“The region of Felis is the technological center of Vingos,” Keldan said, sounding like a tour guide. He was leading a small group of them through the bustling streets of a city called Absinthe and was obviously very proud of his knowledge of the place. Gallia walked a few steps behind the group, taking in her surroundings. She’d always been more interested in the visual details of a place, as opposed to its historical or political data, and she was only half-listening to the conversation going on between Keldan and the others. They were walking through Absinthe’s main business district. The buildings here were tall and impressive, and the shops were clean and modern. It was near the end of the day and in the buildings high above, some windows began to darken as people left their work behind to head home.
“…and Absinthe is the cultural center of Felis, but not the political capital,” Keldan continued. He turned to Naleth. “These people prize their independence and they take a minimalist approach to government. Politics are not the center of things. It’s refreshing, if you ask me.”
“There must be downsides to that,” Naleth said. “Smaller government usually means a decrease in social programs.”
“Yes, that’s very true,” said Benai, Captain of the Michigan, the ship the Fallingstar had rescued a few dayspans earlier. Benai and his crew had invited them to Felis for shore leave, to express gratefulness for their assistance. “But you’ll find that people in this region are very aware of their neighbors. Despite our independent spirit, we’ve learned how to care for one another. That’s not to say we don’t have problems, of course.”
“Felis is a paradise compared to Gulo,” Keldan said, shaking his head. “Gulo’s government is powerful, but there’s so much conflict that nothing gets done. They tax heavily, supposedly to eliminate poverty, but somehow everyone is still poor.”
“That’s basic economics, isn’t it?” Benai said. “The more a people is taxed, the less they are motivated to thrive.”
“Not always,” Naleth argued. “Large government works very well in Equus. Our people pay 50% of their wages in taxes, and everyone is cared for. There’s no poverty. Everyone has medical care.”
Benai nodded and gave Naleth a thoughtful frown. “I didn’t know that. That’s very interesting. I wonder what makes the difference.”
“Perhaps it has to do with values,” Naleth said. “The people of Equus value collective success more than they value the success of the individual.”
“Fascinating theory… that would explain why it didn’t work here in Felis,” Benai said.
“What’s important is that you found a system that does work with your values,” Naleth said. “What do you think, Keldan? What do the people of Gulo value? Maybe that’s the key to finding a solution to your government’s problems.”
“Here’s the restaurant,” Keldan said, pointing to a brightly lit sign just ahead. They headed to the door, and Keldan opened it for the others. “Maybe so, Naleth,” he said. “But it’s not my government anymore. I’m never going back there.”
“You’re always welcome here, my friend,” Benai said, grasping Keldan’s arm in a friendly manner as he passed through the door. Gallia was last to go through, and as she went past, she felt Keldan’s hand on the small of her back. He leaned in and spoke quietly in her ear.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m doing well, Captain,” she said. “How are you?”
Keldan chuckled. “I’ll be fine as soon as you stop calling me Captain.”
Gallia moved away from his hand and did not reply. A waiter led them up some stairs. They were given to a table near a wide picture window. Gallia chose a chair away from Keldan, between Captain Benai and Naleth. The medic inclined his head and smiled as she sat down.
“How are you this evening, Gallia?”
It was fascinating how two men could ask the same question and give you a completely different feeling. “I’m doing very well, Naleth, thank you.” In the corner of her eye, Gallia saw Keldan shift in his seat. He was watching them, and Gallia could tell that her informal tone toward Naleth bothered Keldan. She touched Naleth’s arm in a friendly way.
“I expect you are looking forward to seeing your family,” she asked. “When do you go back to Equus?”
“Tomorrow,” Naleth said. “It will be lovely to see them, yes. Especially my youngest daughter. She will have grown from an infant to a little girl in the time I’ve been away.”
“How sweet. I just love little children.”
“As do I.”
The menus came. Naleth, Keldan, Gallia and Mirralu were all from other regions and were unfamiliar with the foods offered, so Benai ordered for everyone. Mirralu engaged Benai in conversation about the cuisine of the region, and Keldan pretended to be listening. Naleth turned back to Gallia, and put his arm across the back of her chair. She looked up into his face; under the dim, warm restaurant lights his blond hair and blue eyes looked seductively handsome.
“Gallia, this may be presumptuous, but you are welcome to visit us while you’re here. San is coming with me tomorrow to Equus. You could accompany us.”
Keldan’s head turned. Gallia could feel his attention on them. She could feel him waiting for her answer.
