the methods and means of procrastination

A Rock & A Hard Place: 2
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A Rock & A Hard Place
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
2:1 The Audience Room
2:2 View From Above
2:3 Interlude Before the Dias
Chapter 3

2:1 The Audience Room

"These are mighty fine carpets," thought Wayland, as he averted his eyes from the blossoming social faux pas in front of him. Men of position did not make mistakes, in his experience and he had found custom here to be a bit more strict then at home. He figured they were about to become the next scapegoat. Wayand tried to see where the page had gotten to.

Silas quickly regained his diplomatic poise. "My colleagues and I are of the Prior's party." He smiled with an air of confidence," We were sent ahead to prepare for his arrival, your eminence. I am Silas Boyer, a Servant of His Hand, based at the Abbey of Retribution," he motioned to his right," this is Wayland from middle lands, and this is Delver," he motioned to his left, "emissary from the dwarfs of the northern Dhakya mountain range," here he bowed slightly to Delver," one of our honored allies." Delver returned the bow.

As Wayland and Delver performed appropriate murmurs of greeting, the emir regained his equilibrium. Cooly he said, "If you will be so kind as to show me the writ that confirms your position with the Prior's retinue, I will be most honored to have you as a guest in my home."

"I'm sure when the Prior arrives, he will vouch for us," Silas didn't miss a beat. "Until then you have my word as a Servant of His Hand that what I say is true." Silas gave a slight bow of his head as his right hand clasped the medallion at his chest.

The emir began to pace. As the arc of his path approached Silas, he abruptly turned to face the large man. "Please do not take this the wrong way," He said quietly. "You seem an honorable man. But understand me. Your word is not something I can accept at this time. With no writ or official designation, I can not recognize you as part of the emissary from Zatio."

"Perhaps this will convince you?" The emir gaze left Silas' face and moved to Wayland as he proffered a ring from an inner pocket. The emir considered Wayland for a few moments before he picked up the ring from Wayland's open palm.

"Yes," Hakem said as he studied the ring, "this may clarify matters."


2:2 View From Above

Sajal notice the figure before Nadah. Her stomach tingled sympathetically as the hawk's predatorial interest was whetted. The hawk was hungry, and the sight of the dark figure struggling below looked very promising until he realized the man was too big to eat. Nadah picked up something like frustration from the hawk, as she watched the figure's progress from the bird's perspective. She slowly wheeled her ungainly mount towards the dunes to her right. Shortly she reigned in where the badiya tribesmen had left their mounts.

Sajal and Nadah saw the badiya had already topped the dune and now observed the stranger unseen. With a few quick words from Omar, they split into twos and began to work to surround the man. Nadah appreciated their attempt and worked to encourage the sand to forget about them, making their passage near invisible. Soon they disappeared from plain view, their footsteps erasing behind them. The man was surrounded by the time he topped the dune.

"Man?" Nadah, thought as she popped back into her own vision from the bird's, "more like boy." Nadah stayed below his sight line as he topped the ridge above her. It did not matter. The youth took no notice as he stopped and let out a cry of relief as the road and the bay came into view. He's smile dropped to one of dumb shock as his gaze fell on her and her mount. Nadah nudged her mount forward towards the youth. She could almost see his sun-baked brain crank into gear as he observed her approach. Nadah dropped the illusion. His whole body involuntarily jumped when he caught the peripheral movement of the badiya, arrows knocked. Sajal gave a mocking scream as he circled above on the heat rises.

Omar barked out a short query to the youth in desert common. The boy didn't respond. He wavered a bit with his head slightly lowered, like a dog. His eyes jumped from Nadah to the bowmen. On closer inspection with her own eyes, Nadah immediately noticed that under a veneer of sand, the boy lacked proper desert gear and was wearing useless heavy boots. He was also very fair in complexion, though his travel through the desert had broiled him.

She loosed her waterskin from her saddle and tossed it at the boy. Catching it with both hands, he paused with a look of askance. She pulled aside the scarf from her face, revealing her own northern features and said in zatane, "You are far from home, pullus."

The youth abruptly dropped to the sand, his knees akimbo, as he stared at Nadah, water forgotten.


2:3 Interlude Before the Dais

The emir had disappeared with the ring behind a hanging tapestry, heavier than the surrounding fabric. The page reappeared with a large tray of tea service as the emir stepped out of sight. The trio was now being served by the serious child, seated upon rough silk pillows as they awaited the emir's pleasure. Wayland noticed pine-nuts at the bottom of his glass. The minty taste of the tea was not unpleasant, odd garnish not withstanding.

"Why did you give him your ring?" Silas softly directed at Wayland, as the page served Delver, "Was that wise?"

Wayland had gambled Silas and Delver had rings similar to the one he had offered to the emir. He did not think he had given himself away. With Zatio's victories in last year's campaign, his Highness, King Jon the Second, now controlled the Overland Pass, the corridor connecting Zatio and Al-Maghrebia through the mountains. The king meant to capitalize on this passage to the largest crossroads of trade in the known world. The Grand Sultan, for his part, was amiable to the influx of new money and the potential strong ally to the north. The two rulers were practically in rut over the trade possibilities.

A visible symbol of their trade agreement had been provided by Al-Maghrebia -- rings. Zatio's ruler had been handing these out like sweets to his best and brightest all over the realm. These men and women of status in turn, had prepared trade caravans for a trip south. Wayland had indeed received the ring as one of the merchant class from the middle lands. He won it in a lottery. "It's my ring," thought Wayland, "I'll do what I like with it." Mildly he said to Silas, "I assumed this is what he meant by 'official designation.' You play your hand too close to the chest, Silas."

"Trust a nihil to gamble with his waypass," Silas murmured, "I find it better to be cautious in a land we do not know well." His mild tone was mismatched with the intensity of his expression, "I suggest that you follow my lead in these matters."

"Am I to be the next Nadah?" Wayland thought briefly as he fought to hold his tongue. "You are not my keeper, servus," he growled at Silas.

"Quiet! He returns," Delver snapped at his companions. The dwarf's hand again tapped out a quick rhythm where his dagger would have been. Wayland and Silas both became silent. The peace forged over the miles to Quahabat would need to last a bit longer.


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