Azat strode across the desert sands upon the back of a great ebony stallion. Mustaphen, Aiman called him, a horse more than capable of breaking through a shield wall. Weighed down by Azat’s equipment and mass as well as its own scaled barding, Mustaphen did not seem to mind the additional company as he trotted across the hell-blemished lands of the Scouring.
Sirius had arisen in the east. Aiman and the caravan she had led from the west resumed their voyage back home. Mustaphen trotted gently in the dusty wake of the caravan, and kept on further still until the sun began to wane in the desert sky. As the day came and went, Azat felt a resurgence of peace and reflection as he left the Zarquin encampment and the battlefield of the Valley of Carrion behind.
“I cannot believe that you did not want to say goodbye.” Aiman’s mount trotted gently alongside Mustaphen, a white horse of brilliance and grace, that she called Moonsilver. “You might live the rest of your life and never see Aslan again.”
“Aslan disowned me,” Azat quipped. “Now I know this with undeniable certainty. How could I possibly look him in the eye? The brother who told me to get out of his sight without even saying as much.”
“If you were seeking answers from him,” Aiman shook her head. “All the more reason that you should have spoken your last words to him.”
“Are you certain that it would’ve been our last?” Azat soured, but his irritable anguish hid it well. “Is what you’re needing me for so dire with peril? I’ve already nearly met mother death once, I’m not keen on dying in my late thirties. That is why I left with you, after all.”
“That cannot be the only reason.” Aiman aimed a wicked glance and smile in his direction. “I’ll be the first to confess, I don’t know why Aslan asked me to take you. This much, however, I do know: you’ll never conquer your nightmares if you don’t reconcile your past, Azat.”
“What do my nightmares mean to you, Aiman?” Azat replied. “They are my burden, not yours. Do not weigh yourself down with my guilt. Don’t stain your soul with my sins.”
Aiman studied Azat for an incredibly long time. “Are you so eager to bare such a weight on your shoulders? You are strong of heart and resilient of mind, Azat, but it'll wear you down over the course of time. It will grind you mercilessly, until you’re nothing more than embers blown upon the hot desert wind.”
Azat considered Aiman’s words. “Do you not think me destined for such an end? Us Qarthites, we live by the sword and perish when our enemies come back to run us through for vengeance. All of the men and women that I have cut down, would it not be right to slake the thirst of the damned with my own head?”
“Do you think battle is a balanced conception of judgement?” Aiman countered. “Whether voluntary or conscriptive in nature, warriors are trained to murder… it is in their nature, because that is their purpose. For what reason they’re called to murder, does not matter. If you had not slain all that you have slain, would your death by their hands be any different than what you’ve given to them in reality?
“Would they weep for your forgiveness? Would they be haunted in their own dreams by your reflection? Perhaps, but I guarantee you that they’ll continue on with their lives. That is why they would not have hesitated to strike you down. Because they’d like to keep living, like you do.
“I wonder, is it more an insult to them that you’re haunted by their deaths, than it is an honor? Maybe that is why they haunt you still?”
“You’re saying that they’d want me to what?” Azat considered Aiman with a puzzled, searching look. “Forgive myself? I’ve had many hours to think that I’ve lacked for years. You’re asking me not only to bend, but to break my warrior spirit. You ask me to turn back on the entire life that I’ve ever known.
“I do not know how to give you what you seek, let alone myself.”
A genuine smile graced Aiman’s stoic features. “Perhaps you’ve already begun? Gaze around you, Azat, there’s nothing but open desert for miles on end. There’s no battlefield to wade into. You’ve already chosen to walk away from such things. I am certain that the answers will come in time, if you only searched for it.”
Azat boasted with cruel laughter. “You’ve hired a guardian for the sole purpose of defending your person. Do you think I’ll never use this sword again, Aiman? I shall until I’m too decrepit to swing it.”
“If you must kill,” Aiman countered sharply. “Then turn your blade to a higher purpose. Strike down the tyrants. Crush the enslavers. Cleanse any injustice. That is always what the warriors of Sh’myr have practiced since their inception. That is what Queen Hazan has always educated.
“Hazan would burst from her grave if you ever neared, Azat, for I’m certain she’d have many words for her rogue champion. Do you remember nothing of your past life?”
“Before the God-King crushed it?” Azat quipped. “Erasyl cast Hazan into that grave, and all of my dreams with it. He shattered me like no man could ever hope for, not even Baal would argue against it, if he had known. What brotherhood do I know now since he waltzed through the Hundred Temples, except that of the only one he deigned to spare?”
“Aslan has forgotten too, because there is nothing to remember, save for ashes and embers of all that used to be.”
“That is Erasyl’s way,” Aiman nodded. “It is the way of the Dominion of Qarth. It is a cruel, untoward fate, to become a pale reflection of what of what we once were. A reflection doomed to spiral downward into the gaping abyss, because though we serve Qarth with our strength, we know that we ultimately have nothing to live for in the end. Nothing, but the desire to regain our pasts.
“You surprise me, Azat.” Aiman confessed. “Of the endless hordes that form Qarth’s armies, the Firstborn had always favored you. I thought speaking to you would be an uphill battle and convincing you, well I did not want to think about it.”
“Who is the Autumn Queen?” Azat suddenly changed the subject. “The new one. I thought Hazan had no heirs before Erasyl claimed her as a concubine and puppet of his schemes. The old Hazan would rather have died--well, did die before she let Erasyl put his own heir on her throne.”
“Her name is Minkah.” Aiman answered. “There are few men and women who can still recall Hazan in any significant detail. Almost all of them seem convinced that she is your child.”
“What did you say?” Azat burst into another fit of laughter. “Gods be kind, but do you take me for an utter fool? Who would possibly claim such a thing?”
“Sahak the Elder Sage, is chief amongst them.” Aiman stated and smirked as Azat froze. “Voshki the Ashen Cobra and Vahe of Old Myria.”
“Gods,” Azat quivered slightly. “Sahak, that ancient bastard is older than many tombs in Sh’myr. How does that old man cling to life the way he does? He was old before Sh’’myr even collapsed.”
“You had a relationship with Hazan did you not?” Aiman pondered aloud. “This caravan does not care about your infidelity with the Queen. Rather, we rejoice in your reckless, amoral ventures. Without you, Minkah would not exist and we’d have no heir to rally behind.”
“Sahak would have known that.” Azat nodded, realization dawning upon him. “And he would have told you, because he has ever served Hazan. Only he would have cared enough to risk his own neck to drag me back to Sh’myr.”
“I was sent by his command,” Aiman smiled. “He said you’d wouldn’t refuse once you learned the truth. He understood that you’d come back, no matter the odds.”
“You have no need of a bodyguard, do you?” Azat concluded. “As far as I know, you’ve told me nothing about what is happening in Sh’myr. Except that I may have a daughter that I’ve never known. Why does Minkah suddenly need me, now? Or Sahak?”
“Strange question,” Aiman replied. “But I understand that your thoughts must be heavy and clouded. Let us halt the caravan for the night. Think about what I’ve told you. Then come ask me another question in the morning.”
Azat sighed with resignation. He knew there would be no arguing with Aiman when she became unmoving. Aiman gave the command for the caravan to halt. Immediately, attendants and laborers took it upon themselves to begin setting up an encampment for the night.