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Lady of Shadows: Part 3


I was wrong,” Bayl said, chewing thoughtfully. “Cooking hasn’t improved them at all.” He pulled the little rodent’s tail from between his teeth and grimaced at it in distaste, then flung it into the fire.


Prologue and Previous Parts

Part 3

By Duskweaver

 “I was wrong,” Bayl said, chewing thoughtfully. “Cooking hasn’t improved them at all.” He pulled the little rodent’s tail from between his teeth and grimaced at it in distaste, then flung it into the fire.

I had already finished mine. There had only been a few mouthfuls of greasy, slightly bitter meat on it. The smell of the jerboa cooking had almost made me retch at first, but I’d found I was ravenously hungry once I started on it. I hadn’t been quite hungry enough to crunch up the little rodent’s bones as Bayl did, however.

“Aren’t you going to eat that?” he asked, pointing to the rodent’s head I’d discarded.

I shook my head and handed the tiny morsel over, then tried to ignore the crunching sounds as Bayl munched on it. I knew it was foolish to waste food out here, where we might not find any more until we reached Bremil Pass and the fertile lands beyond, but I was not used to such unappetising fare. We templar-wives are not so weak and decadent as the generally worthless nobles of our city, but life in the Naggaramakam leaves us softer in some ways than the slaves and gladiators who serve us, or the nomads and raiders of the wilderness. I remembered the first thing I had been taught in the Temple of Thought: that arrogance is a weakness, and can easily be a fatal one. But only now did I begin to understand what that meant.

“You should get some sleep,” Bayl said, rising to his feet. “I’ll keep watch.”

“Can you see well enough?” I asked.

“Probably not. But…” he shrugged, then sighed and looked down at me pityingly, his yellow eyes shining in the light of the campfire. “If they catch up to us, we’re done for anyway. You know that.” He must have seen the spasm of terror that gripped me then, for his voice softened. “They won’t take you again, lady. Whatever happens. I promise.”

Shaken, and ashamed at my cowardice, I nodded curtly and shuffled back into the shelter of the still-warm rocks, wrapping myself in my borrowed robe and trying to curl myself into a position that was somewhere near comfortable.

A desert kirre roared somewhere in the distance, and was soon answered by its mate or rival. Other beasts I did not recognise filled the night air with their calls. This was far from my first night in the wilderness, but it was the first time I’d spent such a night without the wood and leather walls of a silt skimmer or argosy between me and the outside world. Every shriek and bellow sounded far too close, even though I knew most must be leagues away.

I lay shivering despite the heat radiating from the rocks around me. Unable to settle, I shifted and squirmed, turning over and over until my robe was twisted around my limbs so tightly that I felt almost as though I were trussed up like a captive again. The memories of the previous night swept through me. Sobbing with rage and shame, I fought free of the robe and hurled it away from me, then curled back up in my stone-walled burrow and wept until it seemed there could not be any more water left in my body.

Eventually, I must have slept.

The crimson glare of the midmorning sun through my eyelids woke me. I sat up quickly, blinking, my heart racing in sudden panic. Where was Bayl? Why hadn’t he woken me at dawn to resume our journey? We needed to reach Bremil Pass before the sand devils caught us!

“What do you think that is?” Bayl’s voice sounded unreasonably calm, in the circumstances.

I looked up, to see him crouched on the huge boulder in whose shadow I had slept. His gaze was fixed intently on the northern skyline, one huge hand shielding his eyes as he peered into the shimmering heat haze.

I realised he had covered me with a green-striped kirre skin I recognised had been used as a saddlecloth on one of the kanks, before the sand devils had attacked our caravan. He had spread my discarded robe out on one of the smaller boulders, and I pulled it around me, belting it at the waist with a short length of giant’s hair rope he had left beside it. I wondered if it had been part of the ropes the sand devils had bound me with.

I clambered up beside Bayl and peered into the distance. At first, all I could see was a cloud of dust. No, not dust: silt. A long, narrow arm of the Bay of Maray swept inland almost to the edge of the Dragon’s Bowl. I could see the rocky shore some distance away across the barren badlands. And, just reaching the shore as we watched, a triangular sail – shimmering white silk with an azure sign upon it – emerged from the billowing cloud.

“A silt skimmer,” I said. “From Nibenay. I recognise the device. A blue silk wyrm on white: House Mentsu.”

“Must be heading back from Raam,” Bayl mused. “Taking a shortcut to avoid the bastards we’re running from, I suppose. Going to be rough going crossing this to get to the road, though.”

My joy at the sight of the silt skimmer was short-lived. “I have no proof of my office,” I pointed out. “And we’ve nothing to offer them in return for passage. They’re hardly likely to offer assistance to two destitute travellers in the middle of nowhere just out of the goodness of their hearts.”

He grinned. “Nothing to offer? A gladiator always has something to offer. Any skimmer captain would be glad to have another strong sword arm on his deck. And you, lady…”

I interrupted. “Outside the walls of Nibenay, I’m just a defiler, Bayl. And no skimmer captain wants a defiler on his deck.” My bitter words sounded petulant, even to me, but I was growing angry now. I was glad that Bayl had been able to get us this far, but now he was taking too much upon himself. I might have lost my symbols of office, but he still had no excuse for forgetting our respective stations. It was not up to him to suggest a plan of action, still less to decide upon the details of one.

“I was going to say, you have some knowledge of healing, my lady,” he continued, unabashed. “And a good healer is more valuable even than a trained warrior out here. They’ll take us.”

Realising that he was probably right, and that it would be beneath my dignity to argue with my own servant, I simply nodded. Then waited with Bayl as the silt skimmer crawled ever closer, adjusting course every few minutes to avoid the worst areas of broken ground.

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Raddu

Original creator of The Burnt World of Athas back in 1995 or so...