THE PATH Part 18

No-Name waited until the sun had climbed high, and then she ran. She did not look back. A single hound, rooting through a garbage pile, raised its head and yapped. The noise made her cringe but she did not stop. If the dog’s barking should awaken anyone in the camp, No-Name intended to be far away before they came to investigate. At least it was too far away for the guards on the city walls to hear it.

No guards had been stationed in the camp. This close to the city, the workers need have no fear of attack. Everyone in the camp slept. Even the slaves and the k’tee’jo, on the dirt floors of their makeshift lodges. She alone was awake. She alone braved the sunlight.
The city rose a mile behind her, enormous and mute in the middle of the rocky plain. X’bal’ba the Great. Walls of black stone, hiding the numerous stocky towers and flat-topped structures within. There would be sentries on those walls, the girl knew. But not many. Perhaps they would not see her. If they did, they would, she hoped, spare little concern for one runaway k’tee’jo. No-Name did not worry so much about the guardsmen of X’bal’ba. She worried about her shin’she’e.

The gravel hurt her bare feet as she ran. The sun burned her. The air, stale and dusty, coated the inside of her throat with mud. Even the air here felt like a thing dead. To her left, the girl could see another work camp. Like the others, digging for water. The wells of X’bal’ba were running dry, and it had been a long time since it had rained. The Menhau feared that Tull had grown angry at them for some reason or other. These days, the sacrificial altars stayed damp with blood. Still Tull remained aloof, impassive. No-Name did not care. She knew that Tull would not let his children perish. Though Tull loved nothing, could love nothing, yet he desired the sacrifices and adoration of his worshippers. He would allow them to survive. But No-Name knew that Tull hated her, and would kill her if he could.

Still she ran. Her side ached, a stabbing pain. Sweat ran into her eyes and stung them. She had left the work camp far behind now, yet the city walls looked as near as ever. In the distance, the first of the foothills looked like gray smoke rolling across the desert floor. The hills, with their trees, their forests. Behind those lay the first mountains, obscured by distance and the haze from the baking earth. There, could she but reach them, lay freedom. Or death. But freedom, either way.

No-Name had to slow to a walk. She knew she must pace herself. She had no water and far still to go. She paused, gasping and panting, to look back. She could not see the camp now. Would the shin’she’e come after her now, she wondered? He might; his pride would demand no less. But No-Name would be far away, this time, before night fell. Very far. And she was just one of his many k’tee’jo, after all. He might decide she was not worth the effort. Even more so now, since he had made her so ugly.

No-Name reached up to touch her face. She couldn’t help herself. Her fingers ran over the rough scar tissue where her nose had been. The penalty under the Law for a k’tee’jo who ran away, even one prized for her great beauty. Yes, No-Name mused, breathing in the dusty air. I was beautiful, once.

She moved off at a trot. Her skin burned and itched. She wore just a tunic of deer hide, bound around the waist with a strip of cloth. The sunlight found its way through her long, dark hair to prick at her shoulders, her scalp. Her face and bare arms, unaccustomed to the glare, tingled and goose-fleshed. No-Name wet her cracked lips with her tongue. Beads of sweat trickled down her sallow skin, over the many scars.

When she had run away before, her shin’she’e had hung her up by her ankles within the doorway of his house. He’d stripped her, beaten her with a dead snake, more than the one hundred lashes the Law commanded. She’d passed out from the pain before he had finished, and could no longer hear the laughter and the taunts of the people on the street.

He’d waited until she woke up to cut off her nose.

Categorized as darkness

By The Evil Cheezman

Purveyor of sacred truths and purloined letters; literary acrobat; spiritual godson of Edgar Allan Poe, P.T. Barnum, and Ed Wood; WAYNE MILLER is the head architect of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, serving up the finest in entertainment and edification for the stage, the page, and the twain screens, silver and computer. He is the axe-murderer who once met Andy Griffith.

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