Themba stared out across the endless desert. He raised the pewter mug and drank deeply. As he swallowed, Taj did the same, noting a distant thunderstorm somewhere across leagues of worthless sand.
Taj cradled the mug to his chest. Ever since Themba’s companion kissed his cheek, he could think more clearly than he had ever. His newfound clarity allowed him to process the story Themba told. Fifty years of a fantastic adventure, he thought. He searched his stores of memory, trying to place his oldest and dearest friend with any woman, let alone one of such beauty.
The silence lingered as Themba stared. “The memory we used to share is no longer coherent,” declared Themba with a sigh.
“You speak in riddles, my friend,” replied Taj. “Your story defies logic.”
“Logic,” muttered Themba. “Here’s to logic.” He raised his mug to the heavens and up ended it, but when no mead flowed, he lowered it, defeated.
Taj clanked his own mug against his friend’s. “The hour is late, my friend. Perhaps we can meet tomorrow under the arch for your story to continue.” Taj waggled his eyebrows. “I’ll bring the mead.”
Themba nodded and rose, bracing himself against the arch. His fifty years out of time had granted him habits that his young body no longer needed. He stared up at the arch. Lady Akila was right, he thought, the arch was definitely better covered in brass.
* * *
Rashid slept peacefully in the luxurious bed. The proprietor had offered several maidens to bed him that night, but Rashid refused. His mind and body belonged only to Marquis Oya, bastion of change and revered servant to the Lord of Wind.
His dreams of epic battles and commanding legions of men no longer woke him in the night. He was unaware of the thick black smoke that rose from the burning incense. A smoke that loosely resembled a woman that slept peacefully in the bed next to him. As the smoke moved over his sleeping form, Rashid smiled in his sleep.
* * *
Sabiti stared out over the ocean of sand. The night was clear and he could see far into the desolation. Nomad campfires dotted the horizon as if the stars themselves had descended to the earth to warm the disparate groups that roamed the desert. The dreams of Mistress Osun allowed little sleep. Sabiti shivered in the cool air. He tried to discern the storm to come. A storm not of lightning and rain, but of the thunder of hooves and the clashing of armor. Sabiti dreaded the task to come, but knew it had to be him.