I’m Back!

It’s been a few weeks but we’re finally settling in and I am back! Sorry for the wait. Here’s a little snippet.

“Sebastian woke panting from a restless dream and propped himself upon his elbow. He swore that a flickering shadow flitted out of the corner of eye, but when his gaze tried to follow the shadow Sebastian found that it was already gone. The rogue rubbed his eyes as they and his ears adjusted to consciousness and struggled to make sense of waking life.

Kahina drew back the fold of the tent and entered as Sebastian sat up and yawned. Light peeked through the flaps of the tent and made him squint while he waved a greeting to the sorceress.

In her hands were a basket of bread and a silvery kettle, steaming hot and sporting a long, elegantly curved spout which arched outwards from the base and rose to the throat of the pot.

Kahina set down the basket of bread and poured from the kettle into a pair of cups. Sebastian watched in fascination as he dipped the bread in oil and ate it, chewing through a night-dried mouth.

The golden liquid stretched and narrowed into a thin stream as she raised the pot higher and higher until it was nearly two feet from the cup she was pouring into, creating a rich foamy layer on top of the beverage which released aromas of sweet, fragrant mint and calming green tea.

Sebastian took the cup that Kahina handed him and drank from it. His insides relaxed as the fresh, sugary liquid filled his mouth and washed down the clinging bread. The rogue sighed after he swallowed and took a deep breath.

“That tastes amazing,” he said. “I think that’s the best tea anyone has ever made me.”

Kahina smiled in a way that touched her eyes and waved a dismissive gesture with her fingers facing downward as she poured a second glass for herself.

“My grandfather would have done better,” she told him. “I tried my best to learn from him but I am not as skilled at judging the tea. Though I will say, it is easier when you have quality ingredients.”

Sebastian shrugged and finished his cup before setting it down and looking out from the tent to the waving plants in the morning breeze.

“Maybe he would have, but I think yours would taste better to me, if only because you were the one who made it,” Sebastian said.

She blushed, but Sebastian was too preoccupied with his drink to notice and only lit up when she poured him another glass. It was enough, for now, to distract him from the sense of anxiety in his heart that he hadn’t been able to shake.

The train began to move again after breakfast was finished and Sebastian and Kahina sat in the lead carriage and chatted as they watched the land move by. It grew drier as they moved away from the coast but the land was green and grassy and was an agricultural center for the nation.

She could tell that something was on his mind, but Kahina figured that Sebastian was just excited to finally be in Voliban. If she was honest, she was feeling rather livened herself. The old imperial city had been a great hub for trade even centuries ago, traders from as far as the emerald Khanate of the west and Barbarian raiders from far to the south met and bartered there.

The sun edged onward into the sky and turned shadow into light. Soon she and Sebastian were shielding themselves from the sun and lounging against the wooden boards of the carriage.

Kahina rested her chin on the back of her intertwined hands and stared outside while Sebastian napped. The afternoon sun was making her sleepy as well, but the sorceress was determined to see the city first–And then it came.

Against the farmer’s fields and grassy rolling earth, trees appeared.

Voliban lay upon the banks of the river Sud and rose like a monolithic testament to the might and culture of the pre-Romal imperial dynasty. The walls of the city were a ruddy, earthen tint and sat on the slopes of an ancient hill.

Soon the road twisted and met the river and followed along its banks and Sebastian woke from his slumber as the road became paved and their ride rough…”

A day in the market.

The rogue looked at the money he had left, and thought it over to himself. The parade would be tomorrow, but the partying would start tonight.
He rolled out of bed and leapt to his feet. “Well then, let’s go have some fun!”

