Webcomics and Stories
Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien
Medb and Sahr (working title)
Updated: January 17, 2009
Current word count: 5,900
This low fantasy / sword and sorcery short story takes place in the Dreamlands, in a region H. P. Lovecraft modelled after the Arabian Nights. It was inspired by a drawing published in issue 13 of Weirdbook (pg. 74, 1978).
Medb hErenn battled to regain consciousness, but it felt like struggling to escape a mud bog. The harder she fought, the deeper she seemed to sink, and the more difficult it became to keep going. She knew that she had to wake up, and soon, but she could not remember why. She just had a sense or urgency, as if her life depended on it, yet despite this, she could not make any headway.
Then she felt drops of water fall on her cheeks, her lips, and her eyelashes, and she felt something cool and wet laid on her forehead with a gentle touch. With preternatural effort, she forced herself awake in an instant; she sat bolt upright and seized the wrists of her caregiver as a soaked rag fell into her lap.
Beside her squatted a young girl. She was in that middle ground between adolescence and full adulthood, with a slim figure and elfin, conical, erect breasts. Her face was round and soft, her smooth skin a light ivory color, and her long billowing hair a rich chestnut brown. She had a stately beauty that could not be marred even by the muck, filth, and grime that covered her body.
She was also naked, and at the same time Medb realized that she, too, was nude.
The startled girl stared at the former queen with wide, fear-filled eyes and she tried to pull free. Medb's grasp was too strong to break, but she released the girl as soon as she realized she was no threat.
"I am sorry," she said in a soothing tone, as she tossed the rag away. "Do not be afraid, I will not hurt you."
The girl recovered her composure. "Are you all right?"
Medb held her head for a moment. Waking up that fast took power, and she felt a trifle weak. "I believe so," she said. She tried to stand up, but found herself restrained in some fashion. When she examined her arms she discovered that both her wrists were manacled and that she was chained to a wall.
Continue Part I
"What is this place?" she demanded, looking around. The dome-shaped chamber was fairly large and constructed from blocks of rough stone. There were no doors or windows, and the only illumination came from sunlight flooding down through an opening in the peak of the ceiling. But she did see a number of small openings about two-thirds of the way up, spaced evenly around the circumference.
"It's a slave-pit in Khwarezm," the girl replied in a grim manner. Indeed, Medb saw they were not alone. Scattered around the chamber were a dozen other women. They were of varying heights, skin and hair color, and body builds, but they all shared three things in common: they were young, beautiful, and naked. But only she seemed to be restrained.
Medb wrinkled her nose in distaste as a foul smell assailed her. "What is that stench?"
The girl pivoted on the balls of her feet and pointed to the wall behind her. At one point where it intersected the floor, Medb could see a brick-lipped hole. "It's a drain that leads to the sewer under the city," she explained. "This was originally built as a garbage pit."
That made sense based on what she could see of the chamber's construction. Refuse and other waste was probably dumped down the opening in the ceiling to collect over time until the monsoon season. Then rain water would be diverted into the chamber through the openings to wash the accumulated debris out through the drain and into the sewer beyond.
"Are you thirsty?" the girl asked her with obvious concern.
Medb swallowed out of reflex, and it felt as if her throat was stuffed with cotton. "Yes."
Smiling, the girl stood and walked over to a barrel that hung from an iron hook set into the ceiling. A ladle dangled from one of the chains, and the girl took hold of it and dipped it inside. Turning, she then walked back to the former queen, careful not to spill a drop. She knelt and gave the ladle to Medb, and she gulped its contents, thankful that the water was clean, fresh, and cool.
Handing the ladle back to the girl, Medb said, "Thank you." Then she added, "What is your name?"
"Sahr’azad," the girl replied as she took the ladle back to the barrel, "but my friends call me Sahr."
Recollection hit Medb like a physical blow. "Your father hired me to find you and return you to him."
Sahr replied with a wry smile, "Well, you accomplished the first task handedly enough, but it remains to be seen how well you'll complete the second."
