Authors: Megan Derr
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Gay, #General
The Desert is a source of mystery and awe, an uncontrollable land which only the savages who live
there can endure. Stories are told of the wild Tribes who control the untamable Desert, the bloody
battles that are waged in a place where alliances are as shifting as the sands. Amongst the Tribes of
the Desert, one of the most feared is Ghost, led by the bloodthirsty Sheik Hashim and his son Sahayl,
called the Sandstorm. Yet Sahayl is not his father. He longs for peace rather than power, and is bitterly
disappointed when a chance for peace fails, promising that only more violence will be forthcoming.
Then the violence in the Desert reaches all new levels, and Tribes believed long dead reappear with
deadly intent, and Sahayl realizes that there is a new enemy in the Desert, and it is not one the Tribes
are prepared to fight. To save his Tribe and the Desert, Sahayl must take drastic measures –
measures that will reshape the Desert in a way that only a Sandstorm can…
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The King's Harem
"Saa, what a disappointment. I thought you said you needed my help, Ikram. These men were not much of a challenge at all." Sahayl grimaced at the men in question, a group of roughly fifty soldiers in the red and gold uniform of one of the Western countries. He did not bother to recall which one. Sometimes it seemed they took turns making war on the East-ostensibly for trade, but Sahayl half-wondered if they were merely bored. Why could they not simply fight each other as the Tribes did?
Ikram, a man of nearly fifty years who did not look anywhere close to that even with the gray in his beard and hair, chuckled softly. "I think it more likely they are not used to Ghosts.
Certainly they have given us plenty of trouble before. Their commander is no fool, he knows how to fight us." His eyes flicked to a man who had been separated from the rest, bound and secured to a dark gray horse.
"He was a challenge, I will give you that." Sahayl eyed the man in question, reluctantly fascinated by the sheer whiteness of his skin. Even compared to pale-skinned Westerners, who always looked either like old cream or red meat, this one was remarkable. Like bleached bone. He might have been handsome, but for that skin. Eyes the color of the sky, they had briefly distracted him, which had nearly cost him his arm. Sahayl grunted at the memory.
"You shall have to tell me what your King does with that one."
"I do not share the King's business with rowdy desert tribes," Ikram replied with a taunting smirk.
Sahayl let out a sharp bark of laughter. "But you will beg us for favors when your problems grow too big for you to manage?" He grinned, all teeth, at the man beside him. "It is fortunate for you and your King that our Tribe is willing to indulge him and lend our assistance."
"It is fortunate for your purse that our King is more than willing to pay for your assistance,"
Ikram responded dryly. "And that he indulges you in your desire for independence."
"Tavamara has tried before to take the Lady into its fold before. Never has it succeeded.
Your current King is the wiser for never trying, and that is why Ghost, at least, is willing to help." Sahayl laughed again, a soft, rolling sound like that of distant thunder.
Ikram rolled his eyes. "As you like it, son of Hashim. You have changed little from the boy who went around causing chaos."
"And you are still the stuffy know-it-all who tried to make me behave. I do not pity the King who has taken you for an advisor. Does he send you out here to get some peace and quiet?"
"I am not the one he complains about." Ikram chortled at some private amusement. He gathered his horse's reigns. "On that note, have you taken up all these duties so that your father might find peace in camp?"
Sahayl shrugged. "My father hunts for more blood, not for peace."
Ikram quirked a brow. "How do the winds blow these days? Once out of the Lady's sight, it is hard to keep track of who is killing who for what."
"Not that you ever kept track anyway."
"Do you want me to demonstrate just how much I used to know?"
Sahayl rolled his eyes. "No, thank you. You are no longer my tutor; I don't have to listen to you."
"Not that you ever did."
Laughing, Sahayl motioned to himself. His dark robes looked no different than those of the men behind him, but the glinting red jewel in his sword matched the one on his ring, and he had a bearing about him the others lacked, marking him out as a leader. "Do I look as though I suffered for it?"
"A question I should put to those who live with you," Ikram murmured. "Do they still call you Sandstorm?"
"Perhaps," Sahayl said, still grinning. "But I warn you to watch your tongue, for it was the Sandstorm who captured your prisoners."
Ikram rolled his eyes. "A job for which you were amply paid, as I have already stated. As you clearly have nothing of interest left to say, I believe we will be on our way. Prisoners - even exhausted ones - will only be quiet for so long. His Majesty thanks you, Sahayl, son of Hashim, son of Ghost, son of the Lady of the Sands." He pressed the fingers of his right hand to his left shoulder and bowed from the waist.
Sahayl threw his head back and laughed. "His Majesty is most welcome, Ikram, son of Sabbar, former son of Cobra, former son of the Lady of the Sands." Smiling, Sahayl touched two fingers of his right hand to his forehead, then to his lips, then to the space over his heart.
"Mind, body, soul."
"In all find strength," Ikram said, miming the gesture.
Holding his right hand to his left shoulder, Sahayl bowed. "To the Lady and your King. Safe travel and peaceful night. Farewell."
"Until next time," Ikram said, and then urged his horse forward to rejoin his own men.
