She filled two small basins with water, one for my hands, one for my feet, and began to work tangles out of my hair with a metal comb. On the journey, the wind had whipped it into knots, and my sweat had mixed with sand to form a sticky, gritty mat. Fortunately, it was only shoulder length. I couldn't imagine trying to comb tangles like this out of truly long hair, like Tamar's. Tamar dipped the comb into olive oil to work out the tangles. "How many times did you see Elpisia?" she asked.
"I don't know. I used to get sent out on errands occasionally."
Tamar jerked the comb, ripping a tangle out. I clenched my teeth and said nothing. "I've never been sent on an 'errand,' " she said.
Probably because they know they can't trust you, I thought. In Elpisia, there were guards at the gate and people in the streets; running away would be impractical, if not entirely impossible, though impracticality hadn't stopped Alibek. "Elpisia has a lot of people," I said. "And a wall, and guards. It's not an easy city to get out of."
Tamar sighed. "Tip your head back."
She poured a sharp-smelling oil over my hair and wrapped a cloth around my head. "Ugh," I said. "That's not perfume, is it?"
"It's to kill the lice in your hair. Boradai has a terror of lice. I'll wash it out in a minute. Perfume comes last."
Tamar checked my feet and hands; some of the ground-in dirt was beginning to come away. "You're cleaner than I'd have expected for a stable girl," she said. "Didn't Kyros's horses s.h.i.+t?"
"Sophos paid Kyros extra to have me bathe before we left. He said he didn't want to have that smell with him all the way back to h.e.l.ladia."
Tamar smiled a little, reluctantly. I was relieved to see that. As short as my stay was going to be, I thought it would be easier if I had someone on my side. She took one of my hands out of the basin and scrubbed my skin and nails with a brush. My fingertips had wrinkled like raisins. I looked at my clean hand as Tamar scrubbed the other; the hand of a stranger. I lived a working life. My hands had never been this clean. Even my skin was a full shade lighter. I thought of Alibek's soft, unmarked hands and pushed the image away.
Tamar washed my feet, scrubbing them with a brush, too. Now it was time for my hair again. I tipped my head back, and she poured a small stream of water over my hair to wet it. She had a bar of harsh soap, and she scrubbed it into my hair, was.h.i.+ng away dirt, oil, sand, sweat, and dead lice. It was a ma.s.s of tangles again when she was done. She rinsed away the soap with a little more water. "Dry off," she said, handing me a towel. "We'll go sit in the sun while I comb your hair and pick nits."
Tamar led me to an out-of-the-way spot in the courtyard, and pulled up a low stool to sit on. I sat on the
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