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LASSOK 05 young princes face like thunderstorm


The tale of Lassok and Zairbhreena

by Cobalt Jade

5. Into the Desert

Prince Lassok, meanwhile, had not been idle. In fact he had been quite

Under his orders the Caliphate guards were searching every dwelling in
the city, seizing marble statues of nude maidens and kidnapping them,
carting them off to the Summer Court where they were aligned in neat rows
for the prince's inspection. At least one arrived every minute and he
walked up and down among the graceful torsos, the gesturing limbs,
searching for the face of his beloved. But he did not find her.

The Caliph watched all this from the courtyard balcony, shaking his
silk-turbaned head in consternation. "My son, what is it with this
foolishness? Do you realize the chaos you are creating in my city?"

"I must find her," the prince said tightly, reaching the end of one row
and turning down another. The statues who were not Zairbhreena were
quickly removed so new ones could be inserted in their place. Outside the
gate a long line of citizens waited irately to collect their purloined

"But this is madness!" the Caliph said. He went to join his son,
walking beside him as a fat little quail might accompany a panther. "I
know the scandal embarrasses you, that such a nude statue of Zairbhreena
should exist, but for Ahrez's sake, let it go! Attend to your fiancee, not
her image."

"My fiancee is the statue," the prince said through gritted teeth.
"Have you not listened to what I said about magic?"

The Caliph shook his head. As with most of his people he thought magic
belonged only in a child's tale. "You must be feeling ill, Lassok. Come
let Tanabor the Court physician have a look at you."

"No!" Lassok snarled, resisting the fatherly fingers that clutched at
his sleeve. "There was magic involved, and it came from Jaseloris, the gem
merchant's daughter."

The Caliph sighed. "My son and the light of my aged, extremely agitated
heart, what reason have you to accuse the daughter of such an upstanding
citizen to be a dabbler in the black arts? Her father has proven her

"He lies!" said the prince.

"We searched his home and found no evidence to prove your claims...that
is, if such a thing as magic truly exists, which it does not. Please come
and rest, Lassok, and have Tanabor mix a medicine to refresh you."

"Later," the prince said vaguely. "And search his workplace! That is
where the evidence will be found." And he continued to search among the

Jaseloris, meanwhile, gloated down on her captive, whom she had carried
to a bricklayer's yard.

Zairbhreena looked no different from the last time they had met: nude
and petrified. Her arms were still sealed to her sides and her legs to
each other, so she formed a vaguely girl-shaped spindle of stone. Her
blank stone eyes remained serene, fixed forever on some distant point
before her.

Jaseloris hated her with complete and utter venom. Zairbhreena had cost
her the prince, a royal station, and the use of her hand; now she was going
to cost her a home as well.

Her men, whom she had hired with a handful of gems swiped from her
father, waited restlessly for her orders. She knew it was only a matter of
time before the prince discovered her involvement and acted accordingly.
Luckily, the nomads found the statue before the prince had. Now all
Jaseloris had to do was dispose of it and enact her own escape from the
city, for she was sure neither Lassok nor her father would show her mercy
for her deeds.

Ordinarily disposal would be no problem, but the current environment in
the city was much too dangerous to be carting a statue around. Glancing at
the Zairbhreena again, Jaseloris noticed the princess's nipples were erect
as two pieces of writing-chalk. They hadn't been erect when the princess
was petrified. How had that happened? She flicked them with her thumb and
forefinger, but the change was no illusion.

No matter, she decided. The important thing now was that the princess
wasn't going anywhere unless it was where Jaseloris wanted her to go.

She smiled as a plan came to her. She would take the petrified princess
to the city of Rahiz and auction her off as if she were a slave. The
statue would fetch a high price in that art-lover's capitol, not to mention
a delicious revenge; the money would help finance Jaseloris as a gem
merchant in her own right. But first, she had to smuggle the statue out of

"Take the statue to the yard," she commanded, and gave some other orders
to her men.

Rows of earthen bricks baked in the noonday sun, shielded from the
street by high stone walls. In the center lay a wooden frame the
approximate width and height of a human body. The nomads began to pack it
with mud, fortifying the clay with chopped pieces of straw. When it was
half full they placed the princess into it, pressing her firmly into the
mixture so it lapped her chin and nearly covered her breasts. Then they
packed in the rest of the mud.

Jaseloris seethed wickedly as her rival's features slowly disappeared
under the applications of mud. When the nomads finished not a trace of her
could be seen. They smoothed the top with a metal trowel and removed the
wooden frame, letting the clay bake to rocklike hardness in the afternoon
sun. The princess was no longer a statue...only a large, rather plebeian,
brick. In such a state she would be smuggled out of the city with no one
the wiser.

