Some of the soldiers stopped at the oasis but four rode on, the man in the lead red-faced and looking annoyed. Dusty and Fox still walked forward, but the feeling of hope that she'd held only moments already disappeared.
"What's this then?" the man demanded as he leaned down from his horse to look at them.
He did not offer water. In fact, for the moment, he blocked the way to the oasis which annoyed Dusty.
"Captain," Fox said with a proper salute. "We were heading for the outpost. I'm glad to see you here so we don't have so far to walk."
"What's your company? You've deserted, haven't you? Taken this pretty little thing and thought you'd head out into the wilderness? Well by the Gods, you won't get help from us."
"That's not --" Fox began, appalled by the accusation
"I have not given you leave to speak. I suggest you keep your words to yourself and think up really good ones for the commander."
Dusty had been growing increasingly angry, but those last words calmed her again. This man was not fully in charge, then. Good. She stood straighter and met his narrow-eyed stare. For a moment she hoped he might recognize her, or maybe one of the others would.
He led them to the oasis rather than even putting her on a horse with one of her men. Fox was livid by the time they reached the water and had to wait until even the horses had been given their share. She thought some of the men looked upset, but it was clear that this Captain kept a firm hand on everything.
Dusty hoped he enjoyed the moment because when she got back to her grandmother, he was not going to be a Captain any longer. There had been no reason for this behavior.
Dusty sipped gratefully of the water Fox brought her and managed to get some in her hand and down to Blue. She did not bring him out. The fool would probably think Blue was a pet lizard and toss him away. TOh why did this fool have to make more trouble?
"Should I go to him?" she whispered when Fox brought her another cup of water.
He shook his head. So they were agreed on this one.
"What's that you are planning?" the Captain demanded. He stalked over to them -- a small man carrying too much weight and with the fire of anger in his eyes. "Give me that bag! What did you steal?"
"This is mine!" she said, panicked because Blue still hid inside. "How dare you --"
"Keep quiet, girl. You're in enough trouble already."
She stood and darted behind Fox as though for protection, but she huddled down and grabbed Blue out. "Hide in my hair! Pull your tail up!"
He scrambled up her arm and into her frizzy hair, his little claws like needles into her skin. The officer still yelled and she finally stepped out and threw the bag at his feet.
"There. Take it then. When my grandmother hears about this --"
"Oh, your old granny will come after me, will she?" He picked up the bag, turned it out into the dirt and kicked everything around. Then he caught Dusty by the arm and shook her.