“Take the princess and go, Amari! We will handle this!” the guard captain had shouted to her. Pharah didn’t have time to argue. She hoisted the protesting princess up onto her horse, quickly pulled herself up into the saddle, then spurred the horse forward. Pharah could hear the swords clanging behind them. She prayed the other guards on the caravan would hold their own against the bandits. If the guards fell, Pharah hoped the dowry would be enough to satisfy the bandits. Her worst fear was that they weren’t really bandits at all, but sent by a rival lord to interrupt the marriage and ransom the princess or worse, send her head to–No, Pharah couldn’t think of that now. She had to ride.
Pharah’s horse was swift, and the winds covered their tracks behind them as they raced across the desert. The Princess’s arms were tight around Pharah’s waist and her bangles clanged and chimed against Pharah’s armor as the horse’s hooves struck the sand. Their caravan had already been en-route to one of the desert’s oases, the last one before they reached the Princess’s new kingdom, so it was a simple matter of riding faster and harder. They reached the oasis at dusk, and Pharah swung off the horse, helped the princess down, and watered her horse at the nearby spring. The Princess herself dusted herself off and watched as Pharah dropped to her knees next to the spring. Pharah took off her helmet and found herself dripping with sweat from the ride. She splashed the springwater on her face, rapidly cooling now that the sun was setting, then found herself drinking as greedily as her horse from her hands, she caught herself as the princess knelt beside her at the edge of the spring, took her water skin, filled it and drank from it, only giving Pharah a sidelong glance here and there.
“A Lady knight, then?” said the princess at last.
“Oh–” said Pharah, taking off one of her gauntlets and wiping the droplets of sweat and water now dripping from her hair and running down her face, “Yes–I uh…I know it’s hard to tell with the armor…”
“And with your height,” said the Princess with a smile.
Pharah smiled a bit too, and watched as the princess took off the golden braided silk chord securing her translucent blue veil and pulled the veil off, then pulled her hair off of the back of her neck, tying it back with the chord. She seemed smaller without the veil. Before, Pharah had seen her as largely a pile of silks, moving and morphing almost like a jellyfish in the desert winds, now as she peeled the silks and swathes of fine cotton off, Pharah became increasingly aware that there was a person under all the fine clothes they had piled on the princess to make her just as much of a treasure as her dowry. Finally, the princess managed to get down to a fine embroidered sleeveless blue dress and white shalwar, while her silks littered the sands around her in circle, almost like peony petals. They were largely silent, both still in some shock from the attack on the caravan. They had a humble supper of the jerky rations Pharah carried on her, and dates from the nearby palm. Pharah kept an eye on the horizon even as the sun set.
“They should have made it here by now,” said Pharah, standing up and walking to the edge of the oasis and looking out at the dunes.
“Do you think they’re dead?” said the princess.
“Either that or taken prisoner if those bandits were hired by one of your father’s enemies,” said Pharah, taking a seat back next to the princess, “A good number of them are from noble houses, may be worth a good ransom.” Pharah took a deep breath. “Princess—”
“Satya,” said the Princess.
“Satya,” said Pharah, “I… I just… I’m sorry for all this.”
Satya shrugged. “It’s only politics. I’ve made my peace with the idea of this sort of marriage years ago.”
Pharah blinked a few times. “I… I uh… I meant the bandit attack making you have to sleep out here in the wilderness not… not the marriage,” she said rubbing the back of her neck.
“Oh…” said Satya, and then “OH! I thought—I—ah…”
“Do you not want to get married?” said Pharah.
“’Want’ has hardly anything to do with it. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself…” said Satya.
“But do you not want to get married?” said Pharah again.
“Again, irrelevant,” said Satya.
“Princess–” Pharah started
“You’re a guard, a soldier, it’s hardly any of your business, now is it?” snapped Satya and Pharah shrank a bit into herself. Both were silent for a long time before Satya finally huffed, “No. If I knew who I was marrying better, then yes, but as it stands I do not, so no.”
“I’m sorry,” said Pharah.
“As I’ve said before, politics,” said Satya, and both were silent for a long time again. The stars came out, bright and countless, overwhelming in their numbers, the milky way so dense it seemed a ribbon of moonlight and indigo. The stars seemed to spill out from the sky and gather, reflected, in the calm waters of the spring. Satya stood up and broke off a reed from the water’s edge, sending ripples across the stars reflected in it. She began drawing something in the sand, her marks easily lit by the stars. Pharah leaned over her shoulder and watched as she worked.
She drew out a large circle, then gridded the circle, gave a glance toward the sky and began marking out constellations in the circle.
“A map?” said Pharah.
“I was educated in many subjects–languages, diplomacy, mathematics, the arts…” Satya said, looking between the sky and her own drawing, “Astronomy was one of my favorites.” She pointed up at the sky with her reed. “That is Magha. The bountiful one. We head off in the direction of that constellation, and we reach my betrothed on time.”
“What if we didn’t do that?” said Pharah.
Satya’s brow furrowed. “What are you implying?”
“Well… suppose we missed this Oasis. Suppose we’re just dead somewhere out in the desert–”
“A morbid thought,” said Satya.
“Well… an easy thought to believe, though–easy to lose one’s sense of direction in a panic or sandstorm…You can’t get married if you’re dead,” Pharah arched an eyebrow at Satya and Satya’s eyes widened in realization.
“Oh you mean…?” she trailed off and tucked some loose hair behind her ear.
“Or we could go to your betrothed,” said Pharah with a shrug, “Your choice. Like you said, I’m a guard. My only duty is keeping the princess safe. There’s nothing in my job description about telling the princess where to go.”
Satya’s eyes widened and she looked from her map up to the stars.
She pointed her reed to a star in the west. “That way. We follow the Lion and go West.”
Pharah smirked. “What’s west?” she asked.
“Just a trading post,” said Satya with a shrug, “But that should get us enough supplies to go even further. I could sell some of my silks… we could reach the sea…” she fidgeted with her hair a bit, “This is mad. Talk me down from it,” she said, turning to Pharah.
“Very well,” Pharah started, “The smart thing to do would be–”
“Never mind, don’t talk me down from it. We’re doing it. We’re going west,” said Satya.
Pharah smirked. “As the Princess commands,” she said with a bow of her head.