You hesitate over your reply, allowing your mind time to think over the offer. So far he has been kind to you and he did save your life. Alone in the desert you would have died.
When you turn back to him, he’s still gazing at you, studying your face, looking for your reaction. After a moment you nod.
“Yes, I’ll marry you,” you say and suck in your breath. You’ve said it now, and as a smile breaks over his face and he gets to his feet you know you are unlikely to be able to take it back.
He yells a short sentence to his people and cheering erupts. Now the tribe knows of your decision as well. A moment later he shouts it again. Another round of whooping and delight comes back from the tribe, this time more join in.
Before you can react to the noise and decide if you want the attention he turns to you and pulls you to your feet. With another yell he lifts you up into the air and sits you on his shoulder like you weigh nothing. Your face flushes as more and more cheering joins his cries of the same phrase, until you can’t hear anything but the constant roaring of the tribe.
Unable to get off from your perch you have no choice but to let him walk you towards his horse, while you cling to one of his hands and his opposite shoulder to help keep your balance. A procession of people follow you and watch as he places you on the horse and gets up behind. After snaking his hands around your waist and gripping the reigns he encourages his horse into a slow walk. You shiver, despite the heat and his arms wrap a little tighter around you, holding your torso against his.
“Do not be afraid, Angel. You’ve made a wise decision. As a member of my tribe and my Khaadel the other Khaad will be forced to respect you.”
“I only know you a little better than others.”
“True, but we will have many years to get to know each other after our wedding. I look forward to it.” He settles one arm against your stomach, gripping the reigns in the other hand and you lapse into silence. As it has seemed since you found yourself in the desert there is little choice but to go along with events and now Temullgei, and his plans for you.
As the tribe gather around you to move towards the Khaadain once more you notice all the riders who rested in the shade with Temullgei position their horses in a circle around him and now you. Between them, they keep watch from all directions and converse with Temullgei in their language.
The sun shines brightly down and the afternoon feels as if it is growing hotter, making you grateful that you’re travelling away from it and his body shields you from the worst of the sweltering sun.
You fidget a little as time goes by, finding the constant movement of the saddle beneath you making you sore. Each time you do the arm across your stomach tenses, but he says nothing and doesn’t slow his horse.
“I’m getting tired,” you say after a few hours.
“We still have time to go before we can stop. It is not good to camp here.” He motions around you and brings the terrain to your attention. Little grows here, just sand and more sand. “We need to reach those trees.”
He lifts an arm and points ahead to the smudge on the horizon. You sigh and fix your eyes on it, hoping to will it closer, but they barely seem to move. Silence fills the air as the rest of the tribe struggles under the same heat, but eventually you find yourself right at the edge of the large expanse of trees.
As soon as Temullgei stops his horse you try to get off but he tightens both hands around your torso.
“Not yet,” he whispers in your ear before getting down and helping you off the horse as well. No one else gets off their horses until he nods and you realise that you almost went against some form of cultural norm.
“You have to dismount first?” you ask in a low tone as he guides you to the shade of the nearest tree.
“Yes, it is our way. The Khaad first, then his Khaadel, then the Dempair, my riders,” he explains. When your servants run up to attend to you and fan you some more he gives them several orders that you don’t understand and they hurry off again. You begin to suspect that in agreeing to be his wife you have lost some of the command you held over the rest of his people. He is now above you, despite his insistence that you are an Angel.
“I would like to take a bath this evening,” you say a moment later when it appears that you are going to stand and wait for your tent to be erected. He raises his eyebrows and stares at you.
“It would help me feel less sore,” you explain when he says nothing in response, feeling a little like you are justifying your actions when you shouldn’t have to.
“As you wish.” He finally shifts his focus from you and says something to the next servant as she comes past. You can only assume that he has passed on your request for you. Unsure what else to do you go to sit but he grabs your hands and stops you before you can fully perch.
“Ooguair,” he snaps. It sounds like he said no, but you can’t be sure. As you frown at him he points to a spot less than a foot from where you were trying to sit. A small scorpion squats in the sunlight on a leaf. You shiver and take a step away from it and towards him. You don’t take your eyes off the creature until Temullgei laughs.
“Our Gerd will be ready soon, my Angel. Until then, stay close.” As if to emphasise his point he puts his arm around you and almost pins you to his side. Awkwardly you tuck your arms around his waist as well and find yourself pressed closer to his bare chest than you’d have liked, but he smiles his satisfaction at the arrangement.
You find your cheeks flushing read again and eagerly follow your servants when they come to let you know the tent is ready for you. Temullgei follows, your hand ensnared in his so you can’t get too far ahead.
The first thing you notice when you enter is a large metal tub sitting near the fire. It’s empty but one of the younger girls brings in a pitcher of water and pours it in while you wait beside. The water steams and brings the first real smile to your face all day.
“We will arrive at the Khaadain tomorrow,” he says as he walks past you. You nod, grateful for the information.
A small screen is erected beside the tub, but it only covers one side and you notice Temullgei lingers where he would be able to see you before sitting down on the cushions nearby. When the girls finish filling your bath with water you also see them checking the height with Temullgei. He nods and sends them away with a flick of his hand. Immediately your main serving girl comes up and holds out her hands to suggest she should start undressing you. Your eyes widen and you take a small step back, glancing between her and the Khaad. They exchange a few sentences that you don’t understand and he chuckles several times, before getting up.
“I will check on my tribe and be back when the food is ready,” he says and walks out. You exhale with relief. For a moment you thought he was going to watch you bathe and his actions all afternoon have kept you similarly on edge. You wonder if you’ve made the right choice, but you’re not sure if you could change your mind now, even if you wanted to. And tomorrow you will be presented to the Khaadain.
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