Introduction

Where are you?

I dreamed about you again. Your young, beautiful eyes, violet and wide and afraid. The day that I left you. The day I failed my duty as your guardian.

I wanted to tell you so many things. I was always too silent. I dreamed about all that I could have told you, prepared you. As I sat on my horse and rode in the wind I wished that I could see you again.

As I rode, I saw a figure in the distance. A beautiful girl with long curls and the veil of a Princess. She floated on a beautiful blue rug and she was peaceful and serene. I dreamed that that was you. I dreamed that you had found peace.

I opened my eyes and knew it was not so. I remember your face when I let you go. You were so little and the people around you were heartless. In my heart I feel they broke you, and I was too weak and could not stop them. And that is what they wanted me to think. That is what they wanted me to feel.

I hear the trumpets calling. The air rings with their sound, and all I think is where are you? I step outside the tent and I know you are out there. I draw my sword and I remember your face. I saw your figure, hair blowing in the breeze, that desert morning...I know it was you.

The drums are beating, our hearts are in sync. Somewhere you are out there, thinking of me. We will be together again...

Story

The Vague Beginning


The tales of the old times, basking in the starlight and moonlight as I walked with the other merchants, my white clothing covering me and keeping me as warm as they possibly could. My parents a distant memory, only the wet nurse clear in my mind, my memories. The lonely desert stretched on without end, but it was so beautiful and the sky was so quiet...so beautiful. I was a little girl then.

It was this magical haven that I loved. The places of people were so crowded, so busy. The desert was endless, timeless. The people who lived millions of years before me would have seen the same things. My time on the road, helping my friends and family follow the stars, was my favorite time. Everything was pure.

My older brother had little time for me. He was studying to become a merchant like my father. I remember the day I listened in on a conversation they had about bargaining, bartering. I kept it in my memory and felt guilty for doing so. I thought I was stealing my brother's Special Thing. I remember I was about to hurry away but then my father called me into the room and sat me on his lap and kept explaining and my brother did not mind.

As I got older I found my mother. She was always busy too, managing the inventory, helping to set up tents every night. Everyone said she was as stubborn as a camel and they were right. She was a very good bargainer, more so than my father. I loved my wet nurse but slowly she drifted into the background and it was my mother I grew to know. Her memory lay there still in my head, waiting for her to revive it.

My mother was very loving. She told me school was very important for a lady who did not like cleaning all her life. She said housework was honorable and that pride should be taken with it but that school made a more educated lady and a kinder husband. I was so excited I followed her rules to the letter. I was good at sewing and sweeping and cleaning even though sand went everywhere and many grains stubbornly refused to come out of the tents. When we were living in our village I would study my books and I learned how to read and write. Sometimes it was so hot at night that I could not sleep so I took my books and tried reading on the roof, where I ended up falling asleep. I thought I had discovered a clever new idea until a few hours later when my parents and my brother came upstairs to join me. I was disappointed.

The little trials of my life kept me busy and I was never bored or sad for long. My life was peaceful at one point. My childhood years are the ones I've treasured. Life was simple. There were the long, sunny days, the meals at night, the studying with many old scrolls and tablets and books...everything was perfect.

I was five when my parents were killed. Thieves from the Mystery Islands attacked our caravans as we trekked across the sands. Of course, we of the desert were more adapted to the terrain, but they had the element of surprise...and a fighting spirit. They looted the caravans and they stole the people they could for servants. They did not steal me. For once, my brother took my hand and he ran with me.

That was the day I began to love him as the brother he was.

* * *

We ran for miles and miles until the burning fire and the screams could only be seen. We were hot, tired, and hungry. When our legs could move no longer we collapsed on the ground, unconscious.

The next day when we awoke, we were boiling and without any water we knew our deaths were eminent. We could not decide whether to search for water or wait until nightfall. Everything we had was gone...we had no maps, no food, and only the clothes on our backs. My brother promised that we were only two or three miles from Sakhmet.

Follow the star, and you will always know where to go. he told me, taking my hand. He squeezed it and I squeezed it back. He smiled at me and I gave him a worried face. Then he picked me up and swung me over his shoulder, in my sandals and my white pajamas and undershirt.

Don't worry, Little Hoti. I will protect you. Faisal-bhai has you...don't be scared. I held him tightly and closed my eyes to the rhythm of his constant, strong footsteps. As the sun burned down on us, I sank into him, still tired and exhausted. My brother was here for me. I was safe in his arms.


