They come when the moon is dark and the desert is silent. Sand Raiders from the south. They come to kill, to steal our sheep and our cattle, our women and children. They burn our tents and murder our men, and what can we do? Nothing. We are not fighters, my father says. We can hide deeper in the desert, conceal ourselves among the sand hills and hope they don’t find us, but we cannot fight back. We are too few, too weak, and they would kill us all.
So they come. In the dark, we hear the screams, and we run. Some try to stop and gather belongings, and they are killed where they stand. I stop for my brother, to swing him into my arms and clutch him to my chest. He cries, and his weight slows me down, but I will not leave him. Better to die together, or even to wander in the bare desert until the sun finds us and the thirst takes our lives than to be slaves to the Sand Raiders. They are merciless, children of the devil, and the life we would have beneath their rods would be worse than a swift death.
The dunes are black, the sky filled with stars that watch our flight. I stagger in the sand, scrambling up the west side of a dune and skidding down the other. The cries fade behind me as I run, some of them cut off swiftly, others wailing into the night until the sky trembles. I don’t look back. There is no point. When the sun is high, and I return, I will find those who ran swiftest.
The others, those taken and those dead, we will mourn over and leave behind. Our next camp will be further into the desert, beneath the rocks or hidden in dens and covered with sand. Eventually, there will be so few of us left that the Sand Raiders will forget us and seek richer prey. Until then, we’ll wait like cowards and hide beneath the rocks, hoping that we aren’t the next to die.
I slip in the sand and fall to my knees, my breath sobbing in my throat and my heart thundering like horse’s hooves in my ears. They are not following, so perhaps I wasn’t seen when I ran. My brother has finished crying, and only the silence of the desert remains around us. I close my eyes, scrubbing tears and sand from my face, and my soul hardens within my chest. Next time, next time they come, I won’t run. Next time I will fight, even if I stand alone.
I am tired of running.