Carsaib sat in his mother's lap, drawing battling stick figures in the dirt while she fought to untangle his matted brown hair. Every now and then a particularly sharp tug would cause the boy to hiss and pull away, but a gentle tap on his shoulder would make him sit still once more. This was a nightly ritual that Carsaib wished his mother would abandon. His father could easily shear his hair off and be done with it, but his mother refused to hear any of it.

Before the tribe had exiled them, his mother had spent hours playing with the long, dark tresses of the tribeswomen and the elders. Carsaib, though only eight, understood that his mother's sudden need to tame his hair was a way for her to find some comfort in their lonely banishment. Just as his father's need to be gone for days at a time to hunt was a vain attempt to find some normalcy.

Carsaib, however, had no comforting rituals to perform. As a young boy his only chore had been to grow strong and engage in mock battles with the other young boys of his tribe. Now, without others to play with, he spent his days pretending to be a lone warrior that would one day return to his people as a war hero. He would clobber imaginary enemies with long roots painstakingly dug from the dry earth and holler war cries into the wind. In his mind he could almost hear his people welcoming him and his mother back home. They would forgive his father of his crime and they would even be given a place on honor at the elder's circle.

These were, of course, only daydreams. Deep inside, Carsaib knew his people would never let him come back. He was the runt child of the Oathbreaker and the Outsider. His life with his people was over and his existence in exile began.

"Sit still, Kukuk!" Small One. His mother snapped as he twisted from her for the hundredth time.

"Mama, stop!" He cried with his thin hands over his head. His tender scalp was sore from her constant tugging.

"But your hair is still a mess!" She chided. She patted the ground in front of her and gestured for him to sit back down. Carsaib considered making a run for it, but his mother's blue eyes were glinting angrily. She was in no mood to fight with him, but he didn't give up so easily.

"Why don't you do your own hair?" He suggested, edging a step back.

"Carsaib," she said warningly. The boy sighed and sat back down, his narrow chin in his hands. The tugging at his knotted hair continued. After a moment his mother started to hum a tune he recognized well. It was a lullaby that the tribeswomen had sung while performing their womanly duties. It had been days since he had heard his mother sing in the tongue of the tribe. Since their exile, she had reverted back to speaking common. The expressive words filled Carsaib with longing. He missed home. The unadorned tent he lived in now was a poor substitute to the vibrantly decorated teepees he had grown up with.

Behind him he heard his mother sob through the lullaby. It wasn't long before the tune was lost among her tears. Her pale arms wrapped themselves around his belly and chest; her head resting on his back as she rocked them both from side to side.

0o0o0o0o00o0o0o

Carsaib's father came back the next day empty handed. His traps had proved fruitless and big game was scarce. The tall man unloaded his bow and quiver with the air of someone losing hope and collapsed onto the family's make shift bed. He hadn't even told his son "hi" when the boy ran to him for a hug that he never received. Carsaib's mother dutifully tended to the ancient mare they depended on for transport. The boy noticed she was chewing her lip, a habit she only practiced when she was extremely worried. Winter was coming and they didn't have enough food to eat now, much less to store for later.

Carsaib's stomach growled at the thought of fresh meat. He balled his fist and pressed it into his gut.

That day he pretended to be a mighty hunter that could see deer from a mile away and taste their scent on the wind like a snake. He crouched behind the tall plain's grass- an easy feat considering his small height- and pounced on his prey like an animal. By the end of his hunt he had killed a dozen enormous bucks with antler prongs the size of his arm with his bare hands. His invisible catches, however, didn't make the dusty root and dried berries he ate for dinner any more enjoyable.

The family ate in silence until Carsaib dared to speak.

"Papa," he said hesitantly. His father looked up, his dark eyes meeting the overlarge brown ones that belonged to his son. Carsaib swallowed and continued bravely, "I want to go hunting with you."

His father didn't even consider it before giving his answer, "No."

"But, Papa, I'm old enough!-" Carsaib argued.

