‘Tomorrow’ was never something Jude gave much thought to. He had never had the luxury to think much about the future. Jude tended to live his life day-to-day, only ever worrying about immediate dangers.
Like the one facing him now.
Jude ducked to the right as the shopkeeper swung his khopesh, obviously intending to take his head off. The man was clearly a novice with the weapon though, and Jude’s reflexes were quick. The keeper stumbled, and Jude saw his chance.
Acting fast, Jude grabbed onto the older man’s chest with his right hand and used his left to take the shoulder. Using the shopkeeper’s own momentum against him, Jude was able to flip the man onto his back, leaving him momentarily stunned. As an extra precaution, Jude confiscated his weapon.
Faintly, he could hear the sound of horses approaching. Palace guards. Great. Jude inwardly groaned. First he had been caught, and now the royal guard was on his tail? What a night.
Jude picked up his rucksack from where he had dropped it at the beginning if the fight. He quickly slipped a hand inside his pocket, checking to make sure that, yes, he still had what he came for. Satisfied, the boy threw the bag over his shoulder and hurried behind the market stall, escaping into the streets.
Ducking from building to building, Jude found solace in the shadows, using them to hide his form. There were several close calls that night, several instances in which the Pharoah’s little police force had been a hair’s breadth away…
But now wasn’t the time to worry about that.
Sharp green eyes darted around constantly, searching for anything that might give him away. He had to be careful. Bare feet trudged on through the sands, cooled by the night. Egypt was a land of constant change and Jude had learned it well.
He found his way to a wall of seemingly insignificant rock. It stretched long into the night, and was a lone marker amid the vast sea of sand dunes. If one were to look closely, they would see a thin, barely visible line in the rock. It stretched up and over the stone in a large arc, much like a primitive doorway.
Jude glanced around one more time to ensure that he absolutely, positively, one hundred percent had not been followed. Satisfied, he turned all his attention to the rock wall, running a hand along its rough surface. When he found what he was looking for, Jude knocked twice. This area of the reddish rock was much thinner than the rest of the structure. It was the only place the sound would penetrate.
“Name and purpose,” A gruff voice greeted from the other side.
Jude grimaced. Badr had always had some kind of grudge against him. Jude suspected it stemmed from the fact that he always bested Badr in hand-to-hand combat. Of course it could also be because Jude had purposefully rubbed that fact in Badr’s face. Or the numerous pranks Jude had pulled on him that had inevitably ended in public humiliation.
He may never know.
“Judais. Completing a delivery,” He answered in a clipped tone.
There was a pause.
“You know, he’s not going to be very happy that you returned so late,”
“Let me in, Badr,”
“In fact,” Badr continued, seemingly oblivious to Jude’s comments, “Weren’t you supposed to stay inside until tomorrow? Tut tut, Judais, your brother is not going to be happy,”
“He’s gonna be even more pissed if you leave me out here,”
Another pause. Then the sound of shifting rock. A rough brown face, slightly lighter than Jude’s own skin, coated in stubble stared back at him, contemplative for a second. Then the man sighed gruffly, and ushered Jude inside.
“Thank you Badr,”
Badr was a stocky man, heavily built. His cold dark eyes surveyed Jude as he strolled into the hideout. Badr’s main tactic for just about everything was brute force and intimidation. That was the main reason he wasn’t allowed on missions anymore. A good thief was quick and silent. Unnoticed. Not Badr. Like Jude, his feet were bare. Few in the kingdom of thieves wore shoes. Too noisy.
“What were you doin’ out there, anyways?” He asked, once the entrance had been closed. Jude dropped the rucksack at his feet, exposing the many fruits he had hidden inside.
“We needed food,” He stated, “You know as well as I do that our supplies were low,”
“Sure,” Jude chose to ignore that obvious jab at his integrity, “You better not have gotten caught, brat. I don’t care about your status, or your age, you rat us out, and I will kill you,”
“Duly noted,” Jude muttered, hefting the sack back onto his shoulders. Jude made his way to the mess hall, muttering under his breath about idiots biting the hands that feed them.
Kasaika was not happy with him.
“Little brother! I wish to speak with you,”
Jude had learned long ago that a dangerously calm tone of voice was not a good thing. Oh boy. Jude groaned as he dragged himself out of the pile of fabric he called a bed. This was gonna be fun.
“Yes, Kasi?” Kasaika glared, his violet eyes trained on Jude. Jude inwardly flinched.
“Where were you last night? Do not lie,” He snapped, before Jude could answer the question, “You know I will sniff it out in an instant,”
“I was retrieving supplies from the market place. We were running out of food,” He added quickly. Kasaika’s eyes narrowed into slits.
“You know full well that I already sent the twins to take care of that,” Kasaika glanced around the room. To anyone else, it might seem like casual curiosity, but Jude knew he was searching for something -anything- out of place.
“Judais. Where did that khopesh come from?” Jude flinched. Crap. “You weren’t seen, were you?”
“I knocked the guy out!” Jude said defensively. “Besides-”
“Judais!” Jude’s mouth snapped shut. “You know we can’t lose this place. We can’t lose our home. Not again,”
Jude felt the brush of fingers against the scar under his left eye. He started when he realized they were his own, tracing the crescent moon of slightly raised skin. A constant reminder of what had been lost in the massacre of Khassensis. Kasaika bore a matching scar, one that trailed down his cheek under the right eye, like a constant trail of tears.
The scars were what marked them as brothers.
Kasaika was the only reason he had survived.