The Sakhmet Days

I was slowly waking up as we entered the noise and bustle that is Sakhmet, and being the young girl I was, with everything that had happened, I got an impression of Sakhmet that I am sure nobody else ever did, or will. The sky was hot - that was nothing new - but as my eyes slowly adjusted and my body reoriented itself after finding me on my brother's back, I felt only a few things....hunger...a daze...all the people wandering by me just shadows, figures. For a few minutes I thought I was dreaming. I had never seen a place with so many people. But the sun kept burning and I began to notice my brother's familiar (and comfortingly nice) scent and the way I could feel his body move as he carried me to wherever we were going and how rhythmic it was. Slowly, the daze left my mind and I was awake, seeing clearly, observing.

Faisal-bhai, I whispered to my brother. Even through all the crowds of Sakhmet, he heard my voice. I'm awake.

Do you feel better, Hoti? he asked quietly as we continued to walk. I saw now his head always looking around everywhere, like a lizard or a small bird watching out for something, but he navigated the crowds like a man who had been born in them.

I'm fine, I replied back, just as quietly. Bhai, where are we going?

We need to tell the authorities that our caravans were attacked by bandits, he told me, We were carrying many shipments of items for the Emperor. We must beg his forgiveness.

As he spoke, we were always walking towards the center of the city. Ah, here we are. Faisal-bhai said, slowing down as we neared a large shop with many banners pinned to it. Outside the shop, a man was calling, " The finest healing potions for miles around! Wish to ward off bad spirits? We have many amulets which will keep you protected, only for a pound of flour each! "

Hello, Omar. Faisal-bhai called. His friend looked away and a big grin lit his face, as if it had begun to rain. Faisal, you dog! Good to see you! What are you doing here...your caravan isn't due for weeks!

It's a long story. Faisal-bhai smiled at him apologetically. Though I could not see his face, I saw Omar's smile fade. That doesn't look good. What happened?

I'll tell you more inside. Faisal-bhai said grimly, heading for the door to the shop. I need you to take care of Hoti for me, can you do that? As he spoke I felt him wriggle his shoulders and I automatically let go. He slowly lowered me to the ground and held my hand tightly. It hurt a little but I did not want to complain.

Um...Faisal, the shop...this is a great opportunity for me...I can't let the boss down... Omar spoke stutteringly. Faisal simply gave him a dark look and gently pushed me into him. Look at me, Hoti. he said, looking right into my eyes. I saw him falter in his words, and he did not speak for a few moments. His eyes grew shinier and I saw him gulp. Hoti...Omar will take care of you for now. As soon as I am done with the Emperor I will come right back. Listen to what he says, do you understand?

I don't want you to go...I thought to myself, my lip wobbling. But I did not want to make him more sad. I nodded.

There's a good girl. he smiled at me a little. I will be right back.

* * *

Okay, Gehoti, this is what we are going to do. Omar said urgently as Faisal-bhai began to hurry away towards the palace. I am going to introduce you to my boss, Jak - I will ask if he can stay with you - I need to go with Faisal. The stupid idiot's going to get himself killed. he whispered to himself, and as I was unsure of what he meant, I kept silent. He took my hand gently and led me inside, across the shopping floor where a shopkeeper stood, surrounded by a few people looking for more serious potions, and downstairs into a dusty old cellar from which strange smells were coming. I coughed and held my nose with one hand as he carefully took me down the stairs. I had to jump to keep up. We stopped at the foot of the stairs, eyes watering and trying not to breathe in the foul fog.

Sir! Omar called into the dim room. Out of the fog came a rather chubby old man holding two steaming flasks of something-or-other. His face was filled with sweetness, which disoriented me as his voice had sounded angry only two seconds earlier.

So, who is the lucky customer? he asked, eyes straining to see through the slight darkness. When his eyes settled on me, his smile slipped and he glared at Omar. Haven't I told you? No kids in the laboratory! At his harsh voice I shriveled back into my protector's side. Omar patted my head and looked at this strange man and sighed. Here goes nothing, I heard him say under his breath.

I am ever so sorry, my wonderful patron, but this is the sister of a good friend of mine and she is in dire need of someone to take care of her...it would only be for two hours. he added, falling to his knees. Please, please take care of her until I return. My good friend is in grave danger and I need to be at his side to protect him.

The gruff man - Jak, I remembered - looked curious. Grave danger?

I don't know all the details yet sir, but he and his sister are merchants and -

Merchants? he asked, suddenly cheerful. Anyone I know?

Yes, Omar said, relieved, Do you remember Hassan al Bakr? Of al Bakr Merchandise? This is their daughter.

He looked at me, now thoughtful. Okay then. he said finally. You go, go. Hurry! I need you back in time for the evening customers.

Thank you so much, I will be forever grateful! Omar shouted as he raced up the stairs, leaving me alone with this fearful person. I looked up at him warily, ready to run.

