Editor’s Notes: This is up 2 days late and I’ve got an explanation for not posting here in a bit which you’ll get when I’m ready. In any case, here’s part three of the first ‘arc’ so to speak. It’s a bit slower but introduces us to *spoiler* an important member of the cast.
Dunefield, the old man’s village, mirrors the Great Desert in its vast emptiness. It’s a small village, with no more than a half thousand inhabitants. All of the houses seem sullen, and there are few villagers outside. Some are at food stands, but there’s none of the familial delight you’ll encounter in communities as small as these, none of the loud bartering or jovial exchanges. Children stay close to whoever they’re associated with, afraid to wander off, and only shyly looking at Ahliss and the old man. The older ones only glance at her momentarily, and whenever she meets their eyes, they turn towards the old man, then their heads sink back down, appearing equally sad and shamed. Even the old bastard’s toothy smile has dissipated since they neared Dunefield.
He doesn’t walk with the same steady gait. Where before the cane seemed more of a prop than anything, it now bore the brunt of his entire weight. Bayline was at odds with the village too, preferring to walk by Ahliss than the old man.
“No, little lady, it’s just been a long day.” He tries to afford her that toothy smile but like the empty sky, it’s now lost its shine.
“Ahliss, not little lady, makes me sound helpless.”
“You’re a lady and you’re little, nothing helpless to it.”
“And so you would prefer being called old bastard?”
He ponders it. “Faur Dune, but if old bastard rolls off the tongue, you might as well stick by it.” He stretches out his arms. “And this is Dunefield, named after my own grandmother. Built a house here, and that well there too,” he points to the village center where the well can be found. “After that, travelers just started gathering.”
They stop in front of a house, it’s not as tall as the other houses, but it’s longer. The house is made of mud, sand, water and other ingredients easy to obtain in Barik Naseem. She’s familiar with it, it’s the easiest way to build sustainable houses here. In Bayt Lahm, there are even buildings of incredible stature made of mud brick, or at least she’s heard it said so. In smaller villages like this, you’re more concerned with a place to sleep, piss and eat than you are in building majestic structures.
“This is it, the house my grandmother built. It’s lasted longer than anything else in this Smith forsaken village.”
There isn’t a door, just a cloth to cover the entrance, Faur pushes past it and Ahliss follows, unstrapping Ball-Chopper, a feet too tall for the entrance. Faur stops his tour guide to take a glance at the hunk of iron.
“Little lady, that’s not truly its name is it?”
“Yes.” A horrified look crosses his face, but she breaks the illusion soon enough with drawn out laughter. “It has no name,” she finally manages while catching her breath.
He lets loose a mild sigh of relief then turns back to the house.
“Trist,” He yells out.
The boy steps out from the deeper confines of the house. He’s a shade paler than Barik Naseem’s usual natives, including Faur. He’s taller than her, at least half a foot, and he has blonde hair that would’ve been too hard a contrast if he’d had the standard complexion, instead it only accentuates his pale gray eyes. His face is clear of any blemish. It’s smooth and curvaceous enough to be mistaken for a women’s. Ahliss nearly falters under his gaze, but a glimpse at a mirror to his left and her own reflection causes her to recoil, instantly shrouding herself with her shirt’s hood.
“This here is my grandson, little lady. He’ll keep you company while I go pick up a fresh bucket of water to get you cleaned up before your journey, and then we’ll talk about your supplies, eh?”
He leaves the house before she gets the chance to object. There’s an interminable silence between Ahliss and Trist. Like the rest of the villagers, he doesn’t want to spare her much more than a defeated glance.
“Would you like some tea?” He eventually offers.
“Yes, sure.” In truth, she’d never tasted tea before. Water, murky or otherwise, is the only beverage you need to survive.
He gets up, starts fiddling through cabinets. “Where are you from?”
She wants to neglect an answer, but he looks at her expectant of it, and she’s compelled to reply, “Yaume.”
“Never heard of it,” he says turning back to the cabinet. “We don’t get many visitors here. We’re off the main road, and no one’s up for much of a detour with Bayt Lahm not much farther ahead.”
“Have you ever been to Bayt Lahm?”
He solemnly nods. “Yes, with my parents, when I was younger. The civilized center of the world. It used to fascinate me, looking back, there was nothing civilized about it, perhaps on the surface, but inside, it’s dark and decrepit.” He pours steaming water through a funnel with tea into a clay mug and places it on the wooden table.
“Have you been to the arena?” She wets her lips, breathes in the aroma, and recognizes the minty smell. She’d never tasted mint, but the smell never escaped her.
“Yes, it’s not as spectacular as you may have heard. Living beings brutalizing one another like that, it’s horrific.”
She takes a sip of the tea and grimaces, tears forming at the edge of her eyes, more than she’d mustered earlier in the day. She hurriedly blows into the mug.
“I’m going to enter it.”
He frowns, but anger doesn’t seem to present itself all that well on his face, like he’s incapable of it.
“That’s not something you should joke about. There is no mercy there. No respect for life. Dying for fame and fortune, for the Smiths, it’s stupid.”
“What else is there to die for? Fame and fortune can take you a long way in the desert.” She stares deep into the transparent gray of the tea, though seeing something else entirely; a bag of crowns so hefty she’d have to drag it, her name on the lips of every native across the Great Desert. She practically drools at the thought. Her limbs mimic how weightless she feels.
“Risking death for fame?” Trist shakes his head with a frustrated smile. Ahliss’s attention remains on the blurring mug.
“Not,” she starts and continues between increasingly shallow breaths, “just for fame…”
She trails off, never finishing her thought. Her head drops to the wooden table and her eyelids demand to meet. The old bastard enters the house with the bucket of water in hand. He stops, realizing what happened, the bucket of water drops to the floor, his eyes momentarily pause on Ahliss and then on Trist.
The voice is barely audible as it passes through her ears. “What have you done?”
Trist’s composure is all but gone, she doesn’t see it behind her, but she hears it, the chair tumbling to the floor as he springs up, and his cracked voice echoing his thoughts.
“I’m protecting this village.”
“I told you not to get involved. This is my responsibility, Trist!” Then even those sounds blur into nothing.
Enjoyed Deeds of Violence? Want to contribute less than a minute of your time to support this?
Vote here on Top Web Fiction. Please and Thank You.
Oh, you’ve got 5 more minutes to spare?
Review it over a Top Web Fiction too. You’re really too kind.
Any thoughts or questions? Sound out below and I’ll probably be more than willing to answer. Comments are subject to approval but don’t worry about posting a negative review, it’s more so just to filter out other less savory comments. My mind is already mentally ready for harsh criticism. I think.