“We’re going South,” Kurga said.
“And?” Prudence asked.
“Our destination, the one we paid you to take us to, is East.”
“You’re welcome to walk.”
“Where are you taking us?”
“The Citadel of the Emperor of Aedlin.”
“A Citadel? Citadels have soldiers.”
“True. Nearly as many as you have pointless observations.”
“I don’t like soldiers.”
“I don’t like you.”
Ch’Voga broke in, “wouldn’t it be safer to go around them?”
Prudence made a show of her annoyance. “If by ‘safer,’ you mean, we die of thirst the day after tomorrow. Then yes. Since I do not wish to die of thirst the day after tomorrow, I take my chances with the soldiers of the Emperor of Aedlin.”
“Aedlin you say?” Kurga asked.
“Never heard of it.”
“That’s because it effectively ceased to be an empire some centuries ago.”
“What happened to it?” Ch’Voga asked.
“Stupidity,” she said, salting it with a curse, “on a scale that makes the two of you look brilliant by comparison. The fools in the capitol sat and did nothing when the rains stopped. They feasted as famine decimated their people. They courted and played games as the survivors became refugees in other kingdoms. They painted and played concerts for each other as the city itself turned to ruin. They clung to their traditions and their power within their fortified walls and turned a blind eye to all else.” She cursed them again. “They still think they rule all the Sand Sea itself. Idiots. No one rules the Sea. Sand has no master but the wind. The Sun taxes and pays tribute to none.”
“How do they survive then?
“The same way anything does in the desert. Water. The Citadel sits on a spring. They can grow enough for themselves and for the rest they tax travelers. Heavily.”
“Can’t be that many of those.”
“Precious few there are, which is why the tax is so grievous. That is predominantly what the charge for this journey was for.”
“Why do people pay it? Why don’t people just go around?”
“To go around is to go around the Sea itself. One doesn’t just pick a heading and plow off into the Sea unless one wishes to be the lumps in a buzzard’s morning dump. So we go where the water is.”
“Why don’t you just carry more water?”
“Because your thick heads weigh too much. We don’t ride on sand; we glide over it. Too much water and we glide like a cow pregnant with another cow, who’s pregnant with an elephant. Look, you babies are going to be fine. Let me do the talking. And do what you do best, look clueless.”