The Guardiana

A Promise to Fulfill

The morning came and Simay’s misery with it. Her mother was dead. The city she used to call her home was now a cesspool of guilt that she could not bring herself to face. Even High Priestess Aayla did not want her. Oh, she had said that she would take Simay, but the hostility with which the high priestess had said so told her everything she needed to know about Aayla’s true feelings.
Simay got out of bed with a heavy heart and began to make preparations for the journey upon which she would embark in thirteen days. There was much to be done before she left; supplies to be discreetly horded, a house to be cleared out, a new identity to forge – memories to forget.

The girl slipped out of the small house not too long after dawn. The assassin made sure to keep her in sight as he followed her throughout the city, and he watched as she carefully and purposefully lifted several key items from the street vendors. He kept a list in his head: one sturdy rope; a well-made hammer; two canvas bags, one large, one small – both easily concealable in the girl’s flowing robe; a single wooden bowl; several containers of pitch and a bit of food – enough to last the day.
After the girl had gathered everything she intended to take – at least for now – she quietly left the market.
The assassin was intrigued by her odd behavior. He could understand why she would take the food – even the bowl and hammer, but it did not make sense for her to steal the rest of the items, unless she was about to do the very thing that Aayla had sent him to stop her from doing – leaving.
He carefully shadowed the girl back to her home and watched as she stowed her prizes in the house. She spent the rest of the day inside the house – doing what, he wasn’t exactly sure, but he was certain that she was still inside the house when darkness fell that night.
Six days, many more survival tools, and some other supplies later, the girl did something that she hadn’t done before. Instead of heading to the market, the girl sneaked into the back room of a tradesman’s house which sported a sign that read, “Quality Tents” and emerged with a small tent. She moved as quickly as she could back through the streets and hid the tent inside her hovel before walking nonchalantly back to the market where she stole her daily allotment of food before heading home once again.
Nothing else out of the ordinary happened until the sun set seven days after the girl had stolen the tent. His first hint that something was about to happen was when the girl spent more time in the market than usual and stole more non-perishable foodstuffs than would be needed for a day or two.
The girl was finally leaving, and she was going tonight. He was absolutely sure of it. The real questions now were where she would go and who she would go with. Unless she was incredibly foolish she would not dare travel alone. As for who she would go with, there were a few possibilities to choose from: a group of Bedouin shepherds were taking their goat herds through the area and would leave a few hours before dawn, heading south; a caravan of merchants were leaving around the same time of early morning and heading East; and two ships heading in opposite directions would leave port shortly after dawn.
It did not seem likely that she would take either of the ships: no sense in taking a tent if she did not need it. So it was down to the shepherds or the merchants. Unless she intended to disguise herself as a young shepherdess, it was unlikely that she would go with the Bedouins.
The assassin quickly left his hiding place within the broken down old house and followed the girl one last time to the camp of the merchant caravan. He watched as the girl persuaded the leader of the group to let her come with them to someplace that he couldn’t quite catch the name of.
Apparently the merchant agreed to let the girl join them because she began to settle in with the group.
The assassin made an express decision. He quickly made some adjustments to his wardrobe and withdrew the stash of currency that Aayla had given to him two weeks ago to fund his “mission.” He looked at the bag, thought about his decision and convinced himself that he was only doing what was necessary. After all, Aayla had told him to kill the girl if she tried to leave, but she did not say that he had to kill her before she left the city. Certainly Aayla had meant that he was to do away with the girl as unobtrusively as possible.
As he thought about it a little more he began to ask himself a very dangerous question. Why was it even necessary to kill her? She was no threat. The troublesome Nuray was already dead. The woman’s daughter was virtually unknown to the people of Ephesus. Yes, the artifact that had been stolen all those years ago was still missing, but it was more likely that it had been stolen by an ambitious thief than by the former High Priestess of Diana. It was so far-fetched and border-line fanatical that he dismissed the possibility that Priestess Nuray had been the culprit. After all, there was no obvious reason to assume that the woman had committed any sin other than the breaking of her vows, and the daughter should not be punished for wrongs that Nuray had committed...
He looked down at his shoes, and pursed his lips in thought. To his surprise, he realized that he had decided not to obey the fearful Aayla, High Priestess of the revered Artemis Diana. He did not know when the change had truly occurred, but somewhere during the two weeks that he had been following the girl – Simay he remembered her name was – he had decided to let her live. He was still determined to watch her every move, and if she did anything that he construed as a threat to the Temple he would act, but for now, Simay would be free to go wherever she chose. So long as he went with her.

