Chance looked down at his hands. They were weathered and well-used before he woke up in the care of the Al-Izzes - who, at the time, also had to cross the border to Destrea to escape the cruelty in Úda - so there wasn’t a way he could be an aristocrat. No, Caislín was dead wrong about him.
“Nevertheless,” he mumbled to himself, now locked in a jail cell until the morning. “Sleep is what I need.”
He hadn’t slept since Nóe had so wittingly lost him in the Tywyll, undoubtedly at the command of his conniving older brother. Anger and sadness still raged throughout him, but he was too exhausted to listen to it. He succumbed to sleep.
“Waqal 'annah yjb 'an yakun aljundi!”
He tried to stand and start fighting again, but his plunge from that icy waterfall sucked every drop of energy from him. What was supposed to be a quick retaliation turned into him scrambling to his feet, just to fall over again.
“Take it easy, we’re not soldiers,” the Údaen reassured him. “Miraj, help me.”
Two pairs of hands pulled him up onto his feet, and his arms were slung over two pairs of sinewy shoulders.
“He’s injured badly, Hashim,” stated the one named Miraj. “Will Nadia be able to help him?”
“I’m- not- one to be trifled with-” he just made out over a wheeze.
“We’re not trifling,” said Hashim, almost lightly. “We’re trying to save you.”
He turned over, listening to his dream.
He woke with a start. Where was the pain? Where was the feeling of clutching onto only a thread of life? Was he dead? Was he saved? If he was alive, how in the world did he survive?
Who would save him?
“Be still, soldier.” The voice was soft and angelic. “I’m only trying to help.”
“Who are you?” he breathed, seeing a room appear in front of his eyes as if it trekked through fog. “What happened?”
“You took a tumble down that waterfall,” remarked the voice, which belonged to a rather beautiful, curly-haired Údaen woman. Her speech was tainted with a thick accent. She bound his right arm, which he remembered as the one that took the brunt of his fall. He lay on a simple straw mattress tucked into the corner of the tent he was in, and he was propped up by the maid. She expertly bound his wounded shoulder with clean linen, then sat back on her haunches and invited the man to help himself to the pitcher of water at his bedside.
He reluctantly looked between her and the pitcher, allowing his sensible military mind to acknowledge the possibility that it could have been poisoned. Only, his throat burned so acutely that he grabbed the pitcher and quenched his thirst. He licked his dry lips and took in a sigh of satisfaction.
The woman scrutinized him until he could almost feel a hole burning in his forehead. She cocked her head and smiled, as if she were laughing at him. “Why do you wear a necklace?”
He looked down at his bare chest and took off the dog tags. “They’re identifications,” he answered, his cheeks burning red while the lady kept herself from laughing.
“You wear two.”
He enveloped the two tags in his hand and blinked away tears. “Aye,” he said, his throat constricting. “I wear my brother’s tags as well. He… he died just before I made it to the waterfall.”
The lady frowned with sympathy. “What do they say on them?”
“Our names are on them,” he replied. He showed them to her. “One says Finnian Rhith O’Glesey, see? And this one says Drystan Bradyn O’Glesey.” He allowed the lady to read them.
“What do ‘Rhith’ and ‘Bradyn’ mean?” Nadia inquired.
He smiled to himself this time. “Ah, I see it’s in Gwceff instead of the Common Tongue, aye? Rhith means ‘phantom’, and, well, there isn’t a direct translation of Bradyn, but it’s roughly ‘archer’.”
“Is he awake?”
The voice was concerned and almost excited. Breixo, young and unbroken then, shoved his tall self into the tent and knelt next to the lady, an arm around her waist. He smiled at him, relieved.
“Miraj and I thought you were dead, Solitary,” he said. “I am Hashim, and this is my wife, Nadia.”
The lady nodded. “Marhabaan,” she said.
“Baba! Is the funny man awake?” A little girl, four at most, flew in, black hair almost levitating behind her. She hugged Hashim’s arm and stared down with wonder-filled blue eyes down at him. “Rayie,” she breathed, switching out of Common Tongue to Údaen in an effortless second. “He’s tall.”
He smiled. “And you’d be?”
“Yatie,” she answered while Hashim stroked her curly hair, undeniably inherited from her mother. “I’m Yatie Al-Izz.”
“And your name?” Hashim asked.
He was about to answer, but his mind was sent in a cloud. Nadia still fingered the tags, and he squinted at them. Was his name Finnian or Drystan?
“I don’t know what’s-” His pounded. “Happening.”
“The impact’s catching up with him,” Nadia said in a panicked voice, pressing a cloth to his forehead. “Habibtaa, get the damp cloths. At most he’ll lose his-”
Everything went black.
“We still don’t know your name.”
