Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)(25) by Alwyn Hamilton

I stayed a few feet behind the group until I found a compartment whose number matched the one inked onto my ticket. I opened the door as carefully as the time I got dared to find out if the snake behind the school was dead or just sleeping. Turned out my mother knew how to get out snake poison. But this, this wasn’t something she would’ve known anything about.

I locked the compartment door safely shut and folded myself into the bed, pulling off my sheema. I reached a hand out to run across the impossibly clean pillow, but my fingers curled back without my meaning them to. I’d bathed that morning. At proper baths, too. I’d poured oil into my hair and dragged a comb through it with my head under water until it wasn’t matted anymore. The steam had wound its way around the swirling tiled patterns of the bath, making my hair curl out. But I still felt like I was going to track the whole desert in with me, like the sand was too deep in my skin after nearly seventeen years.

A whistle split my ears. An alarm? I scrambled to my feet and backed to the other side of the room, gun already in my hand, pointing at the door. I waited for it to fly open.

For two long heartbeats nothing happened, though there was a lot of commotion outside. And then the whole room lurched sideways. I pitched so hard to the right that I sat down hard on the bed, narrowly keeping my finger from hitting the trigger. I clutched the bed while the train stammered a few more times and then started to move, smoother now.

I hadn’t really thought about what riding a train would feel like—the same as riding a horse, I’d figured. I was sure wrong on that count. I sat on the bed, feeling the train pick up speed for a few moments before I got to my feet. All I could see out of the window was black smoke filling the station.

Then, in a violent heave, we broke free. Smoke rushed up, sucked toward the desert sky. My window cleared.

I rested my forehead against the glass. For once the desert didn’t seem like it went on forever. The horizon was racing up. A grin stretched the bruise on my cheek painfully.

I was on my way to Izman.

•   •   •

I LAY ON the soft bed, being rocked pleasantly by the motion of the train. The room darkened as the sun made its way from one side of the carriage to the other. Eventually my stomach started to growl hungrily.

I ignored it as long as I could. But it was a week’s journey to Izman. I’d have to leave my compartment sooner or later.

The train was bustling when I stepped outside. Women in fine clothes brushed by me in the corridors and men stood laughing and slapping one another on the back with hands so heavy with rings, it was a wonder they could hold them up. I caught myself dragging my hand across the thick red wallpaper as I made my way down the train. I shoved my hand in my pocket. That wasn’t the gesture of someone who belonged in first class.

I passed out of the sleeping area and into a carriage that seemed to be a bar. Nothing like the dark dusty one in Sazi, this one was blazing with light, the ceiling stained dark with thick pipe smoke. Laughter exploded among a group of men over a card table as I passed. Beyond it was a dining carriage. I hovered uncertainly in the doorway for a moment before a man in a uniform came and ushered me to a table.

Dark leather gave way under my back as I settled uneasily in a chair by the window. The chair squeaked below me every time I shifted. A woman at the next table looked up at the noise as I tried to make myself comfortable, sitting as still as I could. Being by myself, surrounded by strangers instead of the folks I’d known my whole life—I was still getting used to it. Best not to draw attention. If anyone looked my way they might wonder why there was a scruffy boy still wrapped in his sheema eating among their glittering clothes.

Colorfully painted plates piled high with food were laid out for me. I eased my sheema away from my mouth, keeping an eye on anyone who might be watching too closely. But everybody else was looking at their own food. I kept my head down as I shoveled a forkful into my mouth. I almost gagged with surprise on the huge bite. Spices like these were worth a month’s wages in Dustwalk. I chewed and swallowed before downing the glass of arak that’d been set out for me.

The second, smaller bite was better, since I was expecting it. Soon I was shoveling mouthfuls in fast. I was scraping the fork along the pattern of the plate when they came and took it away.

One plate followed another. By the time I licked the last of the honey from the baklava off my fingers, I was full to bursting. And tired.

Sleeping away the afternoon heat wasn’t a luxury we could afford in Dustwalk. But I’d seen it done in Sazi, when the streets emptied of the wealthy, who drew in behind their cool walls. It looked like they honored the tradition here. Folks were slipping back to their own compartments or settling back on the cushions in the dining carriage to close their eyes.

I retreated to my own compartment, kicking the door shut behind me. I tugged off my boots and collapsed on top of the clean linens. In a week we’d be in Izman. By then, I’d have to figure out how to eat and dress and act like I was supposed to in the big city. Until then, though, I could do whatever the hell I wanted.


I woke in the dark. The thin light that still lingered outside the curtains of my compartment told me the sun had only just set. The full weight of the desert night hadn’t descended yet. Folks would just be waking up again to eat dinner.

The meal was still resting heavy in my stomach, and the jolting of the train wasn’t helping. The compartment felt close and hot, even after the sun set. I needed clean air. I tried the window but it was sealed shut, as best I could figure from scrabbling at the edges.

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