Work on my book from last year's Nanowrimo is still moving along and in some respects I have finally found a sort of groove. I am not working on the book everyday, but I am trying to get some editing in at least once a week. Most of the characters and places in the book now have names and I think I have successfully put in a first edit for the first couple of chapters. The books is still incredibly rough around the edges, but I think it is at least comprehensible in those sections now. I am going to continue to chip away at the book.
I won't be doing Nanowrimo this year, but I am again hoping to have some form of a draft of this book finished before the end of this year.
The next day we made it finally to the outskirts of the city. Masses of people from all walks of life were pouring in through the city gates and the crowds backed up at the gate extended for as far as the eye could see in either direction. The masses of bodies among with the day’s heat left the air with a stench of stale sweat as thousands of people, cattle, wagons and other perishable goods stood out in the heat of the late afternoon sun. I felt like cattle being herded into a slaughter house. I could see that the celebration for the upcoming festival was going to be am impressive one. It took our caravan almost five bells to finally pass through the western gate and it was dusk when we finally made it into the city. We bid our farewells to Amenmer at the trade guild house. Inside the guild house Farzoo, the payment clerk was sitting with our guildmaster going over the books for the latest influx of caravans that have come into the city.
Farzoo was a rather dull young man who had been apprenticed to the guild. He looked to be in his late teens and and had a sort of squalid pallor to him that made him look as if he was always on the brink of being sick all over the floor. I think his lack of exercise and movement through the day led to is incredibly scrawny frame since he had almost no muscle tone at all.
The guild master was sitting directly to his left and they shared a candle between them as the poured over the ledger books. Our guild master, Heedi was a decent enough person, but he is not exactly the type of person I would say I enjoyed the company of. I don't know much about his background, but he was a rather large man. He was often found with an eye glass around his neck for reading the books and contracts. As he would lean over to pear down at any of the books you would simultaneously see the bald sheen from the top of his head while is beard would fall into the book and scroll creases. He dressed in a mishmash of cheaply made silks which often had widely carrying colors which resulted in him coming across as some sort of stage performer wearing a costume. The silks never fit properly and were too loose on some parts of his body while too tight on others.
Looking up from his desk as I approached Heedi and grabbed a small bag of money from behind him and tossed it across to me.
"I hear you ran into some trouble out there on your way back in" he said in his fake noble accent that he always put on when he was talking to guild members.
"Just a small group of bandits near the plains bridge. Three went down and one was wounded in the shoulder. The other two fled."
"And you let the wounded one live?"
"Yes" I replied, "There was no point in killing him."
The festival is scheduled to begin tomorrow" he said. "The whole city is going to be shut down. Get your rest as the guild have been hired to work security for the next several evenings to assist the city guard."
“Heedi, I am really not in the mood to handle this sort of shit right now, we just rolled in an hour ago and you expect us to work?” I was exhausted and my temper was beginning to get the better of me. Did he really expect me to work the next morning following a caravan escort?
"You are going to work it or you are going to find yourself out of a job. The parade is tomorrow welcoming the dignitaries from the neighboring cities. It includes the noble families of Alech, Kemish and Marqush."
A low growl escaped from my throat, but I grabbed my money and made my way towards the door. Satia and Banda were both there waiting for me, in the guild’s common room both looking equally displeased. They had obviously been standing outside the door, listening to the conversation.
"Who the hell does he think he is putting us to work tomorrow" Satia exclaimed, "we normally get a two day restafter an escort!"
Banda chimed in, "They need bodies for the parade. I ain't happy about it either, but shit has to get done. I am going to find myself a bath and I will see you both tomorrow."
With that he walked out the common room and into the evening.
"A bath does sound might enticing I said, I need to get some food in me as well"
"How about I meet you later for some food, near our usual spot after the tenth bell?" said Satia
The left side of my face cocked up into a smile and my eyes squinted as I nodded my head back to her. With that she turned and was out the door.
I stepped out into the evening a few minutes later and stood on the entrance steps for a few moments with my face up to the sky and my eyes closed. I took a long deep breath and slowly exhaled. It felt good to be home.
