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The Senpet By Patrick Kapera

Asori stands within the gaping arch, relishing the afternoon warmth. Before her is the wide, stone-railed balcony overlooking the training fields of the Senpet army garrisoned in Medinaat al Salaam. She listens to the clashing steel and impacting bodies of the soldiers below as they practice.

She is consumed with contrary thoughts. Home seems so far away, but she knows she is needed here. Queen Hesatti personally requested that she attend to the fledgling alliance between the Senpet and the Khadi, and though she hates them for their actions, she cannot fault their power. The Caliph holds the key to trade across the sands now, and the Senpet will have to play her game until that changes.

How did it come to this, she wonders. Centuries ago, the Empire of the Scarab built the very trade routes that they are now bartering their armies to use. Today, they are little more than indentured servants, slaves to their own crumbling economy, while the city and its moronic rulership grows fat on the spoils arriving from the east.

Centuries of isolation, hundreds of years of lost opportunity, had worked to chip away at the foundations of their civilization. Too much time spent building; not enough spent ruling.

How do we recover from that? How do we start again?

Dark speculation rumbles through her mind, and she finds herself regarding the goblet she cradles in her hands. Once, long ago, its gold and jewels would have bought the lives of three hundred, but now they are worth only scant denari in comparison to the liquid within.

We should have taken this place twenty years ago...

A sudden gust of peppery air from above draws her attention to a falling square of tightly quilted fabric. As the carpet touches down upon the stone before her, its pilot, al Hazaad, kneels low in mock deference. The passenger behind him steps down onto the stone and walks abruptly past Asori into her bedchamber.

Ghiyath covers ten feet before noticing she has not followed. "Is there a problem, my dear?"

"You were not expected-"

"Of course I was!" he intercedes.

She has been warned of his self-indulgence, of course. But this is well beyond anything she has prepared herself for. "You were not expected - here."

His eyes dance about the bed-chamber, contesting her claim. "This is the Senpet embassy, is it not? And you are Asori..." His left eyebrow arches derisively, "...correct?"

Drawing a deep breath to avoid blurting out epitaphs likely to do more harm than good to the Pharaoh's plans, Asori walks into the room, al Hazaad straggling closely behind. "This is where I sleep." She waits a moment for the comment's import to sink in. Then, "You were expected where all visitors are - at the front gate."

Ghiyath bows deeply and replies, "My most sincere apologies, mistress..." Then, standing quickly, he turns toward the doorway, and steps outside.

A smile spreading across Hazaad's face is wiped away by Asori's hateful gaze before she joins the hateful Khadi in the hall.

"Abresax and his commanders must be assembled," he says flatly. "The Caliph has orders for them."

Asori's efforts to conceal her shocked anger fail, she assumes, when he deflates momentarily, and says "You aren't happy with my presence."

"What I am happy with is not relevant."

"Of course it is." Just then, there is a scant glint in his eye that discomforts her. "we should all have our opinions."

"All right," she spits. "You are a self-absorbed power-monger with little respect for anything you cannot own."

"Aren't we all?" he chides. "One dictator varies little from another."

"Asori!" Keseth's welcome voice rings brightly through the corridor, and every chiseled bust he passes smiles in his wake. "Asori! I have-"

He stops short, just feet away, obviously suprised by the presence of the two sahir.

"Who do we have here...?" Ghiyath speaks with a distracted tone.

"This is Keseth. Keseth," Asori says with a knowing tilt of her head, "this is Ghiyath, one of the Caliph's spokesmen."

Keseth stiffens slightly at the introduction, and looks to Asori with a pleading face. Recognizing his childish gesture, Asori excuses herself from the Khadi and pulls him aside.

"What is so important?" she whispers to him.

"The newcomer, Selqet. I heard her speak!" He is excited, but there is a hint of fascinated fear in his voice as well.

"We have heard the others speak already, Keseth. This is-" "But there was another voice in her room - speaking in her tongue!"

Asori considers this for a moment before accepting the mounting chill creeping through her. "All of the others were taken to the mines, Keseth," she states rhetorically.

He nods in reply as Ghiyath, beaming, approaches. "Is something the matter?"

"No." Then, turning back to Keseth, she leads, "I have to show Ghiyath about, Keseth. Could you take care of that on your own...?"

Again nodding, he makes to leave and then calls back to her, "I'll see you this evening, Asori."

"Shall we?" Asori was pointing for Ghiyath to proceed, but his eyes were locked on the jogging form of Keseth until the young seer passed out of sight.

"Yes... we shall."

Several hours later, Asori walks carefully through the quiet halls of the embassy. There is no light from within Keseth's rooms as she arrives. Thinking to announce herself, she utters a few hushed words before entering. The room within is still, the night air pushing the thin curtains inward like the bulging veil of a dancer. Keseth is nowhere to be seen.

Confused, and with a ominous sense of loss, she examines the room more carefully, casting fertive looks quickly about her. One of his scrolls rests open upon a table, its ends held down by glass figures in the form of squatting cats. The pen lies on the floor...

...next to several bunched strands of brilliantly colored cloth.



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