Disclaimer: I own the desert and the bulk of the people (except for the mention of King Jonathan) and the plot and idea of this short story, but the rest goes to Tamora Pierce, that brilliant woman! This is going to be a series of short stories, all telling the tale of young warriors. So don't ask for more of any of the people unless the muse says so!!!! Lol, I don't care, ask, I'll try to continue if you like them. Read, review, and enjoy, please.
Through the Eyes of a Warrior
Kingdom of the Dunes
Isobel leaned on her sword for support, the glaring desert sun attempting to choke the life from her dry throat. The knight's once polished and glimmering silver armor had tarnished in the heat and due to earlier combat, there were plenty of dents throughout the chest plate, and the same fate had befallen her hailed and prized sword, Tintarna. It was a strange thing these days for one to name their swords, but Isobel felt naming her sword kept her in touch with the ancients and that both the god and goddess would look upon her with much respect for it.
Right now, Isobel cared for nothing more than the thought of a cool goblet of something preferably sweet and refreshing with a heaping plate of steaming, cooked food. Cradling her left arm that was wrapped with blood stained linens, Isobel limped forward, her mind set on getting anywhere as far from this damned sand trap as possible!
Sore and on her second morning without water, Isobel knew that she must find something, somewhere, and if she did not, she would surely die. Strange, Isobel thought, this is where I come from and yet, I have not been here for so long that I barely recognize it.
Before being who she was, Lady Isobel, Guardian of Tortall, this ill-fated warrior was a vagabond, a rat of the desert and a thief. The unnamed and untamed desert had once been Isobel's home and now she was fearful that it would be the place where she would tragically fall, too.
Stumbling, Isobel lost her footing, and in a moment's time her body slammed into the sand below her. Letting out a forced groan from the sharp pain in her left arm, Isobel grunted and rolled onto her back as she kept a tight lock on her sword in her hand. "Goddess…" Isobel cried desperately, but she could not sob because she had no tears, "forgive me for whatever I have done to offend you!"
The sun blinded Isobel, as if to mock her and punish her for all her wrongdoings. Struggling, Isobel attempted to sit up, but found that the sand would win this battle today. Slumping back onto the sand, Isobel lay limb and considered her death. Perhaps if she fell asleep, she could just…drift into her death.
Despite the brightness of the sun a blackness cast over Isobel's eyes and thoughts, and although she still felt as hot as she did before, she found some peace in the darkness.
"She's not dead," a foreign tongue bickered, "she nearly was, but I found her before the vultures did."
"Was there anything of value on her?"
"No." The first voice huffed. "Just her rusty sword and armor."
Isobel moved her fingers. They slid across a gentle unknown surface and then formed her fist into a ball. My sword…where's my sword?
"We'll see if we can get anything out of them." The second voice was deep and strangely familiar. "As for her, I don't know what to do."
A third voice now came; tender and sweet like the coat of a newborn lamb. "What are the chances that she lives?"
The noise was too much for Isobel and she tried to tell them, but when she moved her lips only a pained moan came.
"Well…whatever you can do, do it." The third voice insisted. "We may be thieves, but we're not murderers."
A few moments of silence passed, only the sound of muffled crunching sand was heard, and then a very heavy presence seemed to settle on Isobel's chest as she heard steps coming nearer. "He must be mad." It was the first voice. "Although they're tattered now, her linens and armor are expensive—she's a noble!"
"Yes," the second voiced agreed, but sighed, "but she's one of us."
"What?" The first voice cried incredulously. "How do you know?"
A hand reached over to the linen scarf wrapped around Isobel's neck and revealed a strange black design beneath the cloth. "A symbol of the dragon's eye."
There was a soft, hot breeze and Isobel could feel her dark hair tickling her eyes, nose, and lips. A deep breath and Isobel's eyes began to slide slowly open. At first the world was a blur, but after a few moments Isobel could make out a tanned tent, the colorful rug she was belly-down on, and between the strange of hair she made out a cloaked figure nearby.
