Nala stared at the man, recognition absent. Had he dismissed my rant? She thought.
He cleared his throat and repeated his query.
Miscreant! Nala thought, my outburst meant nothing! “Swenett,” she replied, burying her impotent rage.
His expression turned thoughtful. “The first cataract of the Nile,” he said, and nodded. “I have never seen the syenite quarries, but have seen the great obelisks your people have constructed.” His face softened. “Have you?”
“What if I have?” Nala snapped. His prominence failed to impress her. For a brief moment, he was simply the honey-eyed man and she the humble slave girl.
He squinted and crossed his arms as the silence between them hardened. Nala felt her rage subside. He didn’t appear to be able to relent, and Nala just wished for the encounter to end.
“Tell me a story of your people,” he whispered, his head tilted slightly.
Nala blinked. The situation compounded unexpectedly. “What?” she queried, as she attempted to discern his motives.
His bearing visibly softened. “Tell me the legends and stories of the great Kushite Kingdom. I have been fascinated by your people.”
“Why?” She retorted.
He waved his hand, encompassing the chambers. He pointed at Nala. “To save your life.”
Nala seethed. “Do with me what you will, Mi’Lord.” She spat to emphasize the honorific.
The man brandished a wide smile, and Nala regretted her impudence. She did not desire death. She still needed to care for her sister. She was overcome by a flood of emotions. Resentment and anger were at the forefront, but he coaxed another emotion – a emotion alien to her. It made her act and talk with abandon.
“You are not alone,” he declared after the silence became unbearable. “I saw another girl with you. You came to me in her stead.”
How could he know… The thought died as he continued.
“Will you perish by my hand this night and leave her unprotected?”
Nala knew that was precisely the situation she wished to avoid, but admitting it was a betrayal she was unwilling to commit. She swallowed, visibly working through the ramifications.
He sighed and stepped back, Nala’s dagger at his feet. “You are a difficult woman.”
Nala silently commanded herself to not reply to his barb.
“I have a proposition for you.” He knelt to retrieve the dagger. “I will allow you the honor of trying to slay me each night.”
Nala’s jaw dropped. She heard his statement again and again, she refused to believe she head it.
He held the dagger aloft by the blade. The handle inches from Nala’s face. “I will lower my guard each night. If you fail to eliminate me, you will tell me again of your people.”
Nala stared dumbfounded.
“Of course, you have failed this night, so you owe me a story.” He waggled the dagger.
This is absurd, she thought. Regale him with stories of the great Kushite Kings? Preach the teachings of our gods and goddesses? Reveal the secrets of the pyramids? Nala was repulsed by the man. Refuse! she commanded herself, even as she reached for her dagger.
“You will keep your word?” she asked. Resist!
“On my honor,” he declared.
“That is not what I said,” she snapped.
He sighed. “I will keep my word.”
Refrain! She gripped the dagger. Seize it! Drive it into his chest!
His eyes appeared to twinkle in the low light, and relinquished the dagger to his potential assassin.