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The Sand Gnome

Zurin hiked into the sandstorm, making his way toward home. It was a vigorous storm, and its energy lifted his spirit. A smile crept onto his face as he thought of working nature's power into new glass art.

He held his hand before his face, shielding his eyes from stinging sand driven by the desert wind. The sand collected in his white, curly beard—a familiar sensation for a sand gnome. He wore elaborate jewelry, all of it finely-crafted glass of his own make, and a linen robe.

His smile at the fury of the storm fell as he saw his son struggling to keep up. Only 17 years old, Sarstan had not yet learned to draw strength from the desert. He still fought against it as an outsider would. Zurin considered leaving him behind to learn through suffering what the desert had to teach. But he couldn't go through with it.

With a sigh, he turned the palm of his raised hand toward the wind. His nimble fingers worked a brief pattern, glass rings glinting with the speed of his movements. He uttered a dismissal, "Hush now, wind," and slowed his pace so that his son could reach him more easily.

The winds did not slacken, but continued to howl and blast swirling sand. "Aha! You've got some fight!" Zurin planted his feet, sinking them like anchors into the shifting desert. He brought both hands up, palms facing out, and closed his eyes.

In his mind, he saw the course of the wind ascending like a cord of twisting flame. He followed its current far up into the sky, tracing its gyrating path until, like a distant mirage, he viewed its source.

With hands still raised, he spoke in a low, respectful voice, "East wind, I feel your yearning. The seasons have turned, and you long to lash out across the dunes." He paused, then visualized himself looking down on that place of strength in the sky, the wind's origin. He gathered his will.

He drew a deep breath, then raised his voice to a near shout, "I am Zurin. I have watched centuries pass in this desert. It is my home. The sands, the sun, the very creatures that crawl in the heat heed me when I call." Bringing his hands together with a sharp clap, he opened his eyes and stared unblinking into the storm, then gave a final shout, "Cease!"

The wind died down with a reluctant sigh, and sand fell in sheets as the storm gave up its hold. Soon the sun blazed in a clear sky, and silence settled on the two gnomes.

Zurin waited for his son to catch up. Sarstan wore a sullen look on his beardless face as he reached his father. Zurin placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't let it bother you," he said. "It will come with time."

Their journey to the community oasis had proved profitable. Men from the distant towns at the edge of the desert made regular stops for glass and other goods made by his people. He'd concluded several successful trades—exchanging some of his fine glassware for needed supplies.

Now safely back in their homestead, Zurin prepared a meal of spiced dates. "We'll have fresh saffron to go with dinner tonight," he said.

Sarstan just shrugged. He'd rebuffed all attempts at cheering him up, responding with sullen silence.

Zurin joined him at the kitchen table. "What is troubling you? Is it the sandstorm? I've told you, your skill will grow with time. You are still very young."

A look of disgust crossed his son's face as he broke his silence, "Of course it's not the storm! I saw Lilan at the oasis again. She told me..." he held his face in his hands, and paused. When he continued, it was with a soft, pained voice, "she told me she's decided to marry Rojad. He's building a new homestead, and it'll be ready in two seasons." He slumped to the table, his head buried in his arms. "I've lost her because I'm still living here with you."

Zurin lowered his eyes and folded his hands on the table. This was a familiar argument. "Sarstan, you are too young for your own homestead, and we do not have the resources yet. You need to wait a few more years, I've told you."

Sarstan lifted his head from the table and glared at his father. "That's what you always say! And nothing ever changes. And now I've lost her!"

"There will be other girls. You have a long, long life ahead of you. Be patient. When you're ready, you will have your own homestead and the time to find a wonderful companion."

"You never listen to me," he replied. He looked around the room, avoiding his father's eyes.

"What is it?"

His son did not answer, but continued to cast his eyes around the room. After a few moments of this, he finally turned to his father with a determined stare. "I'm leaving. I'll go to the human towns and earn money, then buy my own homestead."

"No. No, Sarstan," Zurin replied with alarm. "You don't understand the danger, and you won't get what you're looking for that way. We've talked about this before. I forbid it!"

