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Nicholas left to retrieve her own clean set of clothes, and she was momentarily stunned by the beauty and richness of their fabric as he laid out the layers: a sheer gömlek, an under-tunic; a chirka, a short, tight under-jacket of emerald that buttoned up over her bust; next, shalvar, loose gold and sapphire brocade trousers that narrowed at the ankles; and an entari of her own, in a matching fabric to the shalvar. Finally, a small gold cap she pinned to her hair, and a white veil, a yashmak, that affixed to it and covered everything but her eyes.

When she finally washed the grime off her skin and out of her tangled hair, Etta stood and began toweling off, scrubbing until her skin was pink. Nicholas drank in the sight of her with a tenderness on his face that just about did her in.

“Am I a scoundrel?” he had asked, clearly more to himself than her.

Etta smiled, stroking the lines and scars on the back of his hand. “I believe I’m the scoundrel in this situation.”

He gave her a long look she didn’t understand—his eyes were heavy with a darkness that sent a chill straight through her center.

“Do you regret it?” she whispered, suddenly self-conscious.

Nicholas seemed startled by her words, shaking his head emphatically. He took her face between his big, warm hands and kissed her so deeply, she felt her toes curl against the floor. “Never. Never.”

But those had been the last words he’d said; he hadn’t even managed a cheerful greeting to their host. Etta couldn’t understand it—if that look hadn’t been about what they’d done, then what was he thinking about?

“Eat, eat!” Hasan said, his warm smile at odds with the rough bruises on his face from his fight with Nicholas. “Little niece, you look beautiful. How do you find our manner of dress?”

The first word that leapt to her mind was overwhelming, which was hardly fair. The entari and shalvar were beautifully crafted; the layers of sapphire and emerald silk and brocade were beyond luxurious, even if they were heavy. She was glad for them, though, not just because her dress from London was nearly in tatters, but because she did feel more comfortable blending in, and being respectful of the customs in this place and era.

“Wonderful,” she said. “Thank you for taking care of us.”

Etta accepted the heavy plate of food gratefully, barely sparing another breath before she dug in, practically swallowing the first pieces of pomegranate and figs whole.

Nicholas was slower to come around to eating, his attention focused on the surrounding courtyard, searching for shadows and hidden corners that didn’t exist.

“Baha’ar, my new friend,” Hasan said. “Eat, please. I do not keep servants in this house. There is no fear of discovery. I would not be so careless.”

“Baha’ar?” Nicholas repeated.

“Sailor,” Hasan explained.

Nicholas gave a wry smile, breaking off a chunk of the bread in front of him. “What was this about the clue?”

But it was a testament to how seriously he took his role as host that Hasan would not so much as approach the topic until he was satisfied that they’d had their fill of food.

“The riddle?” Nicholas pressed again. Hasan’s brows rose.

She bristled at the insistence in his tone, as if every second they spent here was wasted. “Thank you,” Etta said quickly, “for a delicious meal. We would love to hear your thoughts about what you think it means.”

Hasan seemed to take this bit of rudeness in stride. “Bring jasmine to the bride who sleeps eternal beneath the sky—that was it, no?”

She nodded.

“I have tried to break it apart into pieces, to understand,” Hasan said. “I thought, surely, Rose meant Damascus. There are many names for this place. The City of Jasmine, but also the Bride of the Earth. But this clue…it implies a kind of travel, would you not say? Bring jasmine to the bride. She wishes for you to leave this city, the City of Jasmine. So it must refer to another bride.”

“And?” Nicholas interrupted, his fingers drumming against the table. “Go where?”

Hasan held up a hand. “Patience—”

Nicholas’s hand came down hard enough to make the plates and platters jump across the table.

“Hey!” Etta said, only to be cut off.

“Every moment of delay is a moment that we can be found, tracked by the guardians,” Nicholas said. “I don’t wish to take any unnecessary risks by prolonging this to the point that Ironwood’s guardians can catch us—not when we’re so close to finding the astrolabe. Not to mention, we do have a deadline, do we not?”

Etta sighed, but nodded.

Hasan nodded. “Then we will make haste. But, baha’ar, as well as you know the sea, you do not know this land. The desert is a ruthless beauty, a punishing empress who bows to no one. It is past midday now, and you should not expect to leave this night. We will make your preparations today and leave tomorrow at sunrise. But first you must listen to what I have to say, or you will not know which direction to go. Yes?”

Nicholas looked down at his hands spread across the richly gleaming wood and nodded.

“As I said before, Damascus is known to some as the Bride of the Earth, but there is another bride—Palmyra, the Bride of the Desert. I think perhaps this is your destination. And what comes next: who sleeps eternal beneath the sky? The city itself was a jewel of our trade, a glimmering civilization. But it has since fallen to ruin. There is a valley of tombs remaining, however.”