Author’s Note: Thanks to illmantrim for the beta, and Christina and Medie for their enthusiasm and for–inadvertently–inspiring me to watch the movie again. *g* Also, to all the people who indulged my rambling about Shau’ri’s probable age at the time of the movie and Mili Avital’s performance vs. Vaitare Bandera’s.
Kasuf stopped his pacing and turned to frown at his wayward daughter. Outside, the sandstorm still raged and most of his people were still feasting the strangers. He struggled not to think of how long the food could have lasted had they not arrived. Ra did not concern himself with such petty things as his people’s starvation–if they did not have enough to eat and still honor him as was his due, they must not be working hard enough. But how could they work any harder without killing themselves?
Only Ra’s emissary himself, the odd one, had left the feast, and was currently being tended to by the women of his family–his sisters, his brothers’ wives, and his wife’s sisters. But they could not attend to him forever…
“Do not trouble me now, Sha’uri,” he ordered impatiently. “I have more urgent concerns to fill my thoughts.”
“What gifts to give the emissary of Ra, Skaara told me,” she acknowledged with a dip of her head.
Kasuf’s frown deepened. Skaara told her too much, but how could he blame the boy for following his lead? Neither of them could seem to deny Sha’uri anything she wished to know, even if she was far too curious for a woman. In that, she was much like her late mother, who had been slain by Ra for her blasphemous questions. And he…he both loved and feared for Sha’uri for it. He loved the reminder of the wife he had adored, but feared that his beloved child might one day share her fate because she could not contain herself.
Still, reluctantly, he nodded his acknowledgment of her words. Right or wrong, he could deny her nothing. “It is too soon. The mines have not yet produced what the god demanded, yet there is nothing else we have to give.”
“Except a virgin to be his bride,” she pointed out, again far too astutely for her own good.
“Yes, except for that,” Kasuf admitted. “The difficulty now lies in choosing. R’shien is closest to marrying age, but she is enamored of Kakub and I have already promised my blessing to their union.”
“Would not the daughter of the chieftain himself be a more fitting gift?” Sha’uri hinted boldly, sinking down onto one of the cushions in her father’s tent.
He looked at her, surprised. “You?”
She nodded. “Don’t think I have not heard the rumors, my father. They say that you indulge me, and that is why I have remained unmarried for three full cycles after all my playmates have wed and borne their first children.”
Kasuf too was not unaware of the rumors. Nor was he unaware that they were true, that he dreaded the thought of Sha’uri leaving his fire for a husband’s. Who would care for him and Skaara when she was gone? What husband would ignore such stubbornness in a wife, or would not beat it out of her? He feared all those possibilities, thus why he had an unmarried daughter of seventeen.
Still…it was not like the much-indulged child she acknowledged herself to be to offer up her own freedom like this. He studied her closely. “You like this man, this emissary.”
His daughter blushed and dropped her eyes. “He is not like the others Ra has sent. He is gentle and kind, not cruel and demanding–”
Kasuf drew in a sharp, hissing breath and crossed the tent in three quick strides. “Foolish girl! For speaking such blasphemy against the servants of Ra, a proper father would beat you until you begged for mercy!” Sha’uri cowered from his raised hand, and the minute he saw the fear in her eyes, his anger melted and his hands fell to his sides. “…but I cannot. So am I the greater fool!”
Emboldened, Sha’uri reached out one hand and clasped his robe. “Father…he did not fear the symbols as the other emissaries of Ra have. He tried to teach us. Perhaps Ra has changed his mind–”
Kasuf suppressed a shudder at the reminder of his elder child’s frightening fascination with the forbidden symbols. “It was a test,” he asserted firmly. “To see if we remain faithful.”
He could see in her eyes that she disagreed, but did not voice it. Ra help him, how could he control such a daughter? How could anyone but a god hope to control such a woman?
“Very well!” he gave in with an exasperated cry. “I will give you to the emissary. Perhaps he can teach you proper respect for your god.”
With a pleased cry of her own, Sha’uri sprang up and threw her arms around her father’s neck, giving him a sound kiss on the cheek. Kasuf coughed and blinked hard to conceal the tears that threatened. “Go–tell whatever of your aunts are not with the emissary to prepare you as a bride. At last.”
She smiled and turned to leave.
“I only ask one thing in return, my daughter.”
Eyes just like her mother’s turned back to him with fear and hope mingled in their depths. “Speak of this conversation to no one, not even Skaara or your new husband. It would not do for the rumor of your indulgence to be proved truth.”
With a shy smile, Sha’uri took a deep, nervous breath and disappeared through the flap of the tent. Kasuf resisted a pang of regret that the next time she entered it, she would be a wife. And soon after…no doubt the god’s emissary would take her away to dwell among the stars. But it was what she wanted–even though she might have second thoughts once the time came to perform her wifely duties–and he could deny her nothing.
He had indeed indulged her far too much.