Sarstan stood and pointed at his father. "You can't stop me. When I'm ready to leave I'll just go!"

Zurin got to his feet as well, but tried to keep his voice calm. "Please, stop this foolishness. You know I only want what's best for you. That's all I ever want."

Sarstan stepped back from the table. His mouth was a thin line, quivering with rage. "Mother would understand." He turned and left the room.

Zurin sank back into his chair. He knew he should go after his son and talk sense to him. But he was rendered weak by the memories that crept into his thoughts, familiar specters now escaped from the prison his waking mind had walled them into. His son was right, she would have understood. She would have known what to say.

He stared at the sandstone walls of his homestead. He and his wife had built it together, sculpting each block from the desert sand and their melded dreams of the future. The construction was bound with a hearth scarab, its magic sealing the home against any force that might undermine it.

He kept the scarab with him always. Even now he was conscious of its weight hanging from a chain around his neck. It was priceless, and not just because it was crafted from gold and precious stones. She had forged it with him. It would always remind him of happier times.

Her loss, even years later, smothered him with painful regret. He fled to his workshop, desperate for a distraction.

Colored glass rods, globes, and beads filled the workshop. Partially completed vessels occupied any available space on tables, some hanging from hooks on the walls. A rack of tools stood near the center of the room, adjacent to a large, gleaming funnel of polished bronze. It was grooved on the interior with a spiraling channel of crystal that descended the concave sides of the metal, drawing to a point at the bottom. Zurin's solar crucible.

He'd have to wait until the sun returned in its fury tomorrow to light the crucible again, but just being near his tools and running his hands over them in familiarity brought him some peace. Here he could lose himself for a time, working with his hands. Creating sparkling marvels from little more than coarse dust was his life's work.

He picked up a piece of jewelry—a golden brooch set with multi-colored glass. He tumbled it from hand to hand, enjoying the feel of his work. He allowed his mind to wander, and his thoughts turned to his son.

Was he making a mistake? Maybe Sarstan was ready for his own homestead. It would be difficult for him to live on his own, but it would also force him to learn quickly. The materials needed would be costly, though Zurin felt he could probably find a way to get what was needed for his son.

Zurin had been quite a bit older when he'd raised his own homestead. Sarstan did not seem ready, but was it wrong to deny his son the chance to make the decision for himself? Perhaps he was being overprotective. Was he allowing his love for his son to cloud his judgment?

Zurin sighed, then returned the jewelry to the table. Perhaps in the morning after a complete night's rest he'd know what to do.

Haunting dreams woke Zurin a couple of hours after midnight, another consequence of the previous evening. Nightmares usually dogged him when he let his thoughts dwell on his wife. He whispered into the darkness, "Enala."

Clear moonlight shone through thick window glass in his bedroom, taking on decorative hues as it passed through the colored panes. The light shed eerie rainbows on the floor, mingling with the patterns in the rug to create an unsettling effect.

Zurin got out of bed and dressed. There would be no more rest for him tonight. He would do what he should have before he went to bed—go and make peace with Sarstan.

He lit a candle, then left his bedroom. He padded softly down a short hallway to the door to Sarstan's room, rehearsing and discarding a handful of ways to begin a conversation in the dead of night.

He tapped on his son's door, "Sarstan, I can't sleep. I'd like to talk." He waited for the span of a few heartbeats. There was no reply. He entered the room and found moonlight spilling across his son's empty bed.

He cast his eyes around the room, worry building and realization creeping not far behind. "Sarstan?"

The bed was not entirely empty after all. Near the pillow lay a scrap of parchment. Feeling as though he might still be a captive of his nightmares, he picked up the parchment and read what his son had written.

Father, I'm leaving. Don't worry I'll be fine.

Zurin made a frantic search of the homestead, confirming the truth of Sarstan's note. He was truly gone.

Worry hounded him as he prepared a pack for travel into the desert. In addition to survival tools and supplies, he'd packed some of his best jewelry and glassware, anticipating a need to sell them.

