Fariha’s chin bone was digging into Hasib’s shoulder as she slumped forward in the saddle. Hasib really wanted to stretch but didn’t want to wake Fariha if at all possible. She had experienced a long difficult day and when she’d finally dozed off, she still muttered as if having a bad dream.
The sun had set and Hasib grew tired as the horse continued its melodic rhythm on the sand. His body and head was telling him that he should stop and rest, for there would be plenty of time to get to his camp tomorrow. Hasib’s heart however was set on making it home as soon as possible, and Fariha would be able to relax sooner that way.
Hasib looked at the almost full moon and felt the glow ease his stress. The moon had been his companion for many weeks before he had found his new home. However the worst night was the night of the new moon. Not wishing to be travelling in the dark, Hasib had camped.
The new moon was like a curse, this view, Hasib later realized, was shared by others in the desert. The curse was not merely darkness, but there were other aspects. Darkness could be dispelled by torches, but there were creatures; creatures that were like a nightmare.
Hasib felt his muscles tensing at the thought but took a deep breath. The moon meant that there would be no threat to them this night.
Fariha stirred and shifted her chin, causing Hasib to grit his teeth. He kept his posture still, barely moving in the saddle.
“Hasib?” Fariha mumbled sleepily.
“Don’t wake up, go back to sleep,” Hasib replied quietly.
“Oh goodness,” Fariha said, with a start. “I’m sorry I fell asleep.”
Hasib sighed and rolled his shoulders as Fariha eased her weight from his back. Why did his sister never do as he said?
“It would be a long night and extremely long day tomorrow if you didn’t sleep,” Hasib stated.
“Yes, but you’re not sleeping so I should help you stay awake. Or perhaps we should camp for the night and continue after you’ve rested,” Fariha said, now wide awake.
“I’ve been travelling across this desert for years. That travel was mostly by foot, so this ride is quite a luxury,” Hasib answered with a chuckle.
Hasib turned to see Fariha frowning with doubt and a touch of annoyance. Flashing her a grin, he tightened the reins and brought the horse to a halt.
“Perhaps it is best that we take a short break, for the horse’s sake,” Hasib said, vaulting out of the saddle. “May I give you a hand?”
Fariha slipped out of the saddle, without Hasib’s help, and pat the horse lovingly on the nose.
“He has a name. You are hurting his feelings by calling him horse. His name is Sheldaz,” Fariha said.
Hasib bowed low and his shemagh, which was wrapped around his neck, fluttered in the breeze.
“Of course, Sheldaz, but you mistake our lack of friendship, Fariha. We’ve travelled for miles together while you’ve been snoozing, we’ve become quite good friends,” Hasib said, rubbing Sheldaz’s neck.
“Oh, shut up,” Fariha said.
A half-hour break and Hasib was at the end of his relaxation stint. Sheldaz seemed less excited about the thought of being resaddled after a welcomed brush down. Fariha had returned to a sleepy position, propped against the saddle on the ground.
“At least I’m comforted by the fact that you should be able sleep at my home, even though I don’t have a comfortable bed,” Hasib said, shaking her shoulder.
“Why don’t we just camp?” Fariha said, keeping her eyes closed.
“Because, I’m going to get to show you my home, and it will be dark by the time we get there if we don’t leave now,” Hasib said, prying the saddle away from her grasp.
Fariha didn’t argue any further and they were soon on their way.
They journeyed across the seemingly endless dunes and Fariha was set on staying awake. She talked about some of the stories from their childhood. Hasib noticed that she didn’t mention Malek or Abdar and sometimes paused mid-recollection. Whenever she did this Hasib would bring up another fun memory or game and Fariha would insist on them playing the game along the way.
The middle of the day, consisted of them making up short stories and trying to outdo the other. Fariha almost believed that Hasib’s story about an encounter with a group of bandits was true or at least until he started adding giant squirrels into it.
Hasib also made up a tale about how Sheldaz had once been the horse of a great desert king. When the king fell victim to a scorpion’s sting, Sheldaz rode for hours to deliver the king to the closest healer.
“You are a great story teller, brother,” Fariha said, shaking her head in laughter.
“Thank you, the people in my camp seem to find it amusing too,” Hasib answered, stretching his arms.
“Don’t tell me, is that how you earn your living?”
“No, I’m a fighter or warrior if you prefer. I also dabble in weapon making and I’m also one of the tribe’s elders.”