He opened his eyes to slits, and he saw Hashim and an unfamiliar, younger man, probably thirteen. His explosive dark curls shadowed his large blue eyes, and framed his slim, olive-skinned face. He looked more like he hailed from Balad-Mada’a than Hashim, who had the appearance of a Sahra’an. The provinces were on complete opposite borders of Úda, where Balad-Mada’a was closer to the sea that separated a majority of Destrea and the southern countries. Úda was the only country that faced the sea and was connected to Destrea, which led to the Solitary’s problem on the slim border.
The younger said it again. “What is your name?” When he didn’t answer, he shrugged. “It’s all right. I’m Hashim’s little brother, Miraj. I want to help you, too.”
He frowned. “I can’t say I remember my name.”
He panicked. Where did all his memories go? He had nothing.
Hashim squinted. “Nadia said that might happen,” he mumbled. He crouched and stared at him. “She said there was something on those pieces of metal you wore on your neck.” After a pause, he shrugged. “I didn’t read them. I can’t help you with that.” He rubbed his chin. “Fursa,” he suddenly said. “Chance. We’ll call you Fursa- Chance.”
Newly dubbed Chance forced himself onto his elbows. The air was chilly above his mattress and cover. He shivered his bare arms. “How come ‘Chance’?”
“It was only a chance we found you. It was only a chance that you survived. For almost a week, you seemed to live on slim chances.” He smiled. “How about that?”
Chance opened his eyes. Of course he remembered that. He felt his collarbone, but there was nothing there. Then he remembered.
Nadia had his tags.
He closed his eyes and sighed. It was all his fault that she wasn’t alive any longer.
Chance sprinted through the snow to the camp.
“Hashim!” he yelled as he burst out of the woods and into the clearing. The tents were still there and Nadia was busy cooking at the fire, her daughter dancing around her. They both jumped out of surprise and while Chance searched desperately for Hashim, Yatie began crying.
“Hashim, where are you?” he hollered. His eyes were wide with panic. “Nadia, where’s Hashim?”
Nadia was calming her daughter, bewildered herself. “He’s- he went-”
“I’m right here!” Hashim ran into the clearing from the other side. “What’s wrong?”
“Turbans,” Chance said shortly. He was dressed in a simple leather tunic from Hashim, given his own was in dire need of darning and a miracle to be wearable. “West side. They found Miraj and they’re chasing him.”
Hashim didn’t need any more convincing. He slung an Údaen arttilsana - a leather shoulder belt packed with darts and throwing knives - across his chest and followed Chance.
“Which way?” interrogated Hashim as they ran. “Southwest or northwest?”
“To the Hudud Boulder,” Chance answered. He unsheathed his Solitary longsword and they found themselves at the River Ridge. “Ah, north.”
Again, they both dropped into sprints, precariously on the edge of the dangerous fall. While the rest of the world was blanketed in snow, the river forty feet below roared like a hungry animal. Most thought that the river, named Llew Galon in Gwceff for its lion-like roars, was blessed to always give the people nourishment in the cold, while others still felt it was churned by angry gods who demanded the lives of whoever was unlucky enough to get swept away in it.
Either way, the Llew Galon was very dangerous.
“I found him!” Hashim yelled over the sound of the river, overwhelmed with relief. He dropped down and rolled Miraj onto his back. “Shaqiqan, yastayqizuna. 'Ant bakhir.”
Miraj moaned and opened his eyes. “Majnun!” he hollered as he rolled onto his feet. A nasty gash was developing into a bruise on his temple. His eyes were wide with fear. “They’re making to the camp!”
The bloodcurdling scream that came from where they did was enough to show their mistake.
“Min fladik la,” Hashim mumbled, seeming numb. “We have to go!”
They ran desperately back to camp, and the sight was horrifying.
The Turbans were gone, and the snow was kicked up like dust. Signs of struggle were apparent across the clearing ground, and red tinted the snow by the tent.
“Nadia,” Hashim whispered, his throat tight. He slowly knelt next to her body. Her position showed she was thrown down, and she was no longer breathing. Her wound wasn’t anything Hashim could heal.
Chance watched helplessly. Miraj managed to walk again, though his legs looked like they were weighed down with lead.
“Yatie’s gone,” he stated, his voice cracking.
Hashim cradled his wife’s body in his arms, his back trembled with tears. He rocked slightly, as if it would bring Nadia back to life.
Chance felt aimless as he stumbled to Miraj, seeing him stare at a trail of blood out of the clearing.
“They put up a fight,” he choked, reassuring himself. “They’re feisty. I know that.”
Hashim stood, his face as cold as stone. “I hate them.” He gently closed Nadia’s eyes and refused to put her down. “I hate the Turbans.”
“You’re not alone,” Chance growled. “Hashim, we all think-”
“Did you lose your wife and daughter to them?” he yelled to counter. “I’m never letting that happen again. I swear. No one’s going to lose anyone ever again.”
Chance didn’t want to get on his bad side, but he knew that was impossible.