The ship was a small dot on the horizon, heading west, by the time Naida made it up to the top of what had looked like a small cliff. She stopped at the top, sweaty and panting. “Sybaris is this REALLY the way I need to go? How is this going to get me into AEgypt?”
“You really need to go this way, my daughter. I don’t know why but I do. Do you have enough water for the rest of the day?”
“Yes, yes. But I suppose I’ll head straight south then, like you said. Maybe I’ll find a place to pitch the tent tonight.”
Sybaris gave what sounded like a jaw-cracking yawn. “I’m going to be napping for a while. The wind took it out of me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Naida started to feel guilty about Sybaris profligately using her power just for her. “Are the Sun Twins going to spot you out of the cave? You said They’d punish you if They caught you.”
“No, no, dear. I’m safe inside here. Don’t worry. You’re giving me access to a lot of power, just by yourself, even with the occasional side snack like that thief!”
Naida shook her head, not wanting to know. “Rest well.”
“Call me if you need me, dear.”
Naida turned and began trudging south. At least she was on the same land as her homeland. The sand slipped and slid under her sandals and the wind blew the dust into her face, hard enough that she started getting granules between her teeth whenever she opened her mouth to pant.
She stopped to drink and re-arrange her head scarf to cover most of her face as well as her hair. Things shimmered in the distance, that looked like trees, or flocks of ostrich, lakes and clouds, that turned into none of these things.
Sand. White white white sand. With grey green spiny bushes forcing their way out of the white. Naida sat down in the shade of one of the dunes set the lamp down and had to giggle. Sybaris was really sound asleep because the lamp was reverberating with her snores.
More water. Why do I have to go straight into the… hmm. Those really are ostriches. They’re acting kind of weird. She jumped to her feet as three ostriches ran straight at her, stopping in front of her, but well outside kicking range. Then they started to jump up and down and squawk at her.
The male put his wings out and flapped them, blowing sand all over her. “Hey! Hey! Stop that!”
They all danced in a circle, stopped facing away from her, along their back trail, then all three turned their heads and looked expectantly at her. “You want me to follow you?”
The birds didn’t move but made hissing noises. When she stepped forward one step, the birds all did too. “That’s a yes, I suppose.” She wanted to ask Syb but she was still asleep. Naida checked her gritty scarf, picked up her lamp and began following the ostriches.
The Goddess’s Veil of Night was creeping up fast, and with the deepening shadows the night chill began to tiptoe into existence. Naida blinked once because one of the mirages she saw looked like a woman crouching over something protectively.
The sun’s barq was just above the horizon, about to set, when another flock of ostriches rose up out of the sand in front of them, met the ones who had led her so slowly and carefully across the sand. They all hissed and clattered beaks together, Then all of them turned to Naida, bowed and then ran away, wings spread.
“What? What is that all about? Why here?” She addressed the dry air but there was no answer. She looked at the world all around and then realized there was something odd about the bird’s nesting place. Another step brought her staggering over to uncover the little boy in the sand. “Oh dear, oh dear. They were protecting you.”
His skin was as dark as hers and she had no idea what his hair was like because he was shaved smooth, not even a child lock on his head. His lips were cracked and his eyes closed, but he breathed. She pulled him up onto her lap and didn’t want to waste any water, so sucked in a mouthful of water and passed it to him from her lips to his.
He gasped and licked his lips dry and sank into apparent stupor once more. Was he ill? Why was he in the desert? Why wouldn’t he wake up? She dribbled more water into his mouth and then laid him down with her satchel and pulled out the magical little tent that Temis had packed into it. It was going to get very cold soon and he needed shelter.