First things first... Jak said, the look on his face softening. We can't have a girl wandering around without a kameez now, can we? Follow me. he said, walking past me and heading up the narrow stairs once more. I looked down at my loose pajama bottoms - the shalwar - and the thin undershirt I had been wearing. No wonder I felt the sun burning me, I thought as I began my weary climb up the stairs after Jak.

* * *

Faisal! Omar called as he raced towards his friend. Faisal!!! In the noise of the busy streets, his voice could barely be heard above the crowd. But he could see Faisal walking quickly, the only shirtless man burning in the sun. Omar picked up his pace and began to jog lightly, cursing Faisal all the way, until he tackled his friend against a wall. Faisal, surprised, didn't react until his friend had blocked off all escape routes. Faisal looked down and glared at his slightly-shorter friend.

Omar, let go of me! he growled.

You idiot, what do you think you're doing? You can't go to the Sultan like this!

I have to. Faisal said, trying to escape Omar's utterly perfect grip. Don't you understand? He'll want compensation...and as the head of the family now I only have Gehoti to give, and I refuse to let him take her! His voice was lower, now, but extra fierce. Omar's eyes widened.

Your family...your caravans got robbed, didn't they. Omar whispered, a statement more than a question. As Omar spoke, he could see Faisal's eyes grow moist. Finally, Faisal fell back against the wall and released the pressure on Omar, who carefully remained in position.

Come on, Faisal. Omar said, patting his tall friend on the shoulder. Let's get back and try to fix this.

I...fine. Faisal muttered, trying his hardest not to let his voice crack.

* * *

So, which one do you like, Hoti? Jak waved at the many crates of shalwar kameez that loomed, tall, in front of us. He had left the shop to another enterprising boy and taken me to a large warehouse where a friend of his kept his stock. The boxes were colorful and painted with many pretty symbols. I stared at them silently, feeling lost and lonely. I felt slightly sick, too...staring up at the crates gave me vertigo.

Um. I don't know... I told him quietly, trying to keep my stomach as still as possible. I felt tired, too, tired of this long long day. This one? I poked a crate at the bottom of a large stack. Jak looked at me for a moment, as if he thought I was being rude. I guiltily turned my face to the piles of clothes littering the area and saw a set in a pale green color. I walked over to it cautiously and took it in my hands. Is this okay?

Jak took it from me and carefully inspected it. It'll do. he said finally, and took my hand once more. I braced myself for the long walk back - my bare feet had already been trodden on many times over and they felt sore. I bit my lip, trying not to cry as I followed the man outside. As we joined the huge crowd of noisy people going about their business, nobody could hear me whimper as I tried to keep myself from crying...

What was this nightmare? My Ammy was far away, my Abbu unseen...attacked by bandits...I was scared! And Faisal-bhai gone too...and I was alone with a strange man who forgot to get me shoes and who I was too afraid to ask. I felt sick...and tired...and nothing was right...

* * *

In the small corner of the attic that was my bedroom, I tiredly changed into the new clothes. They smelled strange, but the material was soft on my skin. I stared at the green on my sleeve, the white lacing on the ends a kind that my mother would make. As I stared at it, I remembered her...her strange green eyes, so like this kameez, and her kind smile. I felt my lips wobble and I hiccuped as I tried to stop crying. Ammy...Ammy is gone...forever! forever! forever! I thought bitterly, sobbing as I fell onto the sleeping-pallet. I wanted to scream, but I knew the customers would hear and I would be punished. The old man had made that clear. I kicked at the wall and sobbed into my blanket, tormented. They weren't coming back! They were never coming back!

The door to the attic creaked open and I froze, terrified. Had someone heard me? I let my tears seep into my pillow and bit my lip fiercely.

Hoti...? Are you in here, little one? It was Faisal's voice. I threw away the rough blankets and ran to his side, weeping. I threw myself onto him and he scooped me up, crying also as he took me in his arms and his knees buckled, crashing us both onto the ground. Though it was hard to breathe and I knew I must be hurting Faisal with my tight grip, I sobbed into him and he sobbed into me and we suffered together...though everything was wrong, we had each other and as I cried I knew I would never let him go.

A New Life

How much longer are they going to use my attic space Omar? Hushed tones echoed up to the trapdoor in the attic and, curiosity aroused, I went to listen. Tell me, Omar. How long? Jak's voice rose.

I don't know, sir, I'm so sorry, Omar said hastily, I will ask Faisal to -

Whatever it is you will do, hurry. That attic doesn't pay for itself. Jak grumbled. From the crack in the trapdoor I could see Omar wipe his brow in relief. I stepped back and flopped onto my pallet, worried and still grieving, of course. The pain ached in my heart like a small stone.