“That is very kind,” she said. “I would like to see as much of Vingos as I can while I’m here.”
“You haven’t even seen Felis yet,” Keldan put in.
“I can always see it on the way back,” Gallia said. “Besides, from what I’ve heard, Equus is a beautiful place.”
“Oh, it is,” Naleth said, smiling brightly. “It has forests and lakes, and meadows. Its cities are nothing like what you’ll see in Felis or Strix, but…”
“I don’t care about cities, much,” Gallia said. “I grew up in a jungle. Natural beauty will be a welcome change after being aboard ship for all these months.”
“It’s settled then,” Naleth said.
“Wait a minute,” Keldan said. “You’re all going? You and San and Gallia? What will I do?”
“You’re welcome to come along of course,” Naleth said, taking a sip of wine. Gallia glanced at his face. There was a challenge in his eyes as he gazed across the table at his Captain. Naleth knew very well that Keldan could not enter Equus. The region was closed to Vingosi from other regions. Keldan glared back across the table at the medic and said nothing.
“Oh, that’s right,” Naleth said. “You’re sort of stuck here, aren’t you? Well, it can’t be helped. You’ll have Benai, and Mirralu. Unless Mirralu feels like coming to Equus too?”
Mirralu shook her head. “Not me. I’m quite content to stay here. Benai and his friends have offered to take me to the culinary institute here in Absinthe. I want to pick up some new equipment for my kitchen. You are welcome to spend your shore leave with us, Keldan!”
“Yes, of course,” Benai said. “We can tour the whole city. There are plenty of interesting places to explore right here in Felis. And then we can visit Strix, too, if you wish.”
“Oh. Sure, that sounds fun,” Keldan said, sounding like it would be anything but.
“We’re all sorted out, then,” Naleth said.
Gallia snuck a glance at Keldan, who was now gazing out the window. He seemed genuinely hurt, and part of her felt sorry for leaving him behind. But another part felt vindicated. During their time on Horgus, they had developed a friendship, but as soon as they boarded the Fallingstar again, he had begun to ignore her. Now he wanted her attention again, and she was not in the mood to give it.
The meal was excellent, and after dessert and more wine, it was a short train ride from the restaurant to Benai’s home, where they were all staying the night. He lived in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Absinthe, in a large one-level house surrounded by a grove of fruit trees. Keldan was very quiet during the journey. When they were all inside Benai’s house, he led each of them to a cozy bedroom of their own.
Knowing she had to get up early to catch the transport to Equus, Gallia went directly to bed. She woke up several hours later feeling very thirsty, and went to find a glass of water. She tip-toed down the dark hallway toward a dim light coming from the kitchen. Someone had left a lamp on in the living area, which was adjacent to the kitchen. She got a glass from the cupboard and turned on the tap.
The voice startled her and she dropped the glass. It shattered in the stone sink. She swore in Drashivan.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” Keldan got up from the couch where he had been sitting, slouched down so that Gallia hadn’t noticed him. He came to her side.
“Are you hurt?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, examining her hand. She began gathering the shards. “I didn’t realize you were sleeping out here. Didn’t Benai give you a room?”
“He did. But I couldn’t sleep.”
Gallia glanced at him and saw that he was still dressed, and holding half a glass of some kind of amber liquor. “It looks like you haven’t even been to bed yet,” she scolded. “It’s very late. You should try to sleep.”
Keldan’s eyes were darkened with fatigue. They flitted over the simple white nightgown she was wearing and raised his eyebrows at her, teasing her.
“It’s what I wear to bed,” she said.
“Yes, I gathered that,” he said, with a small smile. He took a step nearer to her and reached up above her to pull down another glass. He filled it with water and handed it to her.
“Enjoy your time in Equus,” he said. “I have heard it’s a beautiful region.”
“I will, thank you.”
He was standing too close. The gentle look in his dark eyes disturbed her, pleased her, and then made her angry. She turned to walk away.
“Listen… I want you to be careful with Naleth.”
“I don’t know. It’s just a gut feeling. I don’t trust him. He’s… mercurial. Changeable. It’s like he’s hiding something.”
Gallia’s eyebrows shot up. Naleth was changeable? Was he kidding?
“I think I can handle it,” she snapped, and turned and left him standing there. Keldan spoke again but she was already halfway down the hall and didn’t hear what he said. She got to her room and yanked the door open. It was all she could do not to slam it behind her.
It was only after she was back in her room that she realized she’d forgotten her glass of water.
