The Sand Dragons
© 2000 SunBlind
The deserts of Telsha'ma'i'be was a difficult place to live. No one knew this more than the people who lived there, the Bralai. Surviving on little food and even less water, the people had grown hard and fearless, masters of their desert domain. But their domain did not cover the deepest desert. No one had set foot there for five hundred years, and those who had tried before, had never returned.
The night was cold, as if often was in the desert, and the members of the clan had gathered around the fire for warmth and companionship. Strangers, especially those who were not Bralai, were rarely welcomed and when the sound of distant hoofbeats could be heard, the clan was instantly alert. The guards drew their swords and waited till the dark form of the unknown horseman could be seen by the light of the fire.
He lay slumped over the back of his horse, and the horse itself was not much better, barely able to take the final few steps. The man slid unceremoniously to the ground and lay there in a pile of robes and limbs.
One of the guards came over and found him to be unarmed. An older man he was, his hair gone white and a face wrinkled and brown from having spent years in the scorching light of the desert sun. He appeared to be unharmed, as if he had merely ridden himself and his horse to exhaustion. Then clan reluctantly offered the man some of their precious water when he had revived and he drank gratefully.
When at last he had recovered enough to be able to sit by the fire, his horse having been tended to by one of the younger boys at his insistence, the clan demanded to know who he was.
"I am Ar'des'shalat, a merchant who became lost on his way to the ocean city." The others nodded. The ocean city was not easy to get to, and often merchants were found lost wandering the desert. The Bralai always frowned upon City dwellers, but often felt obliged to help their "pampered" city counterparts.
When they wondered what happened to the rest of his caravan he replied, "I traveled alone, a small train of pack horses with me. We were lost and running out of water when I came to realize that I had entered the deeper desert." The clan was hushed into silence. "There the sand dragons came and swallowed my horses whole! I was lucky to have survived. Satisfied with their meal, they felt no need to chase me and my horse flew the winds, so fast I had never ridden. And ride I did, till I found you," he smiled gratefully upon the clan.
A little girl, Kila'may, came to sit beside the stranger. "You have a beautiful voice Ashan, please will you tell the legend of the sand dragons. I like to listen to such tales." The stranger seemed pleased to have been honored with the title of Ashan and nodded to the girl.
"Over five hundred years ago, three men and a woman set out to find the Desert's Heart. It was a fabled gem of great beauty and magic and would give immortality to whoever possessed it.
"They traveled many weeks over the sands of Telsha'ma'i'be. They had long since passed the point where the water would sustain their return to their clan, so it was onward that they continued.
"First one horse, and then another was butchered for their meat and water. Soon they traveled on foot, and their four deaths seemed certain. As those who had gone before them, it seemed that they would not return.
"The first to lose hope was N'tar'ishal, the youngest of the three men and the one married to Chi'lara who traveled with them. He collapsed beneath the cruel midday sun and said that he would not go on. But his wife had gentle words of hope to whisper in his ear, and so he strove with what little strength remained within him.
"They had not far to go before Ka'amil'tar struck a rock with his boot. And this was no ordinary rock; it was attached to something much greater. With great expectations in their hearts they began to dig through the sand exposing more of the stone formation. But it soon became clear that they would not live long enough to remove all the sand from around to stone to find the cavern's entrance buried so deep from view. Chi'lara cried, her tears dropping to the desert ground beneath her feet and vanished.
"In an instant a great storm was upon them. They imagined that they had not seen the storm coming on the horizon because they were trying to comfort the weeping woman, but this storm was not like any other. Chi'lara's tears and the determination of the men had called upon a magic much greater than that which buried the cavern and the Desert's Heart inside. The huddled together, unprepared for the burning sting of sand which could scour away a man's skin in minutes.
