Hasib had sensed the sandstorm coming, shortly before the billowing wall of sand had appeared. The breeze, which had been blowing gently since that afternoon, began to get stronger. It grew into a billowing wind, stirring up the sand around Hasib.
Hasib knew that if he was caught in the open, it may have ended in a long dry struggle or worse. Getting lost in the expanse of dunes usually didn’t bode well for the individual. Finding shelter was required quickly and since the glass fields were too far, Malek’s camp was the only option. At first, Hasib took shelter on the side of a tent, but it did little to protect him from the swirling granules. Hasib was reluctant to enter any of the tents, as one of them may recognize him and inform Malek of his presence.
However as the minutes ticked by, Hasib could feel that his shemagh was doing little to keep the sand out. Hasib had pulled on a pair of glass goggles and the seals were at least keeping the pelting sand out of his eyes. He coughed harshly as the finest sand entered his lungs and his mouth felt dry. He dipped his head in between his legs, wishing to be turned into a mere boulder so the wind would just flow over him.
With his head down, Hasib didn’t notice the shadow of a figure loom up beside him, until the other person bumped into him. The figure tripped over him and fell onto the sand beside him. Hasib rubbed his side where a knee had dug into him and turned to see the other person.
The other figure was moving their hands and Hasib was unsure if they were yelling something to him. The whistling loud wind made it impossible to hear, so Hasib didn’t bother trying to say anything. The person grabbed Hasib by the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. They then led him through the blinding sandstorm and then shoved him forward suddenly. Hasib found himself inside a tent, finally able to see properly.
The tent was decorated simply, Hasib would even say it wasn’t decorated at all. A bed and a wash basin on a pair of drawers were the only furniture in the room. There was a pair of twin scimitars lying beside the bed, as well as several sharpening tools and a small vial of oil.
“Trying to sand out your wrinkles out there?” a familiar male voice asked.
“Just didn’t want to face Malek right now,” Hasib answered. “Why were you out in the midst of it?”
Hasib turned to face the person, who was removing their shemagh. Sand fell to the floor from the folds of the cloth and landed around the person’s feet. The person was Abdar and he shook his hair causing another veil of granules to fall.
“I was making sure that all the horses were okay,” Abdar answered, finishing off with a good shake. “You are always welcome to hide out here, Malek would never enter my tent.”
“Thanks,” Hasib said, removing his own headgear. “This sandstorm sure turned up quickly.”
“Yeah, luckily everything is always prepared just in case,” Abdar said, walking to the bed. “Also the sandstorm isn’t the only storm that blew into camp quickly.”
“Malek?” Hasib asked already knowing the answer. “What brought him back so early?”
“I don’t know, but he looked furious and he’d half ridden his horse into the ground. His horse will take days to recover from the journey.”
“How was Fariha?”
“She was concerned and went with him to his tent to tend to anything he needed. I didn’t see her after that, although several of the tribe have started gossiping.”
“Anything of worth in their gossip?”
“Only that something happened in town and he’s now in a silent rage, glaring at anyone who tries to ask. Well, all except Fariha, he doesn’t act angrily towards her.”
“She is his one and only daughter.”
“They are also saying that they haven’t seen him this angry since three years ago. We both know what incident they are referring to,” Abdar said seriously.
Hasib sat down and looked down at his hand gravely. There wasn’t a person in Malek’s camp or the glass field who didn’t know what had happened three years ago. The way Malek had yelled, Hasib wouldn’t have been surprised if all of Ryllia had heard the commotion.
Hasib had just returned from the glass fields, exhausted and sweaty. The supervisor had informed Malek that Hasib had finished all the work assigned to him. Malek had allowed Hasib to return to camp, but only on foot, for no horse could be spared for the journey.
Hasib knew that Malek was merely punishing him further, teaching him a lesson. Malek’s tribe had enough horses for all the tribe and even then they trained more to be sold in town.
Hasib’s lungs and throat were burning by the time he reached camp, and his feet were blistered. He was so parched and dehydrated that when he chugged down the first amount of water, he puked it straight back out. Hasib had to force himself to sip the water, and poured a scoopful over the rest of his head.