After an hour or so, I felt Faisal tap my shoulder. What's wrong, little one? he asked me, sitting down beside me on my pallet.

Jak wants us out of the attic. I told him glumly, He says the attic won't pay for itself. I guess he needs the space for more of his potions.

Faisal rolled his eyes. Hoti, Jak is a grumpy old fool. He lowered his voice as he spoke. He only does what he does out of obligation or for profit. The way to have things done our way is to make sure that he profits from what we want.

So we should want what Jak wants? I asked, confused. But Jak wants us to leave...

Ah, that is where you are wrong. You have to read between the lines. Faisal tousled my curls. Jak wants to make money. We aren't helping him make money, and he doesn't have much of an obligation to us to help, and therefore, what we want to do is find a way to help him make money. That way, we can stay in the attic.

What will we do? We have nothing to sell. I looked up at him with my big violet eyes.

Well... he looked down at me for a moment, shook his head, then scooped me up into his strong arms and kissed me on the cheek. We can sell our work.

But I am not good at anything. I look down worriedly. I do not know how to sell anything.

But you can clean, can't you? You were Ammy's little helper. And I can keep records of sales and perhaps help with advertising. Faisal said, a thoughtful look on his face. Yes, I like that idea.

But I don't like Jak. I said quietly, feeling a little grumbly. He's mean. I don't want to help him. I said, feeling daring. Usually I would never speak to my older brother this way but my Ammy and Abbu weren't around to punish me anymore.

We just have to deal with him. Faisal-bhai said irately. Hoti, I don't want to be in this situation either. But we have no choice so let's do our best to make the most of it? He opened the trapdoor out of the attic and began to climb down.

Okay. I said, feeling sad again. There was no Ammy downstairs to make breakfast. I quickly climbed down the stepladder and ran a little to keep up with my big brother's strides.

There was a small little kitchen behind the shop front where Omar and Jak were eating, Omar on the squatting-block in the corner and Jak at the table. Faisal-bhai looked as perfect as ever and I quickly made sure that my hair was not too frizzy. I tugged at it anxiously, wishing I had Ammy's pretty comb with the flowers on it so that I could brush my hair.

Jak, Faisal began, taking my hand. I stepped forward in my bare feet and tried to smile.

You have done us a great favor by allowing us to stay in your home. Gehoti and I are eternally grateful.

It has been my pleasure. Jak replied, nodding his head. He eyed his pirahta [like a tortilla], as if wondering how long Faisal would take.

In return, Gehoti and I wish to offer our services to you. Faisal bowed. My little sister can help you maintain your home and shop and I can offer my services as your bookkeeper or in any way you desire.

Jak stared at Faisal for a few minutes, then at me. I looked at him shyly for a second, then looked back down at the ground. He stared into the distance, deep in thought.

All right then. Yes, I accept. he said finally.

Thank you so much! Faisal said, unable to keep the gratefulness out of his voice. When should I - we - begin?

Now is good. Jak nodded. My records are in my office. I am trusting you, boy, not to interfere with anything you shouldn't. And you too, girl. I focused on the wood on the ground. I believe my trust is well placed?

It is, I promise you. Faisal nodded solemnly, still smiling.

Well, first of all you had better find yourself some decent clothes. Omar, take him to the warehouse and let him find something in his size. Perhaps buy him something to eat. I can make Gehoti breakfast here. Is that all right? He looked down at me and gave me an odd smile. I smiled and nodded warily. Faisal looked pleased.

Thanks again! Faisal said happily as he and Omar raced outside, leaving me with Jak. Again.

Well, what are you waiting for? he asked, as we shared a glance. This place is a mess. You should hurry up and clean it.

I nodded quickly, feeling worried. I knew it, I was going to break something, ruin something. And I didn't know where the broom was and I was too afraid to ask.

Well you have had to do a lot of new things lately. I tell myself and take in a deep breath. Sir, where is the broom?

Near the pantry, he says, delving into one of his cupboards and getting out some flour. You can start with the shop front, so we can open looking nice and tidy. I nod and slink away to get the broom. Once I have it I slowly walk over to the shop front, my feet and the broom dragging as I walk. This isn't how things are meant to be. My mother is meant to be beside me with a broom, to help me out. My father is meant to be talking business with the other traders and my brother is meant to be a quiet spot in my vision, studying. I close my eyes and I'm there...wiping sweat from my brow...in the blue freshness of the desert...the smell of camels and other such dirty and familiar things in my nose. Gehoti, just remember, that if you do not want to be cleaning all your life you must study hard. My mother says, looking down at me with lovely green eyes, her long straight framing her face.