Annoyed, Medb gave her an unpleasant look, but Sahr was right, she had been very foolish to let herself get captured. Her only excuse was that she had been complacent, trusting in her invulnerability while disregarding the ways others could circumvent it.
Her only reply, however, was to grasp the chain links nearest the manacles and say aloud, "Meirc." Sahr frowned and gave Medb an odd look when she heard the muted crackle of a static electrical discharge and wrinkled her nose at the whiff of ozone. As Medb relaxed her grip, the chains fell away from the manacles amidst a cloud of rust particles, and she grinned at the look of pure astonishment on the girl's face.
Medb stood, and began stretching her limbs, shoulders, and back, trying to work the kinks out of her muscles. The other women watched her with interest, but they did not stir from their resigned languidness. Medb realized that hope was something they had learned not to cultivate in the slave-pit.
Sahr was not so far gone. "You can work magic!" she declared in an excited tone. "Can you get us out?"
Medb looked down at the girl. She was surprised at how short she was. If she embraced her, she'd bury Sahr's face in her breasts. Which under different circumstances could have been a pleasant experience, but now was neither the time nor place, and the girl was too young to interest her in any event.
Before answering her, Medb walked into the shaft of sunlight and looked up at the opening. It was half again her height above her head, and opened onto a tunnel that stretched several stories straight up through solid rock, before coming to a grate that closed off the mouth. She could reach the base of the shaft if she stood on another's shoulders, but it looked too smooth for her to climb, and then there was the grate to consider even if she could manage it. Morgiana probably could do it, she reflected, and for a brief moment she wished the thief had been captured with her. But then she realized she almost certainly would not have been strong enough to shift the gate.
"The slavers lowered you down through there, then one followed to chain you to the wall," Sahr explained. "They deliver our food and water the same way."
"Where does it lead to?"
"The courtyard of a villa on the outskirts of the city. It's surrounded by a high wall patrolled by guards, and portaled by a wooden gate a few inches thick, reinforced with iron."
"I have friends on the outside who will be looking for me," Medb announced. "They can rescue us, but they won't try to break into the compound. The question is, then, do we wait for them to find another way to get to us, or do we find our own way out?"
"We can't get out on our own," Sahr said, shaking her head, "but whatever your friends plan to do, they had better hurry. The slavers' ship is returning sometime today. When it does, we'll be taken up, cleaned off, and sent upriver to the market in Sinara, to be sold to the chiefs of the Liranian Desert."
"Damnaigh," Medb swore. "Then we have to get out now, on our own, and try to meet my friends in the city."
A titter of suppressed laughter swept through the other women, which prompted Medb to glare at them. "There is no way out," Sahr responded. She sounded dejected, but firm.
Medb ignored her as she went over to the drain. As she expected, it was not covered and it was big enough for her and the rest of the captives to get through.
"On the contrary," she replied, grinning in triumph, "the slavers left us a back door."
"The sewer?!" Sahr shrieked. "You must be mad! There're bound to be wamps, and worse. We'd never make it!"
Medb gave her a sinister chuckled. "I can handle wamps. As for 'worse', we shall just have to wait and see."
"It's too dangerous," Sahr pressed.
"Medb turned to scan the pit. "Anyone who wishes may come with me," she announced. "If you choose to stay, be assured, I will come back to release you all." The other women ignored her, but Medb did not expect a response.
Looking at Sahr, Medb said, "Will you brave the dangers with me, or do you wish to remain?" Sahr just stared at her dumbfounded and backed away.
Shrugging, Medb replied, "Suit yourself." Turning back to the drain, she looked down into it. She could not see its bottom, but she had to take the chance. Taking a deep breath, she stepped off the edge into the darkness. Fortunately, she fell a distance of only twice her height; unfortunately, she landed in something gooey and noxious, that stank like feces. Grimacing, she just then realized where the captives must have disposed of their bodily wastes.
Looking back up, she saw Sahr looking down for her, an anxious expression on her face.
"I am all right; it is not very deep. I will return as soon as I can." The girl said nothing.