“I know,” He said quietly, “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” Kasaika nodded. He spoke again after a few moments of silence.
“Jude… what were you really doing?” Kasaika’s voice was still calm, but this time it held a more gentle tone.
Wordlessly, Jude reached into the pocket of his long, green robe and retrieved the item he had taken the previous night. He pressed the hilt of the dagger into his brother’s outstretched hand. Kasaika eyed him questioningly, waiting for an explanation. Jude’s eyes bore holes into the ground at Kasaika’s feet.
“When we went to the market place a few days ago, I heard the guy running the fruit stand talking to someone. He said something about that dagger being a rare treasure. He said- he said it was one of the only things that remained of the village Khassensis,” Kasaika’s breath hitched, “My mom had one just like it,”
The only warning he got was the sound of metal against stone as Kasaika dropped the blade, and suddenly there were arms around him. Hot tears pooled in Jude’s eyes, threatening to spill over. He hugged back fiercely, not caring that Kasaika’s messy dark brown hair was in his face.
Kasaika had decided it was time to mount a full-scale attack. Take the castle, so to speak. Jude had known that wouldn’t go over well.
He waited exactly forty-three minutes before stealing a horse and heading off to rescue his brother.
Jude was able to immediately locate Kasaika. All he had to do was listen for the sound of chaos. His idiot brother was surrounded by palace guards, his bright red robe acted almost like a beacon. The rest of the party seemed to have abandoned him. Jude scowled. Stupid deserters. He hoped they knew that abandoning the King of Thieves was punishable by death.
Acting quickly, Jude pulled a couple of small throwing knives from his pockets, taking out the nearest guards. The remaining guards shouted in alarm and scattered as Jude, still on horseback, flew directly into the center of the mob, stopping directly in front of Kasaika. The older man took his outstretched hand gratefully, pulling himself onto the back of the horse.
“We need to get out of here. They’ll be back soon with reinforcements,” Kasaika’s breath was wasted, however, as Jude had already directed the horse to the outskirts of town.
They had almost made it out.
Jude could see the edge of the desert.
Then they heard the whoosh of arrows, and Jude knew they were done for.
“Bank left!” Kasaika was screaming in his ear, giving him directions. Jude followed as best he could.
“There’s a guard coming up on your right side!”
Jude managed to lose him in a busy street, packed with curious spectators. Jude dug his heels into the horse’s side, eager to increase the distance between them and the royal guard.
When the arrows finally stopped flying, and the only horse running was theirs, Jude cautiously slowed the horse to a trot. He allowed himself a few seconds to calm down before asking Kasaika a very important question.
“Why are you so stupid!?” Kasaika blinked.
“What?” Jude rounded on him, angrier than he had felt in years.
“You could have gotten yourself killed, idiot! What were you thinking!?” He felt hot tears collecting at the corners of his eyes, but was determined not to let them fall, darnit.
Given any other situation, it would have been almost comical. Jude was not yet thirteen years old, and here he was lecturing the King of Thieves on safety, of all things. Ra, this whole situation was giving him a migraine. Kasaika let out a humorless laugh.
“We aren’t exactly out of the woods yet…” Kasaika muttered grimly.
A pit settled in the bottom of Jude’s stomach. He craned his neck, turning as far as his body would let him without falling off the horse. Immediately he noticed three things.
Kasaika’s face was set in a pained grimace.
He was pressing a hand to his left side as if his life depended on it.
That hand was covered in a sticky red substance that Jude really didn’t want to put a name to.
“We have to get you home…” He breathed. That’s when he noticed the fourth thing.
4. The sound of hooves on the ground were too loud and too many to be his horse alone.
“You’ll be faster if you go without me,”
Jude pointedly ignored him, snapping the reins and urging his horse into a steady gallop. The hoof beats were getting louder. He could hear the voices of the riders now as well, all singing out for their blood.
He silently begged the horse to go faster.
He heard the whoosh of arrows.
He might be able to incapacitate a few. He had a couple of throwing knives left…
“Judais, listen to me!”
“No! I’m not going to let you die!”
“Jude... I’m going to die anyway. I-I’m sorry… I made a stupid mistake… I thought… I thought I could finally create a world where you wouldn’t have to live in fear. If only I’d spent a little longer planning… but that’s what I get for being hasty, right?” Kasaika let out a short, humorless laugh that sounded more like a pained cough than Jude cared to acknowledge.
“I don’t want you to go…” Jude whispered. Kasaika only offered him a tired grin.
“Tell our story. Keep Khassensis alive,”
And then he was gone.
In Jude’s opinion, it was not an end befitting the great Thief King. It should have been a great battle, spoken about through the ages, not this sad sacrifice. It shouldn’t end with his brother slipping passively off the back of Jude’s stolen horse, like an injured bird falling into the center of a pack of starving hyenas.
Though he was loathe to admit it, Kasaika was right about one thing. The horse was faster with only one rider. He escaped easily, and he hated himself for it.
Jude rode for hours, watching as the sky turned from a wispy blue, to shades of light pink, to a rich violet. Even as stars blinked into existence and the moon flew higher into the sky, he continued on.
Eventually he took pity on the poor horse -whom he had decided to call Abequa- and found a place to camp for the night.
He wondered what his life would be like now.
He couldn’t go back to the kingdom. The only thing that had bound him to the underground was-
He couldn’t go back.
Even as he tethered Abequa to a rock, his head was swarming with thoughts. Jude had never imagined the silence would be quite so loud.
He stared up at the stars, unable to sleep.
Keep Khassensis alive
He could do that.