I open my eyes and I look at the broom in my hand for a long time. I can't see properly...my eyes are filled with tears again. Always do everything with grace and elegance...and of course, do it well. Ammy whispers to me. I can feel my father tousle my curls and nod. In this world one must do everything well. It's very important.

I stiffen my resolve and clutch the broom more tightly. I will do this. I will clean that shop front and make it perfect! I think as I stride forward to the large room.

And some day I will find a way to learn from books again.

A Few Years Later...

I am hiding in a small alley, in a little hidey hole, a small book in hand. My scarf is wrapped around me so nobody will recognize me, and my clothes are beginning to get stained with dust. These are not things I am paying much attention to, though. My mind is focused on the world unfolding around me, emanating from the book in hand.

It is a geography book, filled with maps and descriptions of the other places in the world. There are lands to the north that are very cloudy and cold, and green - and lands to the south far more barren than Sakhmet could ever be. I am entranced by it all...the few pictures that have been painted within the book are utterly gorgeous...

Girls aren't meant to read books you know. Especially in alleys. a voice says. My head shoots up in alarm and bangs sharply against the top of the little cave I'm in. I wince in pain as I take in the features of the new arrival. He is a tall man with long-ish dark hair flowing in the soft breeze and shining eyes. His clothes are no less scruffy than mine, though of course he is wearing white and I am in a lilac-colored kameez.

You are missing your turban, sir. I say, feeling daring today and annoyed, too. Who does he think he is? The Sultan!?

Right you are, right you are. he laughs, not really minding my jibe, though he looks a little surprised at my answer. I suppose that does make us even. He extends a hand to me, and I take it warily. He pulls me up and smiles. My name is Keran. You're the girl who works at Jak's 'Apothecary' aren't you? That explains it.

I am Gehoti. I say grudgingly. Explains what? I think crossly. I don't like how he says Apothecary, as if Jak's place is such a bad thing. Mr. Jak is slightly odd, I do know that, but his medicines work for sure, and he is a good person...he took us in, which, I have come to learn, few people would have done in this city. I look Keran in the eyes- surprisingly bright and blue. Are you going to tell anyone you saw me reading? I ask him crossly.

I don't know. He looks at me tauntingly. What happens if I do?

I resist the urge to slap him.

If you do I'll tell your parents what you do when you're meant to be getting tutored. I'm sure the poor man has been searching for you for hours.

Keran looks shocked. How do you know I have a tutor? Two minutes ago you didn't even know my name.

I smile slyly. Your clothes are dirty but only recently so. The cloth is not very fancy but it is fairly new. Your hair looks very well kept and you smell...nicer than most. And you're a boy. You're meant to be studying but you're out here in the dirt. I explain. I would kill to have a tutor. For so many years, I've been studying alone, with Faisal only available to help me occasionally.

Keran looks cross now. Well, you can't do that, because you don't know where I live. So there. he says, crossing his arms.

Yes, I do. I snicker at him. Or I will. I can ask anyone around here and then there I will be, at your doorstep! I'm pleased with myself.

Keran shakes his head. Why would they believe you? he pushes me away crossly. I bump into the wall, surprised by this and also infuriated. You're just the servant girl at Jak's Apothecary. He steps back and begins to turn.

Just the servant girl...just the servant girl... For so long I have tried to be silent. Today, something is different. I'm tired of hiding. And this feeling...this hot fury... makes me feel...alive.

How dare you!? I yell angrily and I punch him, hard, across the face with my bony fists. He falls onto his bum and looks shocked for a moment. Then he begins to cry loudly.

I instantly feel bad for what I've done, and scared. Someone will hear him now and we'll both be punished! Um, I'm sorry! I say frantically, falling to my knees to console him. I put a hand on his face to soothe it but he shoves me away angrily. Please, be quiet, if you keep crying so loudly we'll both be in trouble! I plead with him. What was I thinking? Everything they have worked for... I am suddenly petrified with what I have done, that feeling. Like I couldn't stop myself. It was almost an instinct...and because of it everything will be ruined!

He wipes away his tears angrily. How dare you hit me!? he snarls, though it's more a half-sniffle. You're a girl, you're not meant to do that!

How dare you push me, insult me!? I shout back, thoroughly angered, I'm as good as you, if not better! So what if I'm a girl!? I scream. I stop, shocked. I really said that. I really said that to him.

He looks at me, his face paling. Gehoti...

What - I begin.

Suddenly, I'm jerked up by the arm and barely able to stand on my toes. What is going on here!? a low voice hisses. Young man, did this girl hit you? Keran's cheek is red where I punched him. I quail as the man shakes me about in his own fury. What is wrong with you, girl? My lips begin to wobble and I am going to cry, I know it. I stifle a whimper as tears slowly begin to fall down my cheek. Keran looks at me, frozen with fear.

