Chapter no 9

We Free the Stars (Sands of Arawiya, 2)

Zafira thought of her people, of the ones she had scorned for their jubilation, for their laughs and their glittering eyes when the snow hindered their lives as the Arz crept close. She thought of Bakdash’s lavender door. Of Araby’s sweet shop, and old Adib’s stall. Of the Empty Forest, where Deen chopped wood, and his little creations sprinkled throughout hers and the Ra’ads’ houses.

She thought of everything but Umm, anything to keep her alive a little while longer.

Black and silver, Lana had said. Sarasins.

Zafira remembered Benyamin’s warning, of the sultan turning to Demenhur once Sarasin was under his thumb. Arawiyans, just like everyone else, whose only crime was the soil their houses stood upon.

Ummi, Ummi, Ummi. With her cold blue eyes and her warm smile. With her strength and resilience. With Baba’s blood on her hands.

“And your mother,” Kifah prompted Lana gently from Zafira’s right. “Was she not able to escape with you?”

Lana crouched, and the wide hem of her jade abaya, one Zafira had never seen before, fanned around her. “She’s like you, Okhti. Laa, you’re like her.”

Zafira tried not to listen to the words. Tried to stop the pain.

“She went to the old schoolhouse. You know the one near our street? She took thirteen elders and six children and whatever food they could find, and helped barricade the

windows and the door.” Lana dropped her gaze to her hands. “Then she went to the well for more water.”

That was the Umm Zafira remembered, with her head held high and her knife-grip sure. The Umm Lana was less acquainted with. In the pause that followed, Zafira realized she was waiting for Lana to say more. Like a child hoping the truth wasn’t so.

“Maybe she hid elsewhere.” Zafira would leave for the western villages. She was a daama da’ira, and she could find anything, anyone. “Maybe she’s still—”

Lana stopped her with a shake of her head. “Misk found her. She saved them at the cost of her life.”

Zafira caught on the word “found.” It was used in the way one spoke of a fledgling in the snow. The way one spoke of a lost purse that was discovered with all its coins spent.

“Yasmine?” she asked, something squeezing her ribs.

“Alive,” Lana said. “Safe. She’s in the Demenhune palace.”

Zafira’s relief was a heavy exhale everyone noted. The scrutiny was suddenly too much. The eyes trained on her, the sympathy clouding the room, the Jawarat’s silent regard. She shot to her feet and whirled to Aya, only to nearly crash into Nasir.

“I’m sorry.”

Confusion wrinkled her brow, more at the sorrow in his eyes than the words he spoke.

“Why?” she asked. “Did you have a hand in her death?” He flinched.

He daama flinched. Zafira paused. If the vapors were the work of the sultan, had Nasir played a part? She halted her dark thoughts. Skies. He would have left Sultan’s Keep when

she had left Demenhur. That meant he’d been preparing for his journey to Sharr, not planning the massacre of a village.

She dropped her gaze, annoyed and ashamed and hurting and everything at once.

“Come,” Aya said, knowing what she needed. “I’ll lead you to your room.”

You'll Also Like