He who knows but does not speak is a fool.
Enshanesha and Qesma sat quietly on the second floor of the house, defeated and exhausted. After days of searching they had found no success, no indication of Kurzu’s whereabouts. News had begun to spread through the city about the missing children, though no one had any idea where to begin looking. The wilds were vast and dangerous, and any search party would have to be well prepared if they didn’t wish to be lost themselves.
Enshanesha feigned a practiced upbeat attitude even now, grinning as she poured sweet beer into a pair of clay cups, but her eyes revealed the weight on her soul. In the years before she was married, she had entertained the whims of the men and women of Eridu, easing their private burdens of the mind and spirit, and forgiving them for their sins. Service to the people was the most fulfilling part of her life. However, she only allowed herself to feel real love for a select few– her husband, her son, her siblings, and her parents while they yet lived. The loss of one of those people turned her world upside down every time, and Kurzu was no exception.
“You can’t trust those thoughts that creep in from the dark places,” Qesma told her, placing a warm hand on her shoulder.
Enshanesha gave into an uncharacteristic slump, her weary eyes and vacant smile cast to the ground. “I know. I know you are right. It is just so hard…”
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Qesma gently asked.
The girl has lost everything and more, and yet she is the one to offer aid, Enshanesha thought. “Just having you here with me is helping. Thank you, my dear. You are so good to me.” The priestess took the girl’s hands, met her worried eyes and smiled.
Something clicked in Enshanesha’s head. Why didn’t she think of it before?
“Qesma, I know you have not known us long, but will you stay here with us?”
The girl was awestruck and speechless. Enshanesha filled the silence, anxious she had somehow caused offense.
“We have plenty of room, and you would not be a bother. We would love to have you here. It is much more comfortable than the beds in the temple. If you wanted, you could help with-“
“Yes! Yes, I will stay. Thank you… Thank you.” Qesma gripped her friend’s hands tighter and laughed joyfully.
“I am so happy to hear it, my darling!”
A blushing smile followed by a flash of terror rolled across Qesma’s face. She leapt to her feet, bolting down the stairs and out the door.
Enshanesha was horrified and confused, and followed her outside at once.
“Hey, are you okay? Qesma!” She took the girl’s hand, but it was pulled away. The priestess’s heart sank.
“I’m sorry. I can’t, okay? I… I just can’t.” Qesma stammered, her eyes welling.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t stay.”
“Of course you can stay… why would you say that?” Enshanesha asked.
“You don’t understand…!”
“I’m a slave!” Qesma hissed into her hands.
“What? What do you mean?”
Qesma turned to her at last, her face wet with tears. “I’m not a jeweler, I’m a slave, okay? I had to get away from the queen. She is… evil, Enshanesha! She tried to have me killed for nothing! But my sister, Shakhet… my sister is still there, and I can’t leave her. And I can’t lie to you. Ma’at forgive me, I already did. I’m so sorry. I-I have to go. I’m sorry.”
She turned and ran into the night, toward the market and the merriment that always poured from the taverns when the working day was done and the light of Utu’s fire had faded.
“Wait! Qesma, please!” Enshanesha shouted after her, but the girl didn’t stop.
Enshanesha hid her face in her own folded hands, stifling her own tears. She shook her head and stomped her foot in frustration.
“Qesma, it does not matter!”
Enshanesha ran after her, her eyes adjusting to the darkness as she moved.
A sudden pain in her foot, and she was tumbling forward. She had tripped on something, though she never saw what it was before everything went black.