"The storm seemed to last for days, but it left as suddenly as it had appeared. When the four Bralai raised their heads, they were met with the light of a thousand stars. Never had they seemed so wondrous to their eyes. And never had the sound of trickling water sounded so beautiful. Quickly they ran into the mouth of the cavern and drank from the underground stream.
"Thus refreshed they continued into the depths of the cavern. They went down till they were certain that they must eventually fall out the other side of the world, and yet the cavern still led them down."
Here the man stopped for a drink, and for a brief glance at the little girl. Kila'may listened intently. "Yes," he thought. "Perhaps her, though she is young yet. But her mind is clear and bright..."
He continued, "When they entered the great cavern, their eyes were met with a sight one cannot even imagine. It would have taken the riches of an entire world to fill but a fraction of the cavern and it appeared to be endless. With great rejoicing they jumped into the gems and jewels, relishing the feeling of these riches upon their hands.
"For many days they were happy and content with what they had found. There was water and food for a lifetime, and riches that could not be comprehended. And so they forgot about the Desert's Heart and were satisfied with their treasure.
"Time passed and Chi'lara was round with child. But loss found its way even into this place so far beneath the ground, and both she and the child died during birth. The three men mourned many days and nights until the third, Mil'tar'shi, remembered the Desert's Heart.
"'We must find this great gem, and it shall grant us all immortality such that we three need never be harmed by death again.' And so they explored regions of the cavern they had not explored before.
"Once again they found a passage leading downwards, ever downwards. The air grew stale and the walls closed in around them till only N'tar'ishal could fit through the openings. He swore, in memory of his wife and child, that he would find the gem. And so he did.
"It was beautiful as a diamond, but not more so. N'tar'ishal could not help but be a little disappointed. He had seen things more beautiful in the cavern above. But he carefully placed the fist sized stone within his robes, feeling the odd heat it gave off as he returned to his companions.
"When they had returned to the familiar part of the cavern, they pulled the gem from N'tar'ishal robes. It had clouded over, its sparkling beauty lost. It seemed as though a desert storm raged within the gem.
"With all the hatred and loss in his heart, N'tar'ishal threw the gem against the wall for not being what he had hoped it would be, and for being what his wife had died looking for. The gem shattered and the sands within it soon filled the room.
"Outside, the Great Desert Storm, greater than all storms before it, raged across all of Telsha'ma'i'be. Villages were destroyed, caravans lost, Bralai clans buried. And then all was quiet.
"The sand dragons, awakened by the storm now guard the Desert's Heart and the cavern where it was found so no other shall enter the sacred place."
The man, finished with his tale thought, "Yes, we will want this girl. She is not afraid and I think she knows."
That night, when the others had gone to sleep leaving only the guards on the outside of the camp, Ar'des'shalat found the girl. "Kila'may," he whispered as he shook her gently. The girl looked up at him with wide eyes, then smiled.
"It's a true story, isn't it?" she asked. Ar'des'shalat nodded. The girl looked thoughtful for a moment then asked, "But if they all died in the cavern, who was left to tell the story."
"She is smart, this one. I have chosen well," thought Ar'des'shalat. Aloud he replied, as they walked away from the sleeping clan, keeping out of sight of the guards. "I did not say that they had died…"
Her eyes grew wide in awe, but remained silent. When they were far enough from the camp Ar'des'shalat turned to the girl. "Do you believe in dragons?"
The sand blew about his form till it was shrouded in the swirling grains. When at last they settled Kila'may stared into the sapphire eyes of a dune colored dragon. "When my wife Chi'lara died, there were no women among us, and never a child. And so I have come to find you. Will you come to us? The souls of a hundred dragons have awaited a millennia within the Desert's Heart, and now they wish to fly once more in the form of our children."
Kila'may climbed upon N'tar'ishal's back and spread her arms as if to fly. And together they soared into the immortal night.
The next morning the clan cried out in anger against the theft of one of their children by such a cunning stranger. One young boy smiled as he brushed the beautiful stallion the odd merchant had left behind.