Disclaimer: I don't own squat, not a damn thing. Well, I own a rather nice pair of red Converse high-tops, but that's it. As far as Ardeth, Evy, or Rick, no, sorry, not mine. The OC, however, is mine. You see this is a story I'd posted awhile ago. It was reasonably popular, but I was rather unpleased with it's direction. I decided to rewrite it, so I took it down. Then, last fall, I lost my hard drive. Lot's of anger ensued, and I'm only now getting around to writing it again. So, this is a reflection on an old work, and a completely fresh new start. Flames will be used to light my backyard barbecue pit. Please R&R, especially if you read the old version.
The sand flew beneath Lira's feet and it been a few minutes since she last remembered feeling any sensation in her legs. The hem of her skirt was torn and wrapped around her head to hold her sweat-drenched hair back. The scimitar she carried, damn but was it ever heavy! Not that it mattered now, her arms felt dead at her sides. She desperately wished she had a horse, though it was her own fault that in her haste she'd run the poor beast ragged. The men on the ridge looked nothing like those who hunted her, but she was in no position to take that chance. Let the sands have her, she would not fall to these filthy thieves. Death seemed certain now, but she could still choose her way out. Let them have her dead body, the spirit would have left for another plane.
It was the worst time of day to run, but the sound of hooves behind her drove her on. People could run themselves to death. She remembered the ancients, the runner at Marathon who killed himself simply to deliver the news of victory. Under this sun, she was certain that she could come to the same end in a fraction of the distance. Or, if they caught her, and she fought back, they would surely kill her rather than go through the trouble of subduing her. Those were both fates she could face. The alternative wasn't an option. So she ran in her stocking feet, her muscles aching and her lungs burning. Her head felt light, her skull felt smaller and her eyes were beginning to blur. She ran harder.
Out of the corner of her right eye, she saw the lithe legs of an Arabian bred stallion. Those hooves cut through the sand like butter and in a moment the animal, beautiful she thought, had passed her. It was only a moment before the rider, dressed in black from head to toe, pulled the stallion to the left and cut her off. She stopped running. A sinister sword, the metal cut in waves like a choppy sea, was held in the man's hand. Arms tremulous and weak, she held her own weapon in front of her as four other horsemen caught up and surrounded her. Lira's mind swam, anger and fear flooding her body. The rider in front of her dismounted swiftly and faced her, blade in hand but pointed at the ground in front of him. Black swathing covered his head and lower face. The pure insanity of wearing black in this climate occurred to her and she laughed the laugh of a deranged woman in spite of herself. The man took a step forward and she lifted her own blade.
"Stop!" she shouted in horse, ill-pronounced Arabic. She could only hope the man spoke Arabic. Indeed he stopped, and she could not imagine he was actually hesitating from the threat of her shaking scimitar. "Weak, I am" she continued, "still I fight." Her pronunciation and grammar were atrocious, she knew, but the point could get across. The man looked around her to the other horseman whom she could hear laughing. He raised his hand with angry eyes and they stopped. He returned his gaze to her and she took a deep breath, awaiting the attack she was sure would come.
"Be still." the man said in perfect English, and her mind hit a wall, "You are weak, and exhausted. You are sure to perish out here. Put the weapon down, and accept our aid." Lira smirked and continued to hold her weapon.
"I'll take my chances in the desert. The sand will be my death, but I will not be so foolish as to walk into a fate far worse." she responded, her voice harsh and dry. The man regarded her for a moment, and in a sudden motion, one she never saw or even remembered, he flicked his blade up, swung to the side and knocked the scimitar from her hands. Lira stared at the metal, half dug into the sand, and looked back up at the man in black who had sheathed the wicked blade at his side. She was a cornered animal, and in a sudden wash of desperation, she lunged. Her limbs were now strangers to her as she sought to find his windpipe under the mass of cloth. She didn't even feel his hands grab her wrists and pull them from his neck. The last she remembered was being surround by black cloth, concerned brown eyes staring down at her.
Then the dreams began. As her unconscious form was carried to safety, Lira's mind was bombarded by the events of the previous night like a repeating slide show. She had awoken in the middle of the night in a tent near the Valley of the Kings. She could see the flicker of the campfire outside the canvas. Her first thought was that she could have sworn she'd put it out when they'd gone to bed. On that note, she couldn't find Joshua, and the ruckus that had stirred her had gotten louder. She heard horses, or so she thought, and she hastily pulled some extra clothing on for the chill night. A shadow swept across the canvas and she sat startled, paralyzed for a brief moment. There was nothing for it. Her only option was to see exactly what was going on.
Stepping out of that tent was a moment she'd regret in the weeks to come. The fire was indeed rekindled, but by the empty trunks and luggage they'd brought with them. At her feet she saw the handsome but now bloodstained face of her fiancé, Joshua. His lifeless green eyes stared up at her and she fell to her knees, ignoring all around her. Had she looked up, she'd have seen the retreating backs of twenty or more horsemen. It was only chance that one happened to turn around and see the woman kneeling there. The brute called to his comrades and the group halted, turning back towards the small camp. Only then did Lira look up and see her doom bearing down on her. She was on her feet in a flash, running toward the hills surrounding them, but even had she been on horseback, it was rare that any horse could outrun the pure blooded arabians the desert dwellers so cherished. She certainly couldn't on her own steam, and so she was taken, lifted off the ground as she ran and thrown across the saddle.
Lira kicked and screamed for all she was worth, and her captor only laughed as they sped off into the engulfing darkness of the desert. The looked back to see the camp in flames, their tent and doubtless Joshua's lifeless body completely engulfed. For the next thirty or so minutes she had to endure the ride, her ribs being bruised by the rough saddle and jarring of the galloping horse. When she finally saw firelight and a large gathering of canvas tents, she was hit by a wave of relief and terror. She was 27 years old, and no stranger to the ways of the world. She had to do something, and she had to be quick about it.
The camp came up soon enough, and the men dismounted. Lira was tossed unceremoniously to the ground and surrounded by men swathed in brown and white who lifted her up by the arms and started pinching, pulling, and nudging. The man who had carried her dismounted and shouted at the mob who quickly released her, pushing her forward. Lira staggered a few paces and stopped, staring defiantly at the foreboding figure. She could see two scimitars at his sides and a knife tucked into the wrappings about his waist. With a menacing face, the thief approached her, eyes glimmering with that fire that women over the centuries have come to inherently fear. Lira just stood, glaring, allowing him to come closer. In a few steps, he was a breath away and he lifted a hand to smooth a short auburn tress away from her face. His whole person reeked of death and the metallic odor of blood. This was it, the moment of decision.
Lira, for all her shortcomings, had excelled at swordplay and various methods of combat. She spoke spotty Arabic, always managed to burn the toast, and couldn't sew a button on her overcoat to save her soul, but she was strong and small and quick. In a moment she grabbed the hilt of his sward, lifted her knee and kicked him in the groin. The brute staggered and the scimitar unsheathed itself as he fell. In a flash she flicked the blade around and brought it down on his neck. The strike was true and before any of the mob had the chance to register this turn of events, she raced for the still saddled horses. This man, the leader she presumed, seemed to have the fastest animal, and so she took the magnificent bay on which she'd been carried only moments before. As she hightailed out of the camp it seemed to her that the horse ran with as much desire to escape as herself.
How long she rode, Lira was unsure, but as the horse's breaths grew shallow she slowed him down, dismounting and walking briskly next to him. She spent the night crossing the endless sands under a full moon. The landscape was as quicksilver and for a few brief moments she was able to admire it's beauty, but she found herself frequently looking back. Her tracks would be easy to follow, so unless a dust storm kicked up to cover her retreat, she had to keep moving. This she did, and around daylight, her horse sweating and weak, they found a small oasis. Lira felt sorry for the poor beast, knowing she'd run it perhaps as hard as it'd ever been run. So, by the shade of a few sparse palms, she unsaddled the horse, removed all the tack, and continued on her own.
So she was found by the scouts of the First Tribe, wandering in her blouse and torn skirt with a scimitar in tow. She was decidedly no threat, and so the Med-Jai only kept watch, observing her movements, preferring not to interfere. She'd not trespassed on their business, and they'd not trespass upon hers. Then she spotted them, and fled. Ardeth knew that if she wasn't lost already, that her panic would soon lead her there. He ordered his men to follow him and it wasn't long before they caught up. The woman was dazed, filthy, sweaty, and covered in cuts and bruises. She was developing a dangerously vibrant sunburn, and her chapped lips and glassy eyes spoke of dehydration. The way the Med-Jai chief saw, there was no choice but to take her back to camp.
A/N: Well, there's the first chappy. I hope it lives up to the old version for those who read it. If anyone out there is a beta or knows a beta who would be willing to take on this little project, I'd be very grateful. I know full well that my writing can, especially when I'm tired, be a bit choppy. Anyway, please review and let me know what you think. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Adios!