Desert Tales: Akhim and Rohren

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Mostly editing of the old material, which is finally finished. I thought you might enjoy a scene from the Desert Tales part of the story. Now, we earnestly start preparing new material and continuing these stories.

Desert Tales #4: Akhim and Rohren

Nasma squinted at the orange sun in the middle of the purple and blue sky. She could see the dancing scarf of her mother painting the sky. The sun disappeared below a dune, the air chilling. Nasma cocooned herself in her shawl. Soon the sky would color from lavender to purple to twilight gray, and soon Leila and Myrrh would join her, and they would ride the storm, covering the leavings of the day.

In the silence of the desert, she heard her name, a whisper at first, and then tumbling closer over the hills of sand. Myrrh raced toward her, the sand spraying behind her in a plumed fan.

“You must hide him!” she gasped breathlessly. “Father! He has come home!”

Nasma scurried toward her sister. “Where is he?”

“Father? At home! I told you!”

Nasma shook her head. “Rohren! Where is he?”

“He’s with Kassim! Father will kill him!”

Nasma glanced back at Jameelah and the painted sky. Mother will calm him!”

“There is no time for that!” Myrrh insisted. “Father will have beheaded him by the time you return! You must come now! When Father attacks, you must throw yourself on top of Rohren, and beg for his mercy, to protect the man you love!”

Nasma blushed and hoped Myrrh would think twilight reflected on her cheeks. “Leila is right about you,” her voice stumbled. “I don’t understand where you find these foolish ideas.”

“You are lying to your closest sister?” Myrrh mocked surprise.

“I’m not going to throw myself on top of Rohren because I love him!” said Nasma, hurrying up the slope. “I’m going to throw myself on top of Rohren because he is my responsibility.”

Myrrh’s laugh exploded out of her. “Like your puppy, then! As you will! As long as you keep Father from killing him. No men will seek us out if Father continues building this reputation.”

“Why didn’t you bring Leila?” Nasma gasped. “If Leila had come, we could have flown back.”

“Leila is currently distracting Father.”

Nasma no longer listened. The sand slipped beneath her feet as she raced forward. When they reached rock, she stumbled on uneven ground, but pushed herself up and on. Myrrh, breathing steadily behind her, followed Nasma into the courtyard, where the clanging sound of metal told her she was too late.

On the ground, Leila, Kassim, and Hussam stared upwards. In the graying light, Nasma could make out moving shadows in the balconies and parapets. Above the metal, she heard her father’s voice, booming.

Nasma gulped air into her lungs, trying to speak. “Stop him!”

“How dare you enter my home!” Akhim’s voice thundered. “You common dog!”

“Puppy,” said Myrrh, under her breath.

Nasma frowned at her sister. “Father!” she yelled. “Please stop!”

Wives, children, servants were flowing into the courtyard. Leila whispered in Nasma’s ear. “You should stay quiet. No doubt, you are in trouble enough.”

“How long do you think it will take Father to kill him?” Hussam asked Kassim.

“Usually, Rohren would be dead already. Luckily I gave him one of Father’s scimitars.”

“Traitor!” said Hussam.

Kassim shrugged. “Father will win, definitely. But there is no good fight without two swords.”

A figure landed in the middle of the courtyard. Azza, one of the kitchen servants, screamed. Rohren towered over her, his sword gleaming sharply in the torchlight, sandy hair streaming behind him in a wave of movement. He smiled grimly at Kassim, who smiled back.

A sword in each hand, yelling at the top of his lungs, Akhim leaped from a balcony and landed with a snarl, crouching in front of Rohren.
“Face me!” he yelled. “Face Akhim the Undefeated! Face the scourge of Khartoum, the terror of Cairo! Face me, foreign man, and meet your death!”

“Scourge of Khartoum?” Myrrh said. “My mother will laugh when she hears—”

“Father!” Nasma yelled, “please stop!” Her voice drowned in the noise of the spectacle.

Kassim’s face lit up. “I think it will be an epic battle!”

Akhim lunged. Rohren leaped backwards, barely blocking Akhim’s whirling blades. Left, right, right, left, Akhim pushed Rohren through the crowd, men ringing the edge of the courtyard, women scrambling for archways, scooping children out of their path. In the torchlight, the metal gleamed and danced. Nasma held her breath.

Rohren’s sword swept out in a wide arc, and Akhim leaped impossibly high, over the top of the blade, somersaulting over Rohren’s head, and landing lightly on his feet behind him.

“Face me!” Akhim yelled.

Rohren wheeled around. One of Akhim’s scimitars scratched his chest. Nasma held her breath.

Rohren’s hand brushed the hole in his shirt while his sword lashed out for Akhim. Akhim leaped back again. His arm grabbed a pole and Akhim launched himself at Rohren, who sidestepped him. Akhim laughed, hit the ground, hands first and landed on his feet, back toward Rohren.

Rohren weaved in.

“No!” Kassim yelled. “Don’t wait! Now, or he’ll—!”

Akhim’s sword flashed like a lightening fork. Rohren slid a hair’s breadth under the blade, past Rohren, between his legs.

Akhim grinned wickedly. “Very good, New Lander. You are a worthy opponent! I shall reward you, and make your death a swift one!”
The horizon glowed, and the sky lit up like it held three moons. Jameelah, silhouetted in the sky, drew all eyes.

Akhim’s pleasure shined in his eyes. “My wife,” he said loudly, “who is this man who defiles my house?”

“You defile my house!” said Jameelah. “Look at the spectacle you are making!” She clapped her hands like a thunderclap. “All of you! Back to your work! Back inside!”

“I will protect what is mine!” said Akhim, bouncing fingers off his chest. “How dare you let this man trifle with my daughters!”

Jameelah floated toward the ground, the glow disappearing into soft night. She hesitated just above Akhim, and she slapped his cheek. He grabbed her wrist, and the two of them stared at each other.

He laughed.

She smiled.

“He is my guest,” Jameelah said. “A traveler. He has done nothing to your daughters.”

Kassim’s mouth formed a small o, and words started to gurgle in his throat. Myrrh’s hand clapped over his mouth. No doubt, Nasma thought, he would tell the truth, once the shock of Jameelah’s lie wore off. Well, technically, it wasn’t all a lie. Rohren hadn’t trifled with any of them.

Akhim’s face contorted from surprise to anger, from anger to disbelief, from disbelief to goodwill, and from good will to amusement.

He kissed Jameelah’s hand. “I knew that,” he said gracefully.

“Obviously this,” his hand gestured expansively at Rohren, who had stood up and backed away, “is a man of action. You would have no idea of how to treat such a guest.”

Jameelah seemed satisfied with that answer. Akhim stepped toward Rohren, who jumped back. He laughed, and dropped the sword, and hugged Rohren like a bear. Rohren’s face was bewildered.

Nasma breathed a sigh of relief. The trick would have been getting Father to like Rohren before he killed him. Mother had managed it incredibly well.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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