The sun was hot on his skin, and the camel he rode began to stumble.
He is going to die, but not me. I will do what I must.
Behind him lay the bodies he’d killed, but it had been, at best, serendipity, and not skill.
He would rather that it had been skill.
The town was in the distance, indistinct in color from the sand everywhere, save that it had shape, and he could see the shapes of the buildings through the haze and the heat shimmer that felt like it would boil his eyes in their sockets.
I did not avoid being a sacrifice only to have my bones bleach in this merciless sun.
He stopped, and taking the knife he pilfered from the body of the man that had sought to tie the rope around his neck, he put his hand on the camel’s neck and said a silent prayer of thanks to its spirit for providing him life.
And he cut its throat with his spiked club, ripping out the spike and cupping his hands around the fount that spurted as the animal bellowed a final curse, and toppled. The taste of its blood was rancid and bitter in his mouth, but he was going to die if he didn’t drink, and water was not to be found.
And as he had no water, he made no urine, or he would have used that instead.
He was tempted to skin the camel and make a tent, but the sun had crested its zenith, and would be down soon; if he skinned it now, night would catch him crossing the dunes, and the chill wind would ice the blood that was now boiling.
Breathing heavy against the urge to vomit, which would dehydrate him further, the burning sand licking at the sides of his feet in the leather sandals that adorned them, he took the spiked club from the camel’s neck, and pushed on.
Distance was a tricky thing in the desert, however, and if the town wasn’t as close as it looked, he would be covered over by the relentlessly flowing sand, buried in an unmarked grave so deep and remote his ancestors would never see him.
“You will not die, Obasi. Your ancestors will strike you in the afterlife if you do.”
He didn’t know if the part about his ancestors was true, and anyway, it was a promise he wasn’t sure he could keep; he only knew that if he didn’t hear himself make it, he wouldn’t survive.
Two horsemen came out to retrieve him from the sand, where he’d vomited and lay in a pool of rancid blood.
“Fool boy, drank the blood of his camel.”
“How do you know?”
“The hairs on his robe, his skin. He was unskilled, and favored by the gods that he made it here.
The guard that noticed the hair threw the boy across the saddle, and with the other, he walked his horse back.
The watchman called. “Is he alive?”
“Barely, but yes.”
“Take him to see –“
“I know, I know. He needs water though, and now.”
The watchman threw his canteen down, and they dribbled water into the boy’s mouth, held him as he sputtered and coughed, gave him some more, and he spat.
The water was threaded with bright red strands of bile, and both men made the sign against evil.
“Get him out of here,” the watchman said.
The other guard proffered him to take his canteen back, but the watchman smiled and shook his head.
“I’ll get another; he can keep that one. I should’ve let the vultures have him. If it hadn’t been for their circling, I wouldn’t have seen him.”
“You did well to save his life; these things come back to you.”
“As I well know. Take him quickly.”
They proceeded to the town sick house, as they called it, and the boy began to stir.
They were carrying him on a horse, sideways across the saddle, as if he was a sack of something heavy and unpleasant, but he didn’t know who ‘they’ were or where ‘they’ were taking him, but their robes were dark, in stark contrast to the sand, and against the normal dress of white and tan, which kept the heat of the sun away.
He noticed they were on a road of stone.
“Where am I?” His voice came out like a croak, and he coughed.
The horse nickered in warning, not liking the smell of stale camel blood in its nostrils.
“In the land of Fatinah, south of your lands. We are taking you to the sick house; our doctor is an elder, and will see to your needs. Rest now, boy. There is time enough for introductions and conversation; this is not that time.”
Not willing to trust his voice again, or have the horse bite him, he closed his eyes and mouth again, and swayed to the animal’s rhythm, his insides rolling, as unconsciousness reclaimed him from the waking world again.