“Vasath,” she swore again.
“That’s not going to work, Fedar,” Mennosha said for the fifteenth time. “They’ll see us.”
“We’ll be cloaked!” she argued back, again for the fifteenth time. “What’s the point of a cloak if we can’t land unseen?”
Mennosha buried his head in his hands and scrubbed at his hair in frustration. Why could she not understand?
“You have to trust me,” he said. “As long as we stay above the city, they won’t see us. But as soon as we land, they will.”
They were both sitting cross-legged in a small open space just behind the cockpit. All of Fedar’s plans and maps were strewn on the floor between them. Mennosha stared her, not sure how to answer her question.
“Why can’t we land?” she repeated.
“Because the ship will make contact with the ground.”
“Why should that matter?”
“It just does,” Mennosha said. “That’s how cloaking technology works.”
She crossed her arms. “Explain.”
“Ugh,” Mennosha said, leaning his head back so it banged against the hull. “How am I supposed to explain to you in an hour what took me five years to learn? There’s too many basic principles you’d have to know before you’d even halfway understand what I’m talking about!”
“Fine!” Fedar shouted. “If you don’t care about this mission, I don’t know why you even came along!”
Mennosha let out a long breath. He was trying to be patient but Fedar was being very difficult. They’d always gotten along so well, but it seemed that ever since she’d revealed her past to him, things had changed. She was very sensitive to any hint of his taking control of any aspect of the mission. He would gladly have given her the control she wanted, but he was the better pilot, and the only one who knew how the cloak operated. For the sake of the mission, and ultimately for Fedar’s sake, he had to remain at least partially in control. Most frustrating of all, despite the fact that he knew she understood this, she still insisted on challenging everything he said. She was not usually irrational, and he suddenly felt like he didn’t really know her. Maybe it was just the stress of the situation getting the best of her. He glanced over at her and saw the worried look on her face as she chewed her short fingernails.
“Listen,” he said. “I know how important this mission is. And you know I’m a good engineer. And you know I’m on your side. So, can you trust me? Just a little?”
She looked over and met his gaze with narrowed eyes.
“I suppose it’s easier than tying you up and locking you in the aft compartment.”
“Easier on me, for sure.”
She shrugged. “Alright then. If we can’t land, what can we do?”
“We can land, just not inside the city. They won’t waste time putting sensors outside the city walls. They will be relying on the sensors at the gate to keep unwelcome visitors out. Is there any way to get through the gate?”
Fedar thought for a minute.
“Maybe we could disguise ourselves. Sometimes men come from other towns, outside the city, to buy women from the temple. My husband came from a town near the Sea of Hassarat. Later we moved to the city, but that is where he originally took me after he bought me.”
“What is the system of identification? Could I pass for one of these men?”
“Can you act cruel and arrogant, and completely disrespect me?”
Mennosha grimaced. “I guess so.”
Fedar narrowed her eyes again. “Prove it.”
“If you can’t convince me, now, when it’s just us, how are you going to convince the guards?”
“Um. Ok.” He clambered to his feet. “Stand up, I guess.”
“Stand up,” he barked.
She stood, and hung her head submissively. The dark circles under her eyes, the slump of her shoulders, and the suggestive way she stood… all gave Mennosha a picture of what her life must have once been. Instinctively, he reached out a hand and touched her shoulder.
“Hey, I’m sorry, are you okay?”
She grabbed his hand and twisted it and when he yelped in pain she growled in frustration.
“This will never work! You’re too nice.”
“Maybe you should be the one buying slaves then,” he muttered, rubbing his hand.
Her eyes lit up suddenly.
“Yes! That’s it! I mean, no… women don’t buy men in Cygnus. But rich wives do come to the city to buy other things. Jewelry, for example, or artwork. You could pretend to be my servant, accompanying me.”
“Okay,” Mennosha said, nodding. “But won’t we need identification?”
“I will have to fake a name and address. You won’t need one, if you’re with me. I’ll say I forgot my ID card, and if they press me I’ll prove I’m a citizen by giving them the stolen access code.”
“Annnnd this is the first time I’m hearing about a stolen access code,” Mennosha said, rolling his eyes.
“So? You weren’t even supposed to be here, remember?”
“Well, too bad. I’m here now. Where did you get the code?”
“I got it from a guy on the Michigan. Had to pay 85 Fal coins for it, actually. I checked it out using the Fallingstar’s computer and it looks like the code is up-to-date.”