The little light that penetrated to the bottom of the drain barely illuminated the opening of a tunnel shaft that plunged into darkness through the bedrock. Medb took a few tentative steps forward, and almost sipped. The tunnel sloped downward at a steep angle, and the floor was covered with a thick coating of slime. However, the path was not very wide, and its edges were bare rock. By placing her feet on either side and bracing herself against the walls with her hands, she was able to negotiate her way down in a careful, if slow, manner.
By her reckoning, it took her close to an hour to arrive at the bottom. Most of that time was spent in total darkness, but as she got closer she began to discern a weak glow far ahead. Her eyes soon adjusted, and by the time she stepped out onto a small ledge, she could see as well as in dim twilight.
The shaft had opened up into a larger flattened oval tunnel carved from the living rock. It was half-filled with a dark liquid that flowed from right to left. The glow came from patches of slime that covered the ceiling of the tunnel. The putrid reek of decayed flesh, human and animal waste, and rotting garbage was so intense it made her choke, much to her surprise; she expected her stomach to be stronger than that. At least she did not add to it by vomiting. The stink was in fact so strong it hung in the air like a cloying miasma, clinging to anything it came into contact with, like a mass of tenacious cobwebs.
She stood on a short shelf that overhung the tunnel. She could see no ledge or path cut into the tunnel, which meant that she would have to climb into the sewage itself to make her way upstream. Assuming it wouldn't eat her flesh to the bone. The problem was, there was only one way to find out. Kneeling, she carefully dipped her hand into the liquid. It was lukewarm and left a thin coating of slime on her skin, but she was relieved to discover that it was still just water.
From far up the tunnel she heard a faint surprised yelp, followed by a long, drawn-out scream that rapidly increased in volume. As Medb turned around, Sahr shot out the tunnel on her backside, but the former queen managed to catch her before she slipped off the shelf into the sewer. The girl clung to Medb's arm, panting in fright, but then she gulped, gagged, and threw herself onto her stomach and over to the edge just before she began retching. Medb held her hips for the moments it took her stomach to empty, then the few minutes of dry heaves that followed, until Sahr collapsed from exhaustion.
"What are you doing here?" she asked when the girl rolled over onto her back.
"The slavers came to collect us," she gasped out. "I realized then that I would rather die than live as a slave, especially as some man's whore. I tried to convince the others, but they wouldn't listen. So before the slavers could reach us I jumped into the drain." She then giggled with mild hysteria. "I'm afraid I slipped when I entered the tunnel."
"It would have been more sensible to stay with the others," Medb admonished in a stern voice. "Even life as a bondmaid is better than death."
Sitting up, Sahr demanded, piqued, "Then why are you here?"
With a straight face, Medb replied, "Someone has to try to rescue you and the others, and I have the best chance."
She stood then, and held out her hand to help Sahr regain her feet. As she pulled the girl to standing, she remarked, "Well, you cannot go back the way you came, so you might as well come with me."
Medb pointed upstream. "The sewage is flowing from that direction, so the city must be that way. My friends should intercept us somewhere along the way."
Dubious, Sahr eyed the tunnel. "There's nowhere to walk," she reported.
"Of course there is," Medb declared in an impatient tone, and before Sahr could object she sat down on the shelf, dropped her legs into the water, then eased off until her feet touched bottom. She then waded out into the middle. She grimaced as she stepped into a thick layer of viscous muck that had settled to the bottom. The water level rose the farther she went, but when she finally reached the middle it was no higher than about mid-way up her thighs.
She turned and said, "Come on in, the water is fine."
Sahr shook her head. "It's filthy, and probably disease-ridden."
"You are welcome to remain there if you wish, but I and my friends will not be coming back this way."
Sahr hesitated; she hugged herself and trembled, obviously afraid, but finally she imitated Medb and entered the water, apparently more fearful of being left behind. She waded out to her, but suddenly stopped when she reached the muck.
"Come on, we do not have all day."
"There could be anything in that goo!" she shrieked, horrified.