The air was starting to cool off from the day's heat and the sun had just set on the horizon leaving just a bit of twilight light above the desert to the east. It would still be several more hours before the night fully set in. I stabled my lemac and quickly unhooked the saddle. All of the outriders for the guild owned their own lemac's but we were allowed to stable them at the guild for a moderate fee. It was worth the effort since they had groomers and other caretakers onsite to care for and feed all of the animals. It was also convient since most of our trips started from the guild hall or near the western gate on the city.
I set my saddle on the saddle post and noted to myself that I would need to clean it tomorrow. A handler came up to make note of my entry back into the stables and I paid him a few exrta bronze pieces and asked him if he could rub down my lamec this evening. He agreed.
I shouldered my small supplies pack and weapons and stepped out onto the street. I decided I would walk back to my house since the evening was clear and cool. It has been nearly twenty days since I last stepped foot in it. My home was located in the southwestern corner of the main city area in the third district, also known as the Fazari District due to number of artisans, astrologers, alchemists, herbalists and other scholars living in smaller and cheaply rented rooms. There was a decent selection of smaller homes in this district, which suited me just fine since I lived alone and was hardly in the house at all. The district was mostly quiet as well. The house though afforded me the opportunity to have some security in my belongings and my business. The district itself could arguably be call poor by the inhabitants since most of them did not have a lot of funds. Quite a few of them were in deed teachers, instructors or worked at various stalls in the center of the main market district in the city. The entire area was well kept though since the citizens were generally well educated.
As I made my way down the street I noticed the abundance of people out and about. The city was full of foreigners and travelers all of whom had newly arrived for the celebration over the next several days. In the street were all sorts of entertainers and musicians, bards and craftsman all opining their wares . A snake charmer was on the corner singing a sweet melody that was unfamiliar to me. I stopped for a brief moment to watch him with the crowd as he slowly danced his hand in a fluid wave like motion as the snake followed it. Across the street was a fire breather casting fire and using some sort of alchemical concoction to cause the fire to change colors from green to blue to and then violet. A pair of city guardsmen walked past me with an oil lamp shared between them, talking to each other and paying little mention to the folks around them.
As I continued on I noticed that all of the inns, bars, taverns and whorehouses were full of people and the music and laughter could be heard all the way out into the street at every one of them. As I continued to make my way further into the city the noise and laughter slowly died away. Not only were there fewer inns and taverns as we got away from the city walls and gates, but the overall atmosphere of the neighborhoods changed as I passed through the inner city gates from the second district to the third district. Almost immediately after passing through the gate I noticed the serene quiet of the area. There were much fewer people on the street. Those that were out were quietly going bout their business without making any sort of eye contact. I noticed several alchemists walking by with cards or backpacks full of potions, and concoctions. I finally made my way to a small square, or should I say circle that was intersected by five small streets. The square itself was probably fifty paces across and in the center was a well with a pinnacle on top it that acted as a sun dial on the entire square. My house was across the square just to the left. On my right was a two story building that featured several apartments and rented rooms. The rest were all small homes, with the first floor of the building buried about halfway down into the ground. This was done to help keep the building at least partially cool during the hot days. I stepped down to my door and pulled out my keys and then stepped inside.
As I stepped inside the room was completely dark. I dropped my supply bag on the floor right inside the door and then walked over to the oven to light an oil lamp. My house itself was a rather modestly built accommodation, but for one of my livelihood it was extremely nice. The main floor was small, may be ten paces in either direction. Near the right hand side wall was a clay oven for cooking along with an open fire hearth next to that. In the middle of the room I had a single long table with just two long benches on either side. Behind that near the open hearth was a large wooden chair that was given to me as payment on contract several years ago. Surrounding the rest of the room were collections of bookshelves, scattered papers and various clay jars for storing food. All of the jars were empty. Near the back of the room was a small trap door in the floor that led to a small underground crawl space. This was again an area for the storage of food since the underground area was easy to keep cool.
