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A Desert Tale

This day was a particularly hot one, temperature soaring faster than the quickest of birds could race across the sky. The day was proving to quickly be one that could not be at all merciful. Yet the hour was young, perhaps no more than two hours past daybreak. It would indeed be another miserable day.

A single woman strays from the confines of that which would shelter from the wicked desert heat. Even the desert animals, so used to the heat of this land, could not be seen. Yet one woman, clad in a light, airy dress, yet completely covered, manages to brave the elements and emerge from a tent.

Her eyes were dark set and squinted, as if surveying the land around her. The land sweltered, the waves of heat making the landscape appear to be under water. She stood, quietly watching, as if waiting for someone or some thing to approach. The thought itself seemed unimaginable, for anything to be moving in this heat was most unlikely.

Her hand rose, sheltering her eyes from the sun's vicious rays. She knelt to the sand, placing a gloved hand down to touch the ground below her feet. Her head tilted slightly and she listened to every sound around her. Hearing minute sounds was easy on a day such as this, where nothing else would move and the heat would carry the slightest of sounds across great distances. And that is when she heard it.

At first, it was barely more than a steady murmur, the rhythmic pattern of feet upon the sand. Slowly though, the sound gained strength and within a few moments, the skyline was dotted with shapeless forms. The forms would, of course gain the shape within the next hour or so that it would take for the riders to reach the camp. The woman, now knowing that the return of the riders was eminent, returned to the tent she had emerged from to busy herself once more with her task for the day.

Soon enough, the once near inaudible sounds strengthened to a mighty thunder against the ground. The riders had returned to the camp, some of the mounts without their riders, others toting injured men. Before the cloud of dust around the men and animals could settle, the camp had come alive with people. Some rushed for water, others for medical supplies, and still others to help the injured to a quiet place to rest, where their injuries could be treated. And the woman sat, watching the chaos with a noticeable concern on her brow. This was not the first time that the riders had come back in such a manner.

The concern lifted quickly when the animals were lead to their posts. From amidst the chaos, she saw the figure she had quietly waited for. He, the one that kept her up at night, worrying about whether or not he would return from another one of his raids, finally emerged from the cloud of dust. His wounds seemed worse this time, but for some reason unknown to anyone, he was still able to walk.

He shrugged off those that would come to his side and try to bandage him. He pushed aside the women that would bid him to rest so that they could tend to his wounds. His pace was steady, his eyes dark and menacing and his resolve undeniably strong. He did not stop until he reached the woman's tent. And there it was that, for only the briefest of moments, his legs shook and his demeanor of strength had nearly crumbled.

The woman waved her hand, as if to rid herself from those around her. The task she had been busying herself with was all too obvious now. She was preparing a salve, readying a bowl of water and ensuring that a make shift bed had been set up. She had become all too accustomed to patching his wounds and ensuring that he would heal properly and fully. She was thankful for the months of training she had to endure for this very task.

And as if it were a pattern, he stumbled to the bed and stood, wavering. She let the sides of the tent down and watched as he crumpled to his knees, then to the bed. Quietly, she moved to his side and began to pull away his torn clothing. Each piece was tossed aside, knowing that it would have to be cleaned and mended later. For now, his wounds were that which needed to be mended.

She watched as his eyes flickered, then closed. He was tired; the ride had only worsened the wounds. She didn't want to imagine the battle that caused these gashes and cuts, she was just glad that he had returned to her once more. She reached over to a stack of towels beside the bed and, one at a time, began wetting them and washing away the dust, sand and blood. Towel after towel hit the ground beside her, until he and his rather large wounds were cleaned.

Quietly, she sutured his wounds closed while he slipped in and out of consciousness. He wasn't feverish; he had just lost quite a bit of blood. Her concerns weren't rising though; she had seen this from him on more than one occasion. Once his wounds were closed, she carefully applied the salve, and then wrapped the wounds in clean gauze. All that could be done now was to wait out the night and hope for a quick recovery.