"No, nothing can live in this level of sewage, except disease, and as long we do not cut ourselves we should be safe from even that. Now, we are wasting time, we must be off."
Sahr gritted her teeth and came the rest of the way out to Medb. She looked like she would be sick again, but she managed to control herself by the time she came abreast of the former queen. Being shorter than her, the water level came up to just under her hips.
The two women started off upstream without another word. They had only gone a short distance, though, when Sahr said, "You seem well versed in magic."
Grinning, Medb replied, "I have some talent, yes."
"You also appear fairly strong," the girl added, and Medb realized she must have been taller and more massive than any other woman Sahr had seen before.
"If you have a point to make," Medb responded with mild irritation, "please make it soon."
"I was just wondering how the slavers could capture someone like you?"
"Fair question," Medb said in a tight voice. "I was careless. I did not believe it was possible for anyone to get the better of me by physical or magical means, but I did not consider the possibility that someone could outsmart me." She sighed then, as if finally conceding that prospect to herself.
In a more even voice she continued: "I was in a tavern, asking questions about you. I had by then been in the city for a week, trying to track you down, and I had just learned that you had disappeared. I also heard through one of my companions that the slavers in the city had acquired a valuable new commodity at around the same time. It seemed reasonable that they were referring to you, so I came up with a plan. It was my intention to draw attention to myself, in the hope that an informant might turn on the slavers for a hefty reward and lead me to them. Alternatively, I hoped they might try to silence me, which would allow me to capture one of them. In either event, it would then be a simple matter for me to persuade someone to tell me where you were being held, so I could rescue you."
Medb sighed again. "My plan worked better than I had hoped. A merchant approached me and offered to buy me a drink. He pretended he wanted to negotiate for my services as his bedmate, but when we were alone he claimed to know of the slavers and their activities. The last thing I remember was feeling drowsy during our conversation, then I awoke in the slave pit." Grimacing, she added, "He must have drugged me somehow. I would like to find out what he used; normally that kind of thing cannot affect me."
"I'm sorry you got involved in this."
The sincere regret in the girl's voice caught Medb off guard. "How did you come to be taken?" she asked.
Sahr made a disgusted face. "By being stupid," she replied in an angry tone, though at herself, not Medb.
Medb smiled, feeling better about her own foolishness having a kindred spirit. "How so?" she inquired.
"My father had arranged my marriage to the son of the Khalifah of Rayy, a rival city, to cement an alliance. I had no desire to marry him, so I ran away to avoid it. I fled here, to obtain passage to Celephais, but I was betrayed to the slavers."
"Probably in the same way I was," Medb said. Then she asked, "What was wrong with the prince?"
"Nothing I know of. I was told he was young, strong, brave, and very handsome."
"Sounds like he would make a fine husband."
"But that's just the point; I know nothing about him. I had never met him, I wouldn't meet him until the betrothal ceremony. I have no idea what kind of a man he really is."
"Do you believe your family would lie to you?"
"No, not exactly, but my father wants this marriage so badly he could have instructed the Khalifah's ambassadors to exaggerate the Prince's virtues."
"Then I do not see the problem. No man ever lives up to his reputation. Provided he is not the complete opposite of his description, you should have few regrets."
"But I don't love him."
"Why should that matter? I did not love any of the men I married; to me, they were simply possessions, meant to increase my wealth and power. But I did lust after each and every one, and I enjoyed my nights with them immensely. Could you enjoy him as well?"
"Well, yes, I suppose, if he's everything he's suppose to be." Then she gave her head a furious shake. "But that's not the issue!" she spat.
"Then explain what is."
"I resented being treated like chattel, to be gifted to whomever could offer my father the best advantage. I mean, he didn't even ask me, he just told me, as if my feelings didn't matter at all. I might have been willing, if the Prince came and made the offer myself, but to simply be told I now belong to some stranger, like I was a slave bought and paid for, was unbearable."
Now that made sense, Medb thought. Aloud she said, "I see your point. Where I come from, women may marry whom they choose, and they cannot be forced to marry against their will, not even by their fathers. They also set the conditions for the betrothal and they set the bride-price that the men had to pay."
