On the third day, his hearing started to come back. He could hear tiny scorpions skittering near his head, fleeing the camel’s hooves and the dusty carpet. There was a hole wearing itself through the carpet, he thought he could feel the threads coming loose one by one. Or, it might have just been the fever, giving him dreams again, the dreams where he stood as a mighty warrior atop the mountain, drawing back his bowstring and focusing an eagle eye upon his adversary. These dreams came more frequently now, dreams of fires quenched with blood; the dreams of green Kandiyohi were fading. He thirsted for soothing dreams more than he thirsted for the water that the Rider brought him.
On the morning of the third day, as the Rider once again dismounted and prepared for noon camp, he noticed the sheathed sword hanging from the camel’s saddle, its brass fittings reflecting the dhawwadin sun, the leather of the scabbard dull and scratched. He watched a single scorpion begin to climb the camel’s tether, but then the camel turned its head and the scorpion tumbled off like a heavy grape.
The Rider still makes no sound, his eyes showing no expression beneath the tagelmust’s brim. He could not even make out the color of the Rider’s eyes. In the flashbulb noon sun all was but either searing light or shadow. The hours pass, with the Rider sitting motionless, creating shade by unwrapping part of the tagelmust and propping it up with a stick, like a Turkish curtain. He lays and stares at the blue and ochre pattern of the shelter above his head, ticking off in his head the sweet moments he spent caressing her ankles, in Cairo and Samarkand, the purple forests of the Steiermark, in that rowboat in Altacama. Her eyelashes slowed down the moments, when holding her hand he heard nothing but her heartbeat. When she finally walked away, the pillars of the temple came crashing down, the incense and ashes scattered from the altar.
This is what drove him so far into the desert, seeking both penance and respite, pressing his face into the sun until recollections could be burned away. He saw leopards with fur like midnight, endured the fangs of cobras and the daggers of the Tulun-Wahad. Desert towers crumbled to dust, he listened to the wails of djinn and felt the tears of God under the cataracts. It erased his doubts, his guilt, the pain he carried. Here he found resolve gazing into the hazel eye of fate.
Near Al-Khattabi, he turned his head and beheld the sandstorm bearing down on him, sucking away the daylight and growling at him with darkness and vengeance. When the sandstorm had lifted, he was left partly buried and feverish, merely a few steps from the cavern where he could have found shelter. He was whispering her name when the Rider found him, almost as if it called the Rider out of existence. In Cairo, she warned him of the sandstorm of her heart, hers was not a heart to be tamed, nor her attention diverted away from her passions, goals, and purpose.
The Rider’s judgment of the sun, the pattern of the desert, this is what keeps him alive. As the sun falls on the third day, the Rider stirs and quickly gathers up the camp. A kestrel soars overhead observing the tableau, as the Rider moistens his lips one more time, bundles him onto the carpet, and mounts the camel once more. The kestrel veers off to the south, further into the desert where statues of lesser pharaohs lie suppressed by centuries of sand. Your hidden heart, he says quietly, I never understood it until now.
He sleeps, the Rider looks out onto the pan of midnight, the camel trudges further along.