Chapter Eight: The Black Shades
I touch the ground and drop down to one knee. My fists are clenched into the sand, keeping me steady. Slowly, I rise up and glare at the man in black standing before me. Startled he grabs Lusia, cowardly hiding behind her as he places a dagger against her throat. The fear in her eyes triggers my anger, and I decide to act fast.
“Stay where you are or she…”
One of my throwing knives impales the shade’s shoulder before he gets to finish his sentence. Screeching he lets go of Lusia, giving her a chance to drop and take cover.
I charge at him grabbing his collar and push him away to the other side. As he tries to regain focus, I pull out my sword and eagerly wait for him to make his first move.
With his dagger held up, the shade comes up running like a knight holding a lance. A quarter turn is enough to avoid his sad attempt of slicing my stomach. Bewildered he turns around to face me when I lash out.
In the nick of time, he pulls his sword and catches the blow. The skillful way in which he blocks my strikes makes me believe this is not some random street mugger. He is no amateur, but his strength does not measure up to mine.
Using force, I push the shade back making him stumble, yet he remains on his feet. His throbbing shoulder troubles him. Groaning like a wounded beast, he pulls out the knife, throwing it nearly inches from my face.
We lock eyes before I go at him with gritted teeth. Applying brutal blows, I bring him down to his knees, making him submit in defeat. Finally, his sword is dropped, as I plunge mine straight through his chest.
Lusia shouts my name, pointing at something behind me. Rushing from the shadows is another veiled Shade, holding a large serrated dagger in hand.
I retract my sword out of his deceased colleague, then turn around to face him. This man seems to be bigger than the last one, but it takes a lot more than size to frighten me.
After dodging a series of fast strokes, I manage to block him with my sword. Using one hand I hold him off long enough to pull out a dagger from a sheath strapped to my back. My feet start losing their grip on the sand as he tries to overpower me. With a single blow, I ram my dagger into his kneecap. He screams and drops straight down to the ground.
The black Shade lies on his back, looking directly at me. I stand over him placing the tip of my sword against his throat.
“What is your purpose here?” I ask but instead of giving me an answer, he pulls out a knife. His breath catches as my sword cuts through him, before he has the chance to use it.
I kneel down beside him and pull the veil away from his face. Glazed eyes stare into nowhere, as do those of his colleague. They look about my age, but both are strangers to me.
Sliding my sword and dagger back into its sheaths, I turn and focus on Lusia who is sat on the ground, trembling.
“Are you hurt?” I ask, walking towards her.
She nods and I see blood coming from a gaping wound on her shoulder. I tear a piece of my clothing and tie it in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Horrified, she stares at the bodies of the attackers. Her eyes are wide open and her breathing increases until it is going too fast. Sweat beads form on her face.
I reach out my hand to cup her cheek and look deeply into her eyes.
“You must calm down…focus on me and steady your breathing.”
Lusia nods and her eyes soften as she stares at me, studying every inch of my face. Before I can speak another word, Malik and his men decide to finally show up.
“What has happened here?” Malik asks and I look up at him, standing on the stone-carved platform I have only just jumped off of.
“We were attacked by these men. I had no choice but to kill them.”
“I shall go ahead and inform the Master. You, take her to Hakim for aid,” he says as he observes the scene before him.
Malik and I are rarely in agreement, but when it comes to doing the right thing, he usually proves himself to be of good use.
I put my arm around Lusia and help her up from the ground. She gasps as I pick her up into my arms after I notice she seems to be somewhat wobbly on her feet. I look at her but she turns away.
“I will meet you there. After I am certain she’s okay.”
Malik nods and rushes to report to Al Beri. While I too make my way towards the fort, Malik’s men take care of the invaders’ bodies.
At the infirmary, I set Lusia onto one of the beds. Hakim examines her damaged shoulder and instructs his assistants to provide everything he needs to patch it up. Lusia hisses when Hakim pours alcohol to disinfect the wound. Then he heats a needle into the flame of a candle, takes a thread, and starts sewing.
“It is slightly deeper than a flesh wound…” He says making Lusia flinch as he tightens the last stitch. “…but you will be okay. I am going to rub it in with a mixture of healing herbs and you are set to go.”
“Thank you, Hakim,” Lusia says and sits up gently, placing her hand on top of the wound.
The entire way here, and even now still, she has not shared one look with me. I can only hope she will want to talk to me after I have placed her somewhere safe.
“When we are done here, I will take you to my room.”
Lusia turns to me, frowning deeply, and I suspect she misunderstands my intentions. Before I can explain myself, Hakim comes back with the mixture.
After he is finished mending the wound, Lusia stands up from the bed looking straight at me.
“You, are not taking me anywhere.” She says, and storms out of the room.
I go after her, grabbing her arm as she turns the corner.
“It was not a question. I am telling you.”
“And who do you think you are, telling me what I must do?” She says raising her voice. “Let me ask you, Diran, how often do you lure women into your room after you saved them, so they can show you their appreciation in exchange for protection?”
I loosen my grip on her arm and look at her confused.
“Is that really how you think of me? That I lure women into my chamber, telling them lies about keeping them safe, just so they would lay with me?”
Now I am the one who is offended, and Lusia has noticed.
