He carried himself with an aura of respect. Not that he needed or commanded respect, but an almost reverent, detached respect. If not of Nala, then at least of the situation. Nala was suspicious of the calm respect of the guard. She had encountered plenty of guards in her life, and no guard treated a slave girl like anything other than refuse. If a guard treated her almost like a person, then something was amiss.
Nala cast a sideways glance at him. Why was he being so civil? she thought. As if civility was something to be bestowed on her, not something all human beings shared.
Maybe, her thoughts continued, what awaited me was something so profane, that he did not bother to have sadistic fun at my expense.
The thoughts made Nala wearisome of the so-called Champion Standing. She heard the tales of him when someone deigned to talk to a slave girl: The champion of champions. He bested hundreds of competitors to claim the title, and defended it each time the tournament began anew on Hainan Island. Chancellors and generals befriended the man.
Against her will, Nala’s heart beat louder, it threatened to leave her and save itself. Nala knew she couldn’t trust her heart, and walking down the wooden corridor, it rebelled. What was planned for me? What heinous acts would he commit? What fate had befallen to the girls that had gone before me? Those thoughts and many others flittered around in her head as she pursed her lips into a pout.
Finally, they reached a pair of double doors. The doors were inlaid with brass hinges, The expense of such craftsmanship was astounding. Nala inhaled sharply, and awaited whatever fate was on the other side of those doors.
The guard stepped forward and pulled open one of the doors. The hinges were silent. He motioned for Nala to step through the threshold. No cajoling, No shoving. Nala’s suspicion was at an all-time high. Slave girls simply weren’t treated this way.
The door closed as silently as it had opened. Nala didn’t hear the sound of a latch, but she suspected the guard waited on the other side for a command. Nala’s senses tried to comprehend everything at once. As her heart, they rebelled. Her eyes scanned the decorated walls, the elaborate chandelier hanging overhead and a bed big enough for three to a broad silhouette staring out a window.
Is he the Han champion? Nala wondered. The over-sized black robe she made out as her eyes adjusted to the dim light was adorned with the Han language and looked too expensive for him to not be the Champion Standing.
With his back still turned, Nala took a tentative step towards the menacing silhouette, her bare feet noiseless on the polished wooden floor. Nala took another silent step forward, but the robed figure didn’t move. It was as if he couldn’t hear her advance.
A strategy formed as she moved closer again.
She wouldn’t get another opportunity like the one laid out before her. She could stab him in the back while he was oblivious to her movements. Nala had to strike with a deftness equal to the prominence of the champion of champions.
Holding her breath as to not betray her movements, Nala extracted her dagger from its hiding place. She caressed the moment of impunity, and raised the dagger over her head, both hands gripped it, her brow damp with perspiration, and she struck.