Myein leapt over a mud embankment, and kept running.
His robes flapped around his feet, and his legs ached from the morning’s chores, but he knew that if Jaewen the butcher caught him now, he would be whipped and put back to work. Their sheep were multiplying like never before, and there was a lot of demand for meat with the festive season around the corner; the butcher needed his boys to be working their skins off, not sneaking out of the back of his tent when he wasn’t looking. Myein would be whipped later anyway, but he didn’t want to run any more chores now. He had a girl to meet, and for him the time with her was worth the whiplashes he’d receive.
Myein ducked under the ropes of the many tents that had sprouted up in the far corner of the city, swerving out of the way of women with veils carrying pitchers of water away from the wells. After a while he looked back, and having made sure that none of Jaewen’s other boys were chasing him, he slowed down to a walk on the dusty path that lead to the cloth merchant’s tent. Soon he was at the tent itself, a big crimson wave of patched and painted leather and camelskin. With nimble feet and a thumping heart, he made his way through the thoroughfare surrounding the merchant’s tent, and reached the back, from where the desert started. The crowd quickly trickled down to an occasional robed Tsaldorian, and then to nothing at all. But after half a mile, behind a series of more mud embankments, and beside the last date palm to the north of Ar Tsaldor, Kyria was waiting for him.
Myein walked up to her, and she stood up. He stopped within an arm’s distance, trying not to look into her eyes. He knew they were clear and blue, blue like a clear cloudless evening sky, and he knew that if he looked into them, it would be hard to look away. There was silence for a while, when both of seemed to struggle for words to express themselves, then Kyria shyly turned awy.
“I got a magic bangle for you,” Myein said, reaching into his robes. She looked at him again.
“How is it magic?” she asked. Myein loved her voice – it reminded him of a gypsy who had sung songs for him when he was a child.
Myein handed her the bangle, a thin piece of glass, embossed with strange beautiful runes. It shone like an emerald in the sunlight.
“It is magic because the Esmorean said it was magic.”
Kyria’s blue eyes widened in wonder, and she reached out her olive hands to feel the glass. Myein had held those hands a night ago, when both of them were lying on their backs, staring at the stars. They were soft and warm, and it was hard for him to let go when the sun crept out again. Kyria ran a finger along the bangle’s edge, enthralled by the artwork.
“It is beautiful, thank you.”
“It was for you, it had to be beautiful.”
Kyria blushed. “Esmorean, you say?”
“Yes, Esmorean,” Myein proudly replied, “He was a tall fair man who claimed to be from Kven Fojar, all the way across the world. He said the mir-hasen of Zagros had made it out of water and stone for the Zanzi Queen herself.”
“And how come an Esmorean gives such a precious ornament to the butcher’s boy?”
“He didn’t give it to me. I stole it from him,” Myein said, “For you.”
Kyria held on the bangle for awhile longer, but she seemed wary of it. “You shouldn’t have stolen it, Myein. They will come looking for you, and if it stays with me, they will come looking for me.”
“Don’t be scared, Kyria,” Myein said, stepping closer and taking her hand, “I’ll make sure they don’t suspect me. And they will never know it’s with you. Hide it away, and wear it when we’re alone with the stars again. Perhaps we can sell it for money later on.”
Kyria looked at him again, a sad smile on her face. “You’re just a butcher’s boy, Myein. You -”
Then suddenly there was an arrow in her neck.
For a moment Myein did not understand. He saw the iron shaft sticking out of her throat beneath an expression of shock, and he could see the blood spluttering out in gushes from the wound, staining her olive skin and magenta robes as she toppled over onto him. But as he checked her fall, and tried to get her to stand, he came to his senses. With panic choking his throat, he frantically shook her and called her name. There was no reply, and there was nothing behind those blue eyes of hers anymore. It hit him like a sandstorm – Kyria was dead. Someone had just shot her throught the throat.
Still in shock, Myein looked around to see where the arrow had come from, and then went numb and dropped to his knees. Kyria slipped out of his hands, and softly thudded down onto the sand at the same time as the horse-hooves atrted rumbling from the distance.
To the north-east, across half the length of the horizon, was a line of armoured and galloping horsemen. They were perhaps a mile away, and through the dusty storm they carried with them, Myein could recognize a black banner of an eagle with an arrow in its beak. It was the mark of the Kar tribesmen.
Myein numbly watched them charge for a second till another arrow whistled past his ear. Then his panic kicked in again, and he scrambled to his feet. The third arrow thwacked into the sand a split-second after he had moved away, and Myein began to run.
Myein ran for his life. He realized he was crying, and that he was leaving Kyria behind. But another arrow thudded in behind him, and like a horse which has just been whipped, the sheer terror made him run faster, all thoughts forgotten.
Myein leapt over a mud embankment, and kept running.