"The Desert's Heir"

The heat shimmered, waving over him, blinding him momentarily. He cursed, shielding his eyes with his one free hand, the other carried a woven basket of grass, full to almost bursting of dry, sandy dirt. He glanced over his shoulder to the large opening he just came out of. Even digging under the lash felt better than walking above ground, bare to the sun and its blistering heat. Slinging the basket over his shoulder, he wondered how anybody found grass in the god-forsaken desert. Not that he believed in any gods, he had been through too much to believe in any gods. What creator would let his creations suffer this way? No, a slave's purpose in life was to serve his master, so not to get beaten, then to die.

His bronze skin on his shoulders and arms rippled with the movement of dumping the dirt. He smiled grimly. At least as a slave, he got plenty of exercise. Digging and walking back and forth from the dirt pile, repeatedly. The muscles, in time, fell into the motions involuntarily, with no direction from him. Still, the muscles built up over time, forming his body luring those of the opposite sex. Better to be a strong, fit slave, than to be a fat, blubbering noble who only cared for food and money. His stature too, created a sense of awe over the other slaves. They turned into sickly, cowering vermin. Not him. He towered over even the richly fed taskmasters. Even his hair and teeth clung to their roots, unlike the others who suffered from malnutrition. His black hair covered his head thickly; his teeth dazzling and strong. Moytura raised his proud head over all. He deserved better than a captured slave's life.

The sting across his shoulders forced him back to reality. Moytura grit his teeth. His one flaw: slave scars lashed across his back and shoulders. Glaring at the task master, who shrank back a little, he trudged on, back down into the dug cave, one he sweated in and bled in; his drops mingling with the sand, creating dark red mud. Not just his blood fell, but the other slaves' as well, their mark of wounded pride and physical hurt. All for their new king, the sorcerer Lagohaire, who demanded diamonds from the earth to store his power, to gain even more through his vacuum of empty space in himself from the missing magic, not caring who he broke in the process.

Moytura fingered the stone around his neck, his life-stone. Each human had one. If destroyed then the life of the human faded, rapidly the human grew older. The stone caught the light, flashing red through the cave. His only possession outside the clothes he wore.

"Here, set me down here," the girl said to her barriers, her voice sweet and delicate. Gently, so not to disturb her, their very lives hung in her smooth white hand, the slaves lowered the noble's litter to the ground. The one to her right rolled a carpet over the dust, so not to soil the lady's expensive slippers. Out she stepped, flowery perfumed floating across the sand, lifting the doomed spirits a little. Her dress, the color of a cool sky, accented her form, cutting low in the front, hanging loosely open all down her back and off the shoulders. Her dark hair curled slightly, falling a little down her shoulders, and her eyes and brilliant deep blue. Her silver belt clinked slightly as she stepped off the litter. "Nuaden, Nuaden," she beckoned to one of the taskmasters. He glanced up, went back to who he was talking to, then quickly looked back. Walking over, his face showed rising worry and upset.

"Eithlinn, you fool," he hissed between his clenched teeth. "I told you never to come here." She laughed, trailing her fingers over his arm.

"Is that any way to speak to your sister?" she asked, voice low. He sighed. "Nuaden, I came here to look for a slave to become my bodyguard."

"Sh!" he cried, covering her mouth and looked around frantically. "What if Our Lord Lagohaire heard you? You can't go around demanding more slaves."

"Oh please," she rolled her eyes. "I don't care what Lagohaire..."

"Our Lord Lagohaire."

"What Lagohaire thinks. Someone is trying to kill me and I won't stand for it." Nuaden sighed.

"Listen, sister, I am not going to ask Our Lord Lagohaire. He could have my head. My life is good only as long as he wishes it to be." Eithlinn grinned.

"Fine, I will."

"No, sister, no!" He chased after her, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her against him. "Why in the gods' names are you so stubborn? Just listen to me. He's a powerful man with little patience."

"Relax, brother, I've had experience with men. I can handle this one too." She patted his cheek, then continued walking. He stood, stunned for a moment, then took off after her.

"Eithlinn!" On she walked, into the cave's opening, careful to avoid the slaves' sweat-drenched bodies. She crinkled her nose slightly at the smell. Searching for a white robed man, Lagohaire always wore white, and only Lagohaire did. She passed over the slaves, stupid, wrinkled, sickly short things they were. Her eyes stopped. Not one. This slave stood tall, so tall, healthy and strong, skin bronzed beautifully under the hot sun. Everything about this slave screamed beauty and power, even the whips' scars and his dirty loin clothe. Eithlinn blushed. A slave, a stupid slave. Attractive, yes, but she could have any man, any noble man, she wanted, and did. He must have sensed her, because he looked up from his dirt and stared straight into her eyes. Those piercing eyes, ice blue and cutting. Such hate, such pain, and so proud. Eithlinn blinked and staggered back. A shout and a crack of a whip. The slave turned his awful glare to the taskmaster, then turned back to his work. Eithlinn found she could breathe now. Had she held her breath the whole time he stared at her? Eithlinn shook her head to clear his look, but it would not go away. Her eyes flashed. He was mocking her! Then, slowly, a grin spread across her face, laughing at that foolish slave.

