Three suns made their way to the east. The fiery triplets had chased each other across the skies of Tyr for millennia, fighting for dominance, with no victor or end in sight. Only their sister, the moon, was beguiling enough to make the battle cease for a time. She now rose from the west, her cool, blue hands sliding up the ceiling of the world to hush her brothers’ chaos. Beneath this theater of ancient strife, a lone figure jogged across the sands of the Bettiran desert.
Ottílde’s hair flew behind her like a flag of dusty, black silk. Sweat formed a thin sheen on her pale face arms. A large pack, strapped to her shoulders, bounced against her hips with each footfall. In one hand, she clutched a spear, long as her body and a half, while a quiver of arrows rattled on her right shoulder. She was short for her age, barely tall enough to match a child three years her junior. But, in the twelve summers of her life, Ottílde had packed a great deal of wiry muscle onto her frame and built her stamina to that of an adult in her prime.
She had been running now for an hour and had found a good pace, one she could maintain for a large part of the night. Her guardian, Haad La, often said that Ottílde was the best runner in Bettiran and she had proven his boast by winning any footrace her tribe came across — both in the cities and at tribal gatherings. Even now, the extra weight of her baggage and weapons did nothing to slow her.
Ottílde found release in the steady chant of her breath, the pull and bunch of muscles, the pound of her heart. At times, she forgot what and who she was, so lost did she become in the rhythm of her body.
As the moon reached the middle of her transit, though, Ottílde thought it a fit time to take a short rest. She stopped in her tracks and cooled down by walking in a circle. Then, she set down her spear, quiver, and pack. Her bow was tied against the pack by a piece of twine. She released it and made sure the string was taut and secure in case she needed it quickly. Night was the ideal time for travel, but it also made her vulnerable to the nocturnal predators that stalked the shadowed desert.
Being torn to bloody bit would be a hard way to die, she thought as she bent and unstrapped her water bottle. After taking a long pull she licked stray drops from her lips and turned in a small circle. “It would get the job done, though,” she mused aloud and a cold smile twisted her lips.
Grim thoughts slowly eased their hold as she continued surveying the dunes. All around her was sand and sky. The Bettiran desert rippled beneath the moon, making her eyes quiver with the sharpness of shadow and silver light.
“Even the Star Palace is not this beautiful,” she breathed, picturing the residence of Bettiran’s ruler, the Mah Ray, which was considered to be a wonder throughout the five lands of Tyr. In Ottílde’s opinion, no other country or sight could compare with the expanse of shifting sand that now surrounded her. Its cruel beauty could seduce a person to his death. Only those with a will as determined as the desert could survive.
When she first came to Bettiran, Ottílde had been miserable. Her skin had burned and blistered several times before Haad La’s wife, Beha, had devised a lotion to protect her fair complexion. Every bite of food came seasoned with sand and her eyes smarted as each passing breeze blew grit beneath her lashes.
Though minor discomforts made her despise her new home, it was essentially Ottílde’s wayward spirit that had rebelled against the strict laws that governed the desert people’s lives. Coming from a home where no one cared where she was or what she did, Ottílde had found her new guardians’ constant surveillance and protective boundaries unbearable. But, in the end, she had not been able to resist the desert’s wiles and she was soon able to see her tribe’s careful monitoring as the loving gesture it was.
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