Nala looked up to the guard who addressed her.
“The commander has summoned you.”
“What?” Her eyes narrowed. “The commander?”
Panic enveloped her – it was as if she were staring down a precipice. Had they discovered her arrangement with Shui? she pondered. Had he finally come to his senses and informed them that I was determined to assassinate their Champion Standing?
A single thought chimed in response to her unspoken questions. She ignored it and chastised herself for even entertaining it at all, but it was persistent: He would not do those things.
“The commander does not wait when he summons.” The guard reiterated in a stern voice, deeming her hesitation to be a sign of potential rebellion.
Nala looked to Hazina, laughing with Baba as they chose what foods to eat.
Whatever happens to me, she willed Baba, keep her safe. Baba looked up, as if she had heard Nala’s silent plea.
Nala returned her gaze to the guard, his impatience beginning to show as he clenched his fists and tapped his foot restlessly. Nala bowed slightly and followed the guard down the corridor.
* * *
“You have arrived.”
Nala looked down the corridor and closed the doors to Shui’s bedchamber. Each time before, they’d close with sound echoing their joining, announcing her presence. This time, however, they closed silently, as if they shielded her presence.
“I wondered if you had decided to dissolve our arrangement.” Shui lay on his back, eyes downcast. “I do not feel well this night.”
I know, thought Nala.
“Is something from my evening meal disagreeing with me?”
No, not your meal.
“I must not have performed my calisthenics today.”
That is not it either.
“I will rest my eyes. You may sit here and continue your story.” He managed a small smile, but it was a pale shadow of the one she yearned for. “You were telling me of the great Nubian Sphinx.”
Nala’s throat was dry. She feared something would betray her actions. “Yes,” she managed to croak.
He closed his eyes, and covered them with his arm. “Continue, then.”
Nala padded silently towards his bed, she sat next to his sleeping form. As the room was silent, she felt numb inside. This is it, she thought. She held her breath. This will end today.
Shui lifted his arm and peeked through limp eyelids. “No attack?” He coughed. “Today could be your greatest opportunity.”
For a moment, Nala thought he knew. It was a moment of intense dread, but also relief. The moment passed and he coughed, his body seizing with the effort. “It is worse than I believed.” He returned his arm to conceal his eyes. “Please continue,” he rasped. “But I may succumb to sleep before you finish.”
Not sleep, thought Nala, as she watched him writhe.
She felt disembodied. The sensation was bizarre. She felt as if she were a witness to events beyond her doing. He lips parted and she droned on a story she barely recalled. A story he would not remember. The numb feeling grew as she watched Shui’s limbs drift to a site of pain. Her dagger weighed at her side.
His eyes drooped closed and a light snore escaped his parched throat. Nala knew it would be a while before they opened. Forever, if the body she observed with a gruesome detachment fulfilled the commands of a demented woman.