As he slept, she set out the bloodied towels and his torn clothing. She knew that someone would come by soon enough to remove them. She then, like so many nights before, sat at his bedside with plenty of water and food, waiting for him to wake.

The night was just as vicious as the day was, in more ways that she could have imagined. The men had ridden a full day's ride to get back to the camp, and it showed on their faces. The slaves busied themselves with preparing food and drink for the men, yet the woman still sat at the bedside. The men feasted and drank their fill, carrying slaves off to tents in celebration, yet the noise of the outside activities of the camp didn't even stir him from his sleep. She had become accustomed to this; it was not the first time it had happened.

As the fires of the celebration had simmered down to a dull roar, she left his side long enough to ensure that things had been picked up around the camp. Seeing that it wasn't an entire disaster area, as the noise would have lead her to believe, she returned to his side to wait. She could only have guessed what he did this time, what marvelous journey he went on, what great enemies he smote… what horrid things he wouldn't speak of, even if he were awake. But that would have to wait until after he had rested.

She almost caught herself drifting off to a sleep, having sat by the bedside for what seemed like hours. It was hours too, before the noise of someone approaching the camp woke her. She jolted herself awake with the sudden disturbance and nearly leapt out of the tent. Control was something she had though, control of her senses, control of her mind. She quietly exited the tent, but not before picking up a crossbow that sat near the exit.

She knew she would only have one shot… and it had better hit. If it didn't hit, she didn't know if she would have time to warn the camp. Yet, her intent was fixated on stopping the noise that approached the camp. She crept around the tent, slipped in between two other tents and came to a stop, crossbow drawn and ready when the noise stopped. The beast that had created the noise stood, not ten feet from her. The man sitting upon the beast merely shook his head at her as he slid out of the saddle.

It was probably more luck of hers than she thought, but the moons shining down brightly above her illuminated the figure that she nearly shot. All she could do was silently curse at herself for being caught off guard. As the man pulled down his sand scarf, she just all but threw the crossbow at his head. She still had that control issue… and she wasn't going to show that she was angry with him for scaring her like that.

The man was a Bakah man who she had, on many times, met with under the eyes of only the mother and the father. His description could only be fitting of a tribesman, for he stood easily a foot taller than her, two shades darker than her own skin color, with black hair and the same intense eyes of many of the men she admired in her life. And, almost on cue, he set his eyes on her. The instant that he looked at her, she lowered the crossbow and spoke to him, though nothing much above a whisper. She didn't want to wake the camp. His retorts and responses were almost as quiet as her speech was.

“What are you doing here, Tribesman?”

“I came to ensure that none were killed… and to have another discussion with you.”

“You can't be here now. If they knew you were here, it would most certainly cause a disturbance.”

“It doesn't matter, Lady… I came to speak to you and we will speak now.”

Her eyes lowered slightly before she finally consented to speak to him. She dropped the crossbow into the sand and walked to the side of the beast on which he sat. She reached her hand up to him and, with a swift and effortless movement; he pulled her up onto the back of the kaiila and set her behind him. The winds pushed a slight bit of sand over the top of the crossbow as the beast rode away.

They hadn't ridden more than a mile when she began to notice that she had forgotten to grab her cloak before she had left camp. The desert, while blistering hot in the sun's caress, was bone-chilling cold once the sun rested and the moons shone down. The winds snapped against her thin covering just enough to ensure that she felt the chill of the night, and her body trembled from the cold. He had noticed her shivers and stopped the beast that they rode upon.

He turned in the saddle, the beast standing quietly and unmoving, and he looked at her. It was obvious that she wasn't going to say anything about the cold, but being a man of the desert, he knew what she was feeling. He pulled off the sleeveless, hood desert cloak that he wore and wrapped her in it. She spoke a quiet “thank you,” then he lifted her chin and looked her in the eyes. He was ready to speak to her, and he wanted her to pay attention to what he would say at this meeting.

“The desert is not a friendly place, Lady. What are you doing out here, when you should be behind the walls of a city where you are safe?”