On the other side of the city, Prince Lassok was ready to give up. The
parade of nude statues had slowed down to a trickle, then nothing at all.
All places in the city had been searched, even the wine cellars and
catacombs. There was not a statue left that he had not seen. That left
only the chilling possibility that Zairbhreena had been smashed into rubble
or buried somewhere.

He turned on his heel, intending to seek solace with an opium pipe, but
Yezdeesh the street urchin ran into his path. The scrappy youngster had
lost no time in using his reward to outfit himself in silk pantaloons and a
miniature turban with an ostrich plume in it. "Prince Lassok!" he cried,
his piping voice echoing off the walls of the inner court. "I have some
news you may be interested in."

"What is it, Yezdeesh?" the prince asked, his heart heavy and dull.

"I was passing by the Southern Gate when I saw a strange sight. A group
of nomads was leaving the city with a cart of bricks."


"Nomads have no use for bricks, my Prince. They have their tents."

A presentiment pricked the Prince behind his eyelids. "Go on."

"The leader of the nomads had an injured hand, for he could not control
his mount. He kept turning it round and slapping it with his reins.
Though he was robed and hooded he had the delicacy of a woman's build and
the faintest trace of kohl around his eyes, as if he had scrubbed it off
only a few minutes before. I suggest to you, my prince, that this nomad
was none other than your former fiancee Jaseloris."

"Jaseloris," the Prince breathed in an astonished whisper. She had
escaped from the city, right out from under the noses of his men! "Did my
soldiers search the cart?"

"They did, but they found nothing but bricks. I postulate, however,
that they could have hidden anything--even a statue--beneath them."

Determination crossed the young prince's face like a thunderstorm .
"Saddle my fastest horse!" he barked to the nearest servant. "And fetch
ten of my best soldiers, and outfit them with the rest of my desert
chargers! We must ride out of the city, to catch the nomads before it is
too late!"

It took some time, despite the urgency of the order, to gather a pursuit
party together. Over yet more protests from the Caliph the prince and his
men rode out of the city in midafternoon, taking the southern road towards
Rahiz, where Yezdeesh said the false nomads were headed.

Forty-four pairs of hooves thudded on the sand as the riders galloped.
Manes flew, bitted mouths gasped for air. Though the prince and his men had a late start, they soon came within sight of Jaseloris and her nomads.
The prince grasped his scimitar and swung it over his head. "There!" he
roared. "The black-robed bitch and her cargo!"

Jaseloris glanced over her shoulder and paled beneath her black veil.
She kicked the flanks of her own horse with her heels. "Ride!" she
ordered. "It's the prince and his guards!"

The nomads disliked the Caliph and his offspring for imposing the
restrictions of civilization on them, and if they had been in the majority,
they might have turned and fought. But they were not. They followed the
example of Jaseloris and spurred their mounts down the dusty yellow road.
The cart with Zairbhreena inside jounced along unmercifully in their wake.
The two horses pulling it trotted along much faster than a mule or an ox
would. But while their driver whipped them into a smart clip, they still
lagged behind the nomads.

"We should cut their traces, my Lady, and abandon the cart to the
prince!" the driver cried. "He will surely catch us!"

"No!" Jaseloris snapped. She was so close to triumph. Why did the
Prince have to discover her ruse? She could escape more elegantly without
the cart, true, but it would deprive her of the revenge she
desired...revenge both on the princess and on the unfaithful prince who had
discarded her.

The prince and his men galloped closer, so that she could the swaying
red tassels that decorated their bridles.

Her eyes hardened. She would gain her revenge. She leaned in close to
the cart horses and smacked them hard with her sword. On the upstroke she
severed their reins, then kicked the astonished driver with her foot,
sending him tumbling to his doom under the wheels. Driverless and already
maddened by the fast pace, the pair thundered away across the open desert,
pulling the cart of bricks behind them.

"There she goes, Lassok!" Jaseloris cried. "There goes your precious
princess! Catch her...if you can!" Laughing, she wheeled her stallion
round and galloped on.

Grim-faced, Lassok turned his horse to follow the runaway cart, which
was headed directly toward the cliffs overlooking the dry sea of Quraz.
"Follow Jaseloris, and stop her," he told his captain. "I'm going after
the cart." And he galloped away, following the fresh cloud of dust smoking
from the wheels. If he didn't stop the cart in time, it, the horses, and
the princess could sail over the stony ledge, to smash into pieces on the
hard salt pans below.

