The sky was set ablaze as the sun set over the desert of Herah. Winds weighed heavy by the scent of jasmine and metal rummaged through the empty expanse and shadows shifted over the golden dunes cast in a sheen of crimson as birds of prey flocked to their nests, and creatures of the sand retreated to their shelters.
A torrid breeze brushed past Mena, the sand it carried scraping her cheek. Her scarf had offered little protection from the onslaught of the afternoon sun, so she had tied it across the mane of her qar’ga. The mare neighed as the sand caught in her inky fur, and Mena wondered whether the horse thought itself superior to her.
“Quiet, Hilsa,” the roaring winds carried her voice, “we don’t want the entire desert knowing of your unfortunate circumstances.” The mare neighed again – a loud, boisterous sound that set Mena’s aching head pounding.
She couldn’t leave the qar’ga by a stream without earning an earful from her king. “I lend you one of the finest mares of our legion,” she could hear his voice, “and you leave her to rot in the desert. Why do you and my sisters seem bent on robbing me of my cavalry?”
Mena was certain she would be sent to scrounge the desert by foot tomorrow, but she wouldn’t bother correcting him about how a soldier had happened to jump into the path of Sehr’s arrow and earned a bleeding arm.
The qar’ga’s shadows engulfed the ivory of Mena’s cloak as she mounted the mare, swinging her legs over the broad back of the animal and securing the reins. Before the animal could draw a nest of snakes to attention with her brays, Mena tapped her foot to Hilsa’s chest and coaxed her into a lope.
Shadows swarmed beneath the qar’ga’s feet, and the mare lurched into a run that sent her heart throbbing in her throat.
As the wind whipped through Mena’s hair and led her through the currents of the baad, Mena was reminded of why qar’gas were the Temer’s prized possession. The creature of shadows deemed every challenge too small and remained indifferent in the face of the surging night winds that originated from the deep ravines in the heart of the desert, thrust upwards and out by unknown forces.