Endless black was painted in nebulous hues of pink, blue and purple.
A band of stars paved the divine way; the caravan of the dead that made their trek into the heavens. In their wisdom, the elders took their place off the path as the constellations, to guide those lost – whether living or dead.
The tribes had told him those tales, and he preferred theirs over the canon of the empires. One where the stars were meticulously hung across the sky in megalomaniac creation by the seven Sheiks that had begun the world.
He did not often consider religion, but he disliked the divine divide of souls.
Whilst Sandhailer removed the sail to set up for the night, Swordeater chewed on the small ration he was allowed. For all his questioning, the man did appear astute enough to recognise that food was scarce. He was still looking up at the stars when Sandhailer finished setting up.
"They are beautiful." The man commented, as he walked past to take his own rations. He took only a few bites, as he would rather eat his fill when resupplying, than be delayed and not eat at all for days.
The comment was not a question, so he did not answer; he wouldn't have even if it had been.
He sat down on the other skid of the sailer, facing away from Swordeater as he removed his veil and took his bites and a few sips of water.
"One day I wish to see all that which the Lords created." Swordeater continued speaking. He was not certain why, as he had done his best not to reward him for it. Perhaps he was the one getting conditioned by his talkativity, as he found it less upsetting than he had done at first.
"For most of my life, I only saw the city of Jawhara. It excited me to at last be able to leave its walls, but it seems the world was not inclined to receive me with similar enthusiasm." There was disappointment in Swordeater's voice. For a moment he glanced aside, wondering if perhaps he should engage. Emotion was not something he spoke about – not even to himself.
"Where do you originate from?" Behind him he heard Swordeater turn, as the naive curiosity fell on him. "I have only seen men with eyes like yours from the tribes, and the North."
"It doesn't matter." He stated. "The desert does not care where you are from, only where you are going."
Swordeater sighed, but didn't push the question any further.
"You were following Purpura Anguis. But no longer?"
Sandhailer recognised the scholar's name for the Purple Serpent. He knew only a few names in that reclusive tongue, but the Serpent was among the most prominent. It surprised him that a soldier would know: the tribes knew the constellations by heart, and navigators charted by common knowledge. But only astronomers used the scholar's tongue – although he presumed one could be tutored.
"Would you tell me where we are headed?" Swordeater pressed.
"An oasis settlement. I would starve before reaching Jawhara."
"You? You are not taking me?"
He shook his head and fastened the veil over his mouth and nose again.
"Only to safety."
"But it would take me weeks to return." Swordeater exclaimed, turning to face him.
"Months." He corrected him. It was not his responsibility to see him home; even to give him a chance was a great kindness.
"But, I have to get back, my family,- I am certain my father would reward you for the journey. Whatever you desire."
The prospect of a finder's fee was alluring, but the letter tucked in his bandolier bore greater importance. The weight and rations for a second passenger would delay him, more than he already had been.
"I have my missive."
"I can assure you that whatever it is, my return far outweighs it."
Sandhailer crossed his arms and raised his chin in response, not amused by the arrogance. Swordeater seemed surprised the demand did not work.
The man suddenly rummaged through his clothes, and then pulled a ruby encrusted bracelet from his left sleeve. He tossed it towards him, and he caught it in his hand.
"My family will reward you handsomely, enough for a lifetime."
Without so much as glancing down, he tossed the bangle back at Swordeater. The man clumsily juggled it in surprise. Whilst he was preoccupied he stepped forward, his eyes fixated on the privileged and frankly pathetic being before him.
"I am not some dog, to be bought and used." He loosened his khinjar as he spoke.
Swordeater gulped audibly.
"I did not mean it as such." The man said hastily, raising his hands to defend himself.
Instead Sandhailer pointed at his abdomen with the dagger, signalling for him to lift up his clothes.
"Your wound." He added, which made Swordeater nod and strip.
"The people of the desert do not care for what they cannot use. Those who use gold, will not find any use in your life." Sandhailer said as he set to bandaging the wound again. The infection had lessened, but the gash itself was still raw and deep.
"So why would you not end me?"
Swordeater's question made him roll his eyes.
"They taught you everything, but not how to think for yourself?"
A nervous chuckle escaped the man.
"Because it would be a waste of my supplies." Underneath his veil Sandhailer smiled as he spoke, well aware that Swordeater could not see that he was toying with him. There was some entertainment to be found in humbling him – and if he were to journey back that would help him stay alive, for there were many willing to silence an inconvenient voice.
He was not sure why he wasn't, but at least he would not have to deal with Swordeater for much longer.