By goddess, where was she? Her eyes frantic, Isobel searched the opened tent she lay in for anything resembling a weapon as her breaths quickened. Don't move. Don't breathe. They'll kill you.
The thought tamed Isobel's raging heart as she tried to soften her breaths to deep, sleepy ones again, and she attempted to remain calm. Soon, Isobel had begun to relax and may have even drifted back to sleep, but the figure nearby moved. Jerking to attention, Isobel leapt to her feet, frightening the figure.
"Don't be afraid." A young man gazed at her, his dark eyes trying to console her. "I won't hurt you."
Spots formed in Isobel's vision and she gasped when she almost fell. The young man stood and made an effort to save her from falling, but Isobel stumbled back a few feet, regarding him with caution.
A smile crossed the young man's lips, beneath his daintily trimmed moustache and beard. "You're in no condition to fight, warrior."
Pushing her hair out of her face, Isobel gritted her teeth fiercely. "You know nothing of me, boy."
"Idrasha! Quit cajoling the boy!"
Isobel stiffened and when she turned her eyes to an older, hunched man who appeared she felt her spine tingle. Isobel remembered the name 'Idrasha' well. Idrasha the Desert Fox, was a more befitting and memorable title this warrior once dawned. Stealing to live and living from what she took, Isobel had once been called 'Idrasha' at a very early time in her life and was part of a southern parade of marauders in this very desert.
The man who called to Isobel had many more wrinkles and was much more hunched that before, but Idrasha recalled him instantly and almost smiled with joy before she collapsed.
Cool water stung her skin and in a flash, Isobel was awake again, gasping in surprise from the cold water. "There we go," a deep voice grunted as Isobel felt two hands beneath her shoulder and then the world spun, "feeling better, little fox?"
Blinking her eyes, Isobel blew water from her lips and nose, then got a better look at the men staring at her. "Yes, yes, I'm fine," Isobel grumbled, her words a little broken, moving from the elder man's grip, "my armor? My sword?"
"We save her life and then she asks things of us!" The older man complained with a laugh. "Even a former thief can be stuffy!"
"They are claimed," the young man replied, "like the rest of your belongings."
"What?" Isobel snapped, then saw her boots were missing. "I demand the fool who did this to repay me in full!"
"Repay you?" The young man chuckled. "Woman, we are but poor nomads. We steal what we have."
"Yes, I know, you're forgetting," Isobel hissed, "I was one of you heathens before!"
With that, Isobel stood on her feet and managed to wobble a few feet from the tent before she felt the hot desert sands begin to burn her feet. With a shout, Isobel rushed back into the shelter of the tent, her eyes on the laughing men. "I demand back my belongings and a horse so I may go on my way!"
"And to where would you go?" The young man frowned. "There are other thieves and plenty of murderers here. As well as slave traders—"
"I don't care!" Isobel ignored him. "I am a knight! A lady of the court of King Jonathan and I insist that you give me back my things and allow me to go on my way unharmed!"
"Or what?" The old man scoffed. "They sent a search for you? Last army that came in here got slaughtered, I believe you were part of the brigade, and not to mention that you're miles away from the battle site and probably presumed dead."
Annoyed, Isobel rolled her eyes. "Do not test me old man! You've seen my temper."
"Who are you, then?" The younger man commanded, folding his arms over his chest.
"I am Lady Isobel. Guardian of Tortall."
"No," the old man shook his head, "he wants to know who you were."
Stricken a little, Isobel dropped her eyes a little, her past humbling her somewhat. "Old man, that little girl you knew died many years ago in these passing sands…"
"She is Idrasha." The old man sighed. "The Desert Fox. Princess of the Dunes."
The young man's eyes grew wide and he gazed at Isobel in disbelief. "Idra?"
Isobel observed her captor for a moment and raised her brow. For so long now Isobel had pushed her whole past from her mind to start anew. "I suppose you expect me to remember you."