"Then . . . you understand!" Sahr said, at once astonished and hopeful.
"I understand, yes, but I also understand that other cultures have different customs, so while I can sympathize with your plight, I have no right to usurp your father's authority in this matter."
"I suppose he paid you well for your service," she countered in a bitter voice.
"Yes, but I received only a third of my fee. I will receive the rest when I deliver you safely."
Sahr brightened as an opportunity presented itself. "What if I were to pay you triple what he owes you to escort me to Celephais instead?"
Medb grunted, but with a humorous tone. "With what?"
Eager, she replied, "I brought jewelry with me —"
"Which would have been taken from you when you were captured."
"Only a few samples. The rest is in safekeeping with friends."
"And if it was these 'friends' that betrayed you?"
"Then I have more friends in Celephais who will reward you handsomely for bringing me to them," she pressed.
But Medb shook her head. "I pledged my word to your father, and I never break my oaths. Besides, running away will not solve your problems."
"Even when those problems are unsolvable otherwise?" she asked in a dejected manner.
"An arranged marriage is hardly an insurmountable problem; there are always options."
"But I did not run away because of that."
"You gave me the impression you didn't want this marriage, that you were trying to avoid it."
"I am, but not because of my resentment. I would have gone through with it anyways."
"Then I do not understand what the problem really is."
Sahr looked away, but before she did Medb could see her face twisting as she debated with herself over what to say. Finally, she said, "I'm in love with someone else."
"I still fail to see the problem."
"I cannot marry the Prince if I love someone else!"
"What difference does that make? Take him as a lover; your marriage should be no bar, provided you are discrete. I always had at least one man in the shadow of another, even when I was married, but I made sure all my men were free of jealousy."
"Our religion forbids adultery."
"Would your husband have a harem?"
"He is permitted up to a dozen concubines."
"Then I fail to see why you would not be permitted to have a lover or two, if you wanted them. Do you think this prince would object?"
"I don't know. But wouldn't any man?"
"If you do not object to sharing him with other women, why should he object to sharing you with another man, as long as he knows your children are his?"
"It doesn't matter whether I approve or not. Our culture —"
"Damnaigh! Culture is irrelevant. What is important is having the maturity to handle your marriage well, to deal with your spouse on equal terms, to be willing to compromise as needed, and to work together for your common good. Above all, it means respecting each other and making an honest effort at cooperating."
"Well, did any of your husbands resent you taking lovers?"
Medb realized she was trying to change the subject, but she didn't care. "My first did, though truth be told, I believe he was more offended by the women I slept with."
Sahr shot her a shocked look. "You sleep with women as well as men? Do you prefer women over men?"
Medb couldn't help laughing; in fact, she laughed so loud the sound of it echoed throughout the tunnel, back and forth several times before it died away. "Such a question would curdle before me, my dear. No, no, I enjoy the company of men immensely. But I have also had my share of women. Not as many as the men I have had, but more than most men themselves would have."
Medb glanced sidelong at Sahr. She noticed the princess examining her closely with a worried look on her face. Divining her thoughts, she remarked in a casual tone, "You need have no concern; you are too young for me."
Blushing, Sahr replied, "I . . . wasn't thinking that —"
"But of course you were," Medb cut her off, "and were you perhaps five or so years more mature, I would gladly take you to my bed. But I do not focáil children, and to me you are still just a child. Besides, I was commissioned to returned you to your father, and it would be unprofessional of me to take advantage of you. Which reminds me: you still have not told me the truth. Everything you have said up until now can explain your reluctance to marry the prince, but it cannot explain why you ran away. What is the truth?"
"My lover and I have already consummated our affair."
"So, I am no longer a virgin."
"So?" Medb repeated in an impatient tone.
"By tradition, the men of the Khalifah's family must marry virgins. My father assured him I was still unspoiled. Once he finds out, he will cancel the marriage and the alliance, and I will be ostracized by my family."