“It looks like the code is up-to-date? So, you’re not sure?”
“Relax, Mennosha. The risk is marginal. They probably won’t even ask for ID, anyway. Getting in will be easy. It’s getting out we should be worrying about. If we land Trina outside the city, and assuming we manage to get in, find Fanine and take her out of the house without being seen, we will still have to get back through the city and across open space to get back to the ship without being caught.”
“Maybe we should just land inside the city,” Mennosha said. Fedar gave him a murderous look and he put his hands up in surrender.
“I’m kidding! Kidding…”
Fedar reached into her satchel and pulled out a couple of neatly folded maps. She spread them out on the floor and she and Mennosha knelt together to look at them.
“Here’s the city gate,” she said, pointing. “So we should land somewhere here, on the salt flats. And we should walk from the direction of Hassarat, which is the largest town outside of the main city.”
“Does the main city have a name?”
“Oh. Right. Go on.”
“My husband’s house is here, right next to the temple. If he still follows his pattern, he will go to the temple just after the sun rises to its apex, and he will spend several hours there.”
“He goes to the temple every day? To do what?”
“A variety of things. He may talk to other businessmen, or go to the bath house. Or see a girl. Or worship. The temple is the hub of all the city’s social activity. It isn’t unusual for a wealthy man to go there every day.”
Mennosha shook his head in disbelief. “Your culture is very different from mine. We go to the temple once a week, if that, and only to offer sacrifices. And then we leave as soon as possible. Are you sure he’ll be there?”
“Oh yes,” Fedar said. “Harlo will be there. He loves to be seen in the temple. I propose we go into the temple marketplace, and look at the jewelry and art and other things for sale and watch for him. Once we see him, we can go to his house and find Fanine, and then hopefully get out of the city before he comes home and realizes she’s gone.”
“Is there any way to ensure that Harlo stays at the temple longer than usual that day?”
“I don’t see how.”
“Maybe I could stay behind and try to stall him.”
“Too dangerous. He knows everyone, and it won’t take him long to figure out you’re a fraud. No, you stick with me.”
“Do you have the key to the house?”
“I know how to pick a lock.”
Mennosha sat back and gazed at Fedar, trying to think of any holes in the plan, or anything they’d failed to consider. She stared back, obviously thinking the same thing.
“I guess we’re ready,” he said. But he didn’t feel ready. He felt incredibly nervous. She nodded and went back to studying the map. She pointed again at a spot outside the gate, halfway between the city of Cygnus and the town of Hassarat. It was a wide, white patch next to a blue blotch labeled Sea of Hassarat.
“The salt flats are here. Once you enter the coordinates, Trina should get us there by tomorrow just before sunrise. We can enter the gate in the morning and walk through the city in time to see Harlo enter the temple at midday.”
Mennosha got up and returned to the pilot’s seat. He entered the coordinates Fedar had indicated and Trina turned smoothly in the direction he had chosen. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back and tried not to think about the fact that in less than a day, he would either be dead, or a criminal.
The journey to Equus began with a rail-car. Rail-cars were a sort of luxury transport dreamed up by the governments of Felis and Strix to promote intra-regional tourism. Naleth had booked one for them, as a treat. Gallia smiled as she approached the shiny, economically-sized cars parked in the small stop-station alongside the railway, waiting in line for departure. Naleth and San were already there, loading luggage into the car they’d been assigned, and they waved happily to her as she approached. Naleth helped her climb inside. The rail-car was self-driving, and had a domed roof and four luxurious plush seats. Since there were only three of them their luggage was given the seat next to San, and Gallia was soon settled across from the luggage in the seat next to Naleth.
“Watch this,” Naleth said, and pressed a button next to his seat. The roof of the rail-car retracted to let in the sunshine and breeze of a beautiful early summer day. Naleth squinted up at the sky, and San rested his head on the back of his seat and put a long-fingered hand up to push his cap over his eyes.
There was a chiming sound and then a feminine voice spoke to them from the rail-car’s speakers:
“Welcome to the Felis-Strix rail-car network. Your rail-car will be departing shortly. Please make sure everyone is securely inside the vehicle. Take care to keep feet and luggage clear of the rails at all times. Enjoy your journey through the beautiful regions of Felis and Strix.”
Moments later, the rail-car moved smoothly forward and, with a clunk, engaged the main railway. It picked up speed and glided off through the woods at a comfortable pace. Occasionally, the rails crossed a river or went through a meadow, but for the most part the journey was as peaceful as could be. None of them spoke for quite a while.
