Monday, December 30, 2013

What luck

“Look,” Kurga said, “a shooting star!  It’s good luck!”
“Luck,” Ch’Voga told him, “is the name of God to the godless.”
“Now what does that even mean?”  But Ch’Voga had lapsed silent again.  Quietly sewing the sail and tending to the dying slave.
“I’ll tell you what it means,” Prudance answered instead, “it means he does not believe in luck and neither do I.”
“Not believe.. in…” Kurga gasped.  “But it’s bad luck not to believe in luck!”
“Did you even think about that before you said it?”  She shook her head.
“Did you?” Kurga shot back, “how do you explain our current predicament if not for luck?  How did we come to be wrecked?”
“We went sailing in a sandstorm.”
“But why did the uh… riggy-thingy..”
“Yes that!  Why did that break then?”
“Because all of the weight of the boat was leaning on it for a day and a half and it caught a rock.”
“Well, what are the odds of hitting a rock in all this sand?”
“For us, they were apparently one hundred percent.”
“Oh that’s just fatalism!  I cannot believe.. you would then say that everything which happens is meant to happen?”
“Everything which happens is a direct result of something else happening.  What you would call ‘bad luck’ is nothing more than a case of someone making a poor decision or someone else’s opposition.  We choose our fates, merchant and when all our careful plans go awry, we blame luck instead of hunting down the people actually responsible.  We are stranded here in the desert, wasting the last of our water on a dying slave after being forced out of safest place for us to be.  We will dehydrate long before we find water or shelter.  Is this bad luck?”  Kurga fell silent.  “We are going to die here.  All our busy work.  All our labor here is in vain!”  She was yelling now.  “Your precious mission, my boat, my entire life, are all forfeit!  And why?  Don’t talk to me of luck!  When I look at my life, I don’t blame chance!  I know who to blame!”  Kurga retreated before her but she was no longer roaring at him.
She stomped out of the lantern light.  Kurga sat down heavily, no longer interested in his own work.
Quietly, almost to himself, Ch’Voga whispered, “I think she gives people far too much credit.”
In the darkness someone shouted, “’Allo!”  A shared look of confusion and they ran around the sail.  There in the starlight, just sliding to a stop, was a catamaran. 
“’Allo again, mes amis!  I am so incredibly happy to find you at all, to not speak of being alive! Tout un coup de chance!”
“I said, ‘some luck, wouldn’t you say?’”

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Snipe hunt

“What’re they doin’?” the voice on the radio asked.
“Looks like they’re attempting to repair their stupid stickboat.”
“Enh, I’m guessing religious crazies.  Not enough stuff on the boat to trade.  This is just a crossing.”
“Damn!  At least merchants we could requisition the cargo.  Fanatics are more than worthless.  How many of them are there?”
Emmit circled the buzzdrone around the boat for a three sixty view before answering, whistling to himself as he worked and waited so the boss would know he wasn’t ignoring her.  She could be a bit touchy and he didn’t like to step on her toes.  Happy wife, happy life some of the married guys said.  And they only saw their wives for a few weeks at a time.  A female officer could make your life miserable twenty-four-seven.  So Emmit had his own saying, “HapCO, HapAO.”  Happy Commanding Officer, Happy Area of Operations.  “Counting four.  Though by the look of the vitals of the one, they’ll be three soon.”
“Desert Fever?”
“Heat signature like a flare.”
“Guaranteed the ‘tooths see them too then, I swear they introduced that disease to make us easier to spot at night.”
“Who knows what a ‘tooth sees but that certainly sounds like their brand of cold and sneaky.  Though I doubt they have the reasoning capacity to…rut-roh.”
“What is it!?”
“Speak of the devil.  We got an inbound loper comin’ at them from the far side.”
“You sure it’s a ‘tooth?”
“Uh, yeah, pretty sure.  Permission to engage?”
“Whaddya got left?”
“I got one last party popper in the tubes.”  The voice on the radio went silent.  She did not owe him a thinking sound to show she heard.  Commanding Officers were above such niceties.  “Fight them here or fight them at home…”
“Don’t do that, Emmit!  Don’t manipulate me!  Just lemme think, dammit!”
Emmit went quiet.  No humming or whistling this time.  She might see that as trying to rush her. 
“There’s just the one?”
“That’s all there is right now.  Dunno what’s out of range.”
“Okay, do it.”
He hit the fire button, having taken a reasonable guess what she would decide and loading the targeting information into the warhead while she was thinking.  A door on the tank opened on heavily greased hinges just above his head.  A magnetic rail slung a small projectile out, silently dispersing the puff of wind of its passage.  No one knew what a Monotooth saw and no one for damn sure knew what they could hear so no one still alive these days took any chances. 