"No!" The big man looked disappointedly at his son.

When he had taken the Outsider for his wife he had expected to have strong sons that would become warriors and beautiful daughters that would be desired by powerful men within the tribe. Instead, he had gotten a runt that barely passed for a plain's boy. His skin was too pale, his arms and legs too thin, and his face was sharp like a rats. The other men in the tribe hadn't thought the boy would survive to manhood and, honestly, he agreed with them. Yet, he didn't wish for the boy's death. He still loved him.

"You're too small to hunt, Kukuk," he explained to the disheartened child, "One day, if you become bigger and stronger."

Carsaib understood that to be the end of the conversation and returned to his dinner, his feelings more than slightly hurt.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

That night he laid curled on his side, facing away from his parents. Their soft, rhythmic breathing mingled with the nighttime sounds of chirruping crickets and whistling grass. The fur blanket wrapped around him stilled smelled of home and he breathed the scent deeply, willing it to fill him completely. When he closed his eyes he could almost hear the whisperings of old men and the crackle of the low fires that the night-watchmen used to see by. The whispers were starting to grow too loud, though, and the fires were too bright…

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Carsaib wailed into his captor's hands as his mother's screams filled his ears. The strangers had come out of the night and attacked them. His father had been killed immediately, pierced through the chest by a crooked sword. The men had then dragged Carsaib from the tent by his hair and held him outside while they did things to his mother that he didn't understand, but knew was deeply wrong.

Carsaib turned away from the tent, burying his head in one of the strangers' hip. The man pushed him away with a mumbled curse and Carsaib was left to stand by himself. He pressed his hands tightly over his ears, and he sang his mother's lullaby to himself, trying to block her screams. His small body was shaking with fear and sobs, his tears mixing with the snot that ran down his lips and chin. He had been focusing so hard on ignoring the sounds of terror, that he didn't know when they had stopped.

A rough hand landed on his shoulder and spun him around. Carsaib was suddenly facing a man like none he had ever seen before. The man was thickly built and dirty, covered in pox scars and hair. Carsaib stared into the beady eyes, his own wide and full of fear. He was distantly aware of the other men tearing through his family's packs and possessions. He couldn't hear his mother anymore.

"What do we do with the kid?" One of the men behind him asked. He spoke in common, like his mother had. The hairy man looked down at the boy. Carsaib dropped his gaze, his hands twisting the hem of his shirt. The man sneered and pulled a thin knife from his belt.

Carsaib's heart pounded. Among the plains tribes, prisoners captured during war were often killed. The presence of the knife did not bode well for him. The man placed the edge of the blade under Carsaib's chin. The metal wasn't cold like Carsaib had expected, but warm after being nestled next to the hairy man's stomach.

"What's your name, boy?" The hairy man asked, using the knife to force Carsaib to look up. The man was immediately disgusted by the state of the boy's face. Tears streaked his face and clear snot glistened in the torch light. When the child didn't answer, the man applied more pressure to the blade, making it bite into the delicate skin.

"Your name, boy." The hairy man demanded once more.

"C-Car-saib." He sobbed, his breath hitching in this throat just under the blade.

"Well, Car-saib," the man emphasized the syllables, "I don't believe in killing children. It's bad luck, you see." He looked over the boy's thin, shaking frame, "but you won't fetch much of a price on the market." He put his hand on Carsaib's shoulder and turned him to face the east. The hairy man crouched down so that he was close to the boy's height. With his blade the man pointed to the horizon, and with his other hand he pulled the boy close so that their shoulders met. "See that line, where the sky and the land touch?" He waited until Carsaib nodded to continue, "I want you to start runnin' towards that line. You got me?" Carsaib nodded again. The hairy man patted him on the shoulder then stood up. "Then get goin'!" He laughed.

Carsaib took a hesitant step forward, then stopped to look over his shoulder. His family's tent was being torn apart for cloth, their few possessions loaded onto the men's horses. His father's horse lay on the ground, a red slit behind its foreleg. His parent's bodies were barely visible above the tall grass, but he could see the blood that stained them. The smell of gore filled his nose and mouth. No amount of water would ever wash it out.

