Meah feels heat. This kind of heat sits on a body like a blanket. Instead of providing relief, the hot, dry wind only brings more heat. Sweat rolls down her forehead. She opens her eyes but is blinded by sun reflecting off of the surrounding land. She sits up and looks through the bars of the carriage. She sees great dunes of yellow sand spanning the Karrion Desert.
There is no escape from the sun and its heat. The dryer air has stolen all the moisture from Meah’s lips. She wonders how long she’s been asleep.Her foot hits something cooler than the air and she looks to the other side of the carriage. A jug of water is sitting next to her. She stares at it confused.
“A thank you from the other slaves,” Bruer says from behind the carriage. “They are grateful to you for healing them. They requested half their share of water go to you when you woke.”
“How long have I been asleep?” Meah asks, her voice rough and the dry air making her cough.
“A day and a half.”
Meah looks at the slaves walking behind. They are dragging their feet through the hot sand. Sweat covers their bodies and fall from their chins like raindrops. Those at the front of the line see Meah and smile, weakly.
“It’s a shame they want to waste their precious water on you. This is where we usually lose most of our collection. This is where you would probably have died if you were forced to walk,” Bruer says, bluntly.
Meah doesn’t respond. Her throat burns with dryness and sand blows into her eyes. She drinks from the jug eagerly. When half is gone she looks at Bruer. She holds it to him.
“Give the rest back to them. I healed them so they would have a fighting chance. If they kill themselves it will have been for nothing,” Meah says.
Bruer takes the jug and smiles. “You are trying so hard to keep them alive. Don’t forget where this journey leads. When you reach the Arena you may wish that you had died here. We’ll see how many will be thankful to you for their lives, then.” He hands the jug to one of the other men and orders him to pass it around.
Hours pass and Meah’s throat burns again from lack of moisture. Sand irritates her nose and eyes. Every time she wipes the sand from her eyes more is blown into them by the wind. The night provides little comfort from the heat. By the time the air cools enough to be bearable, the sun is already rising.
In the distance, a strange sight greets the eyes of the slaves. A single tree appears floating above the sand in the middle of the desert. Many rub their eyes to be sure it’s not a mirage. Other trees appear as if by magic around the tall tree. As the caravan moves closer floating buildings appear. The men in armor become excited and soon the rest of the caravan realizes the buildings and trees aren’t floating.
They have reached the oasis town Jaxon spoke of two days before. The caravan doesn’t stop outside, but enters the middle of the town. People look out windows and doors at the caravan. They have seen caravans of slaves many times before, but it’s been a long time since one stopped with so many slaves still alive.
The more curious townsfolk walk past the caravan and glance over each slave. When their eyes land on Jaxon and his men dressed in black armor, they whisper to each other excitedly. Meah overhears two women walking by, but all she can make out from their fast paced conversation are two words. Black Caravan.
The caravan comes to a rest by a large overflowing well at the center of the town. Water is collected in buckets and passed around to the slaves. Several of Jaxon’s men venture through the town to restock supplies, mainly food.
A sudden shout is heard at the back of the caravan. Meah rushes to the back of the carriage and peers through the bars. Jaxon, Bruer, and three of his men have already arrived at the source of the shout.
One of Jaxon’s men lies dead on the ground, his blood staining the sandy earth. The culprit is an escaped slave. He runs through the caravan, avoiding the men in armor, and dodging underneath riding animals and the carriages. He passes Meah, meeting her eyes only for a moment, and then runs out of the town.
Jaxon, Bruer, and his three men rush after him, but Jaxon stops them after he realizes where the slave is headed. “Let him go! He will die out there alone.”
Meah looks away from the men and sees a man dressed head to toe in light clothing watching Jaxon’s men. A red scarf covers his face, except for his eyes. They are filled with a strange light and she feels a chill run through her body. He turns his eyes onto her and her breath catches in her throat. A group of Jaxon’s men ride in front of Meah and when they pass the strange man is gone.
As the sun sets, the caravan is ready to leave. Food has been restocked for the rest of the journey and water is passed around one final time. Once each slave has his or her fill, the caravan heads back out into the desert. Travel at night is easier. Many slaves appear more energized.
The rising of the sun sees the newfound energy fade, as the heat sets in.
In the distance other caravans, carrying trade goods and not slaves, pass. They ride different animals than Jaxon’s men. The animals have long legs with wide, flat feet. Strange lumps on their back give them odd shapes and thick tusks protrude from their lips. Their tails swat insects, but their thick skin makes it a challenge for the bugs to find nourishment.
The next day, the caravan stops briefly when they come across the dehydrated, burned body of the slave that had escaped slowly being buried in the sand. After making sure the corpse has nothing of value the caravan moves on.
Meah looks at the body and remembers the look in the slave’s eyes as he passed her. There had been such a look of gratitude. She had given him the strength he needed to attempt an escape and now he was dead. She wanted to cry for him, but no matter how long she tried, the tears wouldn’t come.