The entourage that had accompanied the Egyptian merchant to Susa spread itself throughout the taverns and accommodations of the city. The many drinking spots were filled to capacity, and the alcohol ran freely for the travellers deprived during the difficult trek across the desert.
Amurdad’s Bounty lay at the South Gate of Susa, and was the most popular tavern for those with refined tastes. The street had a slow trickle of people through it. A trio of cloaked figures stood against a wall facing at the front door of the tavern, which was guarded by large stonework griffins to each side and a Faravahar above. The outer figures had their hoods half-way back, showing their faces. The one in the centre hid their face, the hood turning to look between the carved animals and nodding at the impeccable skill of their creators.
The central figure stepped forward, and then turned to face the other two. The soft yet commanding voice that came forth was rough, yet unmistakably feminine.
“So, Heydar and Kadir. You both have your orders. Tell me what they are.”
The man to her left spoke first. “Yes, Lady Sayeh…”
“Do not use that name, Heydar! The name is known, and we will not escape should it be heard.” Sayeh cleared her throat, and the voice that came forth was masculine. “I am Sayyid, one of the apprentices in your more recent deliveries.”
Heydar shook his head with a bemused look. “I have always wondered how you learned to change your voice so convincingly. The only other complete change of voice I know of is Kadir’s after too many fine wines.”
The other man’s right arm lashed out, punching Heydar in the shoulder. “And yet I still beat you within an inch of your worthless life every time you make that joke. Do not think the change of location will excuse you.”
Before he could register the movement, Sayeh was directly in front of Kadir with a dagger placed across his throat. “If your idiocy costs us dearly, the tortures I will exact upon you will make you wish your father never had dirty thoughts involving your mother. You will do as you have been ordered. Am I clear?”
Kadir’s wide eyes looked under the hood of the cloak, trying to see the expression on her face. The deepness of the cloak’s hood ensured it could not be seen. He nodded quickly, as much as the blade allowed him. A quick flick of her wrist shaved some skin from the spot, enough to make it red and tender but not bleed.
The blade disappeared up her sleeve. “Now, what are your orders?”
Heydar spoke. “We are to keep our wits about us, and our ears open. There are three men here who are part of Babafemi’s most trusted guard, under the watch of the team’s senior members.
The hood of Sayeh’s cloak nodded, and turned to regard the other man. “And what else, Kadir?”
The sullen man scratched at the grazed area of his throat. “We are to endear ourselves to them as much as possible, and try to join the caravan on its ride back to Alexandria.”
Their leader nodded again. “I will spend some time in the next few days seeking some worthwhile goods to convince them of our story. You will mention the errands you will have me running to collect your wares, so suspicion will be lessened. They may drop some hints on good suppliers if they are drunk enough.”
The two men laughed as they looked to each other, though they glared slightly at each other. The pair sparred often, both verbally and physically, with a level of animosity that bordered on unhealthy. Sayeh had always been able to keep them in check, using her own ability to humble them in combat.
Kadir considered his leader. “I doubt you will be able to keep your hood up while you are in here, Sayyid.”
“You are right.” Sayeh reached inside her cloak, pulling out a thin wooden mask. Delicately carved symbols ran around its edges. She placed it under her hood, and softly spoke some words not audible to the two men. After several seconds, she removed her empty hand from under the hood.
Heydar looked to the other man, shaking his head. “You know of our lady’s magic mask, Kadir. You are not that forgetful.”
Sayeh reached up to throw back the hood. As it fell, the two men looked upon the face of an unremarkable man. Her hair had been braided up into a shorter ponytail, in order to not look feminine enough to attract suspicious looks.
Kadir’s eyes boggled again. “You have a truly amazing artifact. They would be very useful.”
She reached inside her cloak again, and showed the top edges of two more. “You will not need yours yet. Until you do, I shall keep them safe.”
The two men looked disappointed at not being able to receive their own masks, but shrugged it off quickly. They threw back their own hoods completely. The pair looked less like a bunch of ruffians, having cleaned up their hair and beards earlier in the day to ensure they would be presentable at an upstanding establishment.
The non-descript man looked to Heydar and Kadir. “Well, boys. Let’s go and talk our way into a caravan to Alexandria.”
Kadir nodded. “Yes, my lady.”
Sayeh rolled her eyes at the slip of his tongue, and cuffed the side of his head. They composed themselves, and then pushed open the doors of the tavern.
– X –