"I said run, boy!" The hairy man threw a clump of dirt at him. It connected sharply with Carsaib's shoulder. He needed no further persuasion. He ran as if he could outstrip reality and memory. He ran until he stumbled face first into a sea of sand. He hadn't even noticed when the plains had stopped and the Hadarac desert had begun.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

Carsaib wandered aimlessly through the desert for days. He was painfully aware that he was unprepared to survive there. Every inch of exposed flesh was red and hot. The burns were so deep, that Carsaib swore they reached bone. His lips cracked and bled constantly; the parched air burned his lungs. Even his stomach felt like it was on fire. Nothing, however, compared to the pain he felt with every step. The bottoms of his bare feet were beyond raw. The swollen blisters that covered them seemed to pop every time he put his foot down and the fresh skin was then packed with burning, gritty sand.

His thirst was also becoming a crippling need. He could barely swallow for the dryness in his throat and his tongue had started to feel fuzzy and thick. He had to resist the urge to touch it constantly and feel the change with his fingers. This dryness contrasted oddly with the sweat laden clothing that chaffed the sides of his arms and legs. Occasionally he thought he saw a puddle from the corner of his eye, but when he went to investigate all he found was sand. Once or twice he tried to dig, hoping that the water was hiding just under the surface.

Just as the days were hot, however, the nights were as cold. He did his best to find shelter under a dry, twisted bush and hugged himself until the sun rose once more. He couldn't sleep, though. His body shivered too hard and he was plagued with nightmares when his eyes closed. The howls and squeals of wild animals didn't help. During the day, nothing roamed across the sand. At night, however, the desert came alive.

Carsaib wasn't sure which he hated more, but by the end of his third day in the desert it didn't matter. His mind had completely shut down and his body had grown numb. He sank to his knees, then curled up on his side in a tight ball. The sun beat down on him with a force he hadn't thought possible, but he couldn't move. He closed his eyes and waited to die. Hopefully, he would be long gone before the desert predators tore him apart.

o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

"Boy, get up. Come on, get up." Someone had him by the shoulders and was shaking him fiercely. Carsaib snapped for the person to let him go, but they only gave him a sharp slap. The new sting brought him back to a rudimentary level of awareness.

"There we go, son, come on." The man- for that was who had him- sat Carsaib up into a slouched sitting position. Carsiab felt an odd tingling spread throughout his body as his head grew suddenly light. He swayed.

"Easy, kid, easy!" The man said, supporting Carsaib so he wouldn't pass out. "Here," the man pressed something against Carsaib's lips and tipped it upwards. Water splashed onto

Carsaib's mouth and dribbled down his chin. The second the boy realized this, he snatched the canteen from the man's hand and drank until he choked and then drank some more. The man grabbed the canteen away from him before he could suffocate himself. Carsaib snarled and lounged for it like a feral animal. The man swiftly stood up, holding the canteen out of reach. Carsaib got to his feet as well and instantly regretted it. With a small gasp of pain, he fell to his knees again and whimpered pitifully.

The man tucked the canteen away in his belt and studied the boy. He looked out across the desert, wondering where the child could have possibly come from. The pained sobs at his feet regained his attention. The boy had curled back into a tight ball, his hands wrapped around his knees. With a sigh, the man decided on a course of action.

Fortunately, he had his horse with him and Carsaib didn't weigh much. He was able to hoist the boy onto the saddle with little effort and then climb on behind him.

The ride back to wherever the man had come from was a long one, but Carsaib struggled to stay awake. When sleep threatened to take him, he tightened his grip on the saddle's horn and straightened up. This worked a few times, but ultimately Carsaib found himself being awakened by the man once they had reached his home.

