any longer.

So there are some defenders here, then. The troops stick closer together after that incident. No-one is allowed to fraternise with the locals, but some contact is unavoidable; a good part of securing the land is ensuring the people who are on it accept your ownership, after all. Long Rukhi robes and enormous Rukhi trousers prove on several occasions to conceal flashing swords, and either the Rukhi are a lot tougher than they look or they are wearing concealed armour, too.

Mostly they go for the dryads. The first three are taken quietly in the night from the back of patrols, but there is a special, fanatical hatred of dryads that you gradually learn to recognise in their eyes, after one of Amir's Harem Guard Second Battalion breaks cover and starts firing a pistol wildly at Protectors of the Forest: First Bowyers before diving in, expertly blocking arrows from the dryads as they hack one down on the ground before they are overwhelmed. In a carefully planned ambush, Tree-Thing lures several of what seems to be their elite unit, the Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion, out into the open just by casually walking around in places where it looks less than impossibly guarded. Then the silent facets of The Blades on Loan, supported by the stealthy Free Islands unit Devereux's explorers, and the golem Ankhmau who is also capable of staying very, very still, fall upon them.

In the resulting melee, the crowd reveals several other members who are wearing concealed armour and more interested in getting a few blows in than clearing out of the area like the genuine civilians. Once they realise their trap has been sprung back on them, they pull together into a well-practiced formation. The Malikaran Defence Force Fourth Battalion are highly trained troops and quickly notice that the Blades on Loan are the weakest of the troops facing them; whilst the Eagle's Claws and the 2nd Rukhi Colonial Marines defend against Devereux's Explorers, they advance on the facets and methodically smash them into slivers, carefully scooping up and pocketing the gems that are their last remains.

Lashirah Hafsa Al-Zoya, Bakar and Nivyan Ib-Mherut head over with Sethet's Mameluks-At-Arms, Mameluk Squadron 1 and Ma'atku Light Regulars from the slightly further distance they had been concealing themselves at, pretending to just be marching by on their way to another objective. The Rukhi see the oncoming mameluks, and they change direction into a very credible fighting retreat, only leaving one or two of their number on the floor.

Then the trees descend on them. It looks for a moment as if the Rukhi might break and run, but they clearly have a plan which they are determined to follow; a few of Eagles' Claws and the Colonial Marines sprint off into the fields, but most take courage from the extremely well trained soldiers they fight alongside. They bend their course very slightly to present a good face to the new attackers and neatly avoid being flanked.

As the combined force heads out of the main settlement following the retreat, Nivyan notices Abassa and Marcus approaching on the diagonal from two different directions at a dead run. Angelica Moist stands behind where Marcus is sprinting from, looking anxiously out with her telescope in the direction that the Rukhi are retreating.

Desperately, Marcus and Abassa both yell the order to halt the army and cease to chase down the fleeing Rukhi forces. The rest of the Mameluks were chasing in after Marcus, and the remains of the Grey Kerns along with the rest of the Freeport forces were following Abassa. Over in the hazy distance, there may or may not have been another enemy line - the Capitol Defence Force, working out of Abu Malikari.

They wouldn't stray quite this far from their fortifications, but if the chase had lasted much longer, the Wave could have run right into them, half separated and strung out in what looked like the pursuit of a rout.

Nevertheless, there are seven Rukhi on the ground that won't be bothering the troops again. Not much of a price, alas, for the six of the Blades on Loan that are now missing, and the five mameluks that wait stoically at the end of the queue for a surgeon that never comes; even with Lashirah right there, there was only so much that could be done with most of the mameluks ending the fight bleeding from the skilled blades of the Rukh.

Meanwhile, the others - including, thankfully, those myrmidons who would otherwise be arguing about the disposal of the enemy bodies - are searching for any sign of Julius Octavius Mark Anthony Agrippa's lost troops, but there is no sign of anything except a couple of incredibly nasty hit and run ambushes which claim a couple of the Lyzars and one of their ballistae.

The subdual of Palm Springs is long and exhausting, but as the populace takes greater care not to be seen sheltering the attackers, the attacks gradually cease; eventually, it is time to move on to Rukh Reach.

---

The Amun-Sa bring something of a menagerie to Palm Springs, you hear, and have a bit of a dance with the locals there. Seems that good Rukhi civilians can get up to all sorts of mischief when faced with an occupying army, and the Amun-Sa and their various hangers-on are timid as frightened kittens about the prospect of engaging a real Rukhi force, instead merely tiptoeing around the outside of the colonial lands...