An extract from my story follows:
SISTER OF THE SANDS
In the many eyes of the Outer Gods, a failure to understand one’s self-capacity for evil is the greatest of all sins. - Sharinza, The Masked Messenger
White Desert, Egypt, 1933
Unfazed the strange woman strolled from the deep desert, the hot winds whipping at her tatters, presenting her as an ominous crow. With a scalp shaved bald, she was covered only in blood and a dirty white wrap loose about her thin figure. Beneath the red ichors reflected a skin that was dry and pale. If her face were not so cold to gaze upon, I would have thought her beautiful.
“Are you hurt?” I asked, as she stood before me, her back arched and head held high. Under normal circumstances, I would have expected a woman in her state to collapse from exhaustion, or to beg for water, but this enigma requested neither. She just stared though and beyond me, into nothingness, as if eternity was all she could fathom. “Do you require assistance?”
Only then did her eyes find mine. Grey and deep, as if the soul they hid stretched to the beginning of time. She opened her mouth to speak, and did so gutturally in a language that I not only failed to understand, but one that I failed to even recognize. Our spooked and tethered camels responded differently, obtusely, by grunting and baulking with terrified agitation.
“You are in shock,” I blurted concerned that she might be babbling from sunstroke. I offered a hand of support. I saw that her shroud was drenched in so much blood I knew it could not all be hers. So I examined her as best I could without compromising modesty, until I was certain she was not wounded. “Here, let me take you to my tent,” I offered. I presumed she must have escaped some terrible ordeal, and probably required a space of her own to feel safe again.
At my words she offered her hand daintily, as if she were the Queen of the Nile and I her undeserving servant. Her bone-cold fingers in my grip, we rushed to my tent, more my urgency than hers. I had a supply of medicines locked away, and a cot for her to lie upon.
“Lieutenant, who is this?” called Karim Ibn-Shadar. The chisel-face man frowned despondently through a tight-lipped grin, for my long-suffering assistant from the War Office often thought me brash and unconventional. Appearing with this strange woman in tow would only add to his concern. “Where did she come from?” His eyes grew wide as he took in the bloodstains. “Praise Allah, what happened to her?”
“I don’t know, but she walked out of the desert, over there.” I pointed, across the salt-colored gypsum outcrops and gravel plains of the White Desert, deceptively likened to a snowfield frozen in time, except these sands were blisteringly hot. Karim and I both understood that there was nothing in that direction for thousands of miles, only the arid heart of the merciless Sahara.
“Is that possible?”
“Well, obviously not impossible.”
“And so much blood.”