The sky was darkening overhead by then, but the man's home was well lit by torches and lanterns. Once again, Carsaib found himself looking at something completely alien to him. The man's home was made of solid, tan stone and hidden behind a large wall with a single, gated entrance. It was by far the biggest home Carsaib had ever seen. Several connected buildings were trapped within the wall, including a stable.

The man interrupted his awed gazing, however, when he abruptly pulled Carsaib off the horse. Carsaib's tired legs just barely supported him, but his desire to see everything kept him alert. A second man, younger than Carsaib's rescuer, came up to them and took the horse's reigns from the older man's hand. He didn't even seem to notice the boy.

Carsaib watched him lead the frothy mare towards the stable, but the older man quickly ushered him towards the biggest of the buildings before he could see more.

The inside of the building was blissfully cool, but the chill of the stone beneath his blistered feet felt best. He was tempted to stop following the man and simply stand there, but his curiosity won in the end. The man led him through a short maze of hallways that finally ended in a room with nothing but a wooden table and a few candles. The man gestured for him to sit in one of the chairs and then took the one opposite for himself. It was only once Carsaib sat down, that he paused to study his rescuer's face.

The first thing he noticed was that the man was older than he had originally seemed. He had dark hair that was starting to gray at the temples, but no facial hair; just the leathery wrinkles of a man used to living under the sun. The second was that, even sitting down, the man was intimidatingly tall and seemed to loom over Carsaib; his eyes, hard and cold as they studied him. Carsaib felt acutely aware of how bumpy and burned he looked- like a red toad. He didn't linger over those thoughts for long though. A plump woman with steel colored hair tied back in a falling bun bustled into the room and silently set a bowl and a cup of water down in front of him.

He looked into the bowl and felt his mouth water. It was a cold combination of stewed vegetables and dried meat, but he didn't care. He dug in, shoveling handfuls of food into his mouth.

The older man watched the boy eat; only slightly worried that he would make himself sick. The child was an absolute disaster. His shoulder length hair was matted into an impossible mess- it would have to be cut off, no way around it- and his skin was a bubbling red that would peel something awful and hurt even worse during the process. His feet concerned the man most, though. The soles were singed black. It was a miracle that the boy had survived at all. At first glance he couldn't be more than five or six, but the eyes told a different story. The overlarge brown orbs were filled with the kind of age and sorrow that only children who had seen too much of the world could possess.

The older man wouldn't pry, however. Whatever had happened to the boy would come out in due time. The man instead tried to think of what to do with the little desert rat. He had never been one for children, but he couldn't send the boy back out on his own. He would have to stay here for the present. Maybe, once he was healed and healthy again, the boy would prove useful.

"What is your name?" The man asked suddenly. The boy looked up from the bowl, his fingers and cheeks covered with bits of food. The boy hesitated, a pained expression flashing across his face. At first, the man didn't expect the boy to answer, but he was pleasantly surprised when he was proven wrong.

"Carsaib," the boy said after he swallowed a mouthful of potato. The man nodded.

"It seems," the man said quietly, "that you'll have to stay here for some time, at least until your injuries heal." Carsaib absently rubbed a red arm. "Nia," the man called. Almost immediately, the plump woman was back, looking frustrated at the summons. "Carsaib," he gestured to the boy, "will be staying here for a while. See to it he's cleaned up and find him somewhere to sleep."

Nia didn't respond directly to the man, but examined Carsaib instead. She tisked loudly at the state of the boy.

"Are you finished?" She asked Carsaib sharply. Her voice had a motherly quality to it, but it was also authoritative. She expected to answered and obeyed. Carsaib looked at his bowl. There were still crumbs stuck to the bottom, but he thought it would be better to leave them than make Nia wait for him any longer. He nodded.

"Good, then follow me and we'll get you cleaned and bandaged up." She waited for Carsaib to reach her side, her stern expression softening a little when she noticed the boy twitch with every step. She rested her hand gently on his scorched shoulder and turned to lead him out of the dining room.

