„Did I already show you the sapphire, Nahur gave me as a present?”
“Yes, Meryam, three times already.”
„Just look at it. Have you ever seen a gem so big and beautiful? But his beauty vanishes…”
“…vanishes compared to your beauty. That’s what Nahur said. You already told me. Three times.”
“Just look how it sparkles in the sun. I bet it cost the merchant Nahur raided it from a small fortune.”
Ankyor frowned. Would she ever give it a rest? He drew lines in the sand with his finger while the two women talked. If you could call this a talk. He tried his best to turn a deaf ear to this conversation.
“Oh, Sulamith, there you are!”
As this name was mentioned Ankyor’s gaze shot upwards. Yes, there she was! A jar on her head, stabilizing it a little bit with her slender hand. Her hair trembled a little bit in the soft wind that blew from the dunes; those wonderful dark curls, he so desperately wanted to feel between his fingers for one time only. And in the middle of that the most beautiful face, he had ever seen. As always Sulamith looked friendly and smiled a little bit. And as always he couldn’t avoid a little smile himself as he saw hers. “I bring you some water.”
“Very well. Come on let’s go, you said you would help me milking the cows.” Meryam’s conversational partner seemed quite relieved, took Sulamith’s arm and tugged her along. “Your sister just told me about her favorite topic, again.”
“Oh.” The sadness in Sulamith’s eyes hurt Ankyor a little bit. It wasn’t because of him, he knew that. As she turned her head and looked in his direction he looked down to his lines.
“You could be happy a little bit for me!” he heard Meryam jangle.
“I truly am, I’m very happy that…”
„Save it! I know that you don’t grant me my luck!“
Ankyor became angry. Anger was a feeling he’d felt more and more for some time now. Helpless anger. He very much wanted to go over there and reprimand Meryam that she couldn’t talk to Sulamith in this manner. But how would that look like?
„Oh, good that I find you both at once.“ Ankyor looked up again. The voice belonged to Ayitos. What was he doing here? Meryam, Sulamith, and her friend also looked a little bit surprised at the new arrival.
„Father.“ Sulamith lowered her head respectfully. „What can we do for you?“
„You can pray for me. For me and all the others that go with our sheik.“
Sulamith threw her hands up in horror. Meryam seemed a little bit alienated, too. „Go? Where to, father? “
„To Braga. Tonight.“
That made Ankyor sit up and take notice. To Braga? Why didn’t he know anything about that?
„You are going to attack the city?“ Meryam asked. „But I thought we’ll break camp and move along.“
„That’s what we’re going to do. But we’ll do this because our clan won’t be safe here as of tomorrow morning. We won’t attack the city but we’re going to infiltrate the house of their leader. We’ll loot his gold and free his slaves. And we’ll kill Tufail in his sleep if we can. Your fiancé will accompany us, Meryam.
Ankyor jumped up and started running. After a few steps, it occurred to him that this behavior might seem a little odd and would give away that he had been eavesdropping. But it was too late. This thought made him stumble as his foot found a small stone but he got a grip on himself and he continued running.
Out of breath, he burst into his father’s tent.
Asaru looked up. The other men sitting with him in the circle did the same. Ankyor faltered as his father’s strict look was directed at him. “What is it?” the sheik asked.
“Well,…I…” just now Ankyor realized where he was standing and who his counterpart was. Quickly he bowed his head. “Please excuse me, father. I heard there will be an attack on Braga.”
“That’s right. And now?”
“I…” He gulped, cleared his throat, and gulped again. “Why wasn’t I told anything about that?” it burst out of his mouth.
“Because there was no reason to do so.” answered the sheik. “And now off you go. We’re planning our assault.”
He looked around. There were his two older brothers. There was Marcus. And there, Nahur. Ankyor bit down on his lip. “Are they all going with you?”
“Yes, that’s why they are here.”
“I want to fight, too!”
“Young man your zest for action honors you, but don’t be a fool.” Marcus said.
Meanwhile, his father puckered his eyebrows. A slight hint of impatience appeared on his face. “If I’d planned to take you with me I would have sent for you, as I did with your brothers.”
