None of of the girls knew how to react. The guard who had come to escort Fabia away was quiet, responding to Nala’s queries with an unhelpful “Mi’lord commands it.”
Mi’lord? thought Nala, such an honorific wasn’t telling. She didn’t know where they were kept. The imposing frame and the blank stare of the guard stopped Nala from further questions.
The girls held back their tears and hugged a normally placid Fabia fare well. Fabia’s placidity gave way to apprehension as she was led away, her flowing gown bobbed on the floor with each hesitant step.
A hesitance, Nala suspected, was not untoward.
Fabia didn’t return the following morning. Another girl was summoned from the group – a girl Nala didn’t know. Like Fabia, she never returned. Two sleepless nights gave way to worrisome days. After five days, the group was five less – no indication that they had ever been there at all.
The women gossiped. They were convinced that they were in the city of the Champion Standing’s birth. No other story could explain why no slaves returned after being summoned. He must have used them through the night and executed them in the morning. The rumors had to be true.
Their explanations filled them with dread. Fabia and the other girls would never return, the girls whispered.
The dread compounded. On the sixth night, a girl cried, and struggled against the guard. The entirety of the situation seemed wasteful to Nala. The beautiful clothes, expensive jewelry, posh living conditions… Showered upon innocent girls only to be sacrificed for the sick pleasure of a twisted Lord.
The girls wails increased in intensity. She wanted to live. We all want to live, thought Nala, perhaps I should take her place…”
The guard grew weary of the girl’s protestations and pushed her away. He turned to Hazina and beckoned her to him.
Nala’s resolve intensified. It was a return to that day in the market. “I will go tonight,” she declared.
“No,” Hazina protested, her happy demeanor cast away like a soiled garment. “What will I do without you?” she cried, holding Nala’s hands tightly within her own.
Nala shook her head and gently pried away Hazina’s hands. “I will be all right, Hazina.” Nala eyed the guard to be sure he wasn’t watching them too closely, before she revealed a curved dagger secreted behind her belt. “I will end this today.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Hazina hissed to her sister.
“I have to go, Hazina,” Nala interrupted her, casting a glance at the guard. “Someone has to do this. You know I am the only one able.”
Hazina bit her quivering lower lip. Her eyes scanned Nala’s face. She tried to hide her anxiety, and let go of Nala’s hands. Hazina looked at her sister for a few more moments before she hugged her sister and turned her back to Nala and the guard.
Nala knew of the untapped strength Hazina had. To let her sister walk to her possible death. Nala knew she didn’t have the strength and courage to let Hazina sacrifice herself, or to bear the angst of losing her. Maybe I am a coward for thinking that way, Nala thought. She had done it so many times before, but her strength reserves were completely depleted.
The sisters parted, both reluctant. They exchanged terse smiles before Nala waved at her and turned, meeting the guard’s bored but vigilant eyes.
It was time.