Nia lead Carsaib to another room with large, tapered windows that overlooked a garden of spiny desert plants and the backside of the outer wall. This room was also lit with bright torches and candles and the walls were painted with swirling red designs. It was smaller than the dining room, but held a lot more. Wooden selves lined the wall and were burdened with dozens of strange jars and containers and fabrics. A metal pipe stood at the edge of the room, a bucket hanging from its downward curved top. In the center of the room sat a large tub covered with a wooden square. Upon closer inspection, Carsaib saw the glowing embers of a fire under it. The only thing he could compare it to was a giant cooking pot. Maybe this was where Nia cooked. The only flaw in this theory was that there was no food anywhere in the room.

Nia pulled a wooden chair from the edge of the room and set it out in the open. She gestured for Carsaib to sit. He obeyed. He was far too short for the chair though; his toes dangled several inches above the tiled floor. The next thing he knew, Nia was tugging at his hair.

Carsaib yelped as pain flared across his scalp.

"It'll be over in a minute." Nia cooed softly. At first Carsaib didn't understand what she meant, then he saw locks of tangled hair fall to the ground. He watched, fascinated, as knot after knot of hair fell. By the time Nia was finished, his head felt several pounds lighter. Curious, he ran his hands over his scalp. The stiff hairs tickled his fingers. His hair had never been so short. It was bizarre to say the least.

He didn't have long to dwell on the strangeness of it, however. Nia had quickly moved on, preparing for her next task. She gathered several jars and rags from the shelves and gently set them on the ground by the tub before removing the wooden slab. Steam instantly rose up from the tub. Carsaib stared at it, confused.

"Well," Nia said, "get undressed."

Carsaib was scandalized and instinctively hugged his tattered shirt around him.

"Look, I haven't got all night. Either you take your clothes off, or I'll do it for you."

Carsaib couldn't even muster an answer. He simply sat in shock.

"I've raised six boys," Nia said with a laugh, "You aren't going to shock my feminine sensibilities."

Carsaib didn't even know what that meant, but he had a gut feeling that Nia would follow through with her threat. He slid off the chair and turned to face away from the old woman before pulling his shirt over his head. His skin screamed at the stretching, but he bit back the cry that sat on his tongue and swiftly stepped out of his pants. He shivered as the cold wind that trickled through the window nipped at his bare skin, making goose bumps erupt along his arms. With his hands protectively over his privates he turned around, his blushing hidden behind his sunburns.

"Now, get in the tub." Nia ordered.

Carsaib looked at Nia in utter horror then to the tub. She was going to cook him! Just like the demons in children's tales.

Nia seemed able to read his mind, or, more likely, the horrified expression on his face.

"Oh, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to give you a bath. You look like you haven't had one in months."

A bath? Carsaib looked at the tub again, doubtful. Since when did people bath in steaming water? When he didn't comply, Nia did not hesitate to grab the startled boy under his armpits and carry him to the tub. Carsaib screamed, fighting against Nia with all his might. She wasn't fazed, however, and set him in the water like he was a toy. Carsaib immediately tried to climb out, shouting courses and screaming for help in his native tongue. Nia seemed almost bored as she blocked his escapes, ultimately having to hold him around his arms and chest to keep him in the tub. By the time Carsaib paused for breath there was water everywhere.

As he sat panting, he couldn't help but realize that the warm water felt good against his burned skin and aching legs. In fact, it felt really good. He stopped struggling.

"There, see?" Nia said. "It's not so bad is it?

Carsaib shook his head and sat up straight, only slightly ashamed of his actions. He watched as Nia poured a thick liquid onto a square cloth and worked it into a lather. Gently she started rubbing his shoulders with the soapy rag, doing her best to clean while avoiding causing him pain. She wasn't entirely successful, but the administrations felt good. The aches and stress of the last few days seemed to melt away as she scrubbed.

Nia watched the child sit silently in the water, his mind far away. She had seen traumatized children before, ones that had seen things they could never forget. She wondered what this boy had been through, but she didn't want to risk upsetting him by asking.

