prologue

            One by one the servants came trickling into the master’s household, as timid as the sheep they kept aflock and flogged if they didn’t. The walls were never dusty, for they were the finest in the arid desert of western Egypt and thus, washed daily by salty hands. Yet today, today they gleamed of blood. It had oozed down the stone, coagulated, and left bleeding hills in its wake. Such was the artwork left by a slashed murder. The servants gathered around their master’s lifeless heap on the ground.

            Is he dead, someone whispered. I think he’s dead, came a response. An excited buzz began to resonate amongst the group, some murmuring about the blood loss and others about the agonizing pain he must have felt till he drew his last breath. Only one had the forward thinking to worry about the future.

            What will happen to us?

            The question circulated around their tongues faster than the gossip of the master’s whoring. Surely, one of them would be charged with his murder. Arguments broke out left and right.

            I was out in the fields-

            I was cooking-

            I was tending to his horses-

            In no time, they established their whereabouts and alibis, each as plausible as they were dubious. They lamented over their statements because every single one of them had motivation.

            But the blood, one said, we have no blood on our hands! On our clothes! He was quickly reminded of his foolishness; garments could have been disposed of and hands washed clean of crime. Their voices rose like a quivering beehive on the verge of explosion. Disputes ensued as to whose motivation was greater. Was it the woman he raped or the man he beat senseless? Or was it the child he traumatized on the horse, who was sent flying to a crumpled heap on the ground with broken legs? The victims kept blaming each other without remorse until finally, someone pointed out what had brought them all inside in the first place: someone’s shouting. It happened such a short time ago, about the length of time it takes to cross the Nile, yet they were so transfixed on what had happened nobody had recalled the initial cause.

            As soon as they admitted to hearing this calling, a fellow servant came running inside drenched in sweat. His hands were filled with jewels and gold – the master’s jewels and gold to be exact. A cacophony of gasps and accusations rippled through the room.

            “The Griff-” he panted for air, “it was the Griffin-

            Naturally, they didn’t believe him. Without hesitation, they ridiculed and beat him for the truth as he tried to catch his breath, seizing the jewelry and throwing it in his face as evidence. He pleaded with them to listen, to go outside even, and see her for themselves. They only mocked him further.

            A woman?

            A woman!

            A woman-

            It was one thing to blame the farfetched vigilante of Egypt for one’s own crime, but an entirely different matter to claim he was a woman. See for yourselves, the servant gasped. He pointed out the door and on to the unreachable horizon. Half the group split to investigate with one half charging outside and the other to examine their master.

            And there, without a doubt, was an unmistakable black dot racing away to become featureless. Whether it was a man or a woman, the servants couldn’t tell, but it was someone fleeing the scene; of this, they were certain.

            And on the body, they rolled it over to reveal three slashes on their master’s chest. Precise and clean-cut. They looked like they had been conducted with a dagger made whip. No one here could have inscribed such lacerations with such skill. The people in the room keeled over from the grisly sight, his fleshy seams barely able to keep him together, their bodies hardly capable of keeping down the last meal.    

            Everyone came together, losing more and more their ability to process how to feel about the murder. The shock of their master’s fall came with it confusion, terror, and a joyous relief. The relief brought guilt, confusion, which led to anger, and terror, bringing with it helplessness. It was overwhelming.

            A woman shouted that she didn’t care, he had had it coming, and she was elated he had met his doom. Others were not so ecstatic, concerning themselves with where they would end up next. The especially cautious fretted as to whether or not they would all be charged and executed under conspiracy and accomplice. Who would believe a brigand of slaves? They doubted the law would be on their side.

            The jewelry was incriminating.

            The shouting servant had said it was a gift from the Griffin; she wanted them all to have it and live prosperous lives. She urged them to flee and build anew. She wanted what was best for them.

            They all stared at the pile. To take some was an illicit act; to refrain meant hardships, ones they couldn’t fathom but they knew were there nonetheless, and they had had a lot of those already. Each victim took a piece and set upon a course to be a survivor. The gems and precious metals afforded them a strength they had never tried on.

            Far in the distance smiled a pair of lips redder than the glowing hibiscus that swayed in the gentle spring.

*Excerpt Finished