"It wasn't a fair test."
Tamar and I sat at the edge of camp, picking at our bowls of lentils and rice. I ate another lentil and put my bowl down, feeling that even one more mouthful of the Alas.h.i.+ spices would send me over the edge, yet I was still hungry.
"She told us to bring back karenite and we found a piece of karenite." Tamar thumped the lump of rock that still rested at her side. "We did what she asked. We should have pa.s.sed the test. Anyway, so what if we didn't bring water? We came back alive, we didn't need to be rescued or anything."
I nodded silently. I had to admit-to myself-that the test had been fair. They wanted us to demonstrate that we could take care of ourselves, plan by ourselves, think for ourselves. They couldn't very well tell us at the outset, "Show me that you can act responsibly." Then we'd know just what to do to pa.s.s the test. No, this was the way to do it. What galled me was that I had fallen for it, running out into the desert with no water. What an idiot. I was never a slave. I was quite capable of taking care of myselfuthinking for myself. Why had I fallen for such a stupid trick? I gritted my teeth and lifted a little more of the lentils and rice, swallowing the mouthful fast without chewing much. I could handle eating dirt. Dirt would just be bland. This is- this isuI gagged and put my bowl down.
"At least we know, now," I said, when I washed the mouthful down with water. "The tests are going to be tricks. We need to be suspicious of instructions, particularly from Janiya, particularly when we're already off-balance. Don't forget that she woke us up early; we were confused and sleepy, not at our best." That's why I failed. Tired, hungover, cold, disoriented.
"Yeah," Tamar said bleakly. Her bowl was empty, at least, though she wasn't going over to ask for a second helping. "I thought we could trust Janiya, at least."
I forced down another mouthful. "Well, now we know."
"Yeah," Tamar said again.
No one came over to talk to us this eveninguSaken didn't come over to comfort us, but sat by the fire with Erdene, laughing about something. Ruan avoided us, too, fortunately; I didn't think I could bear her taunts after the day we'd had. I forced down the rest of my bowl, a little at a time, so as not to waste food. Then I scrubbed it out, stacked it with the others, and went into the yurt to sleep.
I had vivid nightmares that night. I was out in the rippling gra.s.ses on a moonless night, deep in Alas.h.i.+ territory, but I wore only a ripped gauze s.h.i.+ft, and I knew Sophos was nearby. I ran as fast as I could, desperate to get away, but I knew he was gaining on me, though I couldn't see him. I had only one hope; only one person could protect me, the one person I could trust. " Kyros," I screamed at the black night sky. " Kyros. Kyros. Kyros."
Someone was shaking my shoulders, and I struggled to consciousness, expecting .Tamar but hearing May
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