On the left hand side was a ladder that led up to the second floor of the building. This initially was designed to be a bedroom, but the room up stairs was usually too hot most of the year. Instead it was used simply as another storage space, primarily for my traveling equipment, weapons, leathers and other seasonal clothes. There was a small door on this second floor that led out onto a roof for access. Through the back of the of the room on the main floor was a door that led into the only other additional room in this small abode. In here was again a small clay oven in the corner used primarily for heat during colder nights and perhaps boiling some water. This room served as my bedroom and it had little furniture in it beyond a simple bed in the corner and a small table in the middle of the room. There was a wardrobe near the door that held some of my nicer clothes should the occasion actually arise where I would be called to use them.
I quickly changed my clothes into a casual shirt with a pair of pants and a light pair sandals. I put on a belt with a simple hand length dagger, as was the custom in Aris, and then turned around out the door to head to the nearest bathhouse. Just as I was locking my door outside my house I noticed a small envelope laying on the ground. I paused for a moment staring at it. It was a cream colored piece of paper a hand's width across and may be half an hand's width high. Upon the back of the folds was an amber colored wax seal with no marker. I bent down and picked up the envelop, turning it over in my hands. There was no writing on the outside of it at all. Sliding my finger underneath the wax seal I opened the letter and look at its contents.
I am sending you a cordial invitation to join me ant the Falhad's palace two nights from tonight after the eighth bell. As my thanks to your endeavors to protect me and my cargo upon our various journeys these past two years I have an opportunity to invite some guests to the palace during the introduction of the Adro’it Jinn. It should make for a pleasant evening and I hope that you are able to indulge me in granting you this small gesture of gratitude. Please arrive at the front gate and state your name.
I hope you and your companions will pleasure us with your presence.
Amenmer, First son of Ameren
After staring at the letter for a few more moments I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Was it some sort of joke? Amenmer never seemed like the type of person who would pull a joke like this? If it was real it certainly seemed appealing, since I never dreamed of being invited to the palace to meet the Falah'd. Whether it was a joke or the invitation was true, it was too much for me to deal with this evening. I was still filthy and growing ever more hungry. I slipped the note under my door and made a mental note to ask Staia and Banda about it later when i saw them.
The nearest bathhouse in my neighborhood was just a few city blocks a way and was a place I would frequent upon my return to the city. The house itself was built upon a natural spring that was discovered many years ago that had water with bubbles in it. The water was pumped up to the roof of the building into large cauldrons to be heated and then piped into rooms that were filled with baths carved into the clay soil. If one so choose they could have their fully body rubbed down , their hair oiled and fragrances and other services provided . This evening however I was opting simply for the bath as I needed to wash out the weeks travels of dust, grime, grit and blood. The steaming hot water was poured into one of the clay baths and I slowly lowered myself into the tub. The water was near scalding hot, but the relief that spread across my sore legs and up through my back was incredible. The bath that I chose had a light shamana ottar oil poured into the water that added pleasant, earthy and woody fragrance. I settled down into the hot water and released all of the tension in my body. A barber walked up next to the tube and offered a shave. He rubbed a sandalwood paste across my face, shoulders and into my hair . As he bang is shaving to started humming in a low melodic chat for the House of Fortune, the patron house and god for the city of Aris.
Aris, as well as all of the cities in the desert area here all had their respective temples to the five houses of the gods. Aris, Alech and Kemish were all ruled by merchant families so most of the people worshipped the King of the House of Fortune. You would commonly see animal offerings, coin and other highly prized goods at the temple steps. The priests of each of these temples were generally revered by the populace and were given food for donations. They otherwise lived in poverty however with little or no material possessions. I prayed weekly to all of the gods, but my patron house was House blades due to my profession. It was at this house that I would give my weekly offerings and receive my blessings as a soldier.
The tones of this song were deep and low, gutteral even. I slowly found myself drifting off to sleep. As the the barber finished his shave, he slowly stood up and walked away slowly humming the melodic and calming tune as he walked away.