"Who will tell him? You? Your lover? Does anyone else know? Surely you can bribe them to stay silent?"
"You don't understand. He'll find out the first time the Prince and I make love —"
"At which time it will be too late. Though I doubt the prince would say anything, since he would be shamed as well."
"No, no, no. Part of the betrothal ceremony before the marriage involves us spending the night together, while our fathers witness the act from behind a screen. The prince will claim my maidenhead, and the blood on the sheets will prove my purity."
"Ach, you do have a problem, my dear."
"That's what I've been trying to explain!"
Nettled, Medb said, "And I would have understood sooner had you been forthright from the beginning."
Sahr sighed. "You're right, of course." After a short pause, she added, "So, what are you going to do?"
Good question, Medb thought. "I honestly do not know. At this moment, I do not see that we have any other choice. But, we have time before I must make a final decision. Let me think about it for awhile."
Sahr said nothing, and Medb used the quiet to concentrate on solving the dilemma.
Morgiana poured sweetened, spiced coffee into a cup as she watched the street up from the inn. She sat in a chair on the verandah in front of a coffeehouse; she had been sitting there since dawn prayer, and it was now mid-morning.
"Something must be wrong," she said; "she’s never this late."
Crèmedevoyageur looked up at her with half-lidded, dust-blue eyes, from where he lay on her lap. The young tomcat had a rangy, stocky build, with short, fawn-colored fur decorated with bronze tiger stripes.
"Perhaps she is interrogating someone at this moment," he said. "She might not wish to risk losing him just to meet our rendezvous." Morgiana noted that his command of the human tongue was getting better, though he still tended to meow his vowels.
"Maybe," the beautiful master thief said, pensive, as she sipped her coffee. "But I think she would have gotten a message to us in any event."
From behind her, where he perched on the back of her chair, Teehar’owan asked, "Should I go look for her?" He was the size of a jay, with a long tail and crest, scarlet eyes, and gaudy plumage of red, blue, green, and gold.
She turned her head slightly. "That would be futile until we have some idea of where to look, don’t you think?"
"He could at least check to see if she returned to her room last night," said Conaed. The Zoog sat beside her on a small table, next to the carafe of coffee. His companions called him Runt, because he was only half the size of his race, but his verdigris-speckled bronze fur was darker and his tarnished-silver facial stripes were bolder.
She looked down into his peat-brown eyes. He was right; the animals had stayed with her when Medb went off on her own yesterday before evening prayer, so none of them would know if she even came back at all.
"That’s not a bad —" she began, but a shrill whistle from Teehar interrupted her.
"We are being watched!" he piped.
Morgiana resisted the urge to whip her head around. "Where?"
"To our left, across the street, at the perfumer’s stall."
Crème shifted position, as if trying to get comfortable. "I see him: young, tall, slim, muscular; short-cropped jet-black hair and beard; dressed in a plain beige bisht over kameez and salwar with mojari slippers; and an oud slung on his back."
"Is he armed?" she asked as she poured more coffee.
"Yes, a shamshir and a kard. But he does not have the bearing of a warrior."
She settled back into the chair, as if relaxing, as she cradled the cup in both hands. "Teehar, fly off towards the inn, then circle around and get behind him. I want you to follow him; find out if he’s in league with the slavers, where he’s staying, anything useful."
"Yes, Morgiana," and the bird took wing up the street.
"We could capture him," Conaed said.
"Not out in the open here," Morgiana replied. "That would be better done tonight, once we find out where he’s staying."
"That may not be necessary," Crème said; "he’s coming towards us."
In slow, careful, fluid motion, Morgiana set down her cup and leaned her head against the back of the chair, closing her eyes as if to take a short rest. But she cracked them open a bit to watch the entrance to the verandah, and she laid her right hand behind Crème’s body, out of sight, on the handle of her jambiya dagger.
She saw him step up under the awning and approach, but he walked with a casual, easy gate and kept his hands away from his weapons. Conaed had watched him from the moment he started towards them, but she let the cat stir first. As soon as he began to moan, she lifted her head and opened her eyes.