Malek had greeted him formally, looking cool in a crisp white and purple robe and was being fanned constantly. He had looked so calm and serene, even as Hasib continued to thirst for more water and was completely dishevelled.
“Clean yourself up, and then come see me in my tent,” Malek had ordered, turning away from him.
Hasib washed up, finding sand covering him from head to foot. A fresh set of clothes were waiting for him, which he supposed one of the servants had prepared for him. Tidied and clean, Hasib felt at least a little more prepared to face Malek.
Eyes turned to look Hasib over, as he stepped into Malek’s tent unannounced. There were several elders of the tribe, sitting on cushions on either side of Malek. Hasib went to his knees in front of Malek and bowed to the ground before standing up again. Malek was looking over several pieces of paper and was the only one who seemed to not notice Hasib’s entrance. So Hasib waited, standing straight and with his chin up. The elders continued to study him, talking quietly amongst themselves.
Minutes ticked by, with the rustling of paper and constant whispering. A trickle of sweat ran down Hasib’s backbone and he couldn’t help feeling thirsty once again. But Hasib knew better than to speak up or move from his position. This was a test of his patience and also his respect for the elders and Malek. Hasib wasn’t the kind of person to back down from a test or challenge. He thrived under pressure and after working in the glass fields, he was level headed and thoughtful.
A tray of fruit and refreshing drinks were brought in to Malek and his elders, however Malek’s eyes remained fixed on his paperwork. An hour passed and then another, Malek turned another page and Hasib’s fingers twitched by his side.
Hasib was beginning to feel unsure that he’d be able to speak, even if they finally started a discussion with him. With his parched throat, he’d be lucky to croak when the time came to talk.
“Idella, these are done. Take them and file them,” Malek finally spoke, arranging the papers into a neat pile.
An older female servant stepped forward and took the papers with a bowed head. She shuffled away and another younger servant brought Malek a large cup of liquid. Malek gulped down the liquid, his adam’s apple rising and falling. A trickle of liquid fell from his mouth and trailed down to his broad chin. He smacked his lips together in satisfaction and gave the cup back to the servant.
“Ah, that’s some good stuff,” Malek announced, catching the attention of the room.
Hasib could tell he had done that on purpose. Everything Malek Asad did had a purpose.
“Hasib, I see you’ve finally joined us,” Malek said, finally looking at Hasib.
Everyone in the room was silent, it was time for Malek to undertake business.
“As you instructed, sir,” Hasib said, bowing from his waist.
“Hasib,” Malek said, shifting his legs slightly. “I have received word back from your supervisor at the glass fields. Do you know what he said?”
“He said your work was merely satisfactory. To be honest, the best work you did was when you slept and let the others do the work. Staying out of the way? That’s a new position description.”
Malek chuckled and the elders joined him, only stopping when Malek also stopped. Hasib clenched his jaw but tried to keep his features neutral. If it had been a dig at his height, his lack of muscles or anything but his work, Hasib wouldn’t have been affected. However Malek was wrong to lie about Hasib’s work feedback in front of the camp elders. Hasib’s work ethic was the one thing he was proud and happy with.
“So you are lazy and a thief, what are we to do with you?” Malek asked, looking Hasib up and down.
Hasib remained quiet and kept his posture straight. Malek’s question was more of a statement than a question and thus it would be unwise to answer it. It wasn’t Hasib’s time to speak, not yet, but it would be soon.
“Perhaps, carting water for the tribe for a month,” Malek offered, looking at the elders for advice.
Of course they all loved the idea. They all nodded and agreed, saying that it would be a great learning experience for the young man.
“Unless, you want to defend yourself against these things. Do you have a reason for your recent actions? I will listen to whatever you have to say,” Malek said, leaning forward.
It would be wise to just admit to the crimes and accept the punishment. It would be a lie, but it would create less of a problem. Hasib wasn’t a liar though and he was going to fight for his innocence.
“I’m afraid there has definitely been a misunderstanding,” Hasib began speaking carefully. “I didn’t steal anything, I was merely looking at something that belonged to my mother. I was going to place it back in its rightful place. A son is allowed to reminisce about his mother, is he not?”
