It was ten times ten years since the day when the oasis ran red with blood, and an exquisite woman sat in a red silk tent out on the white shining sands. She was a realist, for all her transcendent beauty, and she knew, as surely as she knew her own name, that this was the last sunset she would ever see.
Fayruzi, named for her remarkable turquoise eyes, stared unseeingly out at the cruel whiteness of the sands and carefully considered her options. She was surrounded by the various means by which she could take her life, and all that remained for her was to choose the one she found least repugnant. There was poison, there were sharp blades, there was even a tiny decorative pistol taken from some long-forgotten ajnabi who had fallen foul of the desert, and there were the sands themselves. The killing sands. The unforgiving mistress of every creature that ran, crawled, swam or flew on her breast.
But wait. Do I hear you ask why such loveliness would choose to die? Of course she did not so choose, it was simply her ill luck to be the jewel of the zenana in a year when sacrifice was called for to propitiate the god and in remembrance of those whose blood stained the waters of the oasis all those years ago. It had been an easy choice for her husband, having no love for women, to give that which another man might have prized beyond his own life as his gift to the pitiless sands.
Fayruzi studied her own white hands and thought about the last possible choice: to simply do nothing. To sit and watch the moon on the face of the desert and await the coming of the dawn and the death priests in their blood-red robes. To await those who would slit her nose before dragging her by the hair to the oasis where they would stone her to death.
She sighed. Just once. And determined to await moonrise before making any decision.
As the moon lifted over the dunes, turning white to silver, Fayruzi lifted the pistol in one pale hand. It would, she reasoned, be the least painful and degrading way to meet her end.
She thought herself fantasising when the sound of hoofbeats came to her ear, and hallucinating when she saw a tall, black horse coming across the sand towards her. Unthinking she stood, and walked out onto the sand to meet her fate. The rider of the horse reached down a hand and she grasped it in both of hers, making a graceful leap onto the saddle in front of the burnous clad figure.
He smiled down at her and she saw his eyes were as black and lightless as the night sky.
As the bedou wheeled his horse and galloped back from whence he had come, it would have been apparent, had there been anyone left behind to see, that the horse left no footprints in the soft shifting sand.
It was ten times ten, and one more, years since the day when the oasis ran red. It was dawn, and the red tent once more stood on the white sand where the desert wind ruffled its silken walls. This year there was no sacrifice but the priests still came as tradition demanded.
The chief among them bent his head and entered the empty tent, except it wasn’t empty. An exquisite woman sat on a pile of cushions in the centre of the floor. She had a babe at her breast.
The old priest felt his heart leap into his throat as he recognised Fayruzi.
“Lady,” he said respectfully.
She turned her face to him, and he saw her eyes – as black and lightless as a desert night.