Chapter 15:

"It's been three years," Cathy mused.

Adrianne glanced up from the poem she was writing, "Huh?"

"Becky and Amy, they'd be turning three soon," Cathy glanced around the tent. It had also been two and a half years since they went on the run. Adri had always been writing poems. Cathy often invented little tunes to go with them. Unfortunately, since the rape and miscarriage, these poems had turned dark. Cathy reasoned that Adri was simply trying to work through the pain of everything that had happened to them.

Adri dropped the writing stick and the leather that was often used for communication, into her lap and closed her eyes. "Amy, they'd be walking and talking by now, maybe even driving Alan and Lucas crazy."

Cathy smiled, remembering what her father said of her own antics when she was a little girl. "I hope they're in Alessi lands," Cathy whispered, thinking of Becky. Adri patted her hand. They'd spent the better part of the week figuring out a place in the tribe. Adri had a head for figures and managed the tribe's finances. Cathy's ability to read and write made her a natural choice as a scribe. Fortunately, Darron had included lessons in the Cartonian language with Cathy. Several women entered the tent. Cathy still wore the burka outside the tent to protect her fair skin, but the tribe had become accustomed to her appearance so she removed inside the tents. The tribal chieftain had given her a name in Cartonian, Kolay'sendok or Golden Dawn above the Wide Sea.

The tent was made of camel leather and big enough to hold thirty women comfortably. The tent was filled with brightly colored pillows, rugs, and blankets to protect against the desert night. When Cathy and Adri joined the tribe the women had spent the better part of a week making burkas and other clothes suitable for the two women. The clothing for both men and women surprised Cathy. Unlike the clothing that she was accustomed to seeing in Tarsia, this clothing covered the whole body. Some of them even wore a veil covering their mouths and noses. When asked she was told that it helped cut down on water loss. The tribe's main source of income stemmed from a peculiar ability to make a wrap around pair of glasses, something they called goggles. They were made from round flat glass held together by camel leather and wrapped around the back of the head with more leather. This ingenious invention protected the eyes from sudden dust and sand storms. The tent flaps could be tied in such a way that no sand storm could penetrate.

All of this ingenuity didn't cut down on the most pressing need: water. Cathy had admittedly always taken water for granted in Tarsia. The city was not only located next to a major river it was filled with fountains, pools, and other ostentatious displays of a water wealthy land. Cartonia was a desert. Cathy spent the first few days learning where to find water and other means of survival in what appeared at first glance to be a sandy waste land. Cathy grew to appreciate the beauty and subtlety that it was. She learned to watch her feet to keep them from stepping on and angering one of the many snakes that might bite in the desert. The tough leather boots worn in the desert protected people's feet from most snakes.

Camels weren't the only animals in the camp. They were used as pack animals and for long hauls across the desert to the cities and other places where tribes met and exchanged goods and services. Horses were used when they needed to get somewhere fast. The dogs in the camp didn't surprise her as much as a large cat that was called a Cheetah. They were a large spotted cat whose speed made them an obvious choice for hunting. What surprised Cathy was that they could be tamed. The Cheetah handler told her, "We don't tame them. They grow up among us, so they're used to us." Then he handed her a young cub and a bottle and told that she was now going to raise it. "Everyone does it, this one's for your friend."

Cathy named the young cub, who, fortunately, was female, Penelope. Adri named the little boy Jeremiah. The two were curled up nearby sound asleep, tired from spending most of the morning playing. They were helping to fill the holes that their children had left, and they were cute. They would start training them in another week. One of the other women smiled at the cubs as they settled down into the pillows. They had allowed Adri longer and longer walks outside, but they wouldn't allow her to stress herself.

"We're expecting another tribe in tomorrow," Zedra, Gorat's wife mentioned. Adri nodded, when any tribe stopped for any length of time, others took advantage to come in to trade in gossip, news, treats, and even people. Anya and her husband, Bedero, had finished negotiations for another man and woman to join their family group and they were expected any day now. The occasion was cause for a huge celebration. Anya had become their protector and friend in the short time they had been here. Zedra looked at Cathy, "We've had news from Tarsia."

Cathy gathered Penelope up in her arms, the cub squeaked at her before settling back into her arms. Cathy buried her face into her soft fur before replying, "Go on." Adri teased Jeremiah onto his back for a well deserved belly scratch as she watched Cathy carefully.

"Cain Greco married Sarah Draco and she declared herself Queen of Ardin," she replied with a sigh. "I'm not sure how legal it is," she said with a shrug. "Your laws are different. Her, Marcia, fled with her son and is reportedly in Alessi lands. She's declared herself Grand Duchess Draco and denounced her mother's actions. Tarsia sustained major damage in the fighting but the enclave appears to be intact as well as the palace."

"This is all second-hand news," Cathy whispered. "Marcia was trained to be her own woman by Alexandra." Adri nodded, it would be a long time, if ever, before they saw their home again. Meanwhile, the pyramid loomed in the distance, beckoning them on.