Numair slipped from the tent, taking a deep breath. Dusk has long settled and the cool night air of the desert was a welcome relief from the hot, incense laden atmosphere within. As was Sirajit custom the marriage of the chief's daughter was being celebrated with nothing less than a full fortnight of feast and dance.
The raucous intermingling of arghuls and drums wafted from behind the panels of brilliantly colored fabric, occasionally overtaken by a particularly enthusiastic oud player who was a community favorite.
The energy would remain high for several hours yet. Eventually the tired would retire—him often wistfully watching them go—and those remaining would settle into huddles around the fire. Then the elders would begin telling stories; stories from their lifetime, stories from the lifetimes of those no one could even remember anymore. Stories upon stories, wrapped in legend and cradled in the incense-heavy air of the tent. Each night Numair would sit, enraptured by tales that only existed through oral tradition.
He was sure they must joke about him. The tall, lanky mage who sat with the same wide-eyed wonder as the children that huddled around him in heaps of rugs and blankets—all falling asleep one by one until Numair alone was told that the next tale would have to wait for another night.
The sleep lost to legends was taking its toll, however, and tonight he sought reprieve. He wondered if it would be rude to nap and wake later to attend the fireside tales. He moved across the center of the camp, towards the small but lavish tent that had been erected just for him. Guests were always treated with generosity among the nomadic tribes in Siraj, and to have guests during a celebration such as this, well, made even the Thayet look stingy in her hospitality.
He stopped, hand pausing as it drew the barrier to his abode aside. Over the eastern rise of one of the great dunes cradling the camp a silvery glow was rising steadily. In it, a familiar outline was highlighted. He dropped his hand, letting the silken material fall back into place and moved towards the slope.
His progress was slow up the rise—stepping forward and sliding back as the sand slid from beneath his feet in waves. He had yet to grasp the technique by which the Sirajit masterfully scaled the dunes as though they were stairs.
As he climbed he wondered how long it had taken to harness this landscape. He thought of the tale of Old Zallir—a favorite among the tribe—who led his people from Zallara to the lands that would become Siraj. Had they instinctively known what to do? Was this land strange and dangerous to them, or had it been like a homecoming to a place you have never seen?
Had Old Zallir followed the white oryx (or kangaroo rat as Li'jibar, the local hedgewitch, insisted) into the desert with the unyielding conviction his descendants insisted he did? Or was he unsure, stumbling among the crumbling dunes and drying out beneath a ruthless sun?
He exhaled as he mounted the rise, shivering as cool air met the light sheen of sweat on his chest—partially bare in the clothing he had been gifted.
Daine had been no less welcomed. She sat at his feet, swathed in the silky blue fabrics favored here. In the absence of the sun she had abandoned the silver-embroidered scarf she had taken a liking to, leaving her back and midriff largely exposed in the style of the women here.
His breath caught as he looked at her. She had not turned—instead intently watching the moon rise above the dunes. Moonrise was surreal here—it was larger, radiant, and rose at a speed you could see against the curvature of the rolling desert landscape.
Moonlight seeped like ink across the dunes, bathing Daine in a silvery light that washed over her skin. She looked nothing short of otherworldly. A stranger in a strange land who had mastered it's wildness and drew it within her.
He sat next to her, nervous when he felt the sand shift from beneath his bottom but he did not slide more than a few inches.
Moonlight settled between them both, taking the space words would otherwise fill.
He pulled a clear opal from his pocket, wrapping it's leather cord around his wrist and playing with it against the light. A gift from Li-jibar. Trickster's gems, they were sometimes called. He wondered if the stone would reveal, in time, how welcome they really were. If it would hold true, or shatter in a few weeks time. If the feeling that had been growing within him here were an illusion.
For now, the colors shifted in the moonlight—changing so fluidly that even if he held it perfectly still he couldn't make the colors stay.
Daine shifted and leaned back on her arms. Silver cascaded down neck, collarbone, and breasts. He'd always liked her in blue, but silver…
It had been a long time since they had spent so much time on the road together. The Realms, perhaps? A strange enough land in itself. But back then there had been a war, and friends to worry about and to grieve, and chaos.
Now there was just time, and desert, and more years shared between them. More time in which the long nights stretched out like the road ahead of them. Now, when she looked at him it wasn't always the girl, woman, he had come to know and respect. Now, in the right light, it was a woman with wildness within and without who looked at him like she wanted to share that wildness with him. To be tamed. Or to tame him.
But things shifted in this place. Pools of water that disappeared as soon as you drew close. Vipers that slid beneath the sand. Wildness and desire that was as impossible to capture as the colors of a Trickster's gem.
He looked at her, wondering what this light would reveal. His friend and companion? Or something else; something that made him want to be conquered like the land they sat on…
But she wasn't looking at him and he turned back to the opal tumbling between his fingers. The moon was fully above the rise now, everything washed in it's pale light. Two pocket mice skittered across the sand at their feet, leaving tiny footprints in their wake.
He wondered if that's what held Daine's attention but she did not reach out to them and they continued on without pause. She shifted again, an almost imperceptible sigh escaping her.
"Are we ever going to talk about it?"
"About what?" He asked, moving the stone in small circles.
"That we're in love."
Everything skipped a beat, and the opal froze in place—red, yellow, blue, and green all in their rightful places. He turned to her but she was still staring ahead. Maybe not at the moon; maybe somewhere far off he hadn't even yet thought of traversing.
He followed her gaze, or tried to, as words dried in his throat. A long moment passed, or perhaps many, until he wondered if it had passed altogether. If it had shifted back, or never happened.
She stood, brushing sand from her clothes, and moved eastward down the dune. She paused, halfway down, and turned to look at him. Wildness within and without. Then she was moving away again, shadow trailing behind her like a serpent.
He stood, placing the opal in his pocket, and followed. He slid as sand shed from beneath his feet, gaining ground quickly. And so, like Old Zallir, he followed.