Leading him astray, are you? I bite my lip as I'm shaken around again. Keran, get home, now.

Un-Uncle... Keran begins shakily, but his uncle is not listening.

As for you...who is your guardian, girl? I demand compensation for what you have done!

Uncle... Keran tries again.

My guardian is Faisal, at the Apothecary. I whispered. I'm shaken again. Louder, girl. Keran's uncle says haughtily.

Faisal, at the Apothecary! I say, my voice cracking. I'm terrified...what will he want? All those years ago, someone wanted compensation and it was supposed to be terrible...and I brought it on him!

Uncle, she did NOT hit me. Keran yells angrily. His uncle and I look stunned.

Sorry? he asks.

Gehoti didn't hit me. She was helping me. Some ruffians attacked me while I was here and she was trying to help me.

But...you didn't...she just said... The uncle sputters, lost for words.

Let go of her, Keran says, voice more steady now. He wipes away his tears and stands up. Let go! he commands, and his Uncle falls away grudgingly. I look at Keran, slightly awed. Who is he to have the power to control adults?

Leave us alone. Keran sniffs and wipes his nose, which is beginning to run.

As long as you are well, Keran... his uncle replies, trying to maintain his pride. He hurries away, looking ready to hit something.

Why did you lie for me? I ask, confused. Keran sniffs a little.

I hate my uncle. he growls. Nobody deserves to be in trouble with him. Not even you. We share a moment of silence.

I'm really sorry I hit you. I apologize shakily. He ponders this for a moment, puzzled.

I'm...I'm... Keran hesitates. Sorry for being mean?

We slowly reach forwards and shake hands awkwardly. Then, slowly again, we back away from each other, then run off...me to the Apothecary and Keran to far away world of the rich and powerful.

A Man's World

I walk through the doors of the Apothecary quietly. The place is utterly silent; few people travel to this area of the city, close to the walls. Everyone is taking a nap right now, and I must be quiet. It would be impolite to wake them.

Off the bare floorboards of the shop front I take off my dusty slippers and tip-toe up the side stairs to the row of three rooms that now lies there. They were storage rooms, once, from a time when the Apothecary was not as successful as it is now. Jak had cleared one out for Omar to sleep in after a year of good service; after a year or so of working ourselves, the kind man did the same for me and Faisal. It was a good thing, for I was getting older and so was he; the little pallets in the attic would not fit us both.

I step into my room (tiny, but sufficient) and put down my book, surprised that in the earlier ruckus it was not taken from me. I let my fingers brush softly against the cover of the book; the book is called Maps of Brightvale and I was given it for my birthday.

* * *

I was seven years old...it had been two years since Faisal and I started living at the Apothecary. I'd been diligently sweeping the floors daily, wiping the walls of dust and polishing Jak's silverware, his prized possessions from some time I didn't know.

Those two years had not been so terrible. I grieved over my parents' death by becoming quieter and quieter. There was a stone in my heart, and it hurt. My silence unsettled Jak, which I recall finding strange, for he would often tell Omar to quit nattering and do his work. I did not reflect on it often. I simply worked.

Physical work was mind-numbingly dull and simple and I felt no need to do anything else. I did not play in my spare time, for there were no toys to play with. I had found an old book once, but on second glance I had spurned it, for it was the same manual on business that my father used to read to Faisal and me. For that day I was more silent.

Gehoti.

Yes? I ask quietly. I look up at Jak with my dull violet eyes and an emotionless face.

That pottery is shiny enough, I think. He looks awkwardly at me. I look down at the urn I was polishing. It is shining brilliantly...it is glaringly outshining all the other pottery I just polished.

Sorry sir. I say, my voice polite but distant as I slowly put the urn back on the shelf, just barely managing to reach on tip toes. Jak takes the urn from me and carefully places it on the shelf himself.

Gehoti... Jak starts.

Yes? I ask again. I pick up another vase and start polishing, my hands growing black from it.

I am giving you a day off. I want you to have some fun. he says grandly. My hand freezes on the vase. I stop and I blink at him for a few moments, confused. Then I return to polishing, staring dully into the distance. I do not notice Jak's disturbed look.

No, stop! Jak says, slightly sharply, making me jump. I look at him with wide eyes, scared. He picks up the vases one by one and puts them all on the shelf as I watch.

I think this has gone on long enough. Jak says, looking annoyed. Your brother...ah, the insight of a two year old. You are taking too long.

I'm worried by this statement, but I do not say a word.

Take my hand, Gehoti, and put on your shoes. We are going to take a trip.

I stare at him for a moment, then slowly rise and slide my feet into my slippers. I unwillingly take his hand.

