Excerpt 1 (City of Sand)
I awoke to the most horrible sound I’d ever heard in my life. In between sleeping and waking I thought it must be cats screaming, but the horror of it gradually came upon me as I became more and more awake. People. It was people. I shot up from the bed and barely noted that it was dark outside. The house was eerily quiet, except for the occasional cry. I hurried out. None of the torches were lit, but whispers of rustling material and soft padding feet told me the whole house must be awake. The cry came from Rashid’s chamber, and this made me hesitate; but I recognized Nefertari’s voice and hurried toward the door.
I stood at the post, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. Ramses was holding Nefertari’s shoulders, and she was on the floor, hunched over in an almost grotesque posture, her whole body giving in to her cries. On the bed was a white sheet, which I did not understand; where was Rashid? but then I saw the form of a man beneath it, and knew; he was dead.
Now the cries in the city again reached my ears. The whole of Thebes seemed to be mourning. All for Rashid? That didn’t make sense. What could have…
Moses. Unable to control my terror I let out a cry and quickly covered my mouth.
Both of them looked up as one, their heads snapping up. I was shocked by the glint of hatred in their eyes. I reminded myself that it was only dark; they didn’t hate me. Why would they?
But then Ramses stood and walked toward me, and I knew I’d been right. He gripped my arm tightly, painfully, and pushed me backward so quickly that I nearly stumbled.
“I’m sorry, I – “
“Silence!” his voice was hoarse and strained. I flinched at the hate in his voice. He wasn’t my father, but he was the only father I’d ever had. What had I done to make him so angry?
“But – “
He threw me against the wall. “You will leave this house and not return,” he said through gritted teeth. I was reminded of the night Rashid had attacked me. “Your people have done enough damage. May you all die in the desert, scorched by the sun and slaughtered by the nomads.”
“Please,” I pleaded, going to my knees. “Let me stay, I beg you! I want nothing to do with them, I don’t even believe in their God-“
“Did you not hear him?” came Nefertari’s dry, cold voice. She stood still like a statue, her arms crossed. “Leave. Nsiri will bring your gold.”
I frowned. “I don’t…I don’t understand…”
“Pharaoh has released you. And Moses demands our treasure.”
Again I shook my head, and crawled nearer to Ramses, clutching the hem of his robes. “Please, I – “
“Don’t touch me.”
I realized, then, that they were beyond hating me, and they would never not hate me. Their son was dead. That was enough. Despair gripped my chest and I let out a dry sob, my body heaving with it, but I stood. Intense hatred of Moses made my blood boil. This was my home. This was my family. This was my life, and I loved it. And now…now I was destined to roam the desert until we all dropped dead like flies, the laughing stock of Egypt and anyone who heard of us.
“I’ll take the gold myself,” I said bitterly.
“And the horses.”
I stared at Ramses. “What?”
“Take them all. What use have I for them without an heir? Without a son? Take them!” he bellowed, the whole house echoing with his ferocity.
Now I was afraid, for while he had been shouting, his hand had dropped to his waist, to the hilt of his dagger.
I ran to the stables, but heard him behind me, and I knew he would catch up to me. Without thinking or stopping to consider I threw open the nearest stall door and pulled myself onto the back of the horse inside, gripping its mane.
“Go!” I shouted, kicking its sides, and the horse leaped forward, more out of fear and confusion than because of my ineffective command. Around me the cries of Egypt echoes in the night, and I prayed to whatever gods there were that the sound of galloping hooves beneath me would drown out the agony I felt in my bones.
Excerpt 2 (Spare Me Over):
Death stood on the peak of a 14,000 foot, snow-covered mountain, overlooking the city. Breath was something he’d had to get used to, and he was still fascinated by the puff of white fog that showed his warm breath turn to mist.
He felt something behind him; not a presence, exactly, but a fragrance; and shivers ran down his spine. Another thing he’d had to get used to. How many millions of neurons the human body carried; how sensitive and fragile and feeling it was. He did not turn around.
“Your winter is magnificent,” Death said in a low voice.
“It is. All my creations are magnificent.” The voice was like nothing he’d ever heard on earth, except sometimes in the pattering of rain on lush green leaves or in the lonely song of the wind.
“When can I come home?”
There was a pause. “Everywhere there is, I am. Everywhere I am, you are home.”
“You know what I mean.” He did not usually speak this way to the Key Holder, but he was desperate. Things had happened that he had not been expecting and he wanted to go home before they became too big of a problem. Surely the Key Holder must know; he knew everything.
“When my purpose with you has been fulfilled here, you may return home.”
Death nearly turned around then. He felt hopeless and broken. “I don’t understand. You sent me here because I was too arrogant; because I did not understand your love for humans. Because I thought them a useless waste of air and soil. But I have come to see; I have come to love them myself. Wasn’t that your purpose?”
“My purpose,” said the voice, sending the fragrance swirling all around Death in a comforting cloud, “is my purpose and not yours. You could not know my purpose if you believed your most incredible dreams.”
Dreams. Before being human, Death had never had dreams. Now he couldn’t imagine never having them again. The fragrance slowly faded from the cool mountain air.