Author: Janet L. Loftis
He wasn’t dead…not yet. But they were already digging his grave. At least he thought they were. Sounds of metal scraping against sand battled the roaring in his ears for his attention, all punctuated by bits of words, claps of thunder, and an occasional equine squeal.
He didn’t recognize the voice, couldn’t turn his head to look for the speaker. It was too dark anyhow, except for the intermittent flashes of lightning. He didn’t remember it being so close to dusk when that first blade plunged into his back. How long had it been since they pulled him off his horse and dragged his bleeding body across the sand?
He imagined hearing the thirsty desert eagerly sucking up the blood as it flowed out of his ruptured heart and across his chest to run in rivulets down through the folds in his rumpled tunic, imagined grains of sand climbing one of top of the other to get higher and higher so they could pour over him and into the wound itself.
“Hurry…” <thunder> “…get…”
Only vaguely was he aware that he’d been moved again, dumped into a shallow hollow barely big enough for his body. Shovelfuls of sand rained down on him like an early spring hailstorm in Amar.
Shapes he recognized as faces hovered over him, illuminated by the ever-increasing flashes of lightning. But whose faces? He couldn’t remember who had done this to him. He tried to remember, but the lightning was too beautiful and entranced him. Pure white light, pure energy. He found himself praying to the lightning, a memory coming to him from somewhere, from a page in some book, in some library, that lightning was a manifestation of the gods. Whose gods, he didn’t know and didn’t care. He prayed to them, prayed for the energy contained in the beautiful white light to bring back his life, prayed for it to seal up the wounds and stop the flow of blood.
The men burying him seemed to not notice the lightning, never flinching as the bolts drew nearer. But even as the lightning closed in on them, its light got weaker…or maybe it was his eyesight failing him. He didn’t know which.
“…face…” <thunder> “…no…”
One of his murderers bent down and wiped sand from his face, from around his eyes. The touch felt strangely gentle even though the movements of the hand were rough and hurried. It reminded him of his wife…. He howled, but only silently, only to himself. He could not remember her name.
Another flash of lightning, closer still, a reflection off a piece of metal. A broken shield, gripped by scarred hands, hovered above him. Try as he might, he could not see the face of the man holding it.
“For…” <thunder> “…yours…d’Fiornese…to mark…they find…” <thunder> “…know…soul…” <thunder>
The words themselves seemed to come from nowhere, but as ethereal as they sounded they had the same force as the brutal swords that had ripped through him. No! He wanted to scream, but his lungs held no air to expel. Heretics! he wanted to yell at them. Bastards!