Meanwhile, the captain and his men had caught up with Jaseloris and the
nomads. Though the nomads had superior riding skills, their horses were
not as swift as the Caliph's. "Surrender!" the captain ordered, making his
horse rear impressively. "You are all under arrest by the orders of the
Caliph of Carsimbad!"

"Is that so?" Jaseloris taunted. She took out her chrysoprase wand and
aimed it. The captain found himself riding a stone statue of a rearing
horse, which fell over on its side into the sand, spilling him off its
back. "Leave us alone, or you will all share a similar fate!" she said.

But the soldiers remained loyal to their ruler despite the unexpected
bit of sorcery. One nocked an arrow and let it fly. Jaseloris screeched,
bringing her hand up to shield her heart. Luckily, it was her stone hand,
and the arrow bounced off after inflicting a slight chip. That was the
signal for the melee to begin. The nomads and the soldiers clashed both on
horseback and off, and Jaseloris quickly withdrew from the fray. She tried
to use her wand again, but the closeness of the battle made it impossible
to differentiate between targets. She turned one of her own men and a
cactus into marble statues before realizing she was doing more harm than
good. Fine bits of sand began to pelt her face, and she realized with
terror that a sandstorm was blowing up behind them. Damn the prince! They
could have reached the safety already if not for him. Cursing, she turned
her horse around and galloped toward Rahiz, leaving her men to their fates.

Prince Lassok had noted the storm too, but his attention was solely on
the cart. The horses ran almost as fast as his charger, disoriented by the
howling wind and clouds of grit. With their eyes clogged, their eyes
blinded, they could very well carry themselves and the cart over the edge
of the precipice without missing a beat. Lassok drove his own horse closer, trying to match pace with the buckboard. He tried to find the
perfect opportunity to jump, but realized, belatedly, there would be no
perfect opportunity. There was only the jump. If he succeeded, he would
be in the driver's seat, his hands on the reins. If not, he would be
face-down on the ground, and Zairbhreena and the cart would be galloping
across the desert and lost forever.

He steeled himself, and jumped.

He caught his balance and righted himself. It had been a poor and
haphazard leap, but he was inside the cart. He took up the torn reins and
pulled, but he was a prince, not a wagon-driver, and the finer points of
controlling a pair of horses were unknown to him. The horses continued to
gallop and the edge of the cliff came closer and closer. The air filled
with blowing sand. He couldn't steer them, and he couldn't stop.
Nevertheless, he pulled hard on their left, keeping the pressure steady.
The team made a hard turn, which made the wagon spin sharply; at that
moment, the prince cut their traces with his sword. The horses continued
on, still yoked together, but the wagon veered off to the side, careening
down a boulder-studded slope. The momentum carried it faster and further
than any pair of draft animals could.

The prince hung on for his life, barely able to see through the clouds
of sand. Though it had been the middle of the afternoon the sky was as
dark as twilight. The wooden wheels of the cart banged over boulders. The
bed listed this way, then that, the vehicle threatening to fall apart

The prince prayed to every god he knew that he and Zairbhreena should
survive this somehow. He didn't want to die now, not when his beloved was
almost safely in his arms!

Inside the cart Zairbhreena bounced around in her clay cocoon; she'd
been terrified at being encased and had spent most of the trip delirious
with fright. Where are you now, Lassok? she thought. Dear gods have
mercy on me! She had no idea what Jaseloris had intended by entombing her
in clay, but whatever it was, the current violence of her journey was not a
good portent.

The flimsy wagon bounced, jounced, and bucked like a frisky colt in the
spring. Finally one wheel hit a boulder the other three could not
navigate. The wheel smashed and the cart overturned, spilling its contents
onto the hard-packed sand--the prince, dozens of bricks, and a mud-colored
coffin of clay that cracked open on impact, revealing the golden treasure
hid within.

"Zairbhreena!" the prince cried as he fell. But his cries were drowned
by the storm, which swept around him in all its full fury. He could no
longer even see her in the gray-brown whirling darkness. Bruised and
battered, he tried to crawl to her using his fingers and knees to navigate.
But the storm made him loose all sense of direction. Finally he ran into a
tall boulder and crouched behind it, shielding himself from the stinging
sand. There was nothing he could do but wait.

The storm raged the rest of the day and into the night. The prince fell
unconscious from his injuries and the constant hiss of sand.

In the morning, Zairbhreena, bricks, and cart were gone. Tumbled dunes
of golden sand lay everywhere, their pure, undulating curves reminiscent of
a young girl's figure. Fine-grained, untrammeled sand. Tons of it,
burying what once had been a stony plain

"No!" the Prince cried. Flinging himself at the nearest dune, he began
to dig.


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