Aspects of Sand: Chapter 1

The nightmare always bothers me. If it were any god but Akkun–

It is dangerous to ignore the god of dreams in his own domain.

I pull the bolt back from my door. It feels strange to have a lock, but it’s part of life in a city. I can’t close the shrine, so I only lock my room. Hanun hates that, says that I’m being a fool. But the temple keeps its gate open, so I will keep my shrine open.

The door creaks. It’s past curfew, so nobody will be at the shrine, anyway. I’ve caught Hanun patrolling my street a few times. He worries about me.

The loft’s cool, and the air is dry. It’s probably midnight, if I had to guess. It’s usually midnight when I wake like this. The rough wood scrapes against my feet as I peer out into the dark.

Nobody there but the gods’ altars.

I sit by them. It isn’t like I have anything to give them. City-folk are rarely devotees of the gods. But it’s the shrine keeper’s duty to keep the altars clean. The faithful should keep them fed.

I say every word from the old hymns of supplication. Maybe it’ll be enough.

It reminds me of when I was a girl. I can pretend it’s an act of devotion, but it’s really not for the gods.

It makes me feel better.

As I chant under my breath, my eyes adjust to the dark. It feels safe, even though nothing’s changed.

My water jug is empty. I poured it out for the gods before I went to bed. But I’m thirsty because the air is so dry, and the fountain isn’t far.

My coat’s hanging by the door. I slip it on. It’s cold to the touch, since it’s light, meant to protect from the sun and not the cold. But it’s also modest, and that’s good when you’re walking the streets at night.

It’s not that dark. The stars are overhead, and the Glassmakers’ towers glisten in the distance. There’s something fascinating about them. I’ve heard–

But I don’t believe the rumors. The king wouldn’t let them do that sort of thing.

My footsteps are quite as I walk over the cracked dirt.

It reminds me of going out into the desert with Hanun when we were young. He was always brave, and I always wanted to be near him. It wasn’t just because the shapes in the darkness were so much more frightening than they were during the day.

It’s a wonder our parents didn’t keep us apart, but everyone knows why they betrothed us to each other.

We’re lucky. Not like some.

He’s on duty. Maybe I’ll head by the watchtower, see if he’s there.

Stupid. There’s a curfew. He’d never let me hear the end of it.

I can hear him now.

“Zefra, you can’t break curfew just because I’m in the watch. The law is the law. Can’t you wait a year for my term to be up, and then we’ll go back to Odun and you can find me any time you want?”

But he’s not here, and that doesn’t make me want him less.

The fountain’s water is clean. I fill the jug, then drink from my hands.

Something moves behind me.

I spin. The dark is frightening again.

But it is just a guard. “You’re out at odd hours.”

“I was thirsty.”

“Didn’t you have water stored away?”

I shake my head. “I offered it to the shrine, as I usually do.”

He recognizes me. That, or he knows there’s only one shrine keeper in this district. “You’re Hanun’s betrothed?”

“Yes.”

“Go home, and quick.”

“Why?”

He shifts on his feet. “Because I know you’re not up to mischief, but others might not.”

“Is something going on?”

“I’ve got my patrols to do. Don’t worry about anything.”

I know he’s lying, but there’s no arguing with the guard. The night air is cold, biting at my hands. As I make my way back to the shrine, it feels like I’ll be out in the night forever. The jug is heavy when full. If I go quickly, it’ll spill.

I don’t want to make a sound.

It feels strange. Like I’m being watched. But there’s only the guard out on the streets, and he rounds the corner.

Then I’m alone.

The city is almost quiet. This far out, some people keep animals. But most of the people here are craftsmen living in houses right next to each other with no room to keep livestock. No goats, no sheep. Not that they’d make much noise this time of night.

Some small animal creeps down the street, its body low as it darts in front of the buildings. It sees me and ducks into an alley. A fox, judging by its tail.

For a moment, I think I’m lost. All the houses look the same in the dark, and I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. Then I see the shrine’s painted facade. The blues and reds look black against the mud-brick in the moonlight, but the patterns are still obvious.

I feel safe once I’m inside, even though there’s no lock on the outer door. The gods are here, and they’re watching over me again.

I set the jar down and sigh. It’s relief mixed with weariness. My arms are more tired than the rest of me, but it’s been a long time since I slept through the night.

Home. Safe. That’s all I need right now.

I’m ready to sleep. I give the shrines one last glance and climb to the loft.

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