The stranger and I left the city without being noticed. His camel would carry us far, but I feared the expansive desert before us. We didn’t exactly have the best chances of making it, even the armies of the desert wouldn’t dare cross it. I sat behind the stranger, pondering why this gruff stranger, disguised as a Red Rock city guard, wanted to go on such a journey as well. He mentioned being a criminal as well, but what did he exactly do to turn to such a circumstance.
“I killed sultan,” he told me out of the blue.
“The sultan?” I repeated. “Surely you must be joking.”
“The guards most likely have found out and send riders after me,” he replied. “My time in this country is done, which is why I flee to the ocean.”
“If that is true, why tell me this? What if I was one of his supporters?”
“No supporter of his is a humble thief.”
I sat there for a moment, observing his movements. He certainly seemed the killer, but I still had trouble believing that anyone could pull off such a feat. However, I had a greater question.
“Why did you do it?” I asked him.
“For the same reasons anyone else would. He destroyed my life.”
“You are one of the rebels?”
“I am the result of his war with the rebels. My parents were suspected traitors and after two decades I finally returned the favour his guards did at his orders.”
It was a lot for me to take it, but I certainly had no trouble believing it. The stranger was fiercely intelligent, that much was clear.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Batic,” he told me without hesitation.
“Mine is Allula. It seems you and I are wanted fugitives.”
“And what makes you a fugitive?”
“Because I killed the sultan’s wife!”
I laughed uproariously, but he did not join me. He seemed to take my joke as an insult, but I didn’t pay it too much mind at first.
“I know it is hard for you to believe me, Allula,” Batic told me. “However, if you desire proof you need only look at the figures in the distance behind you.”
I turned my head with a smile still on my face and saw there were several riders in the distance. Each seemed to be similar, wearing the same clothing. Each rode a horse, dark in colour. The same colours are steeds of royal guards. My smile faded before I knew it.
“Why aren’t they chasing us?” I asked.
“It is the desert,” he explained. “If we were riding towards another capital they would, but now it is a matter of endurance. The guards will wait till one of us collapses of thirst or until the camel does.”
“What will we do?” I asked as fear started to enter my system.
“Save as much water as you can and endure,” Batic replied. “The more you save the more we can give to the camel if need be. We are in for a long ride, but soon the guards will realize they will soon not have enough water for the return and decide to give chase of go home.”
I have always been on the run, but this was different. I was in the most trouble I have ever been and it was thanks to this stranger that I had no doubt become an accomplice. We rode on the entire day. I sheltered myself against Batic as he rode towards the sun, so he provided shade. He must have contained so much strength because I could not understand how he endured.
Now and then I would turn to see how far the riders were away from us. The guards never marched closer, but were ever in sight, like a prophecy of death. The day faded, but they did not. When night came, Batic struck the camel with a rider’s whip and the chase truly began. We rode as long as we could and as it turned out it was longer than the horses could endure. The camel was perfect for endurance, which is why I now understood his choice for this journey. He didn’t want to get there faster, he just wanted to get there.
“You know we’re going to have to be careful if we make it,” I told Batic.
“The riders may not reach the coast, but their messenger hawks will. There are people loyal to the sultan all over this country, but in the world beyond as well. Powerful men have ties everywhere and you might be hunted to the end.”
“You have a poor understanding of politics, La,” he told me. “To another leader this may be a gift, a country ripe for the picking. The people who will hunt us are behind us, but not ahead. Be sure to remember now, you are an accomplice of your own doing. Do you remember our agreement?”
“I was hoping you would forget, but it seems I am tied by word,” I told him.
“Fear not, woman,” he replied. “I am no betrayer, no sultan. Let us leave this desert behind in search of a greater oasis.”
“Your words carry strong,” I replied. “But I feel a swords edge closing on my neck.”
For once Batic did laugh and I couldn’t help but join him. Criminals like us felt the world differently to most. To normal people being pursued, hunted and hated was terrifying. You always felt as if every day was your last. For me and Batic, it felt like the first day of our lives every day. A renewed sense of purpose, of desire. It was refreshing.
“Once we reach the ocean, Batic,” I told him. “Will you truly join me on the adventures I seek? I take risks, chances that I should not, but I know my way around trouble. It is why I am still alive.”
“You and I are in the same boat,” he replied. “It might as well be the same ship as well. You have yourself a friend, Allula.”
That was all I needed to hear.