“The desert may not be a friendly place, but it is my home and I must stand at my Pasha's side no matter where he goes.”

“Your Pasha fights against the Tajuks this trip out. That tribe is nothing more than a lot of murderous savages. They have no true alliance, but they fight for the Aretai, at their side… their left flank.”

“He hasn't had the chance to tell me who they were fighting this time. I am just there to make sure that camp runs smoothly, and to patch his wounds when he returns to me.”

The man looked at her, his eyes did not lie. He was concerned for her safety, as he had always been when she left the city and rode at the side of her Pasha. He pulled a bit tighter on the burnoose sitting on her shoulders, feeling a wind snapping around and shook his head as he began to speak again.

“Lady… this is not a place for you to play nursemaid. This is war and you are a liability. If the Aretai find you, they'll use you against him.”

She shook her head at him, she didn't want to believe what he was saying and, as many other free women, she thought herself to be ten foot tall and completely invincible. Her stubbornness wouldn't let her see that he was probably speaking the truth. She didn't want to be stuck behind the walls of a city when the world around her was so full of life.

“I'll be fine, you'll see. You have always been too concerned about me. Nothing will happen.”

He didn't believe her, of course. History was doomed to eventually repeat itself, and he knew what happened to her the last time that she thought everything was fine. The last time she declared that everything was all right, she found herself kidnapped and taken off to some place in the North. But he wasn't going to mention that one, again.

“We'll see Lady… but if you insist on being out here, staying in that camp while your Pasha is out battling, know that someone will be watching you. Just beware of the foreigners that enter this land. They will come, searching you out to speak to you. Believe nothing that they say…”

She had no doubt about the words that he spoke. She had already heard rumors of the foreigners entering the land, and she knew that the time would come when she would have to make a stand against them. She just wasn't ready to yet.

With the last words that he said, he turned back around in the saddle and urged the beast that they were still perched upon to make way back toward the camp. She rode behind him, quietly thinking about what he had said. The words stung her brain and she couldn't help but think… what if he was right. What if they found her… what if the Aretai came for her. She didn't want to think about what would happen.

The rest of the ride back to camp left her feeling somewhat hollow inside. She chewed on the words that he had said, cringing as they left a sting in the back of her throat. She didn't know exactly what would happen while she was out on her little adventure in the desert. All she knew was that she had to stand at her Pasha's side and be there for him, no matter what.

She didn't want to tell the man that though. She didn't want to seem defiant, at least… not yet she didn't. But she also did not want to seem weak. She wasn't stupid, she had a natural fear of the unknown, but it was also a sort of excitement to her. Everything was too fantastic for her to believe. She wanted to go out and conquer the world… or at least her fears. That would be enough for her. Her mind reeled with thoughts as the kaiila that they rode on stopped at the entrance to the camp.

He turned and looked at her, her eyes almost seemed glazed over for the briefest of moments with the thoughts that were racing through her mind. But the sudden stop of the beast brought her back to reality rather abruptly. She felt his eyes on her and she almost wanted to look at the saddle instead of him. But he caught her eyes and instead, she fixated her gaze on him.

“You have been returned to your camp… just remember what I have told you. Beware of the foreigners, for they will be more deadly than any Aretai you would meet in this desert.”

She nodded as she slid down out of the saddle. She pulled off the burnoose and handed it back up to him, then crouched down and picked up the sand swept crossbow. He pulled back on the reigns of the beast and it turned to leave the camp. She stood in the entrance of the camp, holding the crossbow tightly to her as he and his beast moved out of sight.

As she returned to her tent, she noticed the setting of the moons. The sun would be rising soon, yet the camp was still quiet. The celebration from the night before must have left the men more exhausted than they realized. But she knew that soon, the camp would come to life around her. Yet it was not the quietness of the camp that had her worried. It was still the words that she had heard, the things told to her about the foreigners. She wondered if she should tell her Pasha.