He stopped three feet from her chair, then lightly touched his chest, lips, and forehead with the first two fingers of his right hand in a grand flourish as he bowed his head. "As-Salaam ’Alayki," he said as he straightened up.
Staying seated, Morgiana repeated the gesture with her left hand as she replied, "Wa ’Alayka As-Salaam."
"I am Harun ibn al-Masudi ibn al-Ja’far, a humble bard from the city of Rayy."
"I am Morgiana of the House of Baba."
"Ah, I have heard of you! You are the greatest thief in all the Six Kingdoms."
Morgiana smiled. "And I have heard of you. You are much praised in the masjid, the bazaar, and the maqhah. I had hoped you would come to the inn where I am staying some evening."
"I would be honored to sing for the Master of Thieves. And for your friend, the magnificent Mayv Hair-rain."
Her smiled disappeared, and she gripped her jambiya. "So this meeting is no accident?"
"Alas, no. If what I have heard is true, you and I may have common cause."
Morgiana noted Teehar fly in behind Harun and perch on the railing surrounding the verandah. "And what have you heard?"
"I have heard you and she are here to return Sahr’azad to her father and groom."
That did not surprise her. She would have preferred to keep a low profile, but Medb had been so open about their investigation she doubted anyone in Khwarezm was ignorant of their errand.
"What if it were so?"
"I, too, seek the princess."
"You were commissioned by the Sultan as well?"
"Not exactly. I seek her for my own purpose, but I strive after the same goal as you."
"What is she to you?"
"Ah, I see. You wish to prevent her marriage to the Prince of Rayy."
"Not exactly. He and I have come to an accommodation, but for my part I must convince Sahr to return to him."
"For which he will reward you by not cutting off your head."
"Something like that. He promised a remuneration in gold as well."
"Well, I see no reason we cannot work together. As soon as Mayv arrives we can see if she learned anything last night, then plan accordingly."
"That concerns something else I heard."
Morgiana sat up as cat and Zoog stared at him intently. "What?"
"Outside the masjid just before dawn prayer, I heard a merchant brag that he had caught your friend and sold her to the same slaver who had Sahr."
Crème growled and Conaed hissed, but while Morgiana was concerned, she was suspicious as well. "Why should I believe you?"
"How could I profit from such a lie? To split you up? I would rather she was with us now. To capture you as well? Then I am a fool, because now you are on your guard. To lure you into a trap? You would not have become a master thief by being so reckless —"
"Enough. Very well, I accept your word, for now. Do you know where they have taken her and the princess?"
"Alas, no, nor did the merchant know."
"You questioned him?"
Harun nodded. "He arranged for the slavers to remove Mayv from the tavern; he had no idea where they took her."
"Yes," he said in a grim voice, "I sent him to Iblis when I was sure he was telling the truth."
Morgiana did not think twice. "Crème."
The cat looked up at her, twitching his his salmon-pink nose.
"Meet with the cats of the city. See if they know where this slaver has his compound."
"I’m on it," and he leapt off and ran down the street towards the bazaar.
"Teehar!" she said as she stood and picked up Conaed. The bird flew over and landed on her shoulder.
"As soon as Crème finds out where she’s at, I will need you to reconnoiter."
She looked Harun in the eyes as she pulled the jambiya half-way out of its sheath. "Stay close to me, but at the first hint of betrayal I will cut your throat. Understand?"
"Clearly," he said in a firm tone, giving her a quick nod.
ach (ahck) — exclamatory remark; can have various meanings: Oh!, My word!, Holy cow!, etc.
al-Ja’far (al JA-fahr)
al-Masudi (al mah-SOO-dee)
Ar Raqqah (ahr RAHK-kwuh)
As-Salaam ’Alayki (as SAH-lam AH-lay-kee) — Peace be unto you
bazaar (BAH-zahr) — marketplace
bisht (bihsht) — cloak
Conaed (CON-ayd) — Fiery Wisdom
Crèmedevoyageur (KