Her thief was looking across the fire at her, and she opened her mouth to tell him he was staring again when there was a rustle in the bushes around their oasis.
"What…" she began, but he was on his feet with his hand on his knife.
Three men melted out of the foliage, showing themselves fully. All of them looked from her thief to her, and her thief was relaxing from his guard.
"Who's this?" the largest of the three asked.
"My princess," her thief replied. "She chose to come… I did not steal her away."
"But for my heart," she answered to that last, blushing prettily in the firelight.
"Oh it's your heart he stole, and nothing more?" the large one replied, before they all set to laughing. She endured it, but then rose to make a proper introduction.
"I wish to see the world, and be as you are, for only a life at the whims of first my father and then my husband awaited me in the castle," she said. "Will it please you to call me Triste, for I was sad until my thief came unto me?"
The large man looked to her thief, then to his partners, and finally doffed his hat to bow to her.
"Triste, we shall be a fair band indeed to have one such as you among us, but our lives are rough, and the future uncertain. What can you bring to us, the Shadows of Arabia?"
Upon hearing the name, Triste smiled. She had suspected, and now she knew. This band had legends and tales, brigands meting out the justice of robbery upon those who had grown fat and rich by the fall of the previous lord.
"I know when many of the lords will not be in residence, when their homes will be least risky to you. I know when the ladies travel, and the foibles of their guards. Is this enough for you to grant me leave to stay, to learn the ways of steel and the road?"
The large man, and she knew he must lead, for there was a cast to his features that spoke of the older nobility, nodded once to her. "Aye, Triste, such knowledge is more than enough to buy your share in our band."
Lessons in riding a horse proved unnecessary, for Triste rode better than even her own thief, Bashir. The large leader of the band was called Khairy, while the last two were brothers named Raham and Raheeb. The brothers were her teachers in the knife. She learned how to conceal one, how to quickly pluck it from the harness, how to handle it in such a way as to dazzle those who saw… and how to plant it deepest where it would do the most good.
Khairy was the one to introduce her to the camels, for there was a difference in the way one handled the desert creatures from the horses. Triste found they liked her better than her thief, which gave the others something to laugh over. Bashir, though, was the one to teach her the ways of firearms, and he brought her the daintiest one she had ever seen.
They roved from oasis to oasis, not doing much more than teaching her for now.
It was the night that a scorpion fell prey to her single shot that Khairy smiled, stroking his beard, and made the decision that they turn back to the cities with her fortresses.
"Our Triste has made me a happy man," he said, "and soon, we shall bring the sword to those who harm us all."
Bashir lightly touched the scrape showing along the shoulder of his princess, then looked into her eyes. "My princess is wounded?"
Triste leaned in, kissing her thief's cheeks in turn. "Your princess is alive, free as the wind, and it is all because of her thief!"
That made him smile, and he gathered her close for a fiery kiss full of passion. This made Triste return it, her body alight with the way he made her feel. Was this love? Was this the jewel she had chosen to replace her safer life with? Or was that the freedom that coursed in her veins with every strike the Shadows made on her father's own people?
"You have delivered us a gift without compare, my princess, in your choosing of us. But tell me true, was it your humble thief who stole you away, or have you stolen us away?" Bashir spoke earnestly, his eyes searching hers.
Triste returned that honesty. "Long have I seen the injustice my own people have perpetuated against yours, Bashir. It is true that I dreamed of a chance to set right some of it, but knew that only your people could do so and have any meaning to the justice brought. However, my dear thief, you set my heart aflame with more than just the need to see justice wrought, and I would choose to walk by your side all the way to the gallows, should we ever fail to make our escape swiftly enough."
"I pray it never comes to that, my princess, and hope that my love for you shines brighter than any gems I freed from your room that night." He kissed her then, tender and fierce all in one, and she gave herself to him once more.
The Shadows of Arabia grew in number, fierce brigands who rode the night and scaled the fortresses. If some men spoke of a princess among them, deadly and dainty as the pistol she used, others scoffed. For what woman, born to nobility, would ever seek the desert ways?
And as the legends grew, the princess and her thief rode close, side by side. No matter what rains would fall to blur their future, and the dangers they shared, Triste kept her thief in her heart, well aware of the treasure she had won because he had beguiled her heart that long ago night.