The dark, silent projectile traveled just under the speed of sound in a ballistic arc out over the desert.  When it reached a predetermined point that even a Monotooth’s twitchy, inhuman reflexes couldn’t save it, it fired.  Launching its warhead straight down into the hapless creature at a speed the Monotooth couldn’t dodge.  It had looked up at the last second, taking the round right between the eyes.  “Hit!  Scratch one more itchy!”
“Nice work.  Guess you’d better return to camp if that was your last popper, you won’t be much good to them pilgrims whoever they are.”
“What?  Goddammit, Emmit!  You know I hate when you…”
“That ‘tooth wasn’t alone.”
“Oh God.  How many more?”
“More’n enough.”
"Any sign they spotted you?"
"None.  They're dead set on the stickboat."
“How long they got?”
“Probably till mid morning.  Not enough time to get to camp, refit and come back.”
“Well, tough break for the pilgrims.  Getcher butt back here before you get caught in the middle.  You can’t do anything more for them.  And they should have known better than to come out here.  We’ve already gone above and beyond.”
“Aye-aye, cap’n.”  Emmit took one last look at the four people working on their boat, completely oblivious to what was coming, rushing to beat nothing more dangerous than the dawn Sun.  “Sorry, folks,” he whispered, “you guys must be truly the most unlucky God-nuts that ever lived.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Three days

Kurga climbed the dune to where Prudence sat like a lonely, low, wind-worn stump of some forgotten race’s stone god, presiding over the utter destruction of the civilization which had trusted it.  He flopped down next to her and caught his breath before saying, “Good news or bad news first?”
“There is good news?”
“Depending on one’s point of view.”
“We shall see.  Bad.”
“Probably only three days of water survived the wreck.”
“How long will it take to repair the boat?”
“If we cannibalize the broken rigger to fix the mast and bind the front skid?  Three days.”
“Then we should have just enough!  That’s better than I..”
“Then another four days to stitch the sail back together.  Then possibly a two day journey to the nearest legion picket, which we would then have to hope is manned and willing to provision a pathetic packet of paupers showing up at their door with their alms cups out.”
“Oh.”  Kurga mulled this over in silence.
“And the good?”
“The good news?”
“Oh.  Yes.  The child shall probably not be drinking much of the water.”
“Yes.”  Prudence snorted.  A sound Kurga had come to associate with laughter.  “The flesh trader probably would have dumped her soon so she didn’t infect the rest of his stock.  He must be truly charmed to have run across someone whose head is as soft as his heart and sold her for a tidy profit instead.”
“Would that we had such luck.  She will probably out live us all, the little parasite.”  Kurga chose not to tell Prudence that much of their water and provisions were probably ‘lost’ because the child had helped herself to them while hiding from the storm amongst the baggage.  It would only ruin the captain’s black mood.  “And what of our soft headed evangelist?  What is he doing?”
“Figures.  Shouldn’t you be joining him?  After all, you are his partner in ministry.”
“I handle the earthly parts, he handles the heavenly parts.  And you?  Do you sit here by yourself, surveying the wreckage of your life and livelihood and seeking the intercession of God?”
“Hardly.  He stopped listening to my prayers a long time ago.”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Storm

“If you are frightened Leech-ni-monti*, you are welcome to hide in the baggage with the rat,” Prudence called to Kurga.  She had to shout because the wind had risen to such a pitch, they were no longer ‘before’ it but getting dragged along by it as it rushed past.  The boat, heeled over at a crazy angle, wobbling and wiggling through the sand as it tottered on only one skid at times, threatened to throw anything not tied down overboard where it would so quickly fall behind and be buried by the sand that Prudence had made it very clear she would not even attempt to stop and recover anything or anyone so unlucky.

