Aya's report showed how precocious she was. She had recorded the messages from the sisters' herself, from a far distance. Seeing their eyes in the night wasn't the biggest of feats, given that their eyes glowed in the dark, and could be seen changing colors if there was a good enough vantage point. But having the presence of mind to realize that these were messages, and committing them to memory was something else. For someone as young as herself to commit a seemingly random series of reds, greens and blues to her memory added to the glory of her feat. What marked Aya out as prodigy though, was the fact that as a farmer's daughter, she had realized that they stood for the letters of the Arabic alphabet, having only learned the alphabet herself. She had also translated their meaning when she had memorized them.
The Sultana decided immediately that this girl's entire education would be under her supervision. Her father Nuska would be paid well, and even his farm would be taken care of, if he permitted. The Sultana's good mood was not solely due to a delight in her recognition of the little girl's intelligence though. The girl's message also brought them a ray of hope.
The sisters communications had been about their long term plans as earlier, and not about the battle they had been engaged in when they were communicating ocularly. The message was short, but promising.
"Let us visit the star on the full moon," said the first sister.
"If the star prevails, we will die," said the second.
"If we prevail, we shall be free," said the third.
"We find the key and we can prevail," said the first.
Every interpretation of these words arrived at the same conclusion. The star was the star shaped section of the woods. The sisters had to conduct their visit there on the full moon night, and it would affect the courses of their lives immensely. They somehow referred to that section of the woods as though it were their nemesis. Somehow that nemesis was all that stood between the men in the Sultana's kingdom and those sisters. So the next step would be to find out what that nemesis was. Then the key, somehow the key had to be found. Perhaps there was something in the star shaped section of the woods that was referred to as the key. Or perhaps the sisters knew that the key was somehow hidden along the borders of her kingdom? Perhaps there was no foreign involvement, and the sisters did not have any alliance with any other king. They were simply hunting for the key.
The Sultana had never understood why the sisters only killed men, and never harmed women. That was very strange behavior for creatures that were more or less monsters in appearance. Why go out of their way to leave women alive. Perhaps their being female themselves made them feel some level of empathy towards all other females, irrespective of species? It was a mystery that would have to be solved much later.
The Sultana organized another trip to the woods, and included herself, one of her ministers, the Hellenic boy in the party, along with hundred armed guards. They left that afternoon to explore the woods once again. This time every last ounce of effort would be concentrated at the apex and in the arms of the star. They would keep their eyes open for clues, and for a key. Perhaps they could find something this time around.
Nadia walked out of the royal palace. She was absolutely free. She had no master any longer. When the master of a slave died, unless that master had family, the slave was free. She was free.
She walked down to a well that stood outside the confines of the palace walls, with the intention of getting some water from it. It was one of those deep wells that was open, and wide enough that a stairway had been carved into its side. Her plan was to get herself some water to quench her thirst.
She recognized her thirst, and then, as though she had commanded it, rain fell from the sky. It was an arid region, with barely a handful of days where it rained. It rained just then. Nadia didn't need to enter the well. She just raised her face to the sky, and drank the rainwater. Just a drop quenched her thirst, and she enjoyed the subsequent drops simply because they felt great.
The rain stopped a minute later. She felt surprised, but thought nothing of that great coincidence. She walked toward the city. A marketplace loomed in the distance. It was early afternoon, and she simply wanted to walk, and be a nomad within the kingdom for a few days. Something within her compelled this wanderlust, and she yielded to it.
She saw an infantry soldier from the Sultana's army slapping a prostitute. The woman had thick kohl around her eyes, and she was dressed with a small dark red blouse that displayed her ample cleavage, a very obviously bared midriff, and a dark red skirt below. She looked like she was dressed for belly dancing. Her hair was black and had been plaited and fell behind her to her buttocks. As if in some strange irony of her dress sense, her lip was cut as well, from the soldier's blow, and was bleeding.
She walked up to them. The soldier turned, about to hit the woman again. He sneered at Nadia.
"Get lost child," he said.
"Do not hit her," Nadia said.
Her voice was calm, steady, and almost a whisper.
The soldier laughed, and raised his hand some more.
"Do not hit her," Nadia said.
Her voice was like a thousand desert storms.
The soldier's hand fell to his side, and he looked at her in abject terror. The prostitute looked at her with the same terror. They ran as though they had both lost their minds. The soldier ran down the street while the prostitute ran inside the house at whose threshold they had been standing. It was where she plied her trade.
Younos felt lighthearted. Sometimes when you make a clean breast of things to someone close to you, it feels wonderful initially. That was what he was feeling just now.
He knew Hypatia would not give him money in furthering his pursuit of Inanna's charm. But at least she knew his secret and could give him resources. If he wanted a scroll and she knew someone who knew someone who knew the owner, that wouldn't hurt his chances. He had caught the sliver of admiration in her eye. She was his sibling after all. They both admired people who staked their entire existence on a single idea, and were willing to sacrifice all for that idea.
He walked back to the palace presently. Gaining more favor with the royal family was always at the top of his list of things to do. Maybe he could go and pay the lovely Mediha a visit. He could still remember her wolfing down an ebony cock. His was a few shades lighter. Perhaps she would oblige when he had fulfilled his wondrous quest. What woman or man could resist the lure of Inanna! He could pretend he was checking on her health.
It took some courage to go there. Her outer guards allowed him access. They knew about his role, and the princess had treated him like an honored friend, so he was persona grata here. The approach from the front was so much better than the bloody labyrinth that he usually used to get to the royal chambers.
He passed an ante room whose main attraction was a painting that depicted the Sultana in full battle gear, poised to strike an enemy who was dressed like a barbarian from the Teutonic lands. She was dressed in a shining bronze armor, with a bronze helmet, bronze breasts housing her own flesh and blood ones, and bronze plates protecting her midriff and limbs as well. It looked heavy. He paused and admired it for a second. Mediha certainly inherited a modicum of her fiery mother's beauty.
Her spear had an iron bit at the end, and was piercing the chest of the Teutonic barbarian, with a healthy splatter of blood surrounding it. The barbarian's armor lay beside him, and was a blackish green in color. He wore white rags on his body. The Sultana had one foot placed on his shoulder, and another on his genitals, and an expression of fury on her face, playing the perfect complement to the look of abject terror on his.
Younos forced himself to move on, and crossed a hall that was filled with gold and bronze thrones, with weapons on the walls and Persian silks and rugs adorning different corners of the room. Then he heard commotion a few rooms to his left, and slowed down.
The princess' royal guards were everywhere. All women, and all tougher than iron. The outermost ring of them saw him, and one of them nodded. They didn't part, and he squirmed. He expected them to part for him, but realized that he'd have to ask, and they may say no. His fear of rejection came roaring to life, and he started sweating.
"The princess," he said, stammering.
The guards nearest him ignored him.
"Can I meet the princess?" he said, raising his voice.
One of them looked at him. He heard a commotion from inside, as though the princess Mediha was having an argument.
Younos decided to be less picky. He had come for the sake of ogling after all. He lost the staring contest to the guard in front of him, and looked down at her breasts. Ogling. Mission accomplished. Lovely Arabian breasts. Then he felt her eyes glaring at him. She had noticed.
He looked back up briefly, and couldn't meet her gaze, and looked in the direction of the commotion. The guards parted, and for a moment he thought they were parting for him. Then he realized that someone was coming through.
He saw the princess along with a guard, the scary one, Habiba, at her side, and a caramel skinned Amazon behind them, being held by two guards, with eyes downcast. The princess saw him, and alarm flashed in her eyes, as though he were the last person she wanted to see. She had that look because he was indeed the last person she wanted to see.
Princess Mediha nodded at him, but her eyes had a warning written in them. She was trying to tell him something. Younos thought fast. He wasn't sure what she was saying.
The guard Habiba spoke.
"Boy, you saved the princess," she said. "You will be glad to know that the miscreant has been apprehended."
She nodded at the beautiful Nubian woman who was captive, behind her. The warning in princess Mediha's eyes became more pronounced, but Younos mouth was faster than his mind for once.
"Where is she?" he said, and then the look in the princess' eyes told him that he had failed her. The black skinned beauty's eyes shot up to him, and he saw hope there.
"You blind, boy," Habiba said. "Her."
She pointed to the black woman. Younos knew he couldn't change his story, but now he knew that he was doing right. This woman was innocent.
"That is not her," he said, simply, not daring to look in the princess' direction.
The guard Habiba had twisted look on her face when she heard this, as though she had known all along. The princess looked at her feet, saying something under her breath.