the methods and means of procrastination

A Rock & A Hard Place 3
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A Rock & A Hard Place

Chapter 2
Chapter 3
3:1 Bedside
3:2 Into The Fire
3:3 Sheltered
Chapter 4

3:1 Bedside

There was nothing to do but call a halt to their travel, though it was just mid-morning. The boy had become unresponsive. He had taken water, but offered no further information. The badiya had to manhandle him to the small tent they had constructed with saddle blankets and rope. Nadah knelt in its shade as she worked to convince the boy's body that it did indeed have enough water and that it should release the heat it had gathered during his travels.

She could see the badiya sitting around the tent in twos and threes, chatting quietly. They were in a rough perimeter. Nadah assumed the two men missing where at the top of the dune, watching the road. Omar sat just outside the tent in the sun, stoically observing her mechanics.

Eventually Nadah gave a sigh and stretched. That was about all the youth's body was going to do, until he got some rest and food. His breathing was at a sleeper's rhythm now, stretched out before her. Nadah thoughtfully smoothed Sajal's feathers as the hawk picked at a morsel she had dug out of her pack. "Where had he come from?" she wondered, "he could not have traveled this far in the desert alone."

"Fuqara, what did you see?" Omar used the tribal honorific for "holy man" as he addressed Nadah. The badiya had no honorific for women seers or healers. Nadah guessed they considered her an "honorary" male, meaning someone outside their cultural structures. This was common for her. She had been considered outside her own society's ken up north.

She began to pick through the youth's belongs as she considered Omar's question. she had stripped the boy of his bulkiest clothing, including the boots, when they had moved him in here. He now lay before her in only his white shirt and breeches. After a few moments, she lifted the hand of the sleeping boy so Omar could see it, "Brother, do you recognize this?" she asked in desert common.

Omar squinted into the shade, eyeing the ring the youth wore. Nadah hid her amusement as the man frowned, "He travels under the protection of the cities, Fuqara." The badiya had no love for the city dwellers, only their horses.

"And this?" Her fingers had paused on a small sun medallion before her. She held it out to the man seated in front of her in the sun. Omar took the medallion from her and considered it, his frown slowly dissipating to a look uncertainty.

"He travels also under the protection of Ahuramazada, Fuqara," He went back to studying the medallion.

Nadah considered the tribesman. He seemed smart and at ease in this extreme land. She could not continue to travel alone into the unknown without guidance. It was time to make this band of natives more than mutual travelers. Omar, seemed to sense the observation. He glanced up from the medallion, with a questioning look. With deliberate motions, Nadah removed the glove from her left hand and exposed the palm to the tribesman. The man's eyes widened as he stared at her palm. A stylized tattoo of the half moon stood out in stark contrast on her pale skin.

"And Fatima, Omar," Nadah gave Omar a significant look, "and Fatima."

Omar swallowed as he set the medallion down and made a quick religious gesture touching his thumb to his forehead, his lips and his chest.

"The Goddess," he uttered.


3:2 Into the Fire

"Gentleman," the emir returned, this time sporting a large gaudy pendant. To Wayland it seemed to catch light though in a shaded room, giving off blue prisms of color across the emir's chest. Wayland caught Delver tapping again as the three stood to greet the man.

"I asked you here, assuming you were part of this trade convoy. This ring," he held up Wayland's ring between his finger and thumb, "now verifies that. It does not, however, verify your claim to be part of the Prior's party," his face was unreadable as he offered the ring back to Wayland. "I was willing to turn a blind eye to high-ranking, diplomatic antics, but with no writ, the accusations brought against you can not be pushed aside. I can no longer vouch for your safety."

"Is that a threat?" Silas the diplomat was quickly being eclipsed by Silas the soldier.

"It is a warning," the emir responded, "to a guest." His eye's glittered in the dim light, "A guest who insights riot and revolt in my prefecture by raising the standard of Ahuramazada at the House of Abel."

Wayland must have misheard. Riot?

"Your eminence I--" Silas started. With a terse motion, Hakem cut him off. The emir quickly dismissed the page and stalked back to the low tray with the papers. Making a quick circuit, he returned to the three with a document in hand.

"But," the magistrate punctuated this with an index finger to the ceiling, "if you are willing to do my house a favor, " his voice dropped to a sotte voce, "I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement," his eyes darted between the visitors, as his hands clasped together, encircling the document.

His gaze came to rest on Silas, "that would be a debt of honor, yes?"

The charged silence was broken by the dismissal from morning prayer, deep in the heart of the palace.


3:3 Sheltered


Nadah glanced over at her charge. The youth seemed to be fighting his way to consciousness. He came to with a lurch, half sitting up before he realized how much that would hurt. Nadah was flashed by some very blue eyes, as he looked over at her without comprehension. His movements were lethargic as he took in the tent. She edged closer to him. The boy groggily faced her again, looking like he might bolt.

"Your safe, you've been sun-touched," Nadah's hands strayed to the waterskin before her, "Water?"

The youth grabbed at the container. Nadah whipped it out of his reach and held up a gloved hand to block him. "Ah! first," She sloshed the water around in its container behind her, "your name."

"Fete," he croaked. She offered the waterskin again and smiled. He gave her a wary look before taking it from her.

"Fete, Fe-tah, Fa-te, a zatane name," Nadah spoke laconically as she watched the boy take a long pull. "Probably from the foothills, yes? A small town. Some place with an abbey?" The boy stopped drinking and glared at her over the container. He gave a jerk of his head. Woman and bird waited expectantly.

"I..." He began, broke off, then started again, "I'm a private in the Hand that Serves, from Retro." Nadah could only assume he meant the abbey. "I came down as part of the convoy to guard, the, ah, the ..." the young man's face became closed again. He took another swig from the waterskin.

"Your a long way from home, pullus," Nadah stroked Sajal's feathers at her side. "I wonder," she glanced up at the boy, "where is your falconer?"

Fete hands lowered the waterskin to his lap. He stared at the tent ceiling, but he did not seem to see it. Nadah sat very still. His closed expression suddenly cracked, revealing great agony. He raised his empty hands to his face.

"Miller's dead," he blurted out, seemingly against his own volition, "He led'em off as I tried to get away," Nadah was again flashed by those blue eyes, "They must have followed us from camp. I --" he looked very young as his voice cracked, "I couldn't save 'em and myself, ya'see."

Nadah studiously glanced away to give him a few moments to covertly wipe at the tears. Sajal ruffled his wings and opened his beak as if to cry.


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