“It’s a very smooth ride,” San commented at one point, tilting his hat back again, exposing his large unblinking eyes. “Is it a magnetic system?”
“Partly, yes,” Naleth responded. “They use magnets in the stabilizers.”
“Hm,” San said, nodding thoughtfully.
Both men fell into contented silence again and Gallia smiled to herself, thinking of her brothers and their continual project of building a river-speeder. The masculine fascination with how vehicles moved was apparently a cross-cultural phenomenon.
“Pleasant thoughts?” Naleth asked, glancing over at her.
“Just thinking of home.”
“Tell us about it. What is Drashiva like?”
“Didn’t you see any of it while the Fallingstar was docked at Drashiva City?”
“Well, yes. I saw the landscape. But I’m curious about the people. The culture.”
“Mirralu told me once that Drashiva has no central government,” San put in. “Is that true?”
“The social structure is divided into villages,” Gallia explained. “Each village is ruled by a chieftain, and grouped into clans. The chieftains of the clan meet every new moon to discuss and decide upon governance. Unless there is a dispute of some kind, in which case they are called at the black moon.”
“Drashiva’s moon disappears for a few days every four dayspans. We call it a black moon.”
“What causes it? Is it an eclipse of some kind?”
“I cannot begin to tell you, San,” Gallia laughed. “My people are not astronomers. Scientific inquiry of that kind is discouraged. My people are rather good engineers, though, especially with river craft, and hunting weapons. My youngest brother was especially gifted in that regard. He built a laser-guided fishing harpoon that most of the men in the clan use now.”
San frowned. “But the men who accompanied you to the ship were dressed in what I would call primitive clothing. And carrying simple spears. Are you saying you retain those things when you have advanced technologies?”
Gallia shook her head. “That was a ritual. Their garb and weapons were of an ancient design, but only because it is required for the banishment ceremony.”
“The injuries you sustained that day were very serious,” Naleth said in a solemn tone.
“I thought for a moment they might kill you,” San said.
“If Mirralu and Keldan had not intervened, they would have,” Gallia said in a matter-of-fact tone. “It is up to the banishment party whether to allow the banishment or to kill the prisoner. Most choose to kill. It is considered kinder. My brothers were ready to take that course, as you observed. But when strangers became involved, it seemed best to them to let me go rather than risk a conflict with off-worlders.”
“Forgive me, Gallia, but you are such a kind person,” Naleth said. “I’m curious what you possibly could have to done to deserve banishment?”
“I had created some artworks that were considered heresy. As you know, we have a deity called Kayon. And his enemy is the god, Ordru. I had a vision of Ordru, and it was very meaningful to me. During the vision I went into a sort of trance, and I painted the face of Ordru.”
Naleth was listening with rapt attention. “Were you allowed to keep the paintings?”
“No,” Gallia said. “They were burned. But I have some sketches, drawings I’ve done since I came aboard. Would you like to see them?”
“Very much,” Naleth said. San nodded, too.
Gallia brought a small sketch pad from her satchel and flipped it open to a particularly well-rendered sketch of Ordru’s face and form and handed it to Naleth. The medic’s mouth dropped open.
“Astonishing,” he said, handing the sketchpad to San. “Look familiar?”
“But… this is Equus,” San said, looking from the drawing to Naleth and then to Gallia.
“No, no,” Gallia said. “Not Equus. Ordru.”
“Haven’t you seen the statue in the medical bay?” San asked. “This is Equus. Look at the face! It’s the same.”
“I’ll admit I have not been back to the medic’s bay since my first visit there. Is the resemblance between Equus and Ordru really that strong?”
“Well… the body is different,” San said. “Equus stands on two legs, like a man. While Ordru is shown on four, here, like a beast of burden.”
“Yes,” Gallia said. “He made himself known to me as a burden carrier.”
“Another similarity,” Naleth said. “We often say that we carry the burdens of Equus.”
“You carry his burdens?” Gallia said. “I don’t understand. How can a man carry the burdens of a god?”
“It’s figurative,” Naleth said. “It means that we do his will, and accomplish his goals.”
“And in return, he renders blessing,” San added, handing Gallia her sketchpad.
She looked down at the painting of Ordru, feeling suddenly uneasy. Was she really worshiping a foreign Vingosi god? It was the first time she had doubted her belief in Ordru. He had protected her, carried her so faithfully ever since she’d seen the first vision of him, ever since his presence had made itself known to her. Ordru had brought Keldan and the others to save her from death, and she had thought ever since that day that her life must hold some special purpose. What could it mean that her god was the same as this one–a god worshiped by aliens?