By the time Carsaib climbed out of the tub, the water was light brown and full of swirling grains of sand. The tub would need to be emptied, but Nia would worry about that tomorrow. Now it was time to see to the boys injuries. Finally rid of the filth, she could see the true nature of his wounds. The sunburns were bad. The water had turned them a deep, hot red. The skin would peel, there was no helping that, but she could soothe the angry flesh. She carefully slathered him down with a clear gel squeezed from a desert plant and wrapped the transparent blisters.

The gel instantly cooled the heat that radiated from Carsaib's skin. With treatment, however, he started to feel incredibly tired. His body was starting to feel comfortable enough to relax. At least, it had been until Nia examined his feet.

"Oh dear," she mumbled. The burns were worst there, almost black, but the sores worried her most. They were clearly infected and would have to be drained before they could be bandaged.

"Carsaib," she said softly to the boy, who had wrapped himself in the towel again, "the sores on your feet are infected. Do you know what that means?"

Carsaib hesitated then nodded.

"I'm going to have to drain them. Do you understand?"

Carsaib nodded again, a pitiful dread filling his eyes.

"Okay, I want you to sit down in that chair again and hold very still."

Carsaib chewed his lip nervously, but then sat down. He recalled the tests young boys were put through before they could be called men of his tribe. One of the tests was scarification. The boys would have to endure the pain of an elder carving symbols of courage and strength into their flesh. If they made so much as a whimper, they failed. Carsaib steeled himself, just like the teens of his tribe, as Nia approached him with a small knife.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

Draining the pus and fluid from Carsaib's feet hadn't been a pleasant task. The boy squirmed uncontrollably, despite his best efforts to keep still, and even though he hadn't screamed or whined, tears streamed down his cheeks and his small chest heaved by the end of the ordeal. Nia swiftly finished cleaning the wounds and covered them with a thick yellow paste before wrapping them in white cloth. Her motherly instincts took over, though, when she saw the boy bravely fighting back sobs. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his frail shoulders.

"There, there, I'm so sorry. It's all over now. You're safe. You're gonna be okay." Nia chanted as she held the boy close. It proved to be his breaking point. A gigantic sob that wracked his entire frame became the first of many as he cried into Nia's neck, his slender arms wrapped tightly around her. She stroked what was left of his hair and cooed softly in his ear as he drained himself of emotion. She felt a lump grow in her throat as his pain and grief soaked into her collar and broke her heart, but continued to soothe him as best she could.

It took a long time for Carsaib to calm down again and by then he was so exhausted that he couldn't even dress himself. Nia helped him into a fresh set of clothes that were far too big for him and half carried him to a small bed situated in the corner of a closet sized room. Carsaib climbed into it and was asleep as soon as he lay down. Nia tucked the thick blankets around him and stroked his head one last time before leaving him to his dreamless sleep.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

It took weeks for Carsaib's body to heal, but his mind and tongue were in perfect working order the day after his rescue. He had slept well into the morning and woke with a million questions. Nia forced the boy to drink a large cup of water before she let him wander around the house, but was never more than a shadow's length away from her side and that probably for the best since walking was still painful for the boy and he was apt to stumble.

Carsaib absorbed his surroundings like a sponge, desperate to look at and touch everything. Nia found herself chuckling at the child's thirst for information. By noon, he had followed Nia into every room in the main building while she cleaned, asking questions the entire time.

"What's that?" Carsaib asked pointing to a bristled stick.

"It's a hair brush." Nia answered. The boy picked up the brush and ran its spines across his head before he remembered he didn't have enough hair to tend to.

"What about that?" He said setting the brush down and limping towards what he thought was a puddle of water on the wall. He looked at his reflection, marveling at how he had changed.

"It's a mirror." Nia said, getting ready to shoo him from the room and move onto the next.

Carsaib touched it, leaving a foggy handprint on its surface, "Is it water?"

Nia gently slapped his hands away and lead him into the hall

"No, it's glass."

"What's glass?"

By the time they settled in the kitchen, Carsaib had moved onto more personal questions.