Malek’s eyes narrowed, but he did not answer. Hasib took this as permission to continue.
“As to my work, I am not able to speak on behalf of others. However I would ask for an opportunity to show you how well I can do my job at the glass fields,” Hasib continued, keeping his eyes on Malek.
“Are you calling your supervisor a liar?” Malek returned.
“No, sir, I have the utmost respect for him. I also believe he knows that I would never slack off,” Hasib said, his tone level.
“Then you are calling me a liar!” Malek roared suddenly, standing quickly.
He towered above Hasib, and his loud voice made the elders jump in shock. Hasib tried to swallow, but his mouth was still dry. Hasib stood his position, he had faced an angry Malek before.
“No, but perhaps you have misunderstood-“ Hasib said.
“I found you red handed holding Rana’s embroidered picture,” Malek seethed angrily. “You were practically tucking it into your tunic. You have no right to defend yourself with lies.”
“You have no right to lie about me, the son of Rana, and my work. I work hard, you should know that!” Hasib returned with a frown.
Hasib realized what he had done seconds after he rose his voice. Several elders gasped, taken aback by his behaviour to their leader. Malek’s eyes became dark and his jaw clenched.
“Apologize to Malek at once, you ungrateful brat,” one of the elders ordered. “After all he has done for you, you disrespect him.”
Hasib’s heart beat quickened as he glanced at the disapproving faces around him. Malek remained quiet, glaring down at him. Hasib should apologize, no, grovel at Malek’s feet.
“What has the great Malek Asad ever done for me?” Hasib asked.
It would only take a single move for Malek to cross the room and lash out at Hasib. Yet for some reason, Hasib felt more set on his response than ever.
“I can completely understand why Rana left you,” Hasib said quietly.
“What?” Malek hissed, a sneer spreading across his face.
“You believe you did everything you could to love her,” Hasib spoke, bringing his anger down. “Yet she never felt that love that you are so proud of.”
Hasib now spoke calmly, the only emotion was a mixture of sadness and understanding. Malek, however was seething with absolute rage, the veins in his neck and arms bulging.
“Leave us!” Malek yelled at the elders in the room.
Everyone else shuffled out of the room, glancing back at the pair with scared curiosity.
“Everyone says that Rana was like a free bird when you met her,” Hasib continued. “Yet you bought a free bird and caged her. Those gifts that you showered her with before the wedding, what better way to buy a girls affection and love? After marrying her you removed her from her family. Wouldn’t it be easy to understand that such a free young woman would feel trapped?”
“My tribe was her new family!” Malek replied with a yell. “What may have been lost, was replaced tenfold. A family, riches, a comfortable home and people who would worship the very ground on which she trod.”
“That may have been your wish, but Rana was an Eladrin and there are some things that only family, or her own kind, would understand. You dropped her in the middle of a culture she didn’t understand,” Hasib said passionately.
“You are of her kind! Are you saying that this tribe isn’t your family?”
“I have grown up here, I enjoy the customs, the weather and even the sand.”
“Rana was here for five years, surely she would have become accustomed to it all by then.”
“I can’t speak for her, but surely it makes a little sense to you,” Hasib said.
“The only thing that makes sense, is that you no longer belong here,” Malek said coldly. “Pack your bags and be gone within the hour.”
“What?” Hasib asked in shock.
“You don’t seem to have even a shred of respect for me in that mind of yours. I don’t need a disrespectful member in my tribe. If this conversation has taught me anything, it would be that I didn’t need her and I definitely don’t need you.”
Hasib’s mouth dropped open in shock and Malek turned away as if disgusted with him.
“You are hereby banished from this camp and my glass fields, don’t ever return here. Don’t poison this land any further,” Malek ordered.
So Hasib left the tent, he passed the row of lofty elders and packed his bags. He marched past Malek’s personal tent and out across the dunes, without so much as a glance back.
Anger, disappointment, regret, fear and other emotions swirled through his mind. Hasib would die if he didn’t find somewhere to go in this endless desert. Perhaps he didn’t care. So much had happened in the past hour, little made sense anymore. Hot tears streaked down his cheeks and he began to hit his head against his hand.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why couldn’t you have just kept your damn mouth shut?”