Radwan’s subtle sneer said more than his disapproving grunt. “Of course you are.”
“I’d rather stay.” Behrouz dropped the tip of one blade to the ground and leaned the hilt against his leg so he could wipe the blood from the other. As much as he’d come to love using both exotic swords, taking care of them tended to be awkward.
“Sure.” His older brother snapped his jaws shut, a sure sign he’d been about to mock Behrouz or otherwise remind him of past mistakes.
Behrouz chose to be grateful for the silence. “I’ll come back someday.” He snapped the clean blade to his belt and used the same wadded handful of red sash to wipe the other. So much blood had been spilled here today. In a few hours, the heat of the desert would cook the corpses and raise a stench.
“Right.” Radwan cleaned his own sword, a standard-issue army scimitar, and tucked it into his sash belt.
“So.” Behrouz shifted from one foot to the other, feeling he ought to say something yet unable to decide what it should be. As much as he reveled in the joy of fighting for the Sultan at his brother’s side, he remembered a time when Radwan trusted him. That time had long passed, and it hurt to have that shoved in his face.
Radwan grunted again and kicked the severed head of a greasy bandit. The grotesque testament to the brothers’ combined fighting prowess skipped across the sand to spook the horses. He waved a hand to direct Behrouz’s attention behind him. “Looks like the fire is spreading.”
Behrouz turned and saw smoke billowing from the now-empty camp huddled in the shadows of a ruined keep. “No looting, I guess.”
“Just the horses.” Radwan jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the dozen beasts now without their masters. He turned away from Behrouz to approach the mounts, and probably to leave.
“Do you mind if I take one?”
Radwan shrugged. “Whatever.”
Someday, Behrouz would sit down with Radwan. They’d talk about what happened and work through it. Radwan would stop hating him for something out of his control. He looked down at his hand and rubbed the jagged lines of the Sultan’s symbol burned into his palm. The Sultan, who understood what had happened better than anyone else, already forgave him for what he’d done.
He raked his marked hand through his dark hair, wishing he could forgive himself so easily. “Radwan, I–”
“Yeah. Take a horse. Nobody cares.” Radwan grabbed the reins of one beast and hopped into the saddle. He kicked his heels and the horse leaped into a trot. As he passed Behrouz, he clenched his jaw tight and watched straight ahead. The rest of the herd followed him.
Behrouz lurched into the way of one horse, managing to slow it enough to catch its reins. “You’re lying.” He knew Radwan wouldn’t hear him, so he told the horse instead. “You care. But I can’t stand around and watch you figure that out.” He climbed onto the horses’s back and turned it toward the distant mountains, wondering if he’d live long enough to see his beloved desert again.
Lee French has published several fantasy and superhero novels, and is a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.