“So your tribe is based around a group of elders instead of one head leader?”
“Well, there is the eldest of the elders whose decisions are respected the most, however that doesn’t mean that the rest of us don’t have a say.”
“Do you prefer it that way or do you believe there should be just one leader?”
“That’s a hard question. There are pros and cons to both options, but for my tribe having elders or let’s just say a committee, seems to work well.”
“A committee seems more legit, you aren’t old enough to be an elder,” Fariha said with a chuckle.
“Perhaps they’ll replace me with you, your oldness,” Hasib teased back.
It was a sudden moment of realization and Hasib knew that this is what he missed. He had always denied the fact that he still wanted to be part of his half-orc family. Hasib had never forgotten the good days when he and Fariha had forgotten everything but their playful banter and games. However, some days it was too hard to wish for something that may never come about. He was unsure that he would ever see Fariha again, let alone have time to chat like they used to.
“I’ll take care of you,” Hasib said, his tone serious.
“I know,” Fariha said with a slight smile.
“No, I mean I’ll do everything to make you happy. Even if I have to sneak into Malek’s camp and kidnap Abdar, because that’s the one thing that you regret the most. Life is far too short for regrets and I’ve had enough of them for the both of us,” Hasib said, sitting up.
Fariha sighed, closing her eyes, and the tent fell silent.
“I don’t want you to ever blame yourself,” Fariha stated, a couple of minutes later. “Our family has done enough self-blaming to last a million life times. This won’t be easy, and I may get upset and angry sometimes, but it is just a natural reaction. Hurt results in a range of emotions, but if we stand by each other, we’ll get over it.”
“And this is why you’re the older sister,” Hasib stated, smiling at her.
“You always have to ruin the moment!” Fariha said, rolling her eyes.
The sun shifted lower and the heat of the day began to subside. Hasib couldn’t get packed up soon enough and by the time they were leaving Fariha had been swept up with the excitement.
“So how far to go?” Fariha asked, about an hour in.
“Well, there is this dune. It’s covered in sand and has this really sandy feel to it,” Hasib replied. “In other words not long, just a little further.”
Fair enough, four dunes later, Fariha counted, Hasib reigned Sheldaz to a halt. The rolling dunes came to a halt and was replaced with an almost flat sand horizon. In the distance, Fariha could almost make out a mountain range of sandstone. It was far too far for Fariha to make out the specifics however.
“A sand plain?” Fariha asked quietly.
“We live at the base of the sandstone mountains, some even live in the mountain, were they’ve carved out a home. The other elders live there and the main hall is also there, the rest of us live at the base in our less extravagant homes,” Hasib said, leaning forward in the saddle.
“Well, we’ll have to get closer so I can judge for myself,” Fariha said.
“I think I’ll lead Sheldaz the rest of the way, give him a break. The walk isn’t so bad now that the end and home is in sight,” Hasib said, dismounting.
Fariha followed and they began walking quickly towards the mountains. They were about half way across the plain when Fariha grabbed onto Hasib’s arm.
“What’s that approaching? It looks like a low storm,” Fariha said.
Sure enough a billowing tussle of sand was like a low wave coming towards them. It was almost as if the plain was a sea and a sudden gust of wind had sent the waves crashing towards them. The sand was thick and just built up more, as Fariha backed up a few steps. There was a shifting sound coming from the storm, gaining in amplitude.
“Well, I guess I deserve this for being away so long,” Hasib said, shaking his head. “Just stay behind me, Fariha. You’ll be fine.”
“Hasib Asad, you aren’t a brick wall or shelter!” Fariha screeched as the tumbling wave continued towards them.
“I may as well be, don’t worry, just watch,” Hasib said.
Hasib shuffled his feet, digging them slightly into the sand. He barely moved as the roaring sound intensified and Sheldaz reared up nervously. The strangest thing was that there was no great wind, in fact there was barely a breeze. Fariha tried to calm Sheldaz, her own eyes wide and frightened.
“Hasib! It’s not dying away, you crazy fool!” Fariha called, dropping down and pulling on her shemagh.
Sheldaz lay down also, putting himself between the storm and his owner. He had been trained to protect his rider in such a situation and Fariha called for Hasib to join them.
Hasib didn’t move however and closed his eyes, a small smile touching the edge of his mouth.