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"Your life is over, little flower," said the horseman. As he loosened the gag and removed it, the blue eyes looking up into his were calm and unafraid.
They closed and a tear trickled from one of them. But the captive said nothing.
The horseman eyed the glittering earrings and necklaces with disgust and one by one removed them. "You'll have no need of these where you're going. Or perfume either." He carefully detached a silken packet from the golden chain around his prisoner's neck and removed the wrappings. An immense yellow topaz winked up from his dark palm. "Ah, what's this? She's sent a gift, I see, and a princely one at that. Did she steal it from your father perhaps or conjure it from the air?" He chuckled at his own joke.
The prisoner sighed and replied in the horseman's tongue, "Neither, sir. It was hers and she said to keep it with me always. Are you going to take this from me too?"
By way of answer the horseman flipped the captive over. Taking a wicked-looking knife from his robes he severed the bonds holding the delicate wrists and ankles, then took a bundle from his saddlebag. "Quickly. Put these on before those vultures get ideas and start attacking you for real." A nearby pile of bones bore mute witness that this was no idle threat.
The prisoner took one nervous look at the birds circling overhead and hastily complied. The horseman grunted. "That's better. We have a way to go before nightfall. Have you ridden before? I can see you haven't. Well, no matter, you'll soon learn."
Without further ado, he picked up the small robed figure and flung it across his saddlebow. Then he mounted. Taking thesecond horse's leading rein, he began galloping toward the heart of the desert and they soon left the city walls, the ravine and its circling vultures far behind.
Copyright © 2003 by Kate Saundby