Abragos waited with his companions who had been chosen for their skill with the sling. Today was their practice day, but they had been told on arrival to the practice field that they would not follow the usual routine. The word they were given was that they should not practice with stones and that they should wait to begin their practice. This was very unusual. Normally they would follow their ten-leaders to the field and alternatively sling their stones at man-sized posts or gather the stones that had previously been hurled at the targets.
But this day they had been waiting for an entire beram without practice. Some of the one-hundred slingers were gathered for a wrestling competition while many others gambled on the outcome.
A loud voice cried out from the circle, “Three to one on Banas!”
Another group had built a fire and were cooking grambo, the hot drink brewed from a mixture of various herbs, wild fungus, and dried goat liver. Still others were napping in the prairie grass or keeping watch for danger to themselves or their mounts. Abragos, who was well known for his sharp eyes, was among the latter.
In the distance, Abragos spotted wagons headed slowly in the direction of the practice range. He passed the word to his closest neighbors. As the word spread throughout the group, most of the slingers stood and looked in the direction of the wagons. But many of the experienced warriors, more alert to possible dangers, scanned the terrain in all other directions. They knew that the wagons could be a diversion meant to distract them from an enemy attack.
Soon it was evident that the wagon was a Sauromati design and the warriors accompanying the train wore the distinctive Sauromati conical helmets. The group relaxed at this knowledge but still remained alert to the unusual events of this day. They watched in anticipation as the wagons approached.
The wagons stopped in the midst of the slingers and a warrior leaped atop the lead wagon. He wore the rank of a ten-leader and an air rune on his chest, marking him as a slinger or archer. With no bow or quiver evident, and considering the time and place, Abragos thought, “He must be a slinger like us.”
The warrior atop the wagon surveyed the group gathered about him, and in a voice that carried to the edges of those gathered said, “Fellow slingers! I have brought you a gift. These wagons are filled with what until now were only legends told around the campfire. The soft stones that our great grandfathers used before the great wandering are legend no longer. We have mounds of them waiting to be used against the enemies of the Sauromati. Come close to the wagons and gather all you wish. There are plenty, and more for you to use in your practice. Come!”
Abragos was among the first to grab a pouchful of the soft-stone pellets and rush to a practice range position. The pellets were smaller but heavier than the stones he normally used for his ammunition. He felt its heft as he rolled it in his palm. He made a scratch in the grey stone with his fingernail and wondered if he could inscribe an insult for his enemies in it. He placed the pellet in the sling cradle and let it swing back and forth.
“Definitely different,” Abragos thought.
As he twirled the pellet above his head he judged the difference that this pellet would make to his aim. He sighted his target and willed his missile at the target post as he released the pellet from the sling. The pellet arced perfectly thru the air as it hurtled down range. Abragos’ heart beat faster as he watched the pellet fall downward.
It landed four wagon lengths beyond the post. Abragos scowled as the men next to him chuckled. He thought to himself, “This will take some extra practice.”