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 Jaewe the butcher caught him now, he would be whipped and put back to work. Their camels were multiplying like never before, and the Jade Festival was right around the corner. Travellers from far off lands would be flocking to their tents for camelskin boots, wrappings, bags, ropes and armour. They would be craving for exotic meats laced with spices and for potions made of camel milk. The butcher needed his boys to be earning their salt, not sneaking out of the back of his tent when he wasn’t looking. Myein would be whipped later anyway when the drums weren't taut enough or when the mats of hide weren't stretched wide enough, but he would not be running any more chores for now. A woman's love is worth ten hungry loaves and twenty scars, the tribe seer had once said, and that is only for misers who measure. Myein was no miser, and he was certain the woman he was going to meet was worth more than his life, and certainly worth more than a few whiplashes at the hands of an irate clan elder.
Myein ducked under the ropes of the many tents that had sprouted up in the far corner of the oasis, swerving out of the way of women with veils carrying pitchers of water from the wells. After a while he looked back, and having made sure that none of Jaewe’s other boys were chasing him, he slowed down to a brisk walk on the dusty path that lead to the cloth merchants' tents - big crimson waves of patched and painted leather and hide. With nimble feet and a thumping heart, he made his way through the thoroughfare, out to the dunes where the oasis ended and the vast desert began. The bustling crowd quickly trickled down to an occasional white-robed Tsaldorian, and then to nothing at all. After half a mile, behind more mud embankments on the rising dunes and underneath the shade of the last date palm of Ar Tsaldor, Kyria was waiting for him.
As Myein approached, Kyria stood up, her veil falling by her side. He stopped within an arm’s distance, trying not to look into her eyes. He knew they were clear and blue, blue like the river-cut emeralds his grandfather had shown him a long time ago. There was a long pause which held the heavy weight of simple things left unsaid, and then their eyes met and spoke of them all before Kyria shyly turned away.
“I have a bangle for you,” Myein said, reaching into his robes.
"A bangle?" she asked, a smile breaking at the edge of her lips. Myein watched it dance coyly.
"Yes, and it is of the Light."
Myein handed her the thin band of glass and stone, embossed with strange, beautiful runes. It shone like a ruby in the sunlight. She took it from his hand, their fingers briefly brushing against each other and lingering for the want of more.
“How is it of the Light?” she asked, examining it with care. Her voice reminded Myein of a gypsy who had sung songs for him when he was a child.
"It is of the Light because the lightshaper told me so.”
Kyria’s blue eyes widened in wonder, and she looked at the sparkling glass resting in her olive hands. Myein had held those hands a night ago, when both of them were lying on the farthest sand dune, staring at the stars. Her palms 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.
“Yes, a lightshaper from Kven Fojar,” Myein proudly replied, “He was a tall fair man who spoke languidly as he juggled an orb of light in the palm of his hand, and told us that he had come from all the way across Esmorea. He said the mir-hasen of Zagros had made it out of water and stone for the Silver Queen herself.”
Kyria felt the bangle get heavier in her hands. This was a princely gift.
“And how come an Esmorean lightshaper gives such a precious ornament to a butcher’s boy?”
“He didn’t give it to me, love. I stole it from him,” Myein said, almost boasting. “For you. I sneaked it off his pouch as he left the butcher's tent.”
Kyria held on the bangle for awhile longer, but she seemed wary of it. “You shouldn’t have, Myein. They will come looking for you, and if it stays with me, they will come looking for me.”
Myein stepped closer and took her hand, “This is but a trinket for a lightshaper from Kven Fojar, love. They have wars to fight and no time to tend to petty theft. No one will know except us."
"It is another secret we keep, then," she whispered, suddenly aware of how close they were.
"Our secret, yes. Hide it away, and wear it when we’re alone with the stars again. Perhaps we can sell it for money later on, when we run away.”
Kyria watched the dying sunlight seep through the glass and bounce off the runes, taking on a shade of crimson in her hands. She wondered what the runes said, and where they would find a scribe who spoke ancient Esmorean. She wondered when she could run away from the oasis with Myein, and where they would go, and she wondered if she had the courage to dream of a life beyond the desert.
“It is beautiful, Myein,” she said. a sad smile on her face. “You -”
Suddenly, an arrow burst through her neck, splattering blood across Myein's face and robes.
For a moment Myein did not understand. He saw the iron shaft sticking out of her throat, 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 words, 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 started rumbling in the distance.
To the north-east, across half the length of the horizon at the top of the dune, was a line of armoured and galloping horsemen. They were perhaps half a mile away, and through the dusty storm they carried with them, Myein could recognize the large 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 moment 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 had just been whipped, the sheer terror moved his feet, all thoughts forgotten.
Myein leapt over a mud embankment, and kept running.