You're not in any trouble, Gehoti. Jak says, looking down at me with a slightly uncomfortable look. You don't have to look so... he sighs. Not your fault I s'pose.

He leads me outside and we begin our walk. It is hot out here, but thankfully today he avoids the crowds. Every few minutes or so he asks me if I am tired. I shake my head, and he turns away, unsatisfied.

We're nearing the palace now, a place I think I am supposed to be wary of. However, we pass it by and enter a small building nearby with one well-dressed man at the counter.

What can I do for you?

I need access to some records regarding Al Bakr Merchandise. I flinch at the words, and he nods. Please, bring me the documents. This is Gehoti al Bakr. he motions to me.

The man disappears behind a curtain, then returns with a small wooden box. It has been a long time since these were last accessed. How goes business?

Oh, we simply decided to stay in another city for the time being. We tired of travel. Jak says without a care. I shudder, but the man doesn't notice.

Well, here you go then, sir. the man pushes the box over the counter. Best of luck.

We leave the store quietly and make our way home. When we arrive, he climbs into the attic with me and sits me down. He takes a deep breath and smiles.

This box belongs to you, Gehoti. he says, his tone suddenly soft and gentle. He gently gives me the box and I take it warily. I open it up and look inside, stunned.

This is your mother, isn't it? And there's your father...and you. The artist was very talented. Inside the box, amongst business records with my father's and mother's signatures are quickly sketched likenesses of me, Faisal, my mother, father, and a few of the other merchants in our business.

Why did you give me these? I ask, frozen in fear. I am going to cry and I promised Faisal I would not cry! My lips wobble and tears fill my eyes.

You need to heal, Gehoti, and you can't do that if you keep it all inside. Usually you would share your pain with family members, but since they are all gone...and your foolish brother clearly didn't realize what damage he did. You need to cry...you both do. he says sadly. I let out a sob as I look at the pictures...I was afraid I would forget them, and scared I'd still remember...I cry and cry again into Jak's lap, clutching the sketches in my hands. He doesn't leave, he simply brushes his fingers through my hair until I am nearly asleep. He lies me down gently on the pallet, and looks up at the room distastefully. I have grown, and my little corner is growing cramped.

These two young ones need rooms. he says, and it is the last thing I remember.

* * *
I wake up the next morning to the sounds of feet pounding and dragging and boxes being shifted. My memories hit me again full force and I take in a deep breath, sharply. I close my eyes and tried to breathe slowly, to calm myself. Tears come to my eyes; I reluctantly let them fall. Then the sobbing comes and I cry into my pallet for a few minutes.

It's not going to be easy, this healing. But when I'm finished I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders...the stone in my heart has melted. I wipe my tears away and, sniffling, make my way down the ladder to see what the ruckus is all about. It's odd that they haven't woken me. It appears to be past my usual wake-up time, which iss near sunrise - it is too bright.

Out of the way! someone calls, and I hastily step back as two sweaty men pass by me, carrying a large crate, followed by two more, and then Faisal carrying a large sack. He pauses to see me standing there and he looks at me with surprise and guilt.

Faisal-bhai, I ask, What is everyone doing?

Mister Jak has done us a kindness and is clearing out the small storage rooms so that we may have proper places to sleep. he puts down the sack and looks at me awkwardly. He crouches down to my level and hugs me. I hug back, surprised at this. It has been a long time since we last hugged and I have almost forgotten the sensation.

I'm sorry Gehoti, Faisal says, trying to be strong. He rustles my curls a little. I didn't keep my promise to protect you. I didn't realize you were suffering so much.

I stare into his pale, crystal blue eyes. Faisal-bhai, you were suffering too. You don't have to be sorry. You were sad too. I didn't want to bother you.

No, no. You should always bother me with this stuff. I'm your big brother. he smiles at me and kisses me lightly on the cheek. All right, I have to go and help them clear out the storage rooms, and then you can help us clean and furnish them. he smiles cheerfully.

Okay! I smile back. He picks up his sack again and puffs off. Jak really wants to give us rooms of our own, like Omar has. What does that mean? I thought he did not care about us except as workers. Maybe I didn't realize what it meant when he watched over us, arms-folded, just watching. Just watching, like I do, observing. And I feel, too, so why wouldn't he? And I notice how people feel. Maybe he does, too. Maybe there are good times ahead.

Maybe, the pain does pass.

A Father and a Friend

We are all gathered around the tablecloth, eating the dinner I've cooked. It's my first time cooking this meal and I know it's going to be bad, but they are all telling me it's really good.

This is delicious, Gehoti! You have done brilliantly. Jak says, taking some curry and rice in his right hand and popping it into his mouth, as we all are in the traditional way. Cutlery's for the rich and though we can afford it, we are far too used to eating this way. Soon you'll be cooking all the meals here, and well, too.