First, they would need some costumes. In the market everyone was selling like mad; there were colorful outfits, both audacious and elegant, harlequin masks, and innumerable trinkets and adornments everywhere they looked.
Sebastian had his eye on a thin purple green and ochre cloak and thought it would fit wonderfully.
“Seventy dinars! The finest silk from the east, premium quality and dyes that will never fade!” promised the merchant, who had many buyers crowded around him.
He bristled at the price, but Kahina was no novice to a bargain.
“Seventy dinars!?” she exclaimed. “Fah! I would pay no more than twenty for such work.”
The merchant put on an offended show and spoke back at the woman. “Twenty!? Miss, have you no eye for quality? Even sixty-five would be too low, I have paid top dollar for these goods!”
She scoffed and waved her hand dismissively. “Then you have paid too much!” Kahina held up the garment that the crowd might see and showed it to the merchant. “This ochre is made from Lutite clay! It is so cheap that I could buy a barrelful for less than a meal! I know this, for it is so common in the desert that nobody will trade in it. And this silk? You say it is so fine, but you would not find even a Budaran pauper in such low-quality fabric. Look at the stitching! I give it three washes and the seam will break.” As if to emphasize her statement, she pulled upon the cloak and stretched the stitches, making the merchant balk.
The crowd chattered excitedly and the merchant was quickly being backed into a corner.
“What would you suggest ma’am?” he whispered to her. But Kahina did not lower her voice.
“In all honesty I would not buy this at all! But my companion has poorer taste than I, and he seems to like it. I stand by my offer, twenty dinar.”
“Ma’am, have mercy please. I have a family to feed! I could not go lower than fifty-five,” the merchant returned.
“Just look at this silk! The weave is so rough it had might as well be cotton. Twenty-five dinar, at the most!” she counter-offered.
“If I sell it to you for that I will have no money left to buy replenish my stock! Perhaps forty?”
Kahina looked at Sebastian as though she were deliberating on it quite hard, then gave a reluctant sigh.
“I tell you what, my companion seems to like it, and we are generous and do not wish to put you out of business. Throw in that matching dress and we will pay you sixty-five dinar for the both!”
The merchant reluctantly looked at the dress she pointed to and sighed. “Sixty-five then, for both,” he agreed.
Kahina took the two garments triumphantly and beckoned to Sebastian with a lone finger.
“Pay the man,” she said. Then she smiled like a deceptive child at the rogue.
Sebastian di Lucca paid what was agreed and left feeling astounded with two silk outfits.
“And here I was thinking I was the thief,” he muttered.

Tale of the lost kingdom.

Kahina took a deep breath and fell into her tale.

“The land was once ruled by King Ben’eshmoun. It was a time blessed by the heavens. The King was benevolent and good and to him were gifted three sons. The youngest son, Hannibal, was a wise prince and student of sorcery, but the elder brothers were forever rivals, and their minds thought only of war.

When Ben’eshmoun passed away the older sons split the kingdom, and thus a civil war began.
The land was devastated from years of fighting. The foolish brothers had salted the earth and destroyed one another so fully that the kingdom ceased to exist but for the capital cities of the warring Princes.
Meanwhile Prince Hannibal remained unaware of this, for he had retreated to the desert when his father died, and lived as a hermit, studying the arcane arts.
When news of the destruction reached the prince’s ears he fasted for three months in the heart of the desert and communed with the spirits. And he achieved what was thought to be impossible.
Hannibal had captured the heart of a mighty djinn, the queen of the Marid, and bent it to him. With the heart in his possession he could work true sorcery, not the chamber magic of the Magi today, but great and terrible magic.
The sorcerer prince wove a mighty spell and rent the earth, destroying the cities of his brothers and swallowing them into the abyss.

From the survivors of their two cities King Hannibal gathered the most worthy and led them into the sandy wastes.

There in the desert, where once nothing had grown, a great lake appeared, and the earth became lush and fertile. It was at this oasis that King Hannibal built his kingdom of Iram, where he ruled for centuries.

But while the gods are slow to anger, they are quick to pass judgment. In their fury at his actions they tried to destroy him, but no matter what calamity they summoned, his might was great and he repelled even the gods. But no man, not even the mighty Magi king, is invulnerable.

Hannibal eventually lost the heart and was rendered mortal once again; and the gods, seeing their opportunity at last, combined their powers and overcame the king and sunk his nation into the earth.
I know where the final resting place of Iram is… for I am the last descendant of King Hannibal.”

Sebastian and Hanno sat dumbfounded after Kahina completed her story and said nothing for a time.
“Yep, she is definitely crazy,” Hanno said, then he brushed his pants off and went to brew some tea. “I want nothing to do with it.”
“Agreed,” said Sebastian, and he stood to join his friend.