Esmail Al’Amin was leading Omar, his faithful, if not odoriferous, camel to the well for one last long drink before everyone turned in for the night. They had to head out very early to make sure they stayed on schedule.
The Arab drew out some water for Omar and poured it into a trough and kept filling the water pitcher until the trough was full enough to satisfy the camel.
When he poured his last pitcher-full of water into the trough, he looked up and almost dropped the pitcher when he saw a man standing silently in front of him.
Esmail’s hand went immediately to the knife tucked into his belt.
The stranger held up a hand to indicate that he meant no harm to Esmail.
“I would like to travel with you, sir.” The man said.
“You are a merchant?” Esmail asked.
“No. I am not a merchant. I only want to travel with you for a while, for my own safety. Where, perchance, are you going?”
Esmail looked askance at the stranger. He appeared to be an Ephesian, or perhaps from another nearby city. “We are returning to Qaryat al-Faw, in Arabia. We have been gone for some time and we wish to finally return home.”
The stranger stared at Omar for a long time then finally said, “That is acceptable to me. What is your fee?”
“We do not accept strangers, Ephesian.” Esmail said cautiously.
The stranger pointed back toward the caravan. “You just accepted a girl who I am sure is not one of you.” Then to cover his tracks he continued, “I have seen her around the city for years,” he lied.
Esmail was very uncomfortable with this man for a reason that he could not pinpoint, but against his better judgment he rescinded his earlier declaration.
“Perhaps, we have been known to accept a few. From time to time.”
“Now, I ask you again, what is your fee?” the man persisted.
Esmail and the stranger haggled for several minutes and eventually came to a price that both men agreed was fair.
“Thank you for allowing me to come with you.” The man nodded to the Arab. “What am I to call you?”
“You may call me Al’Amin. What shall I call you, Ephesian?”
The stranger nodded and replied, “I am…” he paused, looking as though he were thinking much too hard about something so simple as a name, “I am Malcus”
“Go and gather your belongings then, Malcus. We leave well before dawn.”

Simay slept fitfully into the wee hours of the morning and she was dreadfully groggy by the time one of the members of the caravan came to wake her in time to prepare for the group’s departure. She bundled up her bed roll and other miscellaneous belongings that she had not yet put away and sat in the back of one of the more generous merchant’s wagons.
The sky was still dark when the caravan pulled out of Ephesus. Simay looked back on the only home she had ever known. Most of the windows were dark; the streets were almost completely empty. The stars shone brightly in the sky over her head and she looked up at them with a sad smile.
“Leaving.” The word echoed in her head over and over. “I’m really leaving.”
To distract herself from reality, she began to rehearse her story in her mind. She was the daughter of a Roman merchant named Jason and his Ephesian wife. Two years ago, both of her parents had died in a fire and she, like a good daughter, was seeking to learn more about the family business as her father would have wished.
She bit her lip. Her story was mostly plausible at least. The man she had talked into letting her join the caravan had seemed convinced enough. He had even agreed to let her work in exchange for her keep. Simay had been surprised when the Arab had accepted the offer she had made, but she did not question her good fortune.
During the semi-confusion of the departure, Simay had only seen one other person who looked as if they were from the area around Ephesus – a man she didn’t recognize, but who looked to be about eight or nine years her senior. He was a nice-looking young man; at least, he looked no worse than the other twenty-somethings she had seen in Ephesus.
Simay let her mind continue to wander as the cool before-dawn air brushed past her face, leaving her cheeks pink.