"Where are you from?"

"Carvahall. It's past the mountains in the west." Nia answered as she chopped vegetables.

"Is your family there?" The boy asked as he settled into a chair by the wall.

"Not anymore."

"Where are they?"

"All over. My children have all grown up and had families of their own."

"Do you get to see them?"

"Not as often as I would like."

"Why?"

Carsaib's incessant interrogating continued for nearly an hour and Nia, tired of discussing her own life, decided it was her turn to ask about the boy's.

"Where are you from, Sweetheart?" She asked him. He gave her a strange look, like the answer should have been obvious.

"The plains." He said simply, shifting in his seat and kicking his legs like nervous children often did.

"Which settlement? Furnost? Bullridge?"

Those names meant nothing to Carsaib and his expression showed it. He titled his head to the side, and furrowed his brow. He seemed to understand what she meant though.

"I am Savasci." He finally said with pride, puffing out his thin chest. Nia wasn't at all impressed by the boy's posturing, but she recognized the name.

The Savasci were a nomadic plains tribe and a particularly violent one at that. The raids the Savasci warriors lead on other tribes were legendary and their tactics were gruesome. They were best known for scalping their enemies and hanging the dried flesh from their belts.

This revelation stunned Nia, though she didn't let it show as she studied the boy with a new light. He looked nothing like a plains child and even less like a ruthless warrior in training.
He was also quite fluent in common and all this led her to suspect that his blood was somewhat mixed. She tried to find a delicate way to ask him if that was so.

"Were your parents Savasci?" She said carefully, watching Carsaib's reaction. He hesitated.

"Papa was." He answered quietly. He didn't elaborate; his eyes already filming with tears. Nia didn't push him for more information. His parents were obviously a painful subject. Instead she moved on to a different question.

"How old are you, Carsaib?" She asked as she put freshly kneaded dough aside to rise.

"I'm eight!" He said excitedly, holding up eight thin, red fingers. Nia found herself shocked once more. She had raised eight children of her own and she would have sworn on her mother's grave that the boy in front of her was no more than six. Six and a half at the absolute most. The child was simply full of surprises.

Carsaib, bored of sitting down, slid off his chair and slowly hobbled to the window. Through it he could see the stables and the gate. He could also see the older man that had rescued him from the desert saddling a pale horse. He watched as the older man put several sacks on the horse's rump and tie them down.

"What is his name?" Carsaib asked, pointing through the window at the older man. Nia had to look through the window over his shoulder to see who he meant.

"Oh, that's Master Haeg. This is his house." Nia explained.

Carsaib eyed the sacks on the horse curiously, "Where is he going?"

"One of the settlements near here I should think."

"Why?"

"To sell his herbs and ointments. There are plants in the desert that help soothe burns and make sick people better. Haeg grows them here, mixes them into medicines, and then sells them in town." Nia left the window to check on the bread. She didn't notice Carsaib's awed expression until he spoke again. His voice was so full of reverence that Nia almost laughed.

"He is Kansarkci Onru!" Carsaib breathed.

"Haeg is what?" Nia asked, wondering exactly what the boy had just called her master.

"He is a shaman!" Carsaib explained. Men that could heal the sick were among the most powerful in his tribe. They had the gift of magic.

"Ah," Nia said with a raised eyebrow, "I think sorcery would be a more correct term for what Master Haeg does. Herbology is merely his hobby."

Carsaib didn't care what Nia called it or what differences existed between the words. His mind had traveled back to the ceremonies of the Savasci where men in grand costumes would dance and chant while the Shaman summoned the images of deer and wolves from fire. The flaming figures would then dance and change form until they disintegrated into ash.

"Do you think Haeg will show me some magic?" Carsaib asked as he watched the older man ride through the gate and into the desert.

Nia shrugged, "You could always ask him."

Carsaib looked down, rethinking his request. What if Haeg refused and yelled at him for daring to ask for magic tricks?

"Maybe," Carsaib said as he returned to his seat, "another day."