"I can do that too," she whispered, turning back to look for Lagohaire. Finally, she found him. The white robe stood out, beckoning her for a challenge. And she knew it was going to be a challenge, but one she would win. Adjusting her dress to drape even lower on her shoulders, she walked over, slowly, swaying her hips invitingly. Lagohaire stood, hands behind his back, his heavy presence felt by all who feared him.

"Not by that slave," she thought, "And not by me", going forward and standing next to him, putting on her most innocent, yet seductive look. Glancing over at him, she acted surprised. "Oh, hello sir. What is a man, such as you, doing in an awful place as this?" He glanced over at her, his look saturated with boredom.

"I would ask the same of you." Eithlinn giggled.

"Yes, I suppose so. I came here seeking Our Lord Lagohaire." He raised an eyebrow.

"Oh? And why do you need to speak with him?" The lady sighed, forcing tears into her voice.

"Oh, my life is at stake, sir. Someone is trying to take it, in heaven's name I don't know why, but, I need a bodyguard. None of my own slaves are capable or strong enough." Lagohaire smiled a little, and said with sarcasm:

"I think I can guess what they are trying to kill you for, little one. A little experienced are we in the ways of men?" Eithlinn gasped. "No, you're womanly tricks can't fool me. I have no time for such things...at the present." He traced halfway down her neckline. "Maybe some other time, pretty one. Now, tell me, why do you really seek me?"

"I told you the truth. Someone is trying to kill me."

Impatience now crept into his voice. "Are you sure you didn't lace it with exaggerations?" Eithlinn shook her head, and started playing with one of his little braids in front of his hair. Tiny diamonds and glass beads were woven into his ten braids, striking against his black hair.

"But not as black as the slave's," Eithlinn thought, scooting closer to him.

"I told you, I have no time for such fancies." Still, he did not knock her hand away. "Fine, I will give you one slave, not that I need anything from you, but, you are amusing. More amusement than I've had in awhile."

"May I choose any slave I want? He has to be strong and...imposing." She now caressed his arm. Lagohaire sighed.

"Yes, yes, now leave me. Tuatha!" he called. A taskmaster hurried over. "See that this girl gets any slave she desires." Tuatha nodded curtly, and started walking away, expecting Eithlinn to follow. Lagohaire gripped her arm as she walked past him. "I will remember your promise," he whispered in her ear, then let her go. Lagohaire turned back to stare at the slaves digging while Eithlinn shivered.

"That's one promise I might not want to keep," she said under her breath as she followed Tuatha.

The stupid woman. All nobles were alike...all women nobles. All beautiful, all seducing, all dumb blundering fools. They cared only for the handsome men and what they could get out of them. Not that he cared. Moytura cared only for digging at the moment. Yet, something about her, something that lingered. Her perfume, he decided. That glorious, wonderful...

He growled, and struck the dirt clump that refused to loosen. Her presence...intoxicating. Her bare shoulders...her eyes...her eyes. Those eyes...those eyes filled with conniving injustice. Why did she stare at him for so long? Why did he?

"I hate her!" he cried, vehement, causing other slaves to stop and stare at him with horror. What slave is stupid enough to yell out something like that so passionately? Moytura just banged against the dirt again, mentally shooting daggers at that woman. Who dared look at him that way? So mocking, so cold.

"Slave. Slave!" Moytura's jaw set firmly. Slave, that was all he was. A slave, to be beaten again and again, to have his freedom taken away by a selfish nobleman who cared not for others. The sharp sting again brought him back. Fiercely, he stood, towering over him.

"No, no, don't do that. After all...he is mine now. Besides, I don't really would like to see you killed at this moment."

That voice. That terrible voice. Before he even turned to face the speaker, he knew.

She stood there, in front of him now, glancing up and down, appraising him. That mocking smile flirting across her lips. Moytura grit his teeth. So much he wanted to slap it off, but, instead, dug his nails into his palms.

She laughed, stepping closer to him. "I am Lady Eithlinn. And, what is you name...slave?" Silence.

"My Lady, I will teach him to answer," the taskmaster said, whip raised. But, she lifted her hand, coming even closer.

"No, no. It is all right. He will learn to answer me." Moytura crossed his arms about his chest. "Do you know why I have chosen you, slave? I need a bodyguard. So, at the moment, you will come with me." She turned on her heal and walked away, swaying her hips with her annoying walk. Drawing in a deep breath, Moytura followed her out of the cave and into the open.

Of course she arrived in a litter. What rich lady would walk in this desert? And her four personal litter slaves stood at attention beside. The Lady Eithlinn waved a hand and they hurried to position.

Gingerly, she lifted her hand and drew the curtains back, then turned and faced Moytura.

"Will you walk, slave, or would you prefer to ride in the litter?" The way she said, slave, as if he were the only one, the only one for her to use for her pleasure, grated Moytura, and filled him with even more passionate hate. "Are you not going to answer? Very well then, you may walk if you wish." With that, she eased down onto her pillows and shut the curtains. Stiffly, Moytura fell into step beside the bearers, trying hard not to yell out his frustration.