After riding for days past scorched land and ruined settlements, the sight of Ain-Elnour greeted Turgan like a mirage. The ochre walls stood amidst plantations of shadowed green, palm fronds waved in the evening breeze, and the air was scented with oranges. His blood prickled with excitement, and his heart sang. Laina was safe, and his purpose was about to come true.
He made for the east gate, traditionally the entrance for merchants and caravans. A squat building of yellow limestone under a reddening sky, the gatehouse stood solid as always, but instead of local guardsmen, curl-bearded soldiers with leather helmets and bronze-tipped spears blocked his way.
“All horses are Darrian property,” their leader barked. “Get off.”
Turgan complied. Having reached his destination, he had no more need for a mount.
“Who are you? Whereto bound?”
“I'm Turgan, a native of this town.”
Hard hands prodded and probed. They found his money and his knife, and confiscated both. “Natives are not permitted weapons. You have evidence of who you are? Where do you live?”
Shadows lengthened, and the air chilled. Turgan had planned to approach Laina gently, not shocking her with his sudden appearance, but the interrogation left him no choice.
“My wife lives in the house behind the caravansary. At least, that's where she used to live. I've been away for a long time. Her name's Laina - do you know her?”
The leader snapped a command. “Take him there.”
Two men grabbed him by the arm, a third walked behind him, spear pointing. Turgan could feel the sharp tip in the small of his back.
Daylight slipped away fast. Where once chickens clucked, children squealed and vendors sang the praise of their wares there was now a heavy silence, punctuated by the clap-clap-clap of soldier's sandals on the dirt-packed road.
But the house with its whitewashed walls and jutting balcony still stood.
One of the soldiers pulled at the door curtain. Beads rattled. “Laina!” he bellowed. “You're in there? Come out!”
“Please,” Turgan requested. “May I greet my wife in private?”
The soldier on his right did not loosen the grip on his arm. “If she says you are who you claim, you shall live.”
Cold drops tingled down Turgan's spine.
Laina slipped out, a slight figure, with her arms held close to her body and one hand near her throat.
Joy shot through Turgan's chest, and immediately gave way to concern. She looked frightened, like a gazelle cornered by predators.
The soldiers pushed Turgan forward. “Do you know this man?”
She stared, and her mouth opened as if to scream. Then she backed away.
His stomach knotted. The sight of him scared her more than the soldiers did. Thinking he had come back to hurt her again, she would deny knowing him.
He fell to his knees and pressed his head in the dust. Her toes were small, brown and bare. “Forgive me, Laina. I beg you.”
The soldiers jerked him up.
Laina stood, eyes wide, cheeks pale. “Yes,” she croaked. Then, in a firmer voice, “Yes, I know him. This is Turgan. He's my husband.”
The knot of tension in his stomach loosened.
Laina reached for his hand. “Husband. Welcome home.”
Genre – Horror
Rating – PG-13
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