Thank you, Jak. I smile abashedly, enjoying the taste of my own food though I am still comparing it to Omar's - I think I put too much pepper in, and maybe not enough salt (but it's so expensive! I didn't want to use any but Jak insisted.) Everyone's downing a lot of water. It was hard work, but I'm glad I did well. And I had a good teacher. I add, nodding to Omar, who smiles back. It was nothing, Gehia. he grins, using his pet name for me as he chomps down on the chicken, Much easier to have you learn than cook it myself. Faisal, Jak, and I laugh.

I look around, just enjoying it all. The warmth of the atmosphere is undeniable. The roti and my chicken curry radiate heat and a lovely smell that must be drifting out of the window, and the candlelight would probably bring in bugs if we hadn't put a thin cloth over the windows so that the air could still be let in without bugs. I can hear many people outside, talking cheerfully as they head home from wherever they were. Dusk's falling and the thin orange sunlight is just fading from the outside. It's perfectly dreamlike.

I wish I could do more justice to the family I have made. Omar-bhai, who is always so kind and cheerful and loves to complain, though he does it in jest. Faisal-bhai, my silent brother, who spends a lot of time brooding as I do, but is somehow...different, to me, but always makes sure to ask me how I am and if I am doing well. I think it would be fair to call it a distance of some sort, something I know Omar's presence does nothing to lessen as he is such a brotherly and friendly boy. But we are so far apart in age, it is only natural. I love him, though, and many a time we have simply found ourselves in a room alone and chatted quietly about our thoughts and fears.

Then Jak (whose honorific was abandoned long ago) a man I once thought grouchy and careless. I do not know what changed him, if anything has, but he certainly cares for all of us as his own children, I think. He once told me that he had been otherwise occupied in the days when the time was ripe for children, and did not have any family of his own any longer. Perhaps it is why he, though certainly not the most gentle man in the world, has taken us in and chosen to make our lives more than he has to.

The dishes are empty, the food quickly devoured. I quickly begin to wash the empty dishes and the shop is reopened for the last few hours of the day. A gentle breeze blows in every once in a while, growing ever chillier as darkness descends upon Sakhmet, our dusty desert city.

Jak-may I go outside? I ask, once I've peered through the windows to see the dark blue sky outside. It's so lovely out there! I want to soak in the atmosphere. I place the last dish on an interesting dish wrack from Brightvale to dry and wipe my hands with the kitchen cloth.

Hmm.. Jak says from the counter. Yes, go ahead, take Omar or Faisal with you. He adds, and be careful.

I open my mouth to protest but close it and nod. All right, thank you! I say gratefully and head upstairs to figure out where they are. It's so frustrating having to travel everywhere with one of them at my side, but the encounter from a few years ago seemed to worry them and they've never let me go out by myself after that.

Omar-bhai! I call, as I can hear him fiddling with something in his room where I must never go (not to say it hasn't stopped me peeking in sometimes when he's gone.) Faisal will be studying, I think, the lucky fellow, though I have found time in between cleaning and now cooking to study for myself.

Yes? What do you need? Omar calls back, the fiddling sound still coming from the door.

Can we please go outside for a stroll? The dusk looks so pretty tonight. I tell him, Jak said it was okay for us to go!

The sound of sheets of something rustling can be heard, as well as the sound of a chest closing. All right, I can do that! Grab your scarf and we'll head off.

Yay, thank you! I say cheerfully, and run to grab my headscarf, though I really don't like wearing it much. In the rustle and bustle of this city it just ends up falling to my shoulders and being an extra layer to sweat within when walking about the streets during the day, if there's some urgent need. But they told me it was best to avoid trouble with any busybodies and just wear the thing.

Art


Profile

Name: Gehoti
Age: 13
Hair color: Black
Eye color: Magenta-Violet]
Height: 4"9 ft
Body type: Slender

Character:

As a child, Gehoti is a very quiet girl who listens attentively to everything and everyone around her. Around family and friends she is less quiet and can be very playful and eager if she sees that the people around her don't mind. In unfamiliar situations she simply tries to figure out what is happening and she stays silent.

As she grows older, the things that happen to her force her to become more and more quiet, though deep within she is strongly determined to do what is right and she refuses to let those in power hurt her or her family. She is very loyal and stubborn, though as horrible circumstances begin to bear more weight on her she begins to lose hope. She is still very observant though, and does try to find fun where she can. The few people she finds with good hearts are the ones that keep her from being completely depressed and she grows very attached very quickly.

Likes:
Peace
Family
Causes
Working Hard
Dislikes:
Selfishness
Tyrants



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