As the party approached the line of towers on the frontier it became obvious that a set of black goat-hair tents had been erected near the fourth signal beacon. They decided that any attempt at making for the well could not go without notice, so continued on the most direct route to The Sisters Pass. Hopefully if there was no delay, the water they had acquired in the camel-packs would see them through.
They were nearly to the tower which they had sheltered in, when a party of five mounted men came out from its shadow.
Their leader, a distinguished looking man in his forties stopped just out of bow range from Gwendolyn and her companions. An attendant carried an azure flag with four white scimitars embossed upon it.
“This one knows what he is doing,” Thilda said turning to Gwendolyn. “I don’t like it.”
“Yes, unfortunately he does,” interrupted Star. “That is my master’s oldest son.”
* * *
Abu Ral was a powerfully-built man with a well-groomed beard which he kept in two points. A few hints of grey could be seen in it, but his most striking feature was his eye patch and flattened left cheekbone, the result of him being thrown when the legs were cut out from under his horse at the Battle of the Palms during the late war.
He spoke quietly looking directly at the women. As he did, his standard bearer called out in the common tongue, “I believe you have some things which belong to me.” Ral then looked directly at Star, “Several things.”
At this Seymour dismounted, and took a couple of protective steps forward. On seeing the warrior’s features and stature, the Ralulee showed visible signs of recognition, betraying both hatred and fear.
Ral raised his right arm and waived it without taking his eye off of Seymour. Almost immediately the signal mirror in the tower flashed. A couple of minutes, later ten more riders approached from the dunes.
The Ralulee made an expertly executed manoeuvre which left them in a formation calculated to maximise their defense especially against arrows or magical assaults. Seymour took this in and did some quick calculations of his own. He then looked directly at Ral and said, “Okay Friend, It is obvious that we have you outnumbered, so just let us pass without any more bother.”
As his interpreter related this to him, Abu Ral looked at him with astonishment, and tried to decide if Seymour was crazy or merely stupid.
One of the newly arrived horsemen, however, looked with terror at the axeman. “Il Washa,” he said in surprise. The men on either side of him turned in their saddles to look at him, and became equally troubled.
Thilda and Gwendolyn quietly readied their weapons. As they did, Gwendolyn asked Star what the man had said.
“Il Washa,” she repeated. “It means, ‘The Beast’.”
Despite the tension of the moment, Breena seemed in a world of her own. “Really?” she said aloud as if to no one in particular. “That’s incredible.”
She then moved closer to Maya and whispered something in her ear. Maya gave an astonished look at the Ralulee leader, then glanced at Star, and to the one-eyed man again.
She then dismounted, and led her horse by the reins to stand next to Seymour. She then shouted out in badly pronounced Ralulee, “My Lord, May I approach unarmed?” She undid her belt and let her kris fall to the ground. She handed the bridle to Seymour and took two hesitant steps forward and stopped.
The mounted riders held their ground, so she took to more steps. “Your Magnificence, I must have a word in private.” Ral, dismounted, but remained in position.
Maya moved to the midway point between the parties, and then delicately sat on the sand. She remained there for about five minutes before the chieftain strode forward and stood over her.
“My actions will not harm you,” she said in a calm, reassuring voice. “Do not panic, it is no enchantment, only visions of truth.”
A mist came over the Ral’s good eye, and he could see the beautiful image of Star’s mother as a woman of about twenty years. He then saw a vision of himself entering her bedchamber at night. Floods of both ecstasy and emotion washed over him. He then saw the young woman at the height of labour, and the following delivery of a perfect little daughter. Images of the young Star then filed his mind.
“You were right to tell us that we had something that belongs to you,” Maya said.
The fog before the man’s eye cleared, and his face was bathed in sweat. He tremble as if a chill had swept up his spines, then he slowly walked backwards towards his men.
Once he had made a suitable gap between himself and Maya, she stood up and shook sand from her wrap. She too, then backed towards her companions. All but Breena looked on with confusion at what had transpired.
Then Breena said to Star, “Translate for me, I want to get it right.”
Breena then said, “This woman was found trapped by evil. We rescued her, and she has agreed to travel with us.”
Abu Ral looked into Star’s eyes. “Is this so?” he asked without translation.
“Yes master, she speaks the truth,” Star responded.
Ral shouted a sharp order in the Ralulee tongue, and the horseman parted to create a pathway.
He then spoke to his flag-bearer, who announced, “You may pass. Go in peace.” Maya and Seymour remounted, and cautiously the companions rode past the bewildered warriors.
Once clear, the party wasted no time in heading for the pass.