“…No, I mean…” Her eyes rise up until she finds mine. Looking intently at me, she sighs. “…honestly I do not know anything about you…except that you have saved me not once, but twice now…”
For a moment she looks away, then stands up straight, raising her head. “Alright, I will go with you…”
Amazed by this turn of events, I simply nod and walk with her to my personal chambers.
I open the door to my room and let her enter first. Carefully she walks in looking around the room, examining some of the books lying on my work table.
“You can read?” I ask as she picks one up and starts flipping through it.
“When I was little I had an instructor named Bashir, he taught me. Writing as well.”
She puts the book away and continues to look around, sliding her slender fingers over every piece of furniture she comes across. Her natural elegance makes her intriguing to watch. It is as if her body sways onto music only she can hear.
As she stands to look out of my window, the moonlight hits her face just right, making her emerald eyes shimmer like diamonds. I know that I am staring, but I do not care whether it is obvious or not.
“So what did those men want from you?” I ask.
“I do not know what they were after…” she speaks almost too soft for me to hear.
“Why did they attack you then?”
Lusia crosses her arms, embracing herself as she continues to stare out the window.
“They just appeared out of nowhere. They jumped me.”
“What were you doing so far away from the fortress?”
“I wanted to be alone for a while.”
Lusia’s lips part but she stops herself from talking. Instead, she looks at me with narrowed eyes.
“This is sounding a lot like an interrogation…”
“Because it is,” I admit.
“Ohh okay, because you see, for a brief moment there I thought you actually cared about my well-being. Or was saving me this time yet another mistake you have made?”
Gradually it is becoming clear that she is still angry with me. As long as that is the case I doubt I will make any progress with her right now. Like Asad has said, I need to give her some time.
“I must go speak with the Master. Make yourself comfortable while I am gone.”
Lusia walks towards the mirror standing beside the window and looks into it, still embracing herself. Her defensive shield is losing power making her seem more vulnerable and soft. Just like her voice when she speaks.
“Will you be gone long…?”
“Depends on the Master. Why do you ask?”
She shifts and looks at me over her shoulder. “No reason…but before you go, could you help untie my dress for me?”
My mouth runs dry, as does my throat as I approach her hesitantly. Her sleeveless dress is pure white, embellished with gold chains and jewels crossing her body in all the right places. The skirt however has bloodstains all over, presumably coming from the wound on her shoulder. The back of her dress is closed with a bunch of tiny buttons reaching down to her lower back.
Clumsily I try unbuttoning them, but this is no work cut out for my manly fingers and I get frustrated from trying.
“Do you have some kind of strong attachment to this dress?”
“No, not really…why?”
I grab the thin fabric and tear open the back in one go. Lusia’s breath catches and her body tenses. I am standing right by her, close enough for her to feel my warm breath caressing her bare shoulder.
Without thought, my eyes slide down, intently gazing at the undamaged skin of her exposed back. Like a magnet, I feel drawn to her and carefully reach out as I have a sudden urge to feel her skin underneath my fingertips. Goosebumps appear everywhere I touch. A gentle sigh escapes Lusia’s lips.
My eyes continue to roam her skin. From her bare back, to her naked shoulders until I catch her eyes staring back at me in the mirror. I pull away from her, ashamed of my impertinent behavior. Slowly, Lusia turns around to face me, modestly holding her dress in place. The thought of nothing but that thin piece of fabric standing in between me and her naked body makes my heart race and I feel my breathing increase once more.
Staring into her emerald eyes, I see the innocence in them making me snap right back to reality. Even though her gaze seems equally melted into mine, I need to find a way to tear myself away from her.
From the corner of my eye, I see a clean white linen shirt hanging on my chair. Reaching out I eventually grab it and hand it to her.
“Sleepwear is mandatory…” My voice is hoarse and I scrape my throat while pulling myself together. Lusia smiles as she takes the shirt from me.
“Thank you for your help.”
“My pleasure…I must go now.”
It takes a lot of effort to pull myself away from her. Eventually, I manage and quickly leave the room to find Al Beri.
He and Malik look up as soon as I enter. Al Beri stands from his desk.
“Diran, explain what happened.”
“Two intruders attacked a girl from our Garden. They were not amateurs, so nothing excludes there might be more of them.”
“Their solid interest was the girl?”
“It looks like that for the time being. Yet I do not know why she was targeted.”
“What did she have to say?”
“She claims to not know what those men wanted of her.”
Al Beri walks up to me. “Do you believe her?”
I hesitate for a moment thinking about my answer. “I cannot say I am fully sure, but I think I do.”
“Or maybe he knows more than he claims and is covering for her.”
I glare at Malik who is doing the same towards me.
“What do you insinuate, brother?” I spitefully say.
“No insinuation. I just find it suspicious that you have brought this specific girl to our home, and now it is you who happened to find her there.”
“Thankfully I did, because if she had to wait for you she may have been dead.”
“Enough.” Al Beri says sternly. “There is no proof for any of this. So unless you find some you shall stop these serious accusations, Malik.”
Malik scrapes his voice and glares at the ground. “Of course, Master.”
“Diran, pay close attention to this girl and try to gain more information. Malik, you will look into these invaders. Figure out who they are and why they were here. Now, get out of my sight.”
“Yes Master,” we answer together and walk out of the Masters' bureau. While turning to leave, Malik purposely shoulder bumps me. My fingers are starting to itch and I’d love nothing more than to punch him in the face. Instead, I compose myself and walk the other way back to my room where Lusia is waiting.
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