The narrow road was anything but well traveled. The wild grass had readily imposed itself on it, making it disappear every so often. Josephine was not concerned with being lost. She had been able to see her destination for the past two days, making the path more or less merely symbolic. The sand made travel miserable. The wind blew it into every nook and cranny she didn’t cover completely, rubbing against her skin as she walked. The plains were bare; there was no relief from what weather there was. She simply trod on.
On the horizon stood her destination, the Wall of Anamur—black against the sun and wider than the eye could see. It was engineered from the beginning to intimidate. Large metal spikes, polished to a sheen, could be seen for miles, disappearing into the black mass of rock the made the rest of the wall. One ancient road shot windingly toward its only opening, the Anamur Gate. This was the road she was attempting to follow.
It was hard to admit it herself, but she was afraid. Attempting to enter Anamur was almost certainly suicide. All she had to present was a name; one she knew little about and who’s bearer she was uncertain was still among the living. Nonetheless, it was the only answer she had—and she’d rather die by her own actions.
The wind had died down and Josephine decided to stop to clean the sand off herself and take a drink of water. She looked back toward the vast nothingness behind her, wondering where the tracker was. Theirs was an unlikely friendship—he being hired to track her and report back to the man who was trying, undoubtedly, to kill her—but one she’d come to relish. She looked forward to the days when she could stop long enough for him to catch her. They would share dinner quietly before walking together to set camp out of sight. She usually prepared tea, a luxury a tracker could not normally afford. She did not need fire, however, having enchanted a small kettle years ago.
Some nights ago the tracker had reluctantly admitted that it was his birthday. She had immediately wanted to give him the kettle as a gift but he’d refused until she’d given up. At dawn she’d woken up and rummaged through his bag to find the beaten old clay mug he carted. Then she sat down to pray for a few minutes. She needed peace. She wanted to enchant his mug; after all he couldn’t refuse his own belongings. The problem was she had not even attempted an enchantment for three years. She might well make the mug get up and walk.
She crossed her legs and put the mug out in front of herself. She closed her eyes and began the old incantations. The old familiar state of concentration she so relished when she was younger washed over her. She took her time—so much so that when she was done, the sun was much higher in the sky. The tracker looked at her, visibly worried.
“Happy birthday!” she said, “Your very own water boiling mug.”
He’d looked at her with a broad grin and given her a hug.
“I thought you’d gone mental or something, worshiping my mug.”
She hated that he too had to endure the journey through the desert. She’d told him not to follow her all the way to the gate but she wasn’t so certain he would listen—he had constantly tried to dissuade her after she told him her destination. She was afraid he might decide she needed protection. Their friendship had made him forget who she had been and perhaps was. Only a few weeks ago, he himself had called her the Emperor’s “devastating weapon”.
The gate was enormous and imposing. It was covered in metal thorns, perhaps to dissuade climbing; she doubted any army could get close enough for the attempt. It’s only ornament was a large seal at its center, carved with symbols she did not understand. She wondered how close she would get before something happened.
“Stop! Move no further!”
This close. She looked in the direction of the voice. It came from one of the towers at the side of the gate.
“This land is forbidden, stranger. You are not welcome.”
“I am looking for someone, a citizen of Anamur. It is imperative I talk to him as soon as possible.”
“This is none of my concern. None is allowed to enter.”“You do not understand, I have no choice—I must speak to this man.”
“You must leave. It is not a request.”
“What harm could come of informing this man of my presence? I seek Samos of Alanya. Tell him that Josephine Margo wishes an audience.”
She looked into the tower with eyes that could see beyond those in her head. The men whispered; they knew who this man was.
“These are not my orders. All are forbidden, none will enter—you will leave.”
“I won’t, whatever threats you make. I will have my audience.”
She sat down on the soft sand and crossed her tired legs. She began to pray. She felt the guard’s anxiety. They had guarded this gate their entire lives, but except for the occasional official caravan, nobody ever came. It was beyond their understanding why a lone woman would have walked the desert to a gate she must have known she could not cross. She felt their leader hesitate but not long. He gave the order to ready.
“I must ask you once more—leave. The rules are strict; I am required to take action.”
Josephine did not respond. The men arced their bows and waited for the instruction to fire. It came soon enough.
The men were excellent archers and the arrows speedily rained down on their target but somehow did not get there. When asked later, none of the men could explain what had happened despite having seen it with their own eyes. Every arrow that had been fired was laid in a neat pile next to Josephine.
“What madness is this?” the leader roared, “Fire at will!”
The arrows rained down again, all expertly aimed. Up until the last instant they all looked to have found their target, only to then settle into the pile with the others. The men, bewildered, fire again and again. Eventually, their stockpiles were depleted and they looked at the lone figure for the first time with fear.
The pile of arrows was taller than her crossed-legged figure. She opened her eyes.
“I seek an audience with Samos of Alanya. In return, I will give the guards of Anamur this pile of finely crafted arrows.”
“You dare mock us! Such petty magic does not daunt us.”
The guard turned to his men, instructing them before speaking to her again.
“Run, or you ask for death!”
“I’m quite comfortable, Captain—and prepared to be quite insistent.”
She had made the leader angry but she needed him to become angrier still; angry enough to call for help.
Explosions marked the firing of mortars, the payload heavy stone. She was surprised at the elementary nature of their defenses. She closed her eyes and prayed once again.
The stones shattered long before the reach her, the small fragments coalescing behind her. She concentrated on the Captain—such were the markings on his clothes—and took in his figure. The shattered stone began to take shape: first a pair of boots, then loose pants, a vest of armor, and finally a face. Then, for a moment, silence.
“A statue in your honor, Captain—to commemorate your considerable actions.”
The men stared at their Captain, then at a perfect stone likeness. She hoped they would panic and beg for reinforcements—call attention to stranger outside the gate. Instead she saw the Captain confer with his men. He returned to the front of the tower.
“You continue to mock me. Still your magic does not concern me. Let me show you why Anamur has stood for three thousand years!”
Josephine closed her eyes and looked into the tower, searching for the men, for what they had in store for her. She was surprised to find them all facing her at the towers edge. They did not move and indeed looked peaceful. What came next she could not fathom and had it not been for years of waging war she would not have recognized. Every guard began to speak at once, opening their palms toward her.
They had magic. In a land where those with magic were never found more than two or three at a time, here at Anamur gate were a dozen men preparing to destroy her. She recognized their words and knew that she could not stop them. Divine words of one kind were useless against others of another.
She closed her eyes and prayed to the Other—praying she could still convince the darkness she was loyal. The light arced from the men’s hands toward her. She did not see, shutting her eyes as tightly as she could, begging the One Who Was Not He to enter her once more.
“Enough!” she screamed, raising her hands and extinguishing the holy spell.
“It is my intention to get an audience. I will not ask for it again. I came in peace and you have fired upon me. I will afford you the same consideration. I will tear this gate apart if necessary.”
It was enough. The Captain yelled for a messenger and made sure she could see it.
“I have dispatched a message. The Elder will be here soon. However, you must understand that we will not allow you passage even if it means our death.”
Josephine nodded, wondering if now was the time to give concessions—what other weapons might these men have hidden and unexpected? She released her demons, standing up and noticing her exhaustion again.
“Water and food make peace, Captain, if you can afford them.”
Soon enough, a gourd with cool water was thrown, followed by a small sack with unleavened bread and fruit. She did not bother to check if they were poisoned. They would be fools to do so.
She ate in silence and waited. Two hours later she heard something no foreigner had heard for five hundred years. The Anamur Gate was being opened.