I didn’t weep. At the time my pride at staving off tears bore me through the first day.
Outside, the wind rushed and slashed. It roared against the house. After the first few moments, a strange sound came to us, a bellow that was discordant and inconstant, a rising desperation. It moved and settled at the back of the house, sheltered from the knife-wind, where it came and went for some time. We clustered in a sleeping room, far from the sound and sheltered by inner mud walls in case the cutting wind made its way through the front of the house. “It’s the oxen,” father said. His voice was an old man’s, timid and tired and hopeless, and my stomach turned at his show of weakness. He was right, though. The braying changed and what had been two oxen moaning became one.
For two days, the wind howled and the single ox outside wailed in pain and sorrow. My siblings wept. Mother held them but I would not cower beside her. Father said little more. He sat with his knees up and his head between them. We rationed water and I gave my share for my young brother and sisters. I paced or sat; there was no sleeping. The sound of the wind gouged my ears. Looking at my young brother and sisters, I saw only wriggling pink and gray mice and blustered to myself, in silence, that I could muster the strange mercy I had learned in my sixth year if we ran out of water. We had enough for a little time.
On the fourth day, the winds died. Before any else could move, and before my mother could stop me, I raced to the door and threw it open. The wood splintered at my heavy touch; I was a tall youth, and burly from work and good eating in recent years.
The wind, dying, still stung my face, but it did not cut. The door fell to pieces, deep-gouged by the knife-wind, a plain now riddled with canyons, that had weathered a millennium’s worth of blowing sand. The grass was all flattened and cut.
Out to the south, between our home and the mountains, was a troupe of some twenty men. Amongst the rocks and dead grasses they moved, dressed in white and gold. The sun shone from their armored caps, blinking bright at me from leagues away. The winds still stirred the fallen blades around them.
“Soldiers,” mother said. She had joined me at the door.
“Naban soldiers?” asked father.
Mother said, “Lonireilian soldiers. In white. How did they survive in the wind?”
“Lonireil. We must do as they say if they come here,” my father said. He stood behind her, looking at the ground. “We must do as they say. We’ve nothing for them to take.” Again my stomach turned and I made a face at his words. I wanted to spit, but Lord Salat teaches that one does not disrespect a parent. My father met my gaze, then looked back at the dirt. “Heshim, listen. Do as I say, for your family.”
“I will,” I lied.
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