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.

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