*~Prologue~*

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Prologue (Sandstorm)

The men admired the barely-perceptible figure of their leader, stealing glances from the corners of their eyes. He stood his ground against the raging storm like a warrior, his legs apart, hands held together behind his back and his head held high, as though challenging the storm. He was the image of calmness, supervising them with an all-seeing gaze that missed nothing as they went about their duties. He showed no sign of fatigue or discomfort, as if this hell they'd been trapped within was a mere nuisance to him rather than a life-threatening situation. He was truly a man born of the desert and moulded by it.

A roaring, sand-filled gust of wind swept by, wreaking havoc throughout the camp, sweeping along any golden sand grains and tiny rocks that were light enough to be carried away. The oasis's palm trees creaked and whipped from side to side. The small lake –small enough to be called a pond- that sat in the middle of the oasis was now buried beneath piles and piles of scorching sand, no longer useful. In a matter of seconds, visibility had been reduced to zero. Zain wiped his forehead of sweat; though it was windy, it was a stifling, scorching wind. He carefully adjusted his black keffiyeh which was wrapped around his mouth and neck as protection. Despite of it, Zain tasted the gritty taste of sand. It had been a very long time since Zain had encountered such an impressively ferocious sandstorm. A bolt of red lightning lit up the sky for an instant and was followed by an ominous rumbling in the sky.

Zain watched as half of his men, secured the tents to the ground and rounded the frightened horses. The few camels the band owned were left for last; camels by nature knew how to survive sandstorms. The other half was busy chasing after weapons and gear that had been blown away.

"It looks as if we are going to have to recruit more men after this storm." Saif materialized at Zain's side. Unlike Zain, he did not wear a Keffiyeh to shield his face from the sandstorm. Saif pointed to a man struggling in the distance. The lower half of Rashid's body hung in the air while he was desperately trying to hold onto a wooden crate. And failing. Zain sighed and motioned for one of his men to go to his aid.

"It's too bad we couldn't take advantage of this sandstorm to infiltrate the town unseen in broad daylight. The people are all home, and the guards forced to remain outside are blinded."

"Yes," Zain drawled, "except we'd be blinded too."

Once everything was glued to its spot, the men retired to their tents to wait out the sandstorm.

****

The sandstorm proved ferocious indeed; it lasted for approximately seven hours. Once the worst of it had abated, the men started emerging from their tents to account for everything. And to prepare.

Zain examined the horizon and immediately spotted the walls. From where he stood at the very top of a sand dune, they looked minuscule, but in reality they were anything but.

He sensed Saif's presence behind him without turning to look. "Has he infiltrated the town?"

"Yes, he made it through without any problems. Now it's only a matter of waiting for night to fall." Saif came to stand beside Zain. He too stared at the grey walls in the distance. "One can't help but wonder how those walls were built and stand awestruck before them. My compliments to your ancestors." he said poetically.

"Slaves built them." Zain stated matter-of-fact.

"Ah." Zain ignored the annoyed look Saif flashed him, no doubt because Zain had spoiled the mood. Zain was in no mood to be poetic, however.

There was one sole trade route that crossed the Arabian Desert from the port of Sohar from the south east and met up with the main route in Basra up in the north. Cities and towns that were spread along the Silk Road naturally flourished and were known to accumulate vast wealth. Malamar was one such town. However, raiding such a town was virtually impossible, otherwise it would have been raided long ago — at least not without a catapult-wielding army to lay siege to it. A magnificent wall towering well over ten qasab encased Malamar, hence its name. But for Zain, this was not simply another difficult raid. He was reclaiming that which rightfully belonged to him, that which he'd been denied.

Zain was going to reclaim his destiny. 

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