Chapter 36

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Salleh dug the shovel into the sand and cursed quietly. She stood a hundred paces outside of the town, surrounded on all sides by red dunes that blew sand into her eyes and collapsed slightly with each step she took. After the chaos of the day before, the desert's silence echoed in her ears. Left with no Pettygod to fight, no soul to trap, no infuriating mages to throw her anger against, she was left with nothing to distract her soul or senses... when she dug her husband's grave in the red sand, she was keenly aware of how his body was starting to smell, and the hot blur she kept blinking away.

There was still the remnants of his soul scent under the cloying sweetness. A hint of a distant ocean. Clean snow on green grass. Brandy stored in barrels made from the trees of their own orchard. The stench of death was stronger, so she'd wrapped the body. There was no cloth worthy of Cote's final garment, not a single scrap on earth.

The wind blew again, and the saffron silk that covered him rippled with it. 

Part of the dune collapsed, covering the half-dug grave and Salleh's ankles in sand. She wondered briefly whose fading scream was echoing all around her, until she swallowed then touched her raw throat with a trembling hand.

The wind blew the silk wrap partially from Cote's face, and his closed eye seemed to stare at her with the kind of sadness his gaze used to hold in life. Salleh blinked, and his partial visage was simply relaxed. There was no emotion for the dead, they gave it all over to whoever they left behind.

One moment Salleh was standing. The next, she was seated in the sand, her face resting on her arms, her arms resting on her knees, her back resting against cold flesh that carried the hint of carrion.

"Why did you have to love the sea?" she asked no one in a voice so hoarse it barely climbed above a whisper. "Why did you have to love the sea and die in a desert, beloved?"

The wind answered her by blowing over the dune and covering the rest of the grave and half the shovel's haft. The bruises along Salleh's ribs screamed as she curled over her knees and sighed. 

"Ah, bad timing."

Her shoulders stiffened a moment, then she looked up at the opposite dune. The surgeon stood there, their arm in a sling, tight smile almost collapsing on a face haggard with exhaustion.

"What do you want?" Salleh's hoarse voice made her flinch now that there was company to hear it. No helping it. No helping anything, not even the body of her husband begging to be buried.

Wenyanga seemed to think on their answer a moment, then sighed. "Do you need a hand? And I mean that -- I've only got the one."

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