“Hazina!” Nala shouted. “Father will be displeased if he sees you doing that!”
Hazina spun and glared at her sister. “Father will not know.” She walked toward Nala and tossed a stone over her shoulder. The satisfying sploosh bedeviled the young girl, a smile spreading across her face.
Nala laughed and breathed deep the arid air. She loved the still air baked by the sun overhead. Ra smiles upon us, she thought. Her grandmother had told of another God, Aten, but Nala couldn’t imaging a world without Ra.
Nala and Hazina ran, hand in hand, towards their village. They moved swiftly across the smooth dunes of their home, each step memorized. The journey was a daily one, and one the girls looked forward to.
As they approached their village, Hazina gasped and pointed. A pillar of dark smoke rose over the last dune they needed to summit. Nala dropped her sister’s hand and staggered to the top.
They fell and slid down the other side, rough hands pulled them from the sand. A callused thumb rubbed the sand-streaked tears from Nala’s cheek. A man with skin lighter than sand smiled and wrapped a metal ring around her neck. She looked back at her village, dark shapes littering the ground…
Nala’s eyes snapped open and she suppressed a yawn.
“He traveled on the Mandjet as the sun rose and the Mesektet as the sun set…”
Nala tried to continue the story, but another yawn escaped her lips. How many weeks has it been since I have had a decent night of sleep? she wondered. She spent her nights locked in an endless contest against Shui. His interest in her stories had grown and she hid a modicum of pride that there was something she could do better than he. Her days were filled with regaling her sister of her attempts to slay Shui and exploring his holdings unimpeded. She and the girls were afforded more and more freedom.
Without warning, her head struck the woven bamboo pillow. She was vaguely aware that on this particular pillow was painted with flower patterns. She would’ve never admitted it, but the sheer quantity and variation of such a luxurious item impressed her. She was aware of thick cloth piled on her body, too close for comfort.
Sleep vanished and she regained full command of her senses. “What are you doing?” she screeched at Shui and tried to cast away the blankets.
Shui placed a hand on her shoulder, preventing her egress. “Sleep Nala,” he whispered, “you need to rest.” He replaced the blankets. “You have not had a proper night of sleep in a full cycle of the moon.”
Panic radiated through her. Her attempts to kill him had been futile thus far, but lately she barely had the strength to try. Her movements tempered by fatigue. Shui barely had to try to thwart her, she was impotent.
“No sleep…” she mumbled.
She had to honor her commitment to keep Hazina safe. Shui would execute her if he didn’t get his story…
“I will not hurt you,” he said while arranging the bedding around her limp body. “You will awake safe and unscathed in the morning. You have my word.”
He lies! she thought. She tried to push away the bedding, but lacked the strength to do so.
Shui laid beside her, his head resting on her shoulder. He caressed her cheek with a tenderness she had never witnessed. It was the first sign of affection she had ever received from him. “Nala,” he whispered, “I will not harm you this night. Please believe me and go to sleep. I need you to recover your strength.”
Nala wanted to laugh at his protestations. Believe< him? she thought, the monster who killed Fabia?
Instead she shut her eyes, squeezing away the tears. How could a murderer have hands so warm?