Two months after Simay’s departure, the caravan stopped at a small city whose name she could neither pronounce nor remember after Esmail, their leader announced that they would be stopping there.
As was her habit at any town they stopped in, Simay followed the merchants to the local marketplace and helped set up some of the stalls. She resisted the temptation to steal some of the caravan merchants’ goods. She reserved that activity for the locals’ merchandise.
Simay walked around the market, looking much like just another young person.
“If only they knew.” She thought to herself. Her life had become surreal in just five and a half years. It was almost too much to think about, but she could not help herself. Her past was what had made her who she was. She always found herself torn in two directions – forget who she was and start over as she had intended to do upon leaving Ephesus, or continue her life and use her past to her advantage.
Every time Simay was tempted to forget, the now-familiar voice of the Spirit of Diana whispered reassurances in her mind. After all, no one could be expected to be responsible for an irresponsible parent’s actions. The spirit always reminded her that she was only doing what she needed to live her own life the way she was meant to live it – her own way.
One particular night after she had joined the caravan, Simay realized that she was no longer the timid child she had been before leaving home – before… betraying her mother. Simay had allowed her familiar spirit to guide her actions, to make suggestions to her, to require her obedience. There were few things she would not do for the Spirit of Diana’s sake.
During the first few days of her “freedom” – that was what Simay called her stint with the merchants – she had considered leaving the silver statue buried in a hole somewhere out in the wilderness of Asia. She did not think like that for very long. One night, Diana had spoken to her through the statue. Simay remembered those words as if they had been seared into her mind.
“Oh, Simay, Simay. You know that you have a promise to fulfill. You remember what happened to your mother because she broke a promise to me. I do not want that to happen to you, but if you disobey, there must be consequences. It would ruin my credibility if I did not follow through on my own promises.”
Simay remembered wanting to scream, but not daring to.
“Diana is right after all. It would be wrong to break a promise – especially one as serious as this one,” Simay thought as she emerged from her memories and continued to wander the local market, “picking up a few things” as she went.
At first, everything went as it usually did. Simay stole what she needed – and sometimes something she didn’t need – helped out at one of the caravan merchant’s stalls for a while, and then headed back to the campsite where some of the servants and the hired security personnel stayed during the day.
She was almost within sight of the camels when a giant of a man stepped in front of her. He had to be at least seven feet tall, and each of his arms was almost as big around as her waist.
“Where da you think you’re goin’?” he growled.
His squinty eyes and bald head would have make Simay laugh if she wasn’t so utterly horrified by the tone of his voice.
“You deaf, girl?!”
“N-no.” she stuttered. “I’m n-not. I’m going back to the c-caravan.”
“You’re one a’ them foreigners then.” The man raised a threatening fist.
“N-no. I’m from E-ephesus.” She stared up into the man’s tiny black eyes, hoping that he would believe her.
“Right. An’ I’m a anchovy. You’re gonna come wit’ me. An’ you’re gonna be quiet about it. Got it?”
Simay thought for a second about running, but the look in the man’s eyes made her cower and she nodded in agreement. After all, how could she fulfill a promise if she was dead?
The big man took her tiny hand in his gigantic one and led her to a large, broken-down house near the center of the city. The man swept aside the curtain that substituted for a front door, and the two stepped into a poorly lit room. The front windows of the house had been covered over and when the door-curtain was closed again, not much light was able to enter the house.
Simay was led to a small room and tossed through the door, which slammed shut behind her. The room had one window, covered by a thick curtain of course. The room smelled thickly of body odor, rotten food, and some other more unpleasant smells. In the darkness she heard shuffling. The more she listened, the more frightened she became. She looked around the whole room, squinting to try to see where the noise was coming from.
Something brushed her arm and she screamed.
“Shh.” The voice gave Simay a substantial shock.
“W-who are you?!” she demanded.
“You don’t need to be afraid of us. We’re just like you.” The voice sounded very forlorn and lost.
“There – there’s more than one of you?!”
“Of course. There are about ten of us in this room, including you.” The sad voice said.
“What is this place?” Simay asked, fearing the answer.
“Isn’t it obvious? We’re to be taken to some faraway place, where our families will never find us, and sold as slaves.” The person speaking suddenly entered her field of vision and Simay jumped at the sight. The girl was raggedly dressed and looked as though she had been stuck in this pen for weeks. Perhaps she had been.
“W-who are you?” Simay asked again, this time a little less sharply.
“Me? I’m nobody. But the other girls call me Seda. Who are you?” the other girl stared at Simay.
“I am Simay… I’m from Ephesus.” Simay hoped that Seda would not pry anymore.
“Okay, Simay. Welcome to our group. Most of us have been here for about a month. Some have just recently been captured. You are the newest one to come to us. No one knows how much longer we’ll be here, but from listening to the head man’s minions, we’ll be leaving soon.”
Simay’s heart plummeted down into her stomach and stayed there. She couldn’t be taken from the caravan. The statue was still among her belongings back at camp…
“Diana, help me…” she mumbled.
Just then another man, this one more normally sized, stuck his head into the room and yelled, “Get ready to go ya dirt bags! We’re leavin’ in a hour!” The slamming door punctuated his command.
Simay fell to her knees and began to cry. If she were taken away from the caravan and sold, she would not be able to get to the Arabian Desert. Whoever bought her would never just let her go. And the silver bear, which Diana had wanted her to guard, would be forever lost to her.
“Simay.” Seda shook the other girl by her shoulders. “Crying will only get you in trouble. Believe me, I tried it. You’ll get a smack in the face and no dinner.”
Simay did her best to stop crying, to lock away her despair for now. She succeeded.
“Good.” Seda said. “Now, go help the other girls get ready to leave.” she pointed to one of the small groups of girls crouched in one corner.
Simay nodded and shuffled over to the girls.

Just as he had promised, the man who had announced their imminent departure came back an hour later to herd them all out the back of the house and into several enclosed wagons.
To Simay’s relief, she was shoved into the same wagon as Seda along with a few other girls and some younger boys.
Simay considered trying to get Seda’s attention, but after witnessing a few girls trying to scream for help and being knocked over the head for their efforts, Simay knew talking was probably a bad idea.
After a few hours of sitting silently in the swaying wagon, the sky started to darken. Night fell silently over the slave-train, giving the captured children and teenagers some relief from the stifling heat of the wagons.
The prisoners were let out of the wagon briefly. A morsel of food and some water was handed to each one as he or she was shoved back into the wagons.
The night seemed to crawl by and Simay sat awake in the wagon. Most of the others had finally fallen asleep, but Simay could not. She was haunted by what had happened to her over the past day.
“Simay…” the echoing whisper melted through the walls and into her mind.
“Diana?” Simay whispered back.
“Yes, Simay. It is I.” the reply came.
“I have failed you, my goddess.” Simay despaired.
“Not yet, you have not, Simay. Not yet…” the whisper faded.
“Diana?” Simay heard nothing. “Diana?!” she whispered desperately. “Come back!”
Simay heard the lock on the wagon being broken, and the door flew open.
She saw the face of a man in the light of the bright full moon and she nearly fainted in surprise when realization dawned on her.

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