One in a continuing series of occasional posts talking about a personal favorite scene from each of my books. It may not be my most favorite scene, since that would probably involve spoilers, but I thought it might be fun.
I’m working my way through my backlist pretty much in the order they were published so the next book is DANCER OF THE NILE and this couple – Nima the dancer and Kamin the Egyptian soldier – are two of my all time favorite characters. I have any number of scenes I relished writing in this novel but for today I’ll share the one where they’re on the run from their enemies and have to ask for help from Renenutet, the Snake goddess.
“Renenutet is a goddess of grain and harvests. Bread is the closest to a proper offering we can get on this rock.” Holding the bead carefully, Kamin rose and walked to the edge of the rock shelf, checking on the hyenas. A chorus of shrieking sounds rose as he peered over the precipice. “Still prowling. I have no real hope of their giving up and slinking away.”
“Sounds like they’re laughing at us,” Nima said, rubbing her bare wrist. “Like demons, enjoying our predicament. What do we do now?”
Setting the bread in the sunniest spot on the rock, Kamin laid the bead in the center, pushing it into the soft bread and coiling the broken ends of the black thong in a circle. “I need one drop of your blood, sweetheart, so the Great One hears the call through your bond with her—”
“I keep telling you there’s no bond, no link, nothing.” Nima held out her hand, closing her eyes. She gritted her teeth. “Go ahead, prick my finger.”
Nothing happened. Puzzled, braced for the pinprick, she opened her eyes to find Kamin oddly hesitant. Bewildered, she studied his face for a moment. “What?”
Pointing the knife at her ankle, he explained his insight. “I’m thinking a drop of your blood from where the hyena bit you might be better. Then the goddess would be aware of the black magic as well.”
Nima picked at the edge of the bandages he’d just applied. “You have a certain grim logic to this insane idea, soldier. Should I be concerned how much you know about black magic?” Removing the makeshift bandage, she gazed at him with a furrowed brow and wrinkled nose.
Wincing in obvious sympathy, he studied her foot as the bandages fell away. ”I’ll try not to hurt you.”
“The whole foot hurts and throbs, so don’t worry about one more prick.” She shut her eyes tight as he gently touched the tip of the knife to one of the angry, long, red slashes left by the hyena’s fangs and got a few drops of her blood on the blade. The black lines had not progressed much further up her leg, for which she was grateful, but they were a jarring, disquieting occurrence nonetheless.
Sharp pain for a brief moment, then Kamin stood. “I’m done. Cover the wound up again.”
Hastily, she wrapped the cloth over the gashes and bruises, tying a neat little knot.
As Kamin moved the knife slowly over the bead, Nima watched first one then two drops of the ruby blood fall onto the raised snake on the bead’s surface. The red ran to cover the entire bead without dripping off the edges. Kamin laid the knife aside and spread his hands out, palms up. “Great One Renenutet, we pray most earnestly for you to send us thy servants, the black cobras of the rocks, to kill the hyenas waiting below. The beasts were released to hunt us by priests of Qemtusheb, ruler of demons and enemy of Egypt. We ask for the one intervention Nima’s mother begged for, when she left your service so many years ago. Our need is dire, and Egypt’s fate may rest on our shoulders.”
Eyebrows raised, hand extended toward her, he nodded expectantly.
Pure panic froze Nima’s vocal cords for a moment. I don’t know any chants! What does he want me to add? She swallowed past the lump in her throat, licked her lips. “Please, if my mother meant anything to you, as a dancer, as your priestess, help Kamin and me now,” Nima said.
Riding the thermals overhead, the falcon let out a fierce cry and flew into the glare of the sun as she raised her head to watch him.
A thin tendril of black smoke spiraled from the bead. Kamin half lifted Nima away from the spot as first the bead, then the bread burst into angry purple-black flames. Writhing in the fire’s grasp, the leather thongs grew, splitting in two then splitting again, lengthening, fattening and spreading beyond the circle of the offering, in a tangle of tails. Nima screamed as eight black cobras raised their heads from the center of the fire circle, sinuously weaving and entwining around each other, red eyes gleaming, black tongues flicking. Hood pulsating, a ninth cobra, black like the others but with a golden head, reared four feet off the surface of the rock. The snake extricated itself from the tangle of lesser reptiles, slithering toward Nima, head weaving from side to side.
She scooted over the rough stone, heart pounding against her ribs, mouth dry, dizziness assailing her. Grabbing her by the shoulders, Kamin held her tight. “It’s the goddess, come at our request. Don’t panic now. You’ve got to face her, tell her what we need. Renenutet won’t grant any appeal just from me.” He gave her a little shake. “Falcons and snakes are sworn enemies.”
Plainly listening to his words, the cobra swung its head, studying him for a moment with cold, red-faceted eyes, then hissed loudly and continued to advance on Nima.
She shook in his arms, digging her nails into him, but met the snake’s regard. “Please, Great One, we need your help to kill the hyenas waiting below, so we can escape before the enemy arrives. We must carry our news to the nomarch so he can defend Egypt.”
Advancing in tiny increments, the snake’s flickering ruby tongue touched Nima’s parted lips, the feathery touch leaving behind spreading coolness, a taste of vanilla and honey in her mouth. Then the goddess retreated, hissing and spitting, and slithered down the rocks toward the pack of hyenas, her minions going behind her like a rippling black brook. Nima collapsed against Kamin, trying to stop herself from trembling.
DANCER OF THE NILE
2014 Golden Quill Award Finalist
Nima’s beauty and skill as a dancer leads an infatuated enemy to kidnap her after destroying an Egyptian border town. However, she’s not the only hostage in the enemy camp: Kamin, an Egyptian soldier on a secret mission for Pharaoh, has been taken as well. Working together to escape, the two of them embark on a desperate quest across the desert to carry word of the enemy’s invasion plans to Pharaoh’s people.
As they flee for their lives, these two strangers thrown together by misfortune have to trust in each other to survive. Nima suspects Kamin is more than the simple soldier he seems, but she finds it hard to resist the effect he has on her heart. Kamin has a duty to his Pharaoh to see his mission completed, but this clever and courageous dancer is claiming more of his loyalty and love by the moment. Kamin starts to worry, if it comes to a choice between saving Egypt or saving Nima’s life…what will he do?
Aided by the Egyptian god Horus and the Snake Goddess Renenutet, beset by the enemy’s black magic, can Nima and Kamin evade the enemy and reach the safety of the Nile in time to foil the planned attack?
Can there ever be a happy future together for the humble dancer and the brave Egyptian soldier who is so much more than he seems?