“I’m fine,” he said, though he never turned his head from straight forward and it was doubtful she heard him with his headscarf wrapped so firmly around his face and neck. 

‘Even through his robes, goggles and scarves, he looks sick,” Ch’Voga thought, ‘I’m glad he’s on the down-slope side of the boat.’  Ch’Voga looked up-slope, to the port side outrigger where Prudence sat, hanging by the lines and leaning as far back as she could to counter the boat’s desire to capsize.  He caught her eye and motioned to come out to her.  She shrugged.  He stood and worked his way out, careful but not overly so.

“You seem at ease, given our circumstances,” she remarked when he had sat down beside her on what would normally be the side of the skid, if the boat were sitting level.  He couldn’t see the ground side of the boat, it was just a blur of flying debris but his mind told him he was some forty feet in the air, perched with no more concern than a bird upon a tree branch, his feet dangling in space.  “Have you some divine assurance, holy man?”

“No.  Nothing divine.  A demonic urge to throw myself overboard perhaps.  Prudence, I want to apologize for all the trouble I have caused you.  I have been a fool.”

“Yes you have but you have always been.  I expect nothing less from you.  So it is my own fault for underestimating how much you had grown.”

“Your compassion, as usual, moves one to tears and stirs the emotion.”  He lapsed silent.  After a time he said, “Your friend, Jacques, he seems to care about you very much.”

“Is that a question?  Are you surprised someone does?”

“He seemed concerned for your safety and that you might not head for shelter.”

“Look ahead,” she said.  He did.  “What do you see?”


“How far can you see?”

“I have no idea.”

“Can you see the front of the boat?”


“Can you see past the front of the boat?”

“Not with any certainty.”

“At this speed, what do you think rocks would do to the front of the boat?  How much warning would you have?”

“I take your point.”

“Do you?  You think me arrogant and “pig-headed” as he does.  No one thinks I know what I’m doing.  No one thinks I’m good enough.”

“Who do you need to think you are good enough, Prudy?”

“Who do you?” she sneered.

(* coin counter, money lover)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Quay

“Prudence,” Jacques called above the wind, “would you like some help?”  He stood on the quay with Kurga, Ch’Voga and Ketra the former slave girl.  They watched as Prudence prepped the boat alone.  An only mildly interested, crippled old harbor pilot, who quite fortunately, had been paid in advance, sat with his daughter on their sledge in the shelter of a parasol and waited for the order to have his team of donkeys haul her back out into the wind.  A wind which had been gaining strength with each passing hour.

“Prudy,” Jacques tried again, “There is a rock formation west of here, il ya de l'espoir.  A smuggler’s cave.  No water but it should shelter you in the storm.  You can just make it but you must leave now!”

Prudence did not act as if she heard.  She tightened a rope she had tightened earlier and rearranged some baggage for the third time in an hour.  She had said nothing since ‘Scravo had banished them.  Jacques had begged her to take the matter up with the innkeepers and the elder merchants.  She had ignored him so he did it on her behalf but no one had been willing to go against the slave trader.  Maybe it was economic, maybe it was the threat of violence, but ‘Scravo’s power over them was absolute.  He had had no more luck with them than he was having assailing Prudence’s fortress of pride.  “Prudy?  Are you listening?  You have to go!”  She twanged a bowline.  “Image Porc-tête d'une femme!” he shouted at last and threw himself onto a crate, crammed a briar pipe full of tobacco and the two of them sat and smoldered.  A crowd gathered on the wall overlooking the quay.

He had reloaded the pipe three times when she announced her preparations complete by saying, “You, rat,” pointing to Ketra trying to hide amongst Ch’Voga’s robes.  “Come here.  Sit there.  Touch nothing!”  The girl seemed shocked to be chosen first.  Her walleyed face beseeched the missionary, “go child, it’ll be alright.  Do as she says.”   She crept on board, careful to keep as far from the captain as the tiny boat allowed.