I heard someone quietly walk up behind me and set down a pair of clean clothes. A pair of fingers touched the back of my head and slowly found their way around the back of my neck just under my ears and then found their way around to the front of my throat, exerting a firm amount of pressure.
I tried to swallow as the hands squeezed a little tighter before retracting just a little bit and moving back up around my neck.
“You're dead…………and you are late”, was a soft whisper into my ear.
I slowly opened my eyes and just took a deep breath.
“ I knew you were going to be running late. Get yourself dressed and lets go grab some food” said Staia,
“How did you know I was going to be here?”
“Are you serious, it is the the closest bathhouse to your home and I knew you would want a bath. I had one myself.”
“Had I known you were planning on taking a bath as well, we should have gone together.”
She squinted her eyes in a mocking form of disgust and just said “get your clothes on, I am starving”.
As I met Staia outside she was wearing a loose pair of black silk pants and a matching black silk shirt with no sleeves. She had several earrings and studs in each of her ears and a nose ring in the rid side of her nose. Her long hair was set in a single large braid that rand down the middle of her back and ended just below her waist. My new pair of clothes from the bathhouse were a dark green pair of linen pants and a long sleeve shirt. I kept my sandals from earlier that evening and put back on my belt and dagger.
We stepped out into the night air and began our walk to Huma, which was a local tavern that Banda, Staia, and I visited frequently. The food was good as were the drinks and the people who frequented the place.
We arrived at the tavern a few minutes later. A low hum of noise was coming from the inside, and the patio just off to the side was busy with people from all walks of life. We noticed a few individuals from the guild and they caught our eye as we walked up.
“Staia!!! Melkhar!!!!!…..Grab yourselves a chair and join us”.
Five of our fellow guild members were sitting around a table playing a game of tarot. Banda was in the corner smoking on a long pipe with a fragrant and sweet smelling tobacco. Various small dishes of food with flat bread was spread around the table. with a large pot of tea. We poured ourselves two cups of mint tea and each ordered a a bowl of meat and vegetable stew and grabbed several pieces of flat bread for dipping in the various piles of food that was laid out amongst the table.
The rest of the group was talking eagerly amongst themselves about the festival. As we settled in with the group the weariness of our travels quickly wore away. Laughter and smiles were had throughout that evening and all three of us quickly felt our comfort of being back in with friends and companions comforting. We played several games of Tarot, and had plenty of food and drink. At some point in the evening some sweet wine was brought out and by the thirteenth bell we found ourselves the last group of people still in the restaurant. IT was small moments like these that made the guild a special place. It was a job, just as any other job, but the quality of its members was such that it also became an extended family. Our tasks required that we often put our lives on the line for gold and silver. With that responsibility comes a certain connection with the other members that can be shared with no one else. We were a private organization, but also a family.
As the evening quieted down I remembered to ask about the letter that I had received earlier that evening.
“Banda, I need to ask you something. Did you receive an unmarked letter from Amenmer this evening?”
“ I received a letter, yes, but who is to say if it is actually from Amenmer.”
Staia remarked from across the table; “I also received a letter.”
“So, what do you all think about it?” I asked.
“There is nothing to think. It is obviously a fake” said Banda.
“And what if it isn't a fake?" I asked.
“You don’t seriously think it is real do you?” he replied.
“I don’t know. We all know that Amenmer is a peculiar individual. He outwardly has always been very friendly, but he does not have the aire of a real merchant about him. He has always come across as if he has something else to him. Besides, he has been good to us, and I don’t exactly want to insult him”.
"It is the offer of a lifetime. A chance to get into the palace, meet the Falah’d, perhaps even meet a Jinn?” point out Staia. “How can we not at least show up?”
"I suppose there is no harm in following the directions on the letter. If it is a fake, someone gets a good laugh on us and and we get all dressed up for nothing. Besides, I think I have to agree with Melkhar. Amenmer has been very fair to us”
“Then it is agreed? We will all attend this invitation and see what comes of it?
“I suppose so" said Banda as he took another puff on his pipe.