The heat rolled over him as the flap of the tent stirred in a gust of wind. Lifting his head from the sandy ground he saw a brief glare of brilliant daylight and then all was hot again as the flap closed. Near darkness filled the tent once more and Elladan let his head drop wearily. His own harsh breathing was all he could hear in that enclosed space and it reminded him of how unbearable his life had become. He curled his fingers in frustration and closed his eyes. Death would be a reprieve, but he knew that fate was never that kind. The minutes slipped by like sand through his fingers as he lay there on the gritty floor. His hands were staked to the ground by the wrists and his feet were tied at the ankles with thin woven rope, they cut into his skin with every movement, but that did not stop him from straining at his bonds so the ropes were stained brown with his blood. His body was sore and tired for it had been many days since he had lain there. His licked his dry lips as he tried to shift into a less uncomfortable position but pain spasmed up his back as grains of sand grated along his bruised skin. Groaning he turned his face to one side and stared into the gloom. He had lost count of the days, for each passed into the next without anything to mark the difference.
The desert that lay just beyond the walls of the tent was dry, vast and unchanging and it sucked the vitality from anything that dared to exist within its borders. But Ak' tun had not only survived but had forced from the harsh sands a kingdom for himself. He strode across the hot plains even as his manservant hurried towards him.
"My Lord," cried the man. "The storm comes, our encampment will be destroyed if we do not move quickly."
Several of the soldiers looked up from their chores to hear the exchange, they knew that their Lord was aware of the approaching storm and yet he had not commanded them to move. No one had said anything for their Lord was a harsh ruler. But Ah' med was old and had been with Ak' tun from childhood. In fact the old servant had served his father for more than twenty years, before passing into his service. Ak' tun looked amused for a moment then turned to the listening soldiers.
"Disassemble the camp,"
Men scrambled to and fro breaking down the sturdy tents that served as their homes as they travelled across the face of the wastelands raiding towns and hamlets that lay along the border. Great wealth had Ak'tun earned from trading in the flesh of human, hobbit, orc and dwarf, it was all the same to him. He cared not that he separated father from son, child from mother and friend from friend. The most piteous of pleas fell on deaf ears for Ak' tun heard only the sound of gold in his palms. Aside from this he had only one passion.
The men finished quickly for this was a common part of life on the great wastelands. But one tent still stood. It was smaller than the rest yet more lavish and it had stood apart from the others. The captain of the guards approached Ak'tun, "My Lord, we are finished but for the tent of your sha'abla." he said bowing respectfully. Ak'tun looked across at the small tent and smiled, "Take the men home, this storm is but the first of many to come this season." He then looked deep into the dark eyes of his captain. "Bring him to me."
The captain summoned one other and together they walked swiftly to the small tent. He threw back the flap that covered the front and they entered quietly. The elf was lying on his back, his wrists, ankles, neck and chest staked securely to the ground, his only covering was a cloth draped across his loins. The captain heard his swift intake of breath as they entered and felt a moment's pity for the creature, but he knew as any other in the service of Ak'tun that disobedience meant death. The elf watched them closely as they approached. The captain saw him flinch as he drew a knife from his waist.
"This is not for you," the captain said quietly in Westron, " the storms come and we needs make haste, our master awaits."
The elf did not reply but this was not unusual. He had uttered not one word since they had captured him ten days ago during a bloody and vicious battle on the treacherous sands.
The captain quickly cut his bonds and Elladan bit his bottom lip to keep back a cry of pain as the blood surged into his limbs. They hauled him to his feet and quickly dressed him in voluminous robes that covered him from head to toe. Only his eyes were left free. His hands they tied behind his back and he was forced out into the hot desert before his body was ready. Sharp pain shot up his legs and he would have crumbled, but strong hands balanced him and forced him forward. His breathing grew harsh and erratic for he stumbled frequently and was jerked non too gently to his feet. He kept his head down and could only see no more than glimpses of sand for his eyes had grown unaccustomed to the light of the sun.
He smelled the horse before he saw it, but he caught no more than a glance at its legs before he was lifted swiftly onto its back. He was forced to sit sideways as his feet were once again restrained at the ankles. A thick robe was snaked around his waist and tied tightly at the small of his back. He felt suffocated, but he forced down the panic that came for someone mounted behind him and took hold of the rope. Gloved hands took the reins and Elladan heard a shout.
The thunder of a thousand hooves echoed across the desert as Ak'tun and his men raced across the wastelands.
But the wind and sand were not to be denied for they were the true kings of the desert. The wall of destruction rose up and rode on the heels of the fleeing men. Risking a look behind, the captain quaked with fear for the wave of sand was fifteen hands high. His ululating cry went up and as a body the men wheeled and formed a rough circle. They leapt off their horses and forced the animals to lie on the ground. Loosening their heavy cloaks they huddled next to their steeds and covered themselves and their animals' faces as best they could. Elladan was dragged from the horse onto the sand. A dark cloth was thrown over him cutting off his vision and he felt his enemy's body next to him. Immediately Elladan began to kick and struggle for he did not know what was happening but Ak'tun effectively imprisoned his head in a brutal hold.
"Keep still di'alla I will not lose you to the sands." he shouted.
It was only then that Elladan began to hear the howl of the wind as the storm drew closer. But still he struggled for he was unaccustomed to the heavy veils and found it difficult to breathe through, but Ak'tun only held his head tighter. Pure panic surged through him then and his strangled cries joined the wailing of the wind.
The storm hit hard. The sand fell upon them burying them deep and fast, cutting through cloth and skin like knife blades. Elladan cried out as tiny pebbles as sharp as mithril sliced his arms and torso viciously. He twisted suddenly to escape the painful onslaught and take a burning breath, but his abrupt movement pulled him from Ak'tun's grasp and he began to slide down the long embankment on which they had stopped. He had a heart stopping moment of pure terror before a painful tug at his scalp stopped his momentum.
Ak'tun held on grimly, the elf's hair wrapped tightly around his fist, he was not about to loose his prize. Five men had he lost to gain this creature and he intended to take his recompense tenfold.
Around them the wind blew and blew and blew.
An hour passed and all that could be heard was the moaning of the wind as it blew west from the Deeplands. Ak'tun felt the elf go limp in his grasp and he cursed knowing that it was his own fault that they were caught like fish in a net, below the punishing sands.
Silence, it covered the desert like a blanket and for a long moment there was stillness on the plains. Then, as spirits rising from their graves the sands shifted and the men and horses struggled up from its choking depths. Flinging off the robes that covered him Ak'tun delved with both hands beneath the sand. The elf's hair was tangled like silken ropes in the coarse grit. With his bare hands Ak'tun began to dig.
The elf was still. The veils that would have kept the sands off his face had been torn off in his struggle. His mouth and nostrils were full of sand. His face had tiny cuts that bled. Ak'tun wasted no time. He rolled the elf onto his side and with his finger removed the sand that blocked his airways. Rolling him onto his back once more Ak'tun pinched his nostrils shut and covering the elf's mouth with his own breathed forcefully into his throat. Three times did he do this before the elf responded. It was with a explosive cough that the elf came back to life. Ak'tun held him upright as he wheezed and coughed, the sand that he had swallowed dribbled out of his mouth wetly. With the end of his robes Ak'tun wiped the elf's mouth tenderly. The elf who hands and feet were still tied slumped wearily against Ak'tun, who smiled.