As she slipped back into her tent, she set the crossbow down and returned to his side. He didn't seem to be in pain now. He looked like he was resting peacefully. She almost thought that she would be able to close her eyes and rest. However, rest would not come to her this very early morning, as just as her eyes began to close, the first sounds of movement outside of her tent sprang to life. The camp would, once again be awakened for another day.

It didn't take long for the camp to come bustling to life. The sounds of the slaves around the camp quickly prompted others to wake with a morning's freshness. Soon enough, the unmistakable aroma of food cooking drifted into every tent in the camp. And she sat, still watching over the resting man at her side. She wondered when he would wake; he had looked so exhausted when he rode into camp the day prior. It couldn't be as bad as she had originally thought, as his wound was not seeping and his fever had went down during the night.

Perhaps only an hour had passed when his eyes first cracked open. He looked groggy, washed out. It was obvious that he had a long battle the day prior, and it became more evident when he fully opened his eyes and tried to move. The first grunt of discomfort he let out, and she was coaxing him to lie back down. The last thing she wanted was to have him popping a suture, or worse… actually walking around without at least getting something in him.

After a brief interlude, which concluded rather quickly with a sighed “fine,” he relented to lying back on the bed. Once she was certain he wasn't going to move, she slipped out of the tent to go get him something to eat and drink. There was no way she was going to have him out and gallivanting around while he was still healing. She thought, just as she stepped out of the tent, she heard him try to get up again. The attempt was quickly foiled when she opened the canvas up and looked inside at him.

She maneuvered her way around slaves busied with morning chores, passed a group of men that were involved in their conversations of war and found her way to the supply tent. A few moments after entering the tent, she had emerged with a basket with fruit and a bottle of water in it. He was going to eat something, even if it killed him. And the thought in her head at that time was… he had better eat, or she might make him wish he were dead with the verbal lashing that she would give him.

She opened the canvas again, this time bearing fruits and water only to stop and shake her head. She couldn't believe that he had actually gotten out of bed and was getting dressed. She was fairly certain that the man would never learn, no matter how much she pleaded or yelled. But she was definitely going to try.

“For Priest Kings' sakes Shaheen! Do you have to be so stubborn, or can you, just for once in your life, listen instead of being such a thick-headed pain?”

That was the sound of a not-very-happy woman, resonating very clearly across the camp. The entire of the activity of the camp seemed to come to a screeching halt when the yell came out of the tent. It was obvious that she was upset. She was more concerned than upset, but it came across as either way when she yelled. Thus, their first discussion since his return began.

“Yes woman, I do have to be this stubborn. Do you have a problem with it?”

He was obviously not in the mood for her antics today. She didn't really care either. She was already worried and upset about other things, and his need to be up and moving around after coming in like he had the day before had just set her into a near frenzy. She could feel her irritation growing. Thus, a very typical argument between the two of them went racing off.

“You are hurt, you came in hurt… and you have to be up and around, before even eating anything?”

“Yes, I do have to be up and around. There are things that have to be done.”

“Well, not before you eat something and at least give your body a chance to heal some more. What would you tell me, if it were me in that situation?”

His eyes went dark. His inherent Taharic nature seemed to rise from him as he went from the caring Free Companion to the stubborn Kavar Pasha. He stood, rising to his full height, which was easily a head taller than her. He stretched out, she cringed as she thought about a suture popping, and he looked down at her with the deep-set, intense brown eyes that she was used to seeing set upon others. His voice never rose as he spoke though.

“It is time for me to return to my men… there are things that have to be done before we can leave this place, and I do not have time to argue about it.”

She wasn't going to take that for an answer though, no matter how much she wanted to back away from him at this point. She wanted to run out of the tent and away from the camp when he looked at her like that, but she knew that she had to stand her ground this time. She had to talk to him, she had to tell him what she had learned… but she wasn't going to try and compete for the time if he were truly busy. Instead, she just quietly set the basket with the fruit and water in it on a table in the tent, and then stepped outside.

Updated: December 18, 2016 — 2:48 am
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