I sit on my sleeping mat and unweave the braids in my hair, wondering if I’ll be able to sleep. I knew I never fully belonged in the Kingdom of Sand, and it wasn’t just my eyes telling me that. They welcomed me as their Storyteller, but it wasn’t enough. The Kingdom of Sand might have been my home, but to them, I was always just a visitor.
I try to swallow away the thickness in my throat, but it escapes as a sob. I bite it down. I’m not going to let these strangers hear me cry.
Boots crunch on sand outside, stopping at my tent.
“Can I come in?” a male voice asks.
“I don’t want company.”
“I’m the victim of a terrible bet, and my friends will take all my wages if you don’t let me in.”
I recognize the playful timbre of his voice—it’s the boy who kissed me just a few moments ago. He goes quiet, waiting for my permission.
He can wait forever.
“If you let me in,” he whispers, “they’ll owe me quite a bit of coin. I’ll share it with you.”
That gives me pause. Coin, I can use. The king may or may not pay me for my stories, and if I want to escape the Kingdom of Stars, I might need more than what my jewelry is worth. I’ll need to hire a guide, and pay for food, water.
I say, “I’ll take two thirds.”
“It’s my bet. I’ll give you one third.”
“It’s my tent. I’ll take two.”
“Half and half?”
I clear my throat.
“Fine,” he says. “You can have three fifths.”
I grin, hoping he can’t hear it in my voice. “Done.”
His handsome face appears in the tent opening, followed by the rest of him.
I scoot back on my sleeping mat to put more space between us in the small tent. A group of warriors outside groans in disappointment.
“There’s more coin in this for you if you let me sleep here for the day.” The boy flops down on his side, getting comfortable. The faint spiciness of cloves washes over me.
“You’re going to lose that bet.”
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