[ Disclaimer: All rights and privileges to Shin Kidousenki Gundam Wing are trademarks and property of Sunrise, Bandai, Sotsu Agency, and associated parties. The characters of these works are used WITHOUT permission for the purpose of entertainment only. This work of fiction is not meant for sale or profit. ]

A GW fan fic: Desert Prince - Part One
By Stargem

Author's notes: This one's been swimming around in my head for the past few days o.O; It started off with me wondering how Quatre would fare as a real desert prince, so… ^_^; I have never seen a desert with my own eyes; only on a few documentaries on Natural Geographic, so excuse any mistakes I might make. Thanks to Kikotei for clearing up stuff that I wasn't too sure of and generally being a major help on researching facts. Enjoy.

============================================

Quatre was tired. He was also worried and very, very sandy. The latter was because he had been taken by surprise by the arrival of a sandstorm while leading the Manganacs to shelter for the night. Sand blew about in great clouds, reducing visibility to almost nil. The cloth over his mouth and nose allowed some measure of escape, but he could still taste grit on his tongue. His eyelashes were coated with coarse powder, as was every other area of exposed skin. Squinting, he could make out the dark shapes of the Manganacs straggling along in a ragged line behind him, almost leaning into their horses as they struggled against the wind. Pain pricked his heart as he watched the men and their bowed heads - all of them prepared to follow him through even the hottest pits of Hell.

"I don't think we're going to make it," he yelled above the insidious rasping of the shifting dunes.

"We are!" Rashid appeared out of the whipping waves of airborne dirt, his bulk momentarily shielding Quatre from the sand. "I can see the shelter up ahead. Not far now, little prince."

Relief flooded through Quatre as he spotted the dark shadow of the cliffs clawing up through the gloom. His men would be safe! He pushed on with renewed effort, his legs sinking into the restless, shifting surface of the desert as it attempted to claim him. Beside him, Sandrock bucked and fought his way through the sand as Quatre's hand guided him.

"Almost," he murmured to the panting stallion. "Shh, my beauty. We will be safe from the rage of the desert soon."

Sandrock was tiring, he knew, as was he. His body was aching from the vicious lash of the wind-driven sands and his legs and arms were fatigued from dragging his horse and himself over the unstable sand dunes. Still, it was a shock when Sandrock slipped, screaming defiantly at the storm even as the reins wrapped around Quatre's hand tightened in a vice-like grip and dragged him down. Quatre cried out in pain as Sandrock fell heavily on his arm and they tumbled down the sides of the dune.

"Little prince!"

The world was a tilting, swirling mass of black and brown and white pain as he was buffeted from all sides. Occasionally, he recognised flashes of Sandrock's mottled tan hide and a silky black mane or tail slapped against his leg or face. Then, his back slammed against a reasonably flat area, his spine arcing as electrical tingles of pain shot up to the back of his neck and rang in his ears. There was a dark shadow above him, wavering crazily behind a filmy black curtain with multi-coloured stars. A low nicker sounded by his ear and Sandrock's warm breath blew across his face. With a pained gasp, Quatre forced himself up, untangling his numbed hand from Sandrock's reins and gripping the cheek strap of the equine's bridle.

"Rashid?" he called hoarsely.

The wind was beginning to pick up all around him. There was no sign of his men. This was bad. This was worse than bad. He had lost sight of the shelter and the Manganacs. He had no idea where he was. He tried not to consider his odds of surviving the storm. A quick check assured him that nothing had been broken from the fall although he would be feeling the bruises for a long time to come. If he managed to stay alive.

"Morbid thoughts are not comforting," he told Sandrock. Coaxing the high-spirited equine into lying down took some doing, but he managed. "We might as well wait out the storm so we can find our way back to the Manganacs when it dies down."

Ripping free a piece of cloth, he wrapped Sandrock's head loosely to ensure he had some protection from the sand and huddled against his warmth in the remnants of his cloak. There was nothing left to do but wait. And the wind continued to blow.

***

"Hey - hey, Ali! Look what I found!"

"What do you want?"

"There's a boy here with a fine-looking horse."

"Well, well. Lets have a look at him."

Raucous laughter awoke Quatre just as a strong fingers gripped his arm and lifted him from the sand that had piled up against his small frame. Sandrock's voiced an angry challenge behind him as the rough-looking men reached forward to grab his bridle, a curse sounding as the stallion kicked. Through the fog of confusion, instincts took over as Quatre mirrored his mount's actions by driving the toe of his boot blindly into his assailant's unguarded stomach.

"The boy has spirit!" a scarred man laughed as the first one dropped Quatre and staggered back struggling to regain his breath."And quite lovely," the third one spoke in a malicious whisper. "Sa'ad would pay well for him."

Quatre's blood ran cold then hot with rage. These were not ordinary bandits; they were slave traders! Whipping out his dagger, he lunged at the man attempting to steal his horse. Steel met with unresisting flesh and the slave trader squalled.

"He cut me! The little brat cut me!"

"Enough of that," the deceptively soft-voiced one said. "Subdue him - then we'll get the horse."

"No! Sandrock!" Quatre pitched his voice to the stallion, about to give the order to flee - then a hand clamped over his mouth.Sandrock kicked another man in the knee as Quatre wrestled with the slave trader, managing a punishing blow to the chin, his teeth leaving bleeding marks in the hand over his mouth. The hand disappeared.

"Ow! Why you little…"

He kicked the source of the voice, earning a gratifying grunt of pain. Still, he knew that the element of surprise was fast fading from his advantage and he was already tired; his body ached all over. There were more men here than he could handle in his present condition. His dagger flashed, and tasted blood.

Quatre turned in time to see one of the men punching Sandrock in the nose, the stallion screaming now in pain as well as anger. He reared as ropes whistled through the air, and the sight momentarily froze Quatre. A moment was all the slave traders needed as they flung themselves on top of him.

"Got you, brat."

The dagger was wrested from his hands and pain exploded in his left temple as he tried to fight back. The world whited out and quietly turned black.

***

Trowa set up his tripod and camera on the first conveniently flat area he could find close enough to his subject and adjusted the shutter speed. His mind remained completely focused on his task although the surface of his thoughts noted the children gathered a safe distance away pointing and giggling at the intriguing stranger within Sa'ad's tents. Sa'ad himself, the leader of this desert community, was standing off to the side under the shade of some nearby palms. Advisors clustered around their chief, keeping him updated on trading agreements with other tribes. The middle-aged man had a hard face and cold black eyes; not one of Trowa's more photogenic subjects. Still, the pay was good and he was pleased to have the chance to experience first-hand the life of the desert community and the beauty of their land.

A messenger ran up to Sa'ad and spoke to him in a confidential whisper as he bent his dark head. A smile appeared on the chief's face as he waved away the other men clustering around him. A rapid Arabic conversation passed between him and the messenger before the younger man walked over to Trowa.

"Sa'ad entertains special guests in his tent now," the messenger said in heavily accented English. "They bring him a rare treasure. Will you see?"

Trowa frowned a little. It was difficult to get the chief away from his affairs long enough to take the photos he needed to complete the project he had been hired to do. Still, he admitted to being curious as to what sort of rare treasure the young man spoke of. He nodded and the messenger bowed.

"This way."

He was led to the large collection of tents situated in the very heart of the community. Sticking up through the centre of the biggest tent was a flagpole with a flag featuring a vaguely avian black shadow against a yellow background. Inside, furs lined the floor and embroidered cushions were placed around a raised dais. Men of importance were already seated; they did not give Trowa more than a glance as he entered and took an empty place. Sa'ad presided over the gathering, his son seated beside him on the dais. The men spoke to one another softly in Arabic, the words flowing together in a meaningless stream to Trowa's ears. They were apparently waiting for something.

The bored look on Sa'ad's face quickly changed to anticipation, as there was sudden activity at the entrance of the tent. Three richly clad Arabs came in and prostrated themselves before him, uttering hushed exclamations and gesturing with their hands excitedly. Trowa guessed that they were working him with the usual sales pitch in preparation for the treasure they had brought to him in hopes of securing a high price.

After the bowing and scraping had gone on for a while, the third Arab beckoned to someone outside the tent. Another Arab entered, leading several beautiful girls dressed in many-coloured silks and veils behind him. They bowed to Sa'ad timidly and jumped as one of the first Arabs barked at them sharply. Music filtered through the tent as the girls began to dance, lifting their arms above their heads and moving their hips to the beat of the drums. All the while, the Arabs talked in smooth, low tones to Sa'ad, who watched the display appreciatively. Several times, the Arab merchant - for Trowa guessed he sold rare things and had hired dancers entertain his customer while they negotiated - smiled and nodded to the second, who then spoke to the one watching over the girls. The dance ended, and the dancers clustered in a loose bunch in front of the dais. Satisfied, the Arab pointed at several of the girls, who were deftly removed and taken outside. The rest were herded back out at a word from Sa'ad.

Next, a smaller group of boys were brought in and repeated their female counterparts' actions. Only two boys were separated from this group, however, before the rest were sent away. The merchants turned to their audience this time, speaking quickly and seeming to get even more excited, their voices dropping to a sudden hush. Trowa found himself leaning forward despite himself as the Arabs worked their audience expertly, drawing out their anticipation and heightening their curiosity. The first merchant snapped off a command at his second, who scurried out for a minute or two, reappearing with a mysterious figure covered from head to toe. Silken ropes bound the captive's wrists, clueing Trowa in only precisely what sort of wares the merchants were selling. Shock and disgust raced through his veins and he had to bite his tongue to prevent himself from disrupting the proceedings. He had heard of these kind of people and their illegal trade, but out here in the desert where a tribal leader still held great power in his own territory, he could not protest. He was having difficulty getting his breathing under control as his morality clashed with his sense of survival. And then, he could not breathe at all as the slave trader whipped the cloth draped over the slave away.

Brilliant sapphire blue blazed from under silky bangs of pure gold as the slave stood proudly, the arrogant lift of his chin belying his lowly station. Delicate chains made a sharp contrast against the tanned bared torso, winding around his arms before binding themselves to the bracelets around his wrists. He wore filmy pants gathered at the ankles and his feet remained bare save for a single anklet. His silent dignity only added to his attraction, setting him apart from the cowed youths that had preceded him. It was obvious that he was special.

The men in the tent began chattering animatedly, pointing at the youth as he stood in their midst with his eyes gazing into the distance as though he was only gracing them with the bare minimum of his physical presence; his mind far away. Sa'ad gestured and spoke in a pleased voice and the slave traders smiled, their eyes glittering with greed. The slave's eyes snapped to the chief with a suddenness that was shocking and deliberately voiced what Trowa suspected was a particularly foul slur. The tent exploded into an uproar as Sa'ad's statement darkened and he thundered at the slave traders who cowered before him. The one closest to the slave grabbed him and shook him furiously, torn between rage at a blown deal and terror at Sa'ad's displeasure. The slave spoke again, his words cutting across the din and the slave trader struck him, his head snapping back with the blow. Blood trickled from his lip as the slave staggered back but refused to go down. Trowa found himself in between them, suddenly, commanding the slave trader to stop.

"I will buy this boy," he told him firmly, as though his tone could make the angry man understand. Inside, he winced at his words. He could feel eyes on his back, and the noise ceased as he defended the slave. It was a decidedly unpleasant feeling. "I will pay you well," he continued, concentrating on the man before him.

The slave trader seemed to understand the gist of his meaning. He pointed at the golden-haired boy behind him then at Trowa. The green-eyed boy nodded. The man chewed on his bottom lip before answering in a grudging string of Arabic that Trowa took for acceptance. Turning his back on the man, he quickly loosed the youth's wrists, throwing the bindings aside. The youth rubbed at his wrists carefully, curiosity warring with hostility in his gaze. Trowa found himself reaching out, taking a slim hand into his own.

"You're with me now," he told those shuttered blue eyes. "Safe."

~ End Part One

**************************************************
(© January 2001 by Stargem)