Content Warning: Imprisonment, gendered insult, description of physical wounds
Spinning around, she saw a face mashed into the window of the first door on her left. Despite the limited visibility and the distortion of rage on his face, she recognized Melem. She approached him as he continued to berate her.
“You betrayed us! How dare you—I’ll have you carved into pieces, bitch!”
“Ssh, Melem,” she said. “Ssh, quiet. What good does this do? Hush now, I know you’re angry.”
His vitriol subsided, but he still glared at her through the one eye not closed by the massive bruise that covered the left side of his face. “That’s better,” she said.
“Why?” he demanded. “We trusted you.”
“I hope you’ve learned better, then,” she said. “But this was all part of my plan—a plan I couldn’t reveal to you, but it’s nearly complete. Just watch.”
Leaving him to agonize over this dark hint, she turned again to the second cell on the right and peered in through the window. Even in the darkness, she could see that everyone inside was standing, facing her, and the nearest of them took a step forward when her face appeared. A faint ray of light fell on his features, and she recognized the man she had knocked out during her earlier raid.
She stepped away from the door again and sorted through the keys she had taken from the guard. After several tries, she found the right match for the door, and she unlocked it and swung it open, stepping back to allow its occupants to emerge. The man she had recognized stepped out first, and he walked toward her, slowly putting one foot before the other, until he stood within arm’s reach of her. The others followed, issuing one by one from the cell and spreading out to fill the corridor around her. Looking from one to the other, she saw that many carried the marks of their floggings, and even the others bore grim determination on their faces. Silent and wary, they gathered about her in expectation, and when all had liberated themselves, she looked at the man in front of her.
“This city is not worthy of you,” she said to him. Then, taking her eyes from his astonished face, she looked at each of them in turn as she continued, “You have proved yourselves willing to face torment and imprisonment, desperate to take hold of something better than those with power would offer you. It would be easy for me to congratulate myself on choosing you, but really you chose yourselves. I only showed you the way.”
So saying, she pushed aside the strap of her dress and lifted her shoulder out of it to show them, scored onto the skin below her collarbone, a scar shaped like a triangle, with a tail like an arrow and three semicircles inside it.
They flowed down the stairs to the port, she and the men she had liberated, and the families they had summoned from their beds in the dead of night—nearly three hundred of them, carrying together the spoils of their raid on the warehouse where Melem had stored supplies for the journey north. With such a surplus of willing hands, they had soon loaded all their cargo onto the waiting ships, which those with the greatest skill among the fishermen made ready to depart. Before the moon had even begun to sink, they boarded together, some weeping to leave the only home they had known, but most turning their eyes toward the river, which glittered in the pale light.
As they rowed out toward the mouth of the port, she turned to the pilot of the lead vessel, and said, “Take us south, to the Tigris. If we are to build our own world, it must be far from any world of theirs.”