“Merchant,” Prudence said next, “take your seat.”  Kurga too, stole a glance at Ch’Voga before scurrying onto the boat.

Ch’Voga seemed alone on the quay, the fuming Jacques behind him as much a part of the scenery as the ropes, timbers and cargo laying about.  Seconds passed.  Prudence would not look at him.  He stared right at her.  No gleam of pride but no shade of pleading either.  He looked as if all he was missing was a blindfold and a cigarette.

She signaled the pilot.  He shrugged, turned on his perch and whipped his burros to life.  They leaned into the traces and the boat began to slide away from the dock.  It took a long time to reach the crest where the pilot unhooked and drove his team back.  Ch’Voga watched it the whole way.  If she had hoped for him to make a scene, she was disappointed.  He remained as resolute as one of the pylons.  She in turn, made no move to raise her sail.  She climbed the mast and waited.

The pilot and his team made its slow return. Then his daughter climbed down and untied one shaggy, little burro from the traces and brought it to the missionary.  “The angry lady says you can catch up on this.”  A laugh came from high above them on the caravanserai wall.  It was followed by someone shouting.  “Look!  An ass upon an ass!”  Jeers and mocking crow-like laughter proceeded.  Some spoiled fruit was thrown.  Ch’Voga thanked the girl and mounted the donkey with as much dignity as the creature, which was obviously not used to being ridden, would allow.  It made the scene all the more hilarious to the murder on the wall.  Much to their disappointment, he did not fall off, but he was not able to gain his seat on the first try either.  Jacques came and held the reins to the jeers of the mockers.  Ch’Voga thanked him.  “Sauvegardez vos remerciements.  You can thank me by convincing her to head for those rocks.”
“Why would she not?”
“You have not much experience with the fairer sex, do you mon ami?  Convince her, any way you can.”  He let go the reins and stepped back.  When he did, the animal refused to move until the pilot's daughter kicked it.  The crows were delighted.  More laughter.  More rotten fruit.  Resigned to its fate, the hapless animal trotted out into the sand, trudging up the rise, to deliver its passenger to where Prudence waited, her robes and veils pulled tight in the howling wind.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Purchase

‘Scravo viewed the scene before him with no small amusement.  These trips were usually very straightforward, not much for him to do really.  His lieutenants could handle most proceedings.  But since this rolo santo had shown up on the cat-girl’s sandboat, it had been quite entertaining.  First the man had made a nuisance of himself, trying to give water and save the souls of the gado.  ‘Scravo’s guards had taken care of that, pushing the man out of the hospedaria walls and away from the merchandise.  He had not liked that and started shouting out archaic warnings which may have frightened ‘Scravo’s grandmother, god rest her soul, but she had been a superstitious old fool.  ‘Scravo was a man of business.  No one here paid the fool any mind so let him rail.

He had not been content to rail, however.  He had come back with money, where he had gotten such money was beyond ‘Scravo’s imagination, to say nothing of his interest.  He saw the heft of the purse and his mind did the calculations and quickly concluded it was probably enough to buy his whole slave chain.  He could conclude this trip early and head back for home and reasonable weather.  Something a lieutenant would have done.  ‘Scravo had seen bigger opportunities; he could smell a simplório a mile away.

“Ch’Voga, what have you done?” the sandboat captain was wearing a veil yet ‘Scravo swore he could hear her teeth grinding together all the same.

“I saved her,” the simplório said, clutching his scrawny purchase in a defensive manner.

“You bought a slave?”

“It was the only way.  A fair transaction.”

“How much?”  Grind, grind, grind.  ‘Scravo was laughing beneath his sunglasses, here it comes, he thought.  Was the sandboat captain the kind to hold it all in till she popped or would she kill the fool right here in a fit of rage in front of everyone.  ‘Scravo wished he had someone to bet. 

“I had to do what..”

“How much?”

“How much is a life worth?”


“All of it.”  She remained silent.  One second.  Two seconds.  Three.  She was a time bomb.  ‘Scravo would have won the bet.  He always did.  “I know you’re mad Prudy…”

“Don’t!  Don’t talk to me.  Don’t talk.  Just…don’t.”