"It is me!" The young man cried, his dark eyes flashing and his lightly tanned skin dimpled at the corners of his eyes in an odd way as he stared at Isobel. "Tahjir!"
Isobel was suddenly taken aback. My, she thought in a stunned state, he has grown so…time goes so fast when you are away from those you know best.
"He is also the leader of our people, Idrasha," the wrinkled old man said, "and he has spared you from what horrible fate may have befallen you."
Turning cold, Isobel frowned. "And I should be grateful? My name is Lady Isobel, beggar."
"You would speak to your grandfather with such distaste!" Tahjir scorned.
A girl entered, curious about the racket and smirked at Isobel. "Nice to see you're up, sleeping beauty."
Isobel's temper raged. "I have an audience now?"
"Oh don't be so quick to judge," the girl scowled, "you're just as self-righteous as ever, Idrasha. You're lucky I found you when I did."
Gathering her pride, Isobel stared at the girl frigidly. "I would have liked an honorable death."
"In the belly of vultures?"
Eyeing this intruder, Isobel found from the tension between them she recognized the presumed stranger almost immediately. "I see that I have held weight in your memories as well, Etfera."
"As much as the thought of you only being Idrasha here weighs on you."
The intruder was given a sharp look from Tahjir and remained silent. Turning to Isobel, Tahjir sighed. "The desert claimed you, but due to their mercy you live and you were brought to me. Now you belong to me and as long as you do no harm will come to you, but you will listen to me and you will do as I say, Lady Isobel." Tahjir said sternly, his speech never faltering. "Or you will die."
With that, Tahjir left, leaving only Etfera, Isobel, and the old man Gah alone.
The sun was fading and a large tan cat lounged in the sun at the feet of a wrinkled old man named Gah. Isobel watched the old man work and as he did, he sang softly an ancient tune and rocked back and forth gently. Gah had a knife in his right hand held firmly as he cut into a hard and glassy stone that seemed to peel back like butter. "Without Tahjir…we would be only sand."
Isobel ignored the old man, a harsh and hot wind throwing sand on her linens as she rested, gazing off into the never-ending dunes. "Yes, after our princess left us, we were a broken people."
There were reasons, Isobel wanted to say, I had too many reasons not to stay.
Pausing, Gah turned and gave tender eyes to Isobel. Gazing back at him, Isobel's eyes were filled with uncertainty. "I thought you were dead." Then, the old man went back to his work as if the thought of her death was only a shrug. "When I saw what Eftera brought in from the sands, I did not recognize you at first. Your skin is much paler than I remember."
"Yes…it is." Isobel replied.
"We are no longer your people." Gah stated. "We are the vagabonds. The evil heathens you seek to destroy."
"It is your kind that has provoked us."
"Yes," Gah agreed, "but aren't all men entitled to live? Even heathens?"
Isobel's eyebrows furrowed and she felt a knot in her chest. "You are villainous cowards and killers. You deserve whatever you receive. Weather it be treasure or torture."
Gah decided not to bother with his granddaughter any longer. She was too much like her mother.
The horses were black, decorated ornately with what seemed to be patches from kingdoms everywhere. These horses were stolen, or found, and they were in good condition. Sturdy enough to withhold the sands. Isobel might have tried a camel, had she thought they would have behaved, but she did not dare to wake anyone.
Slowly, the dark haired maiden crept over the sands, her thoughts only on escape and her eyes scanning for any sign of observer. In a flash, Isobel was at the horse's side, and attempted to climb the black steed.
There was a thud and Isobel gasped for breath, the air knocked from her. "I would not try that if I were you, Lady Isobel."
Gathering her wits, Isobel found herself gazing into two very familiar and extremely close dark eyes. Grinding her teeth, Isobel struggled in Tahjir's strong grasp. "Get off of me."
"You make for quite a warrior," Tahjir teased as he held her down, "would you like me to use all my strength? Or am I hurting you already?"
Isobel kneed Tahjir in the back, catching him off guard and she threw sand in his face before getting to her feet and scrambling away. After a slight thought of being angry, Tahjir just watched Isobel run like a scared puppy and laughed loudly at her expense. Isobel hid in the tent, beneath the covers they gave her and she shivered for fear Tahjir may follow her. "Goddess protect me…" Isobel whispered.
Tahjir was not the one Isobel needed to worry about.
When morning came Isobel was taken by surprise. She had not expected to sleep for fear Tahjir or some other villain may come to attempt to defile her, but somehow the vigilant knight had fallen into a deep dream with hues of golds, purples, and greens.
The place was bustling about, people swarming and running with loads of things in their arms. Something was thrown in front of her face and Isobel jumped back in surprise, then glanced up to see a shirtless figure. Tahjir stood above Isobel, his hands on his bare waist, his skin gleaming in the sun. "Your traveling wear, Princess."
Isobel sat up and glanced at the sandals he had given her, and then gazed up at him. He certainly did not have to give her those—she would not have done it for him. Spitefully, as Tahjir walked away, Isobel chucked the gifts, hitting him both in the back and the head. When Tahjir glanced back, Isobel spit on the ground in fury, a sign of disrespect and disgust among these people, but when Isobel noticed that the spit sizzled on the sand, she regretted her actions.
Tahjir picked up his charity and went off.
Her lip was raw from biting. The pain in Isobel's feet matched nothing she had ever felt before and even though she was near sobbing, she held no emotion at all. You did not cry here. A knight did not cry.
Enduring her pain, Isobel walked beside Gah, helping him now and then when the old man stumbled. "You should have accepted those shoes, granddaughter."
Isobel just gazed at Gah as they walked arm in arm. "I'm fine."
"By the way you squeeze my arm," the old man comments, "you seemed to be having more trouble than I."
Releasing the old man, Isobel moved ahead. Not far down the line of nomads, a large black horse moved about, with a familiar rider, the sweat of the rider making his shirt cling to his muscular back. The leader spoke mostly with girl, Etfera, but now and then the leader would trail behind Isobel and she could feel him watching her as he came closer with each jaunt. It made her furious.
Soon Tahjir moved close enough to Isobel to shelter her from the heat of the sun. "You should have taken the shoes."
Isobel clenched her fists. "I like to suffer."
"So you are suffering?"
"I never said that."
Tahjir laughed. "I can give you a ride, if you like."
"I am trying to be kind to you and all you do is spite me."
Isobel glared at Tahjir. "Can't you just leave me be?"
"Your feet look terrible."
The knight did not even dare to look down, but instead she looked straight ahead, ignored Tahjir as he rode beside her. Finally the leader gave a sigh and kicked his horse into a run. Isobel felt somewhat relieved, but her pain seemed to worsen.
When the long walk finally ended for the night, Isobel made sure the tent she had was far from everyone else's while she tended to her wounded feet. The knight did not know how long she could go long. Well at least she would have something to whine about at court.
The blisters on Isobel's feet were painful and burned as she tried to wrap them in what linen she could spare from her sleeves. She would be paying for her uncovered arms tomorrow. Gah's large cat lounged nearby. Earlier the tanned cat had come and sniffed at her feet in concern, but now he just lay near Isobel because she had tried to shoo him away.
"Let me see your feet."
Isobel glanced up and narrowed her eyes. What did she want?
Etfera rolled her eyes. "You always were stubborn."
Kneeling before Isobel, Etfera took Isobel's foot in her hands and began to unwrap them. "Ouch!"
"Oh, don't be such a—oh my!" Etfera took in a sharp breath, then gazed at Isobel sorrowfully and finally shook her head. "You are too bold headed for your own good."
"Don't you dare judge me." Isobel snapped. "You don't know me at all."
Etfera grinned and suddenly Isobel felt a cool sensation run over the bottom of her foot. As Etfera rubbed in a salve, she spoke. "It is nice to know that you aren't dead."
