Desert Travelers X

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For the first time in many nights, Marcus was glad to head to sleep. Once they had settled that Mireko and Hareshi would share their tent with Anna and Emmaline, the night’s business was concluded, and he removed the majority of his too-warm clothing and slid between the silken sheets in his tent, the Lady Miriam beside him at last.

She mumbled contentedly as she fell to sleep, and he wrapped an arm around her, burying his face in her neck. The sweet smell of her scented soaps surrounded him, reminded him of the home they had left so many weeks ago.

“It’s so good to be back with you,” Miriam said quietly, snuggling contentedly into his arms. A moment or two later, she was asleep, her steady breathing giving way to quiet snores. Marcus lay awake a while longer, feeling the weight of her in his arms, and the presence of her beside him, and feeling as though all were right with the world, or at least within their tent.

At last, he fell to sleep, his breaths falling rhythmically in line with hers.

 

He awoke, suddenly, when Miriam sat up abruptly. Outside, a loud shriek pierced the night, and he heard continuous thuds – not the quiet patter of birds, but the heavy pounding of hoof beats in the sand.

“Horses,” he realized, confused.

Miriam was ahead of him. “Bandits!” she exclaimed, and rose from bed. She wore a thin silk sleeveless nightgown with a lace hem that brushed her toes. Over this, she threw on a heavier robe, and without bothering with shoes, she went to the tent flaps.

“Wait!” Marcus cried, but she had already opened them, and was peering out. “Miriam, don’t go out there dressed like that!”

“Bandits,” she confirmed, ignoring his protests. “We should hurry.”

Marcus had gotten to his feet, but he wore only thin silk pajamas as well, and no shirt, for even the night air had been too warm. He grabbed the shirt he’d discarded the night before and threw it over his shoulders, buttoning quickly. “I can’t fight in my night clothes,” he protested. “Where…?”
“Here is your sword,” his wife interrupted, thrusting the sheathed blade toward him. “I can cast magic dressed in this as well as anything. We’re wasting time!” Without further ado, she pushed open the flaps and vanished into the night. A moment later, he heard the scream of an injured horse, and knew that she’d already gotten to work.

He decided to forgo the remainder of his clothing, and strapped his sword belt to his waist as he dashed toward the door. The blade was sharp, the perfect weight, but the belt felt odd over the silk pants instead of proper trousers.

Outside, the night was dark, with only the crescent moon and a stars providing most of the light. As Marcus looked around, trying to figure out what was going on, a bright light caught his eye, and a nearby tent caught fire. A moment later, the inhabitants rushed out, crying out in pain – one of them was on fire.

He heard the hoof beats of the horse before he saw it approaching. He put one hand on his sword, then changed his mind and aimed his other toward the animal, spreading his fingers wide so that his palm faced the beast. He let his eyes fall half shut, let his consciousness briefly dip into the darkness and fire of the other realms, and channeled the darkness through his palm. A moment later, the horse collapsed, pushed back as though by some massively strong wind, the rider pinned beneath him. The screams of both horse and human echoed in the night, then fell silent.

“Nicely done,” he heard Miriam tell him. “I believe all of ours are safe.” He glanced briefly toward their three tents, saw all three were standing. “Do you want to stay here and protect them, or see to his highness?”

“You stay,” he decided. “Your magic is better able to protect them.”

She nodded her agreement, then leaned forward to kiss him. “Be careful, my love.”

“Same to you, my lady,” he replied, and then took off at a run, drawing his sword as he went. Several of the bandits, each dressed entirely in black so that they were not visible until they were nearly upon him, ran toward him with swords drawn. He fought them back with his blade as he ran, stopping only a moment or two to cross swords before delivering a killing blow. One of them passed through his defenses long enough to cut a line in his shoulder; Marcus dispatched him shortly afterward.

The prince’s tent was surrounded by chaos. It was not on fire, but several of the smaller servants’ tents nearby were, and one or two of the wagons. A tent housing birds was not on fire, but the sound of the birds squawking their complaints was nearly deafening. And everywhere were the sounds of screaming – screams of fear and pain and terror.

“Marcus!” Ted exclaimed as he drew closer. The blonde man was dripping with sweat, and his sword blade was dripping with blood. Like Marcus, he had not completely dressed, only thrown on a shirt which he had not bothered to button, and a pair of silk pajama bottoms. Behind him, Danu, still wearing night clothes as well, was conversing with one of the Desert Lords rather animatedly.

“Your highness,” Marcus interrupted, and Danu looked toward him with relief, and a question in his eyes. “Miriam is well,” he said to the unspoken inquiry. “She stayed with our tent, and our charges. What’s happening here?”

“It looks like the brigands have mostly been dispatched,” Mordifred reported. He alone was dressed completely in his usual robes, though his hood was lowered. Like the others, he looked tired, as though he’d been engaged in fighting. “We’re not sure who is responsible, nor their motives.”

Before anything further could be stated, there was a whooshing noise, a loud thud, and then the prince’s tent was engulfed in flames.

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