He entered the tent and took in the scene. Phinehas sat like a toad on his divan, jeweled warts sparkling in the lamp light. The cloying stench of incense nearly made him sneeze and the brothel/bilge/stable smell of the docks where his days were consigned was a fresh breeze by comparison. Phinehas had guests he saw through the smoke haze and darkness, a young girl and her hulking Panthera Tigra bodyguard. “You called for me, Master?”
“Ah, Kurga! Here you are, and not a moment too punctual. I’ve nearly exhausted my anecdotes of the Sand Sea trying to entertain our guests in your lassitude. Sit!” Kurga sat where he was, right on the floor, knowing he would not be offered a chair. “These lovely people have some questions for you, you will be polite.” The usual threat of violence if he failed to be ‘polite’ was left off, probably for the delicate company’s sake.
“How may I be of service to my Lord’s guests?” He did not look at them. He only looked at the table, eye level before him and its bounty of foods and glistening crystal glasses of cool wine.
The bodyguard spoke, “Are you the Kurga who accompanied Ch’Voga on his missionary journey into the Sand Sea in the cycle of Aven in the time of T’wend?”
An invisible fist squeezed Kurga’s heart at the mention of Ch’Voga’s name. “Yes.”
“Would you be willing to guide a second expedition as far as the caravanserai where he purchased Ketra the slave girl?”
“Ha!” Phinehas barked. “It is most fortunate for you that he is my property and you cannot have the ill fate of being led on an expedition arranged by this son of a motherless goat! All who trusted in him before lie with the ancestors a’waiting their turn to whip him in hell! And the lucre put in his porous paws found its way to other’s coffers and this leaky vessel was foolish enough to return destitute and begging for mercy! Mercy?! The only mercy here is for you my esteemed guests as I will not release him to be your executioners as well.”
There was a whispered conversation between the girl and the bodyguard. “How much?” the bodyguard then asked.
“Ten lifetimes would not be enough to pay me back!”
These people spoke Phinehas’ language. The merchant was stunned. He had expected them to haggle and had set his first price far above his actual asking price. They had countered by quadrupling his wildest expectations. Robbed of any basis for further negotiating, the deal was set. Kurga should have laughed. Phinehas who had just come into a king’s ransom could not enjoy any of it for wondering how much more he could have had. Two things checked Kurga’s mirth however.
One was the shock. It was a king’s ransom! And it had been paid for him! Why? He was nothing but a disgruntled slave and a failed businessman. All his schemes, all his plans, all his designs had led him to a lifetime of servitude to a tyrant with no chance or hope of freedom save in death. And now he walked out of the tent into the light of the brilliant sunshine for the first time as a free man! It was madness! Who would do such a thing? Who was this girl?
And that was the second thing; the eyes of the girl. They were eerie, chilling as clear blue ice, older than a glacier yet as new as last night’s frost.
And they were fixed on him. The bodyguard led them to an outdoor café where Kurga was treated to the first meal he had eaten which was not rice and muddy water in longer than he could remember. He temporarily forgot the girl’s eyes while he made an ass of himself stuffing his face. He was ashamed of himself but not enough to quell a burp after polishing off thirds. The bodyguard had eaten nothing but vegetables (how does one get so big on vegetables?) and the girl had eaten nothing, merely sipping her tomato juice through a straw. He looked at her closer, around the eyes the dark brown fur said she was Eastern, Mwang-Tai. He should know. He’d seen enough of them when Jacques and he finally made it across the Sea, but there was something different about her. Something that also made her look old, older than the hills in a body that obviously marked her as late teens. Her direct stare for instance.
“Who are you?” he asked wiping his mouth on his filthy sleeve.
“I am Amisbhake,” the bodyguard introduced himself, “servant of Chofa, the Viceroy most high and guardian keeper of the Paschimi Goh’cranna. This.. is Ch’Loi.”