Tugging up the covering for his mouth and nose, Sahayl turned his horse around and immediately raced off, his men falling in easily around and behind him. Across the white sand of the desert they raced, chased by the setting sun. Twenty-five men dressed all in black, riding horses that barely seemed to touch the sands they raced across.
In seconds, both groups had vanished - one farther into the desert, the other away from it. In the lengthening shadows of evening, it almost looked as though no one had ever been there.
Six years later
"Your father is going to kill us."
Sahayl sighed. "He's already busy trying to kill everyone else. We'll be so far down on his agenda that he'll forget we're even on it." He flicked the air with his fingers, as if knocking away an annoying insect. "Saa, but I am his blood. That tends to move me to the top of the list."
"Some days I think the Lady favors you; other days I think She merely laughs."
"I think She laughs every day. What do you suppo-" His words were cut off by a cry of warning from Wafai, and he drew his sword without thought, swinging around to meet the blade of his attacker, realizing they must have come from the dune behind him - lying in wait?. Throwing the man off, Sahayl struck, long crescent sword flashing, slicing open the man's throat. He spun sharply around and met the next one, just able to see that there were at least six more. Every last one of them Falcon. Bastards. So much for negotiations. With renewed fervor, Sahayl cut down the next man and moved on to a third, dodging the swing of his sword, bringing his own crashing down, using his free hand to pull the man from his horse. Nearby Wafai had already killed two of his own and was fighting a third, his head covering lost somewhere in the fight. Sahayl swung his horse around as another man attacked him, and threw himself once more into the fighting, fast and brutal, not giving the enemy a chance to reconvene, change strategies.
Another quick movement as someone else joined the fray, and Sahayl realized after a moment that the man was helping them.
When the fighting ceased, leaving only the stench of blood to mingle with the smell of wind and sand, Sahayl shared a brief, puzzled look with his friend, then looked at the man who had assisted them. His clothing bore no distinctive markings. They were stark black - no embroidery, no jewels, nothing. Nor did his horse give any indication of his tribe. Strangely, his eyes were covered by a thin veil - no doubt he could see them quite clearly, but they could see nothing of him. "Who are you?"
"My identity is of no matter to you," the man replied. Sahayl was surprised by his accent - it was perfectly native to the Desert. He had expected a foreigner of some sort, likely someone from Tavamara exploring what they called 'the Wild Desert'. "And you're welcome, Ghost."
He lifted his right hand, gloved in black leather, and pressed two fingers to his forehead, the space over his mouth, the space over his heart. "Mind, body, soul. Lady guard you on your journey." With that, the man turned around and raced off.
"Leave it, Wafai," Sahayl said when his friend made to give chase. "Was that who I think it was?"
Wafai grunted. "The shadow skulking about the Desert? You should have let me either kill him or follow him. We could rid this place of at least one problem."
"Saa, there are so many problems, what is one more?" Sahayl glanced distastefully at the bodies on the ground. "I guess we don't need to worry about being late now." He narrowed his eyes. "Lady of the Sands…" Dismounting Sahayl cleaned his sword on the robe of the nearest dead man and sheathed it. "Wafai, take a look. These men are not Falcon."
"Do you have sand in your eyes, Sahayl?" Wafai dismounted and moved to kneel beside him, yanking away the cloth covering his mouth and nose. "Lady of the Sands! What game is this?"
Sahayl tugged down his own mouth cover, revealing full lips pulled into a grim frown. "A good imitation, right down to the feathers even. But those aren't falcon feathers. At least, not any falcon I've ever seen. Nor is the silver quite right. Perfect for a glance…"
"I wonder what the game is this time," Wafai said with a long sigh. Covering his mouth and nose again, he began yanking feathers and small, silver medallions from the robes of the dead men. "They carry no identifying marks, either. These men could literally be anyone."
"Not anyone," Sahayl said pensively as he pulled off the head covering of one. His skin was dusky, but too light and smooth for the dead man to have been in the Desert long. "They're not native."
Wafai shrugged. "More likely from Tavamara, though I couldn't begin to tell you why they're out here playing desert savage."
Sahayl snorted. "I would like to know how they came to know so much about Falcon they managed a fair imitation of their markings. Saa, I sense more trouble than ever on the winds.
The Lady tests us."
"I wonder more about the shadow." Wafai glared at Sahayl. "Lady keep me from ever scouting with you again."
Snickering, Sahayl mounted his horse and turned around. "You would be bored out of your mind, brother of my soul, if you scouted with anyone else."
"Lady grant me the gift of being bored," Wafai muttered. "Let us hurry. We are already late, and this delay will not help any cause, but grief's. Ketcha!"
"Ketcha!" Sahayl repeated, and they raced off back across the sands, following a path that was not there.
They arrived at camp an hour later. The camp in question was simple, with just enough space for a group of fifty men to be reasonably comfortable as they traveled to talk peace with old enemies. The tents were all the color of the sand around them, dyed irregularly to better blend. Along one end the horses were tethered, and spread out from there were the various tents of the soldiers, in no particular pattern, no special ornamentation to denote the ranks of the men inside - only size and their location near the center indicated the tents of the Sheik and Amir. Around the camp men tended to various chores, some tending the horses, others readying the gifts to be presented at the meeting that night, still others on guard duty, preparing meals, or attending to various small duties to help keep the camp running smoothly.