“But father, I’m able to fight as well! Just like them.”
“We will sneak into the city of our enemies in the darkest night. Everything has to go fast. And if we get caught we’ll have to fight for our lives. I won’t take anyone so young and inexperienced.”
The impatience in Asaru’s face slowly turned to anger. “Are you questioning your sheik’s decision? Your father’s decision?”
“I…No…But…” Ankyor bowed his head. “Please forgive me, father. I was disrespectful. It’s just …” His gaze wandered to Nahur again, who sat cross-legged next to his brothers. “I want to prove myself. I want to do something for the clan.”
“Then take care of the herd. We’ll leave tomorrow at sunrise. To the mountains. After our raid on the city, the clan won’t be able to stay in this oasis that near to Braga. You want to do something? Then help to watch the herd.”
“Out! You molested us long enough. Don’t answer back to me one more time.”
Ankyor was shaking with rage as he left the tent. Helplessly he clenched his fist, over and over again. His brothers were allowed to fight, but he was too young! He hadn’t be allowed to accompany them to the raid on Ben Erai’s merchant either. There Nahur had looted the sapphire he gave to Meryam for their engagement. Only Adanos would know what Nahur could loot or do to excel today.
He tried to calm down. It didn’t matter what Nahur would bring with him from Braga. He hardly would ask for Sulamith’s hand in marriage too. At least not until he’d married Meryam.
But still! He clenched his fists again. Was it a wonder that Sulamith only had eyes for Nahur, even now that he had chosen Meryam. At first, Ankyor had been quite happy. It wasn’t a secret that both of Ayito’s daughters had cast an eye on Nahur. For quite some time the women, while milking or fetching water, had been talking about nothing else then which of the two he would choose and give the sapphire to. For some nights Ankyor hadn’t been able to sleep, because of the fear that he could be losing Sulamith. But Nahur’s choice of Meryam – a choice that Ankyor even if he was happy about it could never understand – had only been a small relief. Until he saw the frustration and the pain in Sulamith’s face.
If he only were such a big warrior und hunter as Nahur! If he could bring home snapper skins and looted treasures. Sulamith would forget about Nahur, even more so, as he had chosen her sister. But how could she pay attention to him like that?
The rest of the day he pored over his dark thoughts. He helped in the roundup and prepared the herd for their departure. One by one the tents were dismantled. Crates, vases, and barrels were piled up. Everyone was acting busy. He did his work mechanically without giving it much thought.
The night fell and Asaru and his chosen men departed to the nearby Assassins’ city. Excited anticipations paired with fear was all around in the camp. Riordian, their Abu, who had just returned after many years, led a prayer. But Ankyor could only think about Sulamith. About Nahur. About his father. About sitting here in the safety of the oasis and being unable to show that he was able to fight, to defend his clan, too.
Asaru and his small regiment returned in the last hour before the first light. Their raid had been a complete success. Although they only had been able to infiltrate the ground floor of the main building and therefore hadn’t been able to find Tufail, the town’s alderman, they’d looted a huge amount of gold and freed a slave, a woman named Aila. The men and women of the clan celebrated their heroes but Asaru stopped the rejoicing and the hugging shortly after the return, as there was no time to waste. Ankyor wasn’t in the mood to celebrate anyway and he was standing at the edge of the crowd surrounding the returning warrior and the freed slave.