“I’m not sure it’s the same thing,” she reasoned. “He carries me, and in turn I serve him and wait for him. I do not see how I could carry his burdens.”
“But you do. In your service to him,” Naleth said. “And your service to him came first, did it not? Your decision to follow him was the first thing that occurred. And then he protected you, because you are his. It is the same with Equus. Different semantics, but the same concept.”
“Well… I suppose it could be…”
“There,” Naleth said, slapping his knee. “We’ve established a similar appearance and a similar theological structure! I wonder what the history of this is. Gallia, were there ever any Vingosi travelers to Drashiva? Perhaps my people brought the knowledge of Equus to your world.”
“I have not heard any such history. But I do know that Ordru has always been considered a demon to the worshipers of Kayon. Perhaps he is simply a foreign god…”
“We will take you to the Temple of Equus and consult the other priests,” Naleth said. “Perhaps there is something in the Vingosi histories about this connection. My peers will be fascinated to find such a connection to Equus in another culture. I wonder, what does the word “Ordru” mean?”
Gallia was beginning to feel slightly ill. She wished they could change the conversation.
“I think it’s just a name,” she said.
“No, it can’t be that simple,” Naleth said, rather dismissively. “Everything has meaning. And the connection can’t be denied. San, what do you think?”
Naleth and San began to talk about the potential theological ramifications of Ordru and Equus being connected. It seemed not to bother them in the least, but Gallia was disturbed. It was like discovering that her own father had fathered another family elsewhere, under a different name, and with a different woman. She gazed out over the beautiful landscape speeding by. For the first time since leaving Drashiva, she felt utterly homesick and alone.
Fedar and Mennosha reached the Sea of Hassarat in the middle of the night. They took a slight detour to borrow some clothing from an obligingly empty house near the seashore before guiding Trina to the agreed upon landing spot. Mennosha went outside to change and Fedar used a small mirror inside the ship.
It had been years since she’d applied the rich, ornate makeup, and since she’d worn clothes of this kind—soft, silky materials and jewels. Putting on the disguise made her heart beat faster with some unnamed emotion. When she stepped out of the ship she was more dressed up than usual, and she knew that Mennosha could not see her in the darkness, but somehow she felt naked.
“This way,” she said.
They left Trina, hidden from sight in her cloak, and set out across the salt flats toward a large dark shape on the horizon which Fedar knew was the city of Cygnus.
In the dark, Mennosha was singing softly to himself. Their feet made a crunching sound on the salty soil. Their silk garments made no noise at all. Fedar’s nostrils were filled with the smell the sea, and she felt slightly suffocated—as if the flood of memories associated with that smell might rise up and drown her.
After several hours of walking, the sky grew lighter and lighter and then the sun suddenly rose and revealed the city—white and glorious under the dawn. The city was enclosed within a circular wall, and sloped upward towards a plateau where the temple stood, massive and white as a sugarstone, with many spires that seemed to touch the clouds. Mennosha slowed to a stop, his mouth gaping open.
“Unbelievable,” he breathed.
Fedar turned and looked at him. His blond hair looked like gold in the sunlight, and his muscles were shining with sweat under the silk servant’s vest she’d stolen for him. He glanced at her clothing and his eyes momentarily widened with surprise, but he said nothing about her appearance. She returned the favor.
“Cygnus is beautiful,” Mennosha said as they continued walking. “So beautiful. I had no idea.”
“From a distance, I suppose it is,” Fedar said.
Up ahead was a road made of the same white stone as the temple, and there were already people walking along it, or approaching it just as they were, from the salt flats.
“There’s the road to the main gate. Stop. Mennosha, look at me.”
He stopped and looked at her.
“I think you know there’s very little chance this will end well for either of us. You can go back, if you want to.”
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I live for danger.”
“Fine,” she said. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
They both smirked and stepped onto the road leading up to the city gate. Fedar tried to imagine herself as she used to be, the wealthy wife of a wealthy man, his property, leading another of his property, on the way to buy more property for his rich and beautiful home. Soon they were surrounded by other wives, other slaves, some carrying burdens or pulling carts, some laughing and some serious about their task, all coming and going with textiles, spices, idols, and people, all to be bought and sold in the belly of the great city.
Return soon to read the third and final part of Episode 5: The Golden Gun.