Thursday, October 12, 2017

Flash Fiction #272 -- Dusty & Friends/17

They hurried even though that wasn't wise in the desert.  However, both knew they needed to put at least one rise between them and the flatter ground around the river.  Dusty regretted leaving the water and the green behind, but she said nothing and only looked back once.

Fox moved steadily forward. He looked better now that they were walking.  She suspected that the worry over what would happen if they had stayed by the river had been almost worse than his injury.

As soon as Fox could look back and no longer see the river, he began to slow.

"If this gets to be too much, we'll find a bit of shade somewhere and hold up until the sun starts to go down," Fox said.  He sounded assured.  "We might even get lucky and run into a patrol.  I can't guarantee that one, but I hope for one."

"That would be nice," she said, already feeling the heat and the ache in her legs.  "I'm sorry -- I'm just not up to this kind of travel."

"You have done wonderfully," Fox insisted.  "This isn't a situation where I would have wanted to be with many of the people I know, even those in the army."  He stopped to sip some water and had her and Blue do the same.  "We don't have to rush."

"Unless the orcs figure out we went this way or take the path to make certain," she answered with a worried look over her shoulder.

"Even if they do, we couldn't get to the outpost any faster," he said.  The calm finality in his voice made Dusty feel more assured.  Calm also helped her consider what she could do if the orcs did arrive.  She'd have to find some way to hide Blue.

Or would it be wiser to let the orcs have Blue rather than leaving him alone in the desert?  They'd feed him, at least.  She didn't like to think about the little guy lost in the sands and dying.

Dusty shivered despite the heat.

She and Fox spoke little as they walked on.  Dusty found the feel of the stone path beneath her feet reassuring and far better than traveling across the unmarked sands.  As long as she could see the track, she had no fear of getting lost.  They were going somewhere, and each step without the orcs pounding up behind them was a gift.

"Look! Trees!" Fox said, startling Dusty.

She had been watching her feet and refraining from looking at the bright sand around them.  Dusty looked up and saw a spot of darkness a few miles away.  She could not make out what it was at first, but as her eyes adjusted, she saw a few palms -- a sure sign of water.

"That will help," Dusty said softly.  She hadn't realized how dizzy she felt until then.  How could she feel so cold --

And when had she sat down?

"Here now," Fox said.  He rested on his heels and held out a water skin.  "Drink some.  Not a lot at first. Just drink it.  We're almost to the water."

"Are we?  It seemed so far."

"I can go ahead and get more water if I need to," Fox replied.  He looked worried.  "Rest."

He had placed himself so that his shadow fell over her. That helped.  She sipped the water, made sure Blue had some -- he splashed a bit in her hand and made her smile again.  She could not imagine the little guy growing more massive than most buildings she'd seen.  He was happy to go back into his bag.  Dusty was glad since she feared he might fall off her shoulder and she wouldn't notice.

So many things to fear.

"I'm sorry," she said when she looked back at Fox.  "Let's see if we can get to the oasis.  I think we'd all feel better resting there."

"Only if you feel well enough to walk," he said.  "And you don't have to apologize. This has been unpleasant and difficult for all three of us.  But we are getting there, Princess Dusty.  We'll see Blue to safety."

She took courage and strength from his steadfast belief in their ability to handle even this unrelenting desert.  She stood once more, sipped the water, and they started out again.  Compared to how far they'd already traveled, this stretch to those lovely green trees did not seem so distant.

"I'd never been assigned to this outpost," Fox said.  "But I thought I remembered some of the soldiers talking about a resting spot a little more than halfway to the outpost," he admitted.  "I wanted to tell you, but I feared that I might be wrong and I didn't want to disappoint you."

"I'm glad you were right," Dusty answered.  Part of her wanted to race toward that green, but she knew that even walking at this steady pace might wear her down again.  She still felt lightheaded, but she tried to keep that from Fox.  Nevertheless, the soldier stayed close by her.  He even talked more.  She suspected he wanted to be certain she wasn't going to faint again.

"I've some salt.  We'll take it when we reach the water," Fox said.  "That should help, too.  Do you think Blue needs some?"

"I'll ask when we get there.  I hope there is someplace I can soak my feet for a little while.  I've never fully appreciated the wonder of water before, you know."

He laughed, and so did she.  The Oasis was close enough that she could clearly see the palm fronds and even some fig trees.  She wondered who had brought the trees to plant here years ago.  This could not be natural.

Welcome, though.

And then something even better.  When they were no more than a quarter mile from the welcoming shade, a group of a dozen soldiers appeared riding from the other direction.

Neither Dusty nor Fox expected the soldiers to cause more trouble.

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