If only his father had taken him along! He would’ve sneaked into the upper floor and killed the lord of Braga in his bed. So he thought, as the Beni Asarus slowly wandered with the sun rising over the Ben Hasha mountains in their backs. The big branch he used as a crook lay over his shoulder and his look was cast downwards to the ground. He wasn’t paying any attention to the cattle trotting next to him. His thoughts circled around Braga. If he only had been given a chance. He would have proven himself to everyone. He would’ve proven to Sulamith that Nahur wasn’t the only fearless warrior. Of course, his father would’ve never allowed him to enter the upper floor, even if he’d taken him along. He would’ve advised him that he should be careful and ordered a retreat. But that would not have been enough to stop him. He would’ve stormed upstairs and the success would’ve proven him right at the end. He would’ve done what obviously none of the others, not even Nahur, had been able to do. How hard could it be to kill a man in his sleep? But maybe, he thought, maybe Tufail would not have been asleep. Maybe the lord of Braga would’ve been waiting for him, a wicked smile on his face. Weren’t all of the assassins a little bit wicked? Be that as it may. He would’ve killed him if he was asleep or wide awake. If his father had only given him the chance to win against Tufail in battle. Ankyor didn’t know how the lord of Braga looked like. Probably he was quite tall. “Hey!” Yes, tall and strong. After all the assassins only made the best of them a leader. Certainly, he was taller than all of his guards. And the wicked smile on his face awaiting Ankyor, wasn’t there something more? Yes, cruel, not only wicked, that was his smile. The smile of a man who had killed many nomads in his life and had enjoyed it. “Ankyor!” And his eyes… Certainly, he had the flaming eyes of a demon! At least he was an assassin, a servant of the black mages, who could tell with which powers he’d gotten involved with. “Look Out! There!” But Ankyor wouldn’t have let that intimidate him when facing this demon in a man-shape. He would’ve stood up to him. Would’ve shown how a nomad was able to fight! “Hey, Ankyor, look out!”
The voice of a different herdsman, walking on the other side of the cavalcade, woke him from his daydreams. A little bit confused he looked over the cattle’s backs to the origin of the shouting, but the herdsman pointed in the opposite direction. Ankyor’s eyes followed the herdsman’s finger and saw what he meant. One of the cows had left the herd and gnawed on a root growing in the shadow of a decayed wall. He hadn’t been aware of the fact that they already had reached the border of the ruins.
Swiftly he walked towards the animal to bring it back to the herd. Suddenly something moved in the archway. In the next moment, a desperate cry for help sounded as teeth sank in the cow’s leg.
Ankyor stumbled back a bit. But the lizard had already spotted him. That was lucky for the cow that hobbled back, as fast as his wounded leg would allow. It wasn’t lucky for him. Slowly and hissing threateningly the big saurian advanced. Ankyor held his branch up in front of his chest in defense and detected a bit scared that his hands were trembling. Now the lizard stood directly in front of him. A quick jump and the monster would sink his teeth into his flesh.
A spear bolted through his field of vision from the right. The lizard hissed angrily and darted to the side. The power of this movement snatched the spear which was stuck in the lizard’s skin from the hands of his owner who backed up a little bit at once. But the lizard was already upon him. Without paying any attention to the weapon still sticking in its back, he advanced on his attacker. But he had already drawn his sword. The blade sparkled in the sunlight for a short moment. Sparkled like Meryam’s sapphire had. Ankyor himself couldn’t explain, why he thought of the jewel at this moment. But in the next moment, everything was over.
“Are you alright?”
Ankyor looked from the detached head of the lizard to the man standing in front of him to the blade in his hand which wasn’t sparkling anymore, and not anymore resembling a sapphire but a red ruby and back to the face of the man.
“Well, yeah…Yes, everything is all right…”
“That was lucky. Here near to the ruins you need to be careful.” Nahur pointed with his sword to the walls behind them. “Come on, we’ll take a look for the cow.”
The wound in the animal’s leg wasn’t deep. It wouldn’t die from it. And with the help of Adanos, it would survive the rest of the march. But the lizard’s bite held another danger. Diseases. And their Abu, who could’ve helped with his potions, wasn’t with them anymore. Ankyor hadn’t noticed that at their departure but for some reason, the water mage had stayed behind and wouldn’t join them until later on. And just now one of the cattle had to be bitten by a lizard!
Sheik Asaru wasn’t happy with that. But Ankyor could only think about one thing while his father gave free rein to his anger: If he only had had a spear like Nahur, instead of such a worthless piece of wood, then he would’ve killed the lizard himself before it could attack the cow. And he swore to himself one thing: He would get such a spear. And he would prove his worth, so that his father would, or better had to, take him along when they went fighting the assassins the next time.