"You can't lie to me, Etfera. You never could."
"You don't know me either, Isobel."
Isobel just laughed at her and when Etfera finished wrapping back up both of Isobel's feet, the two grew very silent. Etfera moved to go away. "Wait," Isobel grabbed Etfera's wrist, "how could I ever repay you?"
Smiling, Etfera reached behind her back, and after a few seconds she produced two boots. "Wear these and the debt between us is repaid."
Isobel woke up to shrieks and screams—women wailing and men shouting curses in two different languages. Recognizing each language, Isobel clambered to her feet and as she ran out, slipped on her boots. She was nearly run over by a horse, but was able to move out of the way. "We have to go!" Etfera appeared, grasping Isobel by her shoulders. "Lady Isobel—"
Two men attacked Tahjir, one stabbed his horse and the other sliced his side. "Where's my sword?" Isobel looked to Etfera.
Etfera paused, staring at Isobel in confusion. "Never mind!" Isobel snapped and ran off, finding a bow amongst a fallen thief.
Taking the quiver on her arm, Isobel raised the bow, setting the arrow against the string, and drew back. Etfera was furious. "Traitor!"
Ignoring her, Isobel released her arrow, letting it soar and find its place into the throat of the king's soldier. Isobel appeared like a deity, her hair blowing in her face, her sandy colored linen nightclothes waving in the wind, her dark brown hair flowing with the breeze. "My sword!"
Etfera's disbelieving eyes suddenly woke and she nodded. "I will retrieve them!"
People ran by in hysteria, but Isobel remained calm. Where was her grandfather? Isobel drew another arrow on her bow and with dead aim hit a man riding toward her. That's when Isobel saw Gah and his large lynx, Tin, and they were both doing fine. Etfera appeared. "Your sword and armor, Lady Isobel."
"Keep it," Isobel commanded, "you'll need them. Go get Tahjir, he's hurt."
Soon enough the small band of Jonathan's men were riding off, with a stray treasure of gold or a woman. "Isobel!"
Turning, Isobel saw Etfera, Gah, and Tin leaning over a fallen warrior as a black horse lay struggling nearby. Limping to them, Isobel knelt at the head of the fallen Tahjir. "I'll be fine," Tahjir insisted through his pain, "allow me to get up."
Ignoring him, Isobel gestured to Gah, who lifted the young man's linens to show the deep gash. Isobel hissed with empathy, then she looked to Tahjir and leaned down very closely to speak with him in confidence. "Etfera will see to your wounds, thief king. You will live to fight another day."
Gazing up at her, Tahjir swallowed. "You are a traitor amongst them now…you are an untrustworthy hero here. Will you see to the safety of my people, Princess?"
Isobel frowned in thought, and then sat up. "What of his horse, Lady Isobel?"
"Take Tahjir somewhere safe." Isobel commanded. "We move tonight."
Etfera and Gah stood, Tin following loyally. "But leave my sword with me, Etfera."
Casting Isobel a wary glance, Etfera slowly placed the untainted sword on the ground. Watching the two help Tahjir back, and a few stray helpers join in, Isobel went to the sword and lifted it. For a moment the knight gazed at the horse, struggling to breathe, feeling a pain in her chest for the regal creature. Moving to the head of the horse, Isobel knelt down and began to stroke its sweaty forehead. "Don't fret, warrior," Isobel whispered, "you did well and will be rewarded greatly in the heaven you go to."
Leaning forward, Isobel kissed the horse's cheek and then stood.
The sound of metal slicing through flesh was heard and the slight neigh of a broken horse. Blood settled onto the sand, sinking deep into the dune. Isobel turned and gazed at the crimson morning sky, misted in the linger dust swept into the air by the conflict. An omen.
With that, the dune princess slowly made her way to the tent where Tahjir had been taken. He would live to fight another day, but Isobel's journey ahead was littered with stains of blood and strife—she knew this now. Through the warrior's eyes, she saw her heritage of the kingdom of the dunes.