an art of the desert
She loved the color red. Red was her dress, red were her lips, red were her blades. If Nyssa could have, she would have painted the whole world in crimson hues. Being the chief’s daughter gave her the freedom to dream, but she was still in between childhood and adulthood, a capricious flower blooming in the deadly sands of the Dsarin desert.
The people of the desert were strong and harsh, they adapted to the never-ending dunes and the traps it held. There was no place for weakness when every day was about surviving. Nyssa may be a young still, but she wasn’t spared the life of a warrior. At 15, she was already proficient with the twin curved blades, the tribe’s trademark weapons. Hers had been made especially for her; lighter, shorter and thinner than usual, they were meant to be a perfect fit for the slender girl, but the edge was just as sharp as any other sword.
The nomads of the desert were all fearsome, but among them, Nyssa’s tribe was the fiercest. They called themselves the Flame Raiders, for they would attack caravans without distinction and burn everything they couldn’t use. Riding through the endless sea of sand, the Raiders would show no mercy and redden their blades with the blood of anyone standing in their way.
Because of her father, Nyssa felt as if she had to constantly prove herself. She tried to participate in raids when allowed; women could take part if unmarried, as they had no children and no husband to care for. Three years, and then she would be the wife of the man her father would choose to be his successor. Three years, that was all she had to become a legend and free herself from her destiny.
The Sun Festival was only a few days away and the tribe was making its way to the meeting point. Once every 10 years, the numerous nomadic tribes would gather at the Dsarin tower for 10 days of celebrations and games to honor the sun god. Half buried in sand, the tower was in ruins and it was the only building one could find in the desert. During the festival, thousands of tents would be set around it as it would be the center of all activities, from trading to dancing and sparring.
While they traveled, scouts of the Flame Raiders located a merchant caravan that wasn’t from the desert. Fair game, even in times of festivities. Arram di Marrak, chief of the tribe, wanted to see if there was anything worthy, for gifts or to trade at the gathering, and so he assembled a party of 10. He left the other warriors to guard the tribe as they made camp for the day; they would continue traveling only once the raid party returned.
Only a dozen of guards, barely trained soldiers, guarded the small caravan. Arram was pleased to see horses they could use. This would be an easy raid. From the ridge where he sat on his large black mount, he shot an arrow that killed one of the merchants, an arrow that signaled to the others that it was time to redden their blades. Ten horses thundered, coming out from their hiding places. Ten pairs of curved swords shone under the burning sun.
Nyssa was one of them. Riding her chestnut stallion, she planned on proving that she was just as good as any warrior. There were mainly men, but there were a few other girls yet to be wed in the raiding party. Jumping off her horse, she faced a tall guard well protected by his leather armor. In this hot weather though, she knew it would slow him down.
The girl exchanged a few blows with him to test his response, but it was as she had expected. The man might be bigger and stronger, but she was faster. Taking advantage of her mobility, she swung at him quickly. As soon as he parried, she counterattacked with her second blade. The edge sliced through the armor and already she was turning to attack again, but instead of cutting flesh as expected, she hit iron.
Another man had intervened to save his companion from her deadly blow. Nyssa frowned, unhappy. She glanced around her to find most of her companions had finished off their opponent. Only three guards were left, and they were looking at her. Unsure, she stood still, never taking her eyes off them.
Arram had approached as the fighting came close to an end, though only watching carefully. He signaled his men to wait, to not intervene unless necessary, as he wanted to see how well his daughter would fare against three. He wouldn’t let her die, he cherished her, but he always believed a true warrior was made through blood and sweat.
Nyssa knew what was expected of her when she saw her father’s eyes on her. She didn’t like the pressure or the audience, but she was used to it. People would always watch her and judge her; she was pretty and young, and she was the chief’s daughter. Expectations came with the rank, and she planned on surpassing them.
She waited, her senses as sharp as ever. A man behind her, two in front, including one injured. She heard the heavy footsteps of the guard approaching from the back and she twisted on her toes, using the momentum to swing at him harder from below. As the swords met, she attacked with her second weapon and missed, but she didn’t have time to linger as the other two were charging. Disengaging her blades, she started a series of attacks and parries, and she would evade their blows by jumping and turning around her opponents.
The chief of the Flame Raiders and his warriors watched silently as the girl fought. Even to their experienced eyes, it was stunning to witness her handle the guards with such ease. Nyssa was fast and gracious; every movement was fluid, as if each was the continuation of the precedent. It seemed as if she was simply dancing with the men, the swords being just part of a game, until she cut open the chest of a first opponent and hit the throat of a second. Blood started to flow and covered the edges of her blades as she stopped moving, just for a moment. She stared at the third man who cowered in front of her. Arram couldn’t hear from a distance, but he knew the guard was begging for his life. Flame Raiders didn’t grant mercy upon those who were weak. Nyssa dal Arram walked towards him, in no rush, and thrust her blade into his stomach without hesitation, putting an end to the fight. Her father allowed himself a brief smile, but she didn’t see it. When she turned to bow to the chief, he simply nodded as a sign of approval and his warriors started to loot the caravan.
They had to be quick and avoid overloading themselves. Taking only what was useful or could be sold, they let the rest go up in flames, honoring the name they made for themselves. The raid party had to meet with the rest of the tribe as they still had a lot of traveling to do before they reached the Sun Festival.
The first night, there would be dancing. Nyssa was one of the best dancers of her tribe and she would perform in front of the entire gathering. She looked forward to it; there would be music, and swords, but it would be a completely different dance than the one she performed today.