Cyrances wiped her sweaty hands down the sides of her white linen skirt, staining it brown, and placed the broom in a recess along the side of the courtyard wall. She was relieved to walk in the cool shadow of the cloisters. Singing accompanied by music plucked from stringed lyres floated through a tall arched entrance way. Cyrances was just about to walk through the archway when she heard a hushed call from across the courtyard. She turned. A grey haired old man dressed in a fringed skirt beckoned urgently to her. This was Urkal – one of the elder high priests. Cyrances hurried over to him. He pulled her into the shadows of the cloisters.

‘Cyrances. I thought you would be here.’ Urkal wheezed as though frightened.

‘What is it, Urkal? What troubles you?’

‘I have news for you. We must be careful though. Amurabis has ears everywhere. I fear for my safety if caught imparting this information to you but King Hannouken was kind to me and the fairest of our rulers.’

Cyrances lowered her head, hiding the tears glistening across her eyes.

‘Your children. They have been seen.’

‘What? Nampur and Zayana? Where are they?’ Cyrances asked impatiently. ‘I must see them.’

Urkal swallowed hard and shook his head. ‘No, Cyrances. You cannot. They have been seen incarcerated in a wooden cage driven through the streets on a cart.’ He stroked his long grey beard to stop his hands from shaking whilst looking from side to side checking that no-one was listening.

‘Where? Who saw them?’ Cyrances asked urgently, desperate for information about her two children.

‘A young slave. I overheard him in idle chatter amongst the slaves, yesterday He knows no more, only that they were in the hands of Amurabis’s men, and that other children were caged with them.’

Cyrances wiped her eyes and breathed deeply to compose herself. She was relieved to hear news of her children but alarmed as to what fate awaited them.

‘Th-Thank you, Urkal,’ she stuttered.

‘I only wish my tidings could have bore more hope for you.’ Urkal gazed mournfully at Cyrances, then turned quickly. A tall dark haired man strode purposefully from the temple. A fearful look passed between Urkal and Cyrances. Had they been overheard by Zekel? He walked towards them, his sly dark eyes observing them intently as though he was trying to penetrate their minds.

‘Gossiping with slaves now, Urkal?’ He glanced with contempt at Cyrances and brushed the side of his long dark skirt as though he may have been contaminated with fleas from her.

‘No – No. I was just reminding the slave to change the sacrificial offerings to Hakken, our God of War.’ He turned to Cyrances. ‘Find Ammen or Kanukka. They will slit the throat of a young goat for you. Now hurry!’ he scolded her. ‘And when you have done that, make sure you sweep this courtyard again. It isn’t good enough.’

‘Yes – Yes, my lord. I am sorry. I will hurry.’ Cyrances kept up the pretence and vanished through the arched entrance.

‘Good to see you are keeping her busy. Work her to a standstill until she succumbs to Amurabis are our orders. Flog her if necessary,’ Zekel chuckled.