The morning sun was beginning to peek over the dunes as Zurin left his home. The red-orange sky promised a scorching day to come.

Zurin had hoped to pick up Sarstan's trail before setting out, but scanning the empty sand around his home he found no sign of his passing. It wouldn't do to simply set out in a random direction, though.

He held a slender rod of glass in his hand. It was uncolored and clear, and was as long as his arm. He reached into a pocket and withdrew a red silk cloth, embroidered with glyphs in gold thread.

He rubbed the length of the rod with the silk, eyes closed in concentration as he passed the cloth over the glass. He continued several minutes, then thrust the glass into the sand at his feet.

The sand crackled and jumped like a thousand tiny fires. Ripples moved outward from the glass rod, as though giant unseen hands were smoothing and rolling it. The ripples continued forward and around Zurin's home, completing a large oval.

As the rippling ceased, the footsteps Zurin had left earlier sparkled with a faint electric blue and stood out from the rest of the sand. They marked everywhere he had walked as he'd prepared to embark. He searched for Sarstan's tracks as well, but his efforts were fruitless. The desert had already erased all signs of his son's departure.

Frustrated, Zurin knew he must still search for his son. Without an easy trail to follow, he would have to rely on logic. Sarstan had said he intended to go to the humans to look for work, which meant heading west. That would do for a start.

Zurin kept a pace few others could match. He'd honed his desertcraft over hundreds of years, and this search was as desperate as any he'd made. The need to find Sarstan consumed him. A day's trek into the desert, though, and Zurin still had found no sign of his son.

He was beginning to doubt whether he'd made the correct decision. Perhaps Sarstan had gotten confused and headed in an unexpected direction? Maybe he'd intentionally gone a different way to throw off Zurin's pursuit. What if he'd fallen prey to some desert beast? If he were following the path his son had taken, he should have caught up to him by now.

The worry was crippling. By comparison, the brutal heat of the sun was a trivial adversary. The desert Zurin could handle. The loss of his son, though, threatened to undo him. He realized now that nothing mattered to him but Sarstan. Not his work, his home, or even his own personal safety. He'd give it all up to bring his son back.

He'd failed to save his wife, and still lived with the guilt and anguish her loss had sown in him. To fail again with Sarstan... it was too much. Despair welled up in Zurin's chest, and he sank to his knees, hands grasping hot sand.

On hands and knees in the sand, Zurin was beset by regret for all his missteps. If he'd been more careful he could have protected his wife. Or if he'd been more sympathetic with Sarstan, he'd still be safe at home. Then he began to imagine all the fates Sarstan could be suffering that very moment. Dying in the heat, or meeting a violent end.

Zurin scrambled to his feet in a panic. He'd wasted time! He sprinted like a madman through the sand dunes. Heedless of danger or what he knew from experience, he raced across the sand, pushing himself to exhaustion and beyond.

Finally, well after night had fallen, he could go no further. His legs simply would not carry him another step. 

He flopped onto the sand with a despondent moan, then wiggled out of his pack. Rolling onto his back, he stared up at the clear night sky where brilliant stars watched him in silent judgment.

There were no clouds nor wind, and the only sound was his own labored breathing. On such a night, he could see for miles.

He sat up with a start. Wretched fool!, he thought. Look for a campfire! Maybe Sarstan made camp.

Zurin's eyes leapt through the darkness in a desperate search for some sign of his son. But there was no hope in his heart. The creeping realization that Sarstan was likely lost to him forever already shadowed his every thought.

Then, astonished, he spotted the luminous flicker of a flame in the distance. He stared at it dumbfounded until reason intruded on his stupor.

The flickering firelight did not look like a campfire. In fact, it was definitely moving. Coming closer. Twin patches of fire, moving with the unmistakable pattern of footsteps.

He knew what that meant. "Efreet," he spat, then slumped prone, sprawling on the sand. He did not have long to wait. Scarcely a minute later, muffled footfalls drew near, accentuated by the faint sound of rippling flame.

"I have nothing for you, creature," Zurin muttered.

A man stood over him dressed in robes the color of charcoal. His hair was dark and oiled, and a short-cropped beard covered his jaw. His eyes smoldered with an amused light. Flames curled gently over his bare feet, creating an eerie half-light in the night's darkness. His voice was like an echo from a black abyss. "But you do. Your delicious despair radiates like a beacon across the sands. How could I not answer your call?"

"Marvelous. Drink your fill then, and be on your way." Zurin rolled away, turning his back to the efreet.

"Tsk tsk, such manners. And from one who should know better. Are you not interested in striking a bargain?" He watched Zurin, one eyebrow raised.

"A bargain? There is nothing you have that would interest me," Zurin said.

"No? Aren't you in a bit of a dire spot right now? Lost something, haven't you?"

Zurin whirled around to face the efreet, keen interest suddenly filling him. "Lost something, yes! Yes, let's make a bargain!"

The efreet chuckled with sinister humor. "Ah yes, you are interested after all. The price will be high, though. A price only you can pay."

Zurin frowned, considering. He reached a decision, one he had been willing to make all along, he realized. "My life for Sarstan's safety. Take him home and protect him, and my life is yours."

"Ahhh, you know how this game is played. Well, that is a serious offer." The efreet paused, scratching his beard and appearing to consider Zurin's offer with theatric exaggeration.

Unable to keep his desperate desire from his face, Zurin watched the efreet. He was tempted to plead, but held his tongue.

Smiling, the efreet continued. "No. No, these terms are not acceptable."


"No. There is a part of you that wishes for death. To be free of your regret. Your loss." He wagged his finger, as if reprimanding a child. "If I take your life and save your son, that would be granting not one wish, but two. No, that will not do."

His brief glimpse of hope dashed, Zurin's face fell. The efreet was simply toying with him, as was its nature. "Begone, then. I have no patience for your game."

An insincere look of concern crossed the efreet's face. "Oh, come now. Don't you want to hear my counter-proposal? We can still come to an agreement."

Zurin shook his head roughly. "For the second time, efreet, my patience is gone. Make your offer plainly or I am done with you."

"So be it." The efreet sat on the sand across from Zurin, folding his legs beneath himself. "I will tell you this much with no need for reciprocation. You will not find your son on your present path."

Zurin remained silent, but watched the efreet with returning interest.

"I could leave you to search in vain. I would surely find it entertaining. But, you would exhaust yourself and perish before long. And then I would miss you. Your regrets, your pain, your inner turmoil, all gone. What a loss."

"You're a monster," Zurin said. But he did not turn away. He sensed there might yet be something he could gain for Sarstan.

The efreet shrugged. "Call me what you will. I wish to prolong your pain that I may relish your suffering for years to come. So I offer you a bargain. I will help you. Set you on the right path. Give you a clue." He grinned broadly at this last statement, clearly enjoying having something to dangle before Zurin.

"And in exchange?" Zurin asked.

"In exchange, you will not throw your life away. You will ponder every day what you could have done differently. You will reflect on each failure in your past so that I may savor your regret. You will live a long time, and remember your lost wife every night."

"That's it? Remember and regret? I do that much already."

"Yes and no. You go days sometimes without regret, relatively content, don't you? I want you to remember every day." The efreet removed a ring from his hand, golden with a dark red gemstone. He handed it to Zurin. "You will wear this. Your memories will become clearer. Your recollections will occur every day without fail while you have it on."

Zurin eyed the ring. "And if I take it off?"

The efreet's broad grin returned. "It will not come off once you put it on your finger. It will become part of you forever."

The ring was warm and heavy in Zurin's hand. Remember and live with regret all the rest of his days? Would it be any worse than knowing he had a chance to help Sarstan and didn't take it? He slipped the ring onto his finger. "Done. Now you are bound, efreet."

The efreet stood. "As you say. I will do my part. Two things I will tell you now, and a third I will show you. First, Sarstan lives. Though you really should have made sure of that before bargaining, gnome."

Zurin realized he was right, but was too relieved at the news to feel ashamed of his foolishness.

"Second, he is held captive by men. They've put him in a cage fit for livestock, and treat him as little better than such. They seek the ancient ruins of Shektet and think that a sand gnome can guide them through the deep desert, if properly motivated. Their notion of motivation is not kind, as you might guess."

Zurin's knuckles went white as an uncharacteristic rage took hold of him.

The efreet noticed. "Ah, yes, delightful. I can tell I've made an excellent bargain. Now, one more thing to show you." He gestured with his hand, pointing to the northern horizon. "Look there toward the twinkling stars Kyrel and Giae."

Zurin looked and saw a glimmer low against the horizon, like the fleeting remnants of lightning from departed thunderclouds. "That is where the men are who have Sarstan?"

"No. But that's where they're headed. A small oasis with water and a little shade. It will take them a couple of days to reach it. You can make it there ahead of them."

"And what? Prepare an ambush?"

The efreet shrugged. "Do whatever you think is best. I am merely pointing you in the right direction."

Zurin thought it over. He knew where to go to find Sarstan, but not what to do to free him. "I will find a way," he said finally.

"Without a doubt," the efreet agreed with another sarcastic smile. "There is just one last thing."

Zurin, surprised, said, "Oh? Is our bargain not fulfilled?"

"Nearly. I sense you might still do something foolish, like set off for the oasis this minute, exhausted. But you need rest now, and sleep. So..." with these words, the efreet reached out with sudden speed, tapping Zurin on the forehead with searing fingers. "Remember."

Zurin collapsed onto the sand, sucked into the depths of overdue slumber.

The dream was clearer than it had been for many years. Zurin saw himself out under the sun, haggling with a bearded man. They were arguing over the worth of some burgundy glassware. In the distance behind him, Enala watched as Sarstan climbed a date palm.

A vibration in the sand passed beneath Zurin's feet. Intent on convincing the man that the offered price was insultingly low, Zurin ignored the telltale sign. It tickled his toes ever so slightly, but he dismissed the annoyance as he continued to argue. He had a point to make. It was the principle of the deal. A matter of pride.

Back and forth they went, Zurin's focus unshakeable as he hounded the trader. Finally, he sensed it was time to drive his point home. "This is the finest work you're likely to find anywhere. We both know that. Stop being stubborn and make me a real offer!"

The bearded man began a retort, but the words died as he let his mouth hang open in astonishment. His eyes went wide as he looked past Zurin, over his head. The look on the man's face was something Zurin had never forgotten.

Zurin's dream self turned away from the trader to see what had stolen his attention. Then, at the sound of a scream, he recalled the earlier sign he had ignored. His face went white as he uttered a strangled, "No..."

Zurin woke with a yelp, and wept.

The oasis was just a cluster of palms around a water-filled pit, barely more than a well. Zurin camped away from the trees, observing from a safe distance.

The sun had set when the men arrived. A dozen camels plodded into view, laden with packs. Two mules pulled a small open-topped cart with wide wheels. On the cart, amongst sacks and crates, was a covered iron cage. Zurin had to withstand the temptation to run to the cage at once. Sarstan!

The men set about watering their animals and making camp. Zurin watched carefully, looking for signs of which man was the leader of the group. He noted that two men pitched a large tent but did not enter it. A third, larger man went in and did not emerge. That must be him.

Time to make an entrance.

Zurin donned his pack and stood, arms outstretched. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sand nearby. Its texture, weight, even its faint smell. He pictured one tiny grain in his mind, resolving its shape and color. A ray of sunlight struck the grain, partially scattering its light. He imagined each tiny detail of the grain of sand until it was perfect. Then he called it with a thought.

The tiniest of pricks tickled his cheek as a grain of sand leapt to him from the countless particles on the ground.

Zurin repeated the process, adding one, then two, then dozens more grains. Soon he stopped concentrating on single grains and imagined handfuls. Then larger quantities. The sensation of being buffeted by a thick, slow breeze enveloped his body as he continued.

Sand adhered to his entire form as he slowly lowered his arms and opened his eyes. Breathing was difficult but not impossible. He stepped forward, walking with a smooth, steady pace. His covering of sand remained.

He resembled a shifting, amorphous pile of sand as he passed into the torchlight of the men's camp. Through his sand-muddled ears he heard shouts of alarm and wonder. No one challenged him as he walked without pause towards the leader's tent. It was lit from within by a lamp or brazier.

He stopped before the tent's open door flaps, looking again into his mind and picturing the sand grains he bore. He began adding details of the camp to his mental image, the torches in particular. He readied himself, as though about to lift a heavy weight or leap across a ditch, then unleashed his thoughts in a torrent of sand. It flew off him in quick bursts, targeting the fires lighting the camp and extinguishing each in turn. Panic filled the men's voices as they yelled alarm into the sudden darkness. Then he stepped into the tent, letting its flaps close behind him.

The man inside the tent was rising from a canvas camp chair, a sword belt in hand. "I heard shouting, is everything... who are you?"

Zurin held his hands out, palms open. "Don't be alarmed, there's no danger. I wish to make a trade."

The man stared at him in silence, looking him up and down. His initial look of amazement morphed into cruel greed as realization struck him. "Hah! More sand gnomes! That's what you are, eh! Trade? Tell you what, gnome. I think I'll take everything you have, then throw you in the cage with the other one." He tossed away the sword belt and advanced toward Zurin.

"I'd rethink that. The other gnome hasn't done much for you, has he?"

The man paused, his face betraying an acknowledgement.

"The gnome you have is just a child. He will not be able to lead you to Shektet."

Surprise showed on the man's face as Zurin mentioned the ruins, and he stopped his advance.

"Now imagine the worst sandstorm you've ever seen. Following you wherever you go. Every day, everywhere. That is what I can promise you if you try to hold us both. Don't believe me? Listen to your men panicking in the dark outside. That is what I caused simply walking to your tent."

The man listened. Then he walked to the tent flaps, flung them aside, and yelled out, "It's all right! Quiet down and light a new fire. I'm taking care of... everything else." He turned to Zurin. "Well, gnome. You said you want to trade. What are you offering?"

Zurin smiled, then began removing his pack. "First, let's talk about what I want. You will free the other gnome, the one you hold in the cage. This is not negotiable."

"Hmph." The man moved back to his camp chair and sat. "And in exchange, what? I'm not just going to give him away."

"I assumed as much." Zurin opened his pack and removed a roll of quilted cloth, which he spread on the floor of the tent. "Let me show you a few things." He began taking wrapped bundles from his pack. As he uncovered each bundle, he set a piece of jewelry, ornament, or small glassware onto the cloth. "This is my finest work, the best glass you'll ever come across. Each piece would fetch a better price than some cracked and ruined artifact you hope to dig up out in the desert. If you find anything at all out there."

The man bent to pick up a piece of jewelry from the cloth. "Glass. Pretty, but just glass. I am hunting gold. Do you have any gold, gnome?"

Zurin shook his head. "Gold I have little of. But have you ever seen moonglass? Here, have a look at this." Zurin handed the man a plate of glass with a subtle silver sheen. "Hold it near the opening of your tent."

With a skeptical look, the man took the glass to the tent flaps and passed it through. When exposed to the night sky, it lit up with a ghostly blue-white glow, brighter than the flickering light of a torch. The man returned and sat, holding the glass in his lap. "Impressive. It's a start, I suppose. What else?"

Zurin looked over the cloth he'd spread on the ground, at all his best work arrayed there. "This is all I've brought. I could not carry more."

"Then no deal. Let's say I believe your sandstorm threat. All right, you can go and I won't try to stop you. But I'm keeping my gnome, useless though he may be. I still think he's worth more than some glass."

Zurin sighed and hung his head. "Yes. Yes, you're right. He is. He's worth much more than that."

The man nodded. "Then we understand each other. Goodbye, gnome. Stay out of my way." The man rose again, then placed the moonglass on the cloth.

"Wait," Zurin said. "I have one more offer." Zurin gently swept aside the glass, then knelt upon the cloth. "Me."

The man's eyebrows shot up. "You? You'd exchange yourself for him? What is he to you?" He paused, then smiled with realization. "Ahhh, now I see. This gnome child, as you call him, is your son, isn't he?"

"Yes. And consider this. He has not come into his strength and will be unable to guide you to what you seek. But I can."

"And how do I know you won't simply call storms down on us as soon as I let your son go?"

Zurin smiled. "You don't. But I give you my word. A father's word." The man sneered at that, so Zurin continued. "Look at it this way: what you have now is another mouth to feed, with little expected gain. If you allow me to take my son's place, I will lead you to your destination."

The man looked doubtful. "Perhaps."

"And if you do not release him you will have made an enemy. One who will not give up hounding you. Ever."

The man frowned, then a grim smile crept across his face. He spoke slowly, "So you say. Assuming you could make it out of this tent alive."

Zurin and the man regarded each other in silence. Sensing an opportunity, Zurin pressed further. "It seems you must take a gamble either way. Why not take the gamble that could bring you profit?"

The man watched Zurin, rubbing his chin. Finally, he seemed to reach a decision. "Profit. That's the point of this whole godsforsaken expedition, isn't it?" He stood and strode out of the tent, yelling, "Roth, Henner, bring the gnome from the cage. Now!" He turned to Zurin, looking down at him expectantly. "It seems we have a deal, gnome."

Zurin bowed his head. "We have a deal. Let me say goodbye to my son." Zurin began packing away the glass and other items. The man looked as though he might object, but then shrugged and returned to his chair.

A few minutes later Sarstan was thrust roughly into the tent. Swollen bruises, torn clothing, and several small cuts were visible, though he seemed in no great pain. He rushed to Zurin, falling to his knees and sobbing. "Father! You found me! I'm so sorry."

"It's all right," Zurin said, helping his son to his feet. "It's going to be all right now." He looked Sarstan in the eyes and said, "I'm sorry too. I want you to take this." Zurin lifted the chain of his hearth scarab over his head and handed it to his son. "The homestead is yours now. Take my glass as well, and trade it for things you need. I'm going to..." he looked away from his son, back to the man seated on his camp chair. "I'm going to be traveling for a while. It's been too long since I went on an adventure. I need to spend some time away. Do you understand?"

Sarstan looked confused. "Take your scarab? Take the homestead? You're leaving?"

"Yes. The homestead is yours." Zurin laid a gentle hand on Sarstan's cheek. "Go and speak with Lilan. You still have time. And I daresay our homestead, your homestead now, is much grander than anything Rojad will have been able to cobble together yet."

Sarstan smiled. "Yes, father." He looked around the tent. "Are you sure about this? Are you sure you're all right?"

Zurin smiled and nodded. "Yes. But you need to go now. Take the scarab, take my pack. Remember you are a sand gnome. Listen to the desert and listen to the scarab. They will guide you. Travel at night. You will reach the homestead."

Sarstan accepted Zurin's pack as he handed it to him, then turned to go. "When will I see you again?"

"I don't know. But you will, some day. Stay safe for me, and I will see you again. I promise." Zurin took his son by the shoulders and embraced him—something he had not done for too long. "Goodbye, Sarstan."

"Goodbye." Sarstan shouldered the pack, a bit too large for him, and left the tent looking relieved and bewildered.

As Zurin watched him go, a curious joy gripped him. In his heart he knew that Sarstan was going to be happy now. Happier than he'd been since he lost his mother. That knowledge made Zurin happy, too. A long, painful thorn of sadness, barbed and terrible with the weight of years, had just been plucked from his heart. He guessed that somewhere out in the desert, an efreet was sorely disappointed.

About the Author
Jeff Sullins works in the software industry in Denver Colorado, daydreaming about blizzards and dragons. He's growing old chasing after his two children, but perhaps the exercise does him good. A former musician, game designer, and programmer, he regularly makes plans and discards them. To write the stories that need to be written has been his desire for decades, though it's only within the last five years that he's begun to take it seriously.