“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.
“Not if our tardiness causes Ghost to be late.”
“You’re pessimism helps nothing, Wafai.”
“Neither does your making us late.”
“It is not as though I did it on purpose. What do you suppo—” His words were cut off by a cry of warning from Wafai. Sahayl drew his sword without thought, twisting in his saddle to meet the blade of his attacker. They must have come from the dune behind him. Had they merely seen an opportunity, or had they somehow been lying in wait?
Driving his attacker back, Sahayl struck, his long, curved blade flashing in the sun as it sliced open the man’s throat. Sahayl spun sharply around and met the next one, just able to see that there were at least six more. Every last one of them was Falcon. Bastards. So much for the 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, and using his free hand to pull the man from his horse.
Nearby, Wafai had already killed two more 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 back into the fighting, movements fast and brutal, giving the enemy no chance to reconvene and change strategies.
Another quick movement as someone else joined the fray, and Sahayl realized after a moment that the newcomer was helping him and Wafai.
When the fighting ceased, leaving only the stench of blood to mingle with the smell of wind and sand, Sahayl shared a brief, puzzled glance with Wafai, then looked at the man who had assisted them. His clothing bore no distinctive markings. They were stark black with 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 at all 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. “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, he turned around and raced off.
“Leave it, Wafai,” Sahayl said when he 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.”
“What are you talking about?” 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. “It is a good imitation, right down to the feathers—except those aren’t falcon feathers. At least, not any falcon I’ve ever seen. The silver is not quite right, either. Perfect from 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 true identifying marks. These men could literally be anyone.”
“Not anyone,” Sahayl said pensively as he removed the head covering of one. He had yellow-brown skin, but it was too light and smooth for the dead man to have been in the desert long. “They’re not Tribe.”
Wafai shrugged. “More likely from Tavamara, though I could not begin to tell you why they’re out here playing desert savage.”
“Saa, I would like to know how they came to know so much about Falcon that they managed a fair imitation of their markings.” He frowned at the bodies. “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 cause us only grief. Ketcha!”
“Ketcha!” Sahayl repeated, and they raced off back across the sands, following a path that was not there.