20. The Tombs that Await Us

209 30 10

The Beginning

In the busy streets of the main Southern Imperial City market, two full heads down from the adults, I was unlikely to be recognized. I pulled my headscarf over my nose anyways.

Our arrangement - where Taavi, the tavern owner, walked in front, his broad shoulders and intimidating frame clearing a path for us in the crowd like a bull, I walked behind him, and Abu brought up the rear - was intentional. I could not run forward, and I could not run back. They were caging me in.

Even with everything that was happening, everything that was about to happen, it was nice to see colors besides the caramel orange of the desert again. The market was rich with culture and and items and stimuli in a way that was overwhelming to a child that had only seen sand for months. The presence of energies after all the near silence rammed into my mind and buzzed around behind my skull, making it difficult for me to focus on anything. And then, of course, there was the weight of my father's energy. It had never fully left me, but now my mind remembered its jar. I found myself whipping my head around to take everything in, tripping over my feet, falling behind Taavi. Abu pushed me forward, friendly but firm.

A crowd had already gathered in a wide, cobble-stoned clearing in between the two tallest limestone inside markets. A small stage lifted a few midpaces off the ground stood at its head, and merchants with their various items - their exotic cloths, metalwork, and grains - made a long line as they waited to show their items. I had no item to show, but I stepped with Taavi and Abu in line.

It was loud.

"You know what to do," Taavi whispered in my ear, his hand rigid on my shoulder.

I stared down at the stage, trying to will the people behind me to step in front. It didn't work.

"I know what to do," I echoed in a murmur.

"But are you going to do it?" Abu asked.

I could see in his eyes he was thinking of our conversation about the 'then what'. I had said they were better off staying in Ashbah, that they didn't stand a chance, that I was only half-Ashbahi by blood. Abu had kept our conversation to himself out of respect for our friendship, but he was afraid, maybe even more afraid than I was. Secrets were incredible responsibilities.

"Yes." It was easy to say, in the immediate. It would ease Abu's mind. And I had to, didn't I? An entire group of peoples' lives was at stake. My mother's life was at stake. If I didn't perform it, they would all die, half of my family - and then the other half later - but if I did, one half might live. So really, it was as simple as arithmetic, wasn't it? And she was my mother. "Yes," I said louder.

The line moved forward.

"All you have to do is this little thing, and then we can regroup, and then it will be over. It'll be over before you know it," Abu spoke quietly.

I didn't respond.

"They've been planning this for a really long time, you know. Before you and your mother came. It was just hypothetical then, but they've thought it out. They do have a chance."

I didn't respond.

"And they do have merit. Before I would have never made scholar, you were right. But maybe now I can have the same opportunities. People were equal in Ashbah. I could have the freedom to have a life-"

"Abu?" I did not look at him. "Can you please be quiet? I can't concentrate when you're talking." The request felt so foreign on my tongue after it came out, but it came out naturally. Somewhere in the last three months, I'd learned to say 'please'.

The Ants that Carried UsWhere stories live. Discover now