“I had to…”

“What??!!  You had to what?!  Spend all the money we had for this trip on one measly, half-starved rat?!  Do you know what you’ve done?”

“I’ve saved her life!”  Oh this was too good, ‘Scravo thought.  Better than the soap operas back home.  Better than watching his wives fight.  The idiota was actually going to take a noble stand!

“And killed us all!  That was all the money we had!  We cannot buy the water to go home  much less continue on!  How long will she live when we’re dead?”  Oops, ‘Scravo chuckled, hadn’t thought of that, eh holy man?

 “We can live here, there is water here..”

“Do you think it is free?  There is no charity in the Sea!  Nothing is free!”

The holy man completely deflated.  He seemed to shrink to half his size till the scrawny girl in his arms appeared large in comparison.  “Prudence, I didn’t… I had to do something.  I had to save one.”

“Ch’Voga, you poor, stupid, fool,” her voice lowered and took on a false sweetness, like a snake charming a desert rat, she pronounced each word carefully, pushing them into his heart with the coldness of the serpent.  Ruthlessly cutting down the man like only a woman can, “that much money could have saved them all.”  Ah, that was the money shot.  The deflated holy man nearly collapsed as the full weight of his failure came crushing onto him.  Priceless.  ‘Scravo thought he could lose his shirt on the rest of this load and feel like the trip was totally worthwhile. 

But things started to change then.  The rebanho heard what she said and realized they too had been short changed.  They started to grumble and shift about.  The young males with some strength and pride left, always a risk, began to eye the few guards.  Then the sandboat girl, the one called Prudence, turned on ‘Scravo.

“Take her back.”  ‘Scravo told her where she could put that idea.  “Give me my money back.  It wasn’t his to play with.  You cheated him and you know it.”

“Caveat emptor, ‘rita.  He was happy with his purchase.  I am not here to please everyone.”

“Give her back, Ch’Voga.”


“GIVE’R BACK!”  At that there was a wail from the rabanho.  The child’s mother, seeing her missed opportunity to save not only her youngest daughter but her two other brats as well and now hearing none of them may be freed screeched and started crying out in her babble language.  The young turks edged closer to the guards who lowered their sharksticks and ordered them to get back.  The situation was getting out of control. 

“Enough!”  ‘Scravo bellowed.  “Colocá-los para baixo!” he ordered the guards who charged together and indiscriminately started stunning the slaves.  The herd tried to flee but they were chained to the fallen, stunned by the sticks, and so they all fell in a weeping and cursing heap of pitiful flesh.  One problem down, he turned on the sandboat cadela.  “You!  Sai fora!  Take your idiota and get out!  You are no longer welcome here!”

At that, one of the other sandboat captains, the tall half-cat called Jacques, stepped in, “Pity, Messieurs, there is a storm coming!  We all can see it.  If you send them out, you send them to their death.”

“Not my problem.  She should have thought of that before she rioted my property and called me a cheat.”  The slow burn captain-girl’s eyes blazed fury, “What a woman she must be!” thought ‘Scravo.  If he had the time to seize her and make her his tenth wife… but no.  Such a one would only look for the opportunity to slide a knife in his junco while he slept.  Still, danger was the spice… no.  She turned and stormed off and it was wiser to let her go.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Stone cries out.

““Woe to him who obtains profit from evil gain for his house,

    to set his nest on high,

    to be saved from the hand of misfortune!

You have plotted shame for your house,

    cutting off many peoples

    and sinning against your life.

For the stone will cry out from the wall,

    and the plaster from the wood will answer it.

Woe to him who builds a city by bloodguilt,

    and who founds a city by wickedness!

Look! Is it not from Yahweh of hosts

    that people labor for mere fire,

    and nations exhaust themselves for mere vanity?

For the earth will be filled

    with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh,

    like the waters covering the sea.””

The voice of Ch’Voga carried up clearly to where Prudence and Jacques were conversing on the wall.  The would-be evangelist was just outside the slave gate of the courtyard where the fleshtrader guards had shoved him when he tried to give water and a sermon to their chattel.   Prudence, rubbing her temples, bowed her head and groaned, “God save me from this zealous idiot!”

Jacques, an old friend and captain of the lovely catamaran resting next to her sandboat below the rocks, smiled a sympathetic smile.  “Really, Prudy, he was making sense till he got to the water covering sea part.  He lost me there.  Quelle imagination!”

“I have no love for the fleshpeddlers either but it does us no good to anger them.  In fact, it could do us great ill.”

“They may seek to ban you from le marché, oui.”

“If that happens I will dump his ass in the middle of the Sea and let either the Sun or the Monotooths drink him dry.  His nonsense has probably already ruined my good name with Aedlin.  Now this!”

At that moment, their conversation was interrupted by a panting Kurga stumbling up the stairs, “There you are!  Have you heard?  I fear our religious fool may have gone and done something terribly noble and utterly rash!”

“I can plainly see what he is doing with my own eyes, thank you, coin-counter.”  Kurga told her what Ch’Voga had done then and though he was no stranger to foul talk, nor naïve, he was clearly taken aback at the curses she poured forth.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


“Good Lord!  Look at them all!”  Kurga exclaimed.  The walls of the Last Caravanserai had come into view, surrounded as it were, by a great throng of people, livestock and sandboats.  “What in the world brings them all to such a remote place?”

“Trade routes,” Prudence said.

“Trade?  With whom?  They are days and leagues from the Grand Bazaar!”

“Typical Westerner.  You think you are the only people on the earth?  The silk road may bend South around the Sand sea and come back up in the East but there are many living in the North who trade with the South and see no reason to sell their wares at your dealers’ markets.  You merchants get fat on other’s labor.  They have no need of the East's luxuries and can get a fairer price for their wares if they sell direct to the consumer so they come here, through the rim of the Sea as far away from the West as they dare.  The Legion’s know, why do you think the Legions guard this godforsaken wasteland?”

“What do they trade?”

She shrugged.  “What they have.  Coal, grains, fish, smelted tools from the North.  The Southern tribes trade in some minerals but mostly produce and livestock.”

“Those people,” Ch’Voga pointed to a pathetic bunch coming into greater detail, “they’re all chained!”

“As I said, ‘livestock.’”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who saves the savior

“So to what lovely, life-threatening waypoint do you guide us now, Captain?” Kurga asked.
“The last caravanserai.”
“Sounds delightfully harrowing.  Do they call it such perhaps, because so many journeys find their terminus there?”
“They call it such because it is the last caravanserai.”
How appropriate.  And how long will it take to get there?”
“Three days.”
“Ah, I see.”  Kurga gave up trying to engage her further.  Their captain was not one to idle the hours with inane chatter.  Probably the first woman Kurga had met who wasn’t.  How fortunate for me to be trapped on a boat with her for several months, he thought.  There was no sound but the hissing of sand under the foils.  “Three days,” Kurga mused.  No one said anything.  “I don’t suppose you know any songs?”  Prudence just gave him her “bug” stare.  Ch’Voga didn’t move at all.  He had been doing nothing but stare off into the distance since he awoke and realized what had happened.  “And you Kisretti?  Will you not grace us with your melodious voice at all this stretch?”  There was no answer.  “Oh come now!  You can’t sulk the entire way!”
Prudence scoffed, a snorting sound under her veils, “Watch him.”
“Really!  Grow up!  You act as if you didn’t want anyone to save your life.  Quite ungrateful.  I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I said, perhaps you shouldn’t have,” Ch’Voga mumbled.
“Perhaps next time we will not.  For a savior, you are most unappreciative of your saviors.  I thought you wanted to be a missionary, not a martyr.  Whom will you save if you’re dead?”
“Who will be saved if I run away in the middle of the night?  What will the Emperor think of Yeshua’s followers now?  The well of living water is poisoned.”
“I've no idea what their well has to do with it but maybeit he will believe Yeshua's witnesses are smart enough to know when they are not wanted.”
“The Emperor did want me there.  He was eager to learn!”
“Precisely why the Vizier did not want you there!  Honestly, Ch’Voga, this is not that hard to understand.  For the Emperor to turn his ears toward you, he has to turn them away from some one else.”
“Politics!” Ch’Voga spat.  “Idiots!  Squabbling over the temporal and ignoring the eternal!  It is more than stupid, it is immoral!”
“Yet to their eyes you are a thief whose come to steal their power.  Which makes you the immoral one.”
“Ridiculous!  I only wish to teach, not rule through another!”
“Do you?” Prudence asked.
“What?”  Ch’Voga asked, surprised by this opening of a new front.
“Do you “only wish to teach”?”
“What are you implying?”
“Did you proselytize the wharfmaster?  Did you witness to Khop the Steward or any of the guards or servants of the citadel?”
“Opportunity.  I would speak with anyone regardless of their station.”
“Of course you would.  Did you like him?”
“Who?  Khop?”
“The child.”
“Of course I liked him.  He was innocent and earnest and endearing and horribly overwhelmed.  What of it?  What are you getting at woman?”
“My mind and its thoughts are my own.”  With this she fell silent and Ch’Voga turned again to face away from her.  Kurga felt they had pummeled the poor, naïve evangelist enough and let it lay.  He was nearly lulled into a midday nap when Ch’Voga spoke again.
“I said, they are the same you know.”
“What are?”
“Do you know the ancient word for ‘witness’?  The one used in the Scriptures?”
“I confess I have no idea.” Kurga yawned, not really wanting a lesson in linguistics or theology.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Leaving so soon?

Bha’ar sat in a boat outside the citadel watching.  Half panthera, her golden eyes caught the movement first.  “There,” she directed the boatman, a peasant merchant she had used before on similar missions.  He had the exact qualities minor participants in palace subterfuge require: a lack of curiosity and no tongue.  She guided them in until they were directly under the citadel window where a basket on a slim cord slipped like an eloping spider’s traveling bundle.  Together they brought the wicker hamper onto the floor of the skiff and untied it.  The cord snuck back up like some frightened living thing and they too were away as if their lives depended on not being seen.  Which they did. 

The city gates had too many eyes to bribe so they headed for the rice paddies.  The boatman stuck to the side of the lake being devoured by the dunes.  These towers were scarcely manned anymore and the cattails might hide them from those that remained and more importantly, from the guard in the Citadel’s spire.  He was supposedly taken care of but Bha’ar had survived this deadly game for as long as she had precisely because she did not take things for granted.

They reached the paddies.  The boatman helped her get the basket to the dyke and then melted into the darkness.  She waited alone with her cargo for a long while.  She didn’t like letting her contacts know about each other, much less meet.  It was bad enough the boatman knew she had people helping inside the Citadel.  She was startled at one point when something large flew out of the night and landed upon the handle of the hamper.  “Oh,” she said to Khop’s jackal buzzard familiar, “it’s you.  Come to gather a report for your master?  Sorry, I’m not committing anything to paper this time.”  The bird gave her an unblinking eye for a moment and then took to preening itself.  She took that as a good sign.  If it was unconcerned, then there must be no one about.

Maybe an hour before dawn the bird raised its head and stared off into the night.  It took off on silent wings and a few minutes later a large cart rolled into view.  She and the carter loaded the basket with nothing passing between them but a bag of coins.  Another veteran, he knew the drill.  The high duties levied upon all imported goods to the Empire meant there was a thriving blackmarket smuggling business so this part of the journey was so straight forward she would not even oversee the process.  The carter would take the hamper to the wharf.  There it would be loaded onto a camel, which would then take it over the high dunes and out of sight where the Holy man’s companions, the Logistics man and the skiff-captain, were told to wait in a message delivered by Khop’s buzzard.  If all went well, they would receive their sedated friend in the basket before he even awoke.  If it didn’t go well… well, she really didn’t like entertaining worst-case scenarios but Savoy the Eminent liked hangings.  Particularly when the victim was alive, upside down and slightly dissected so the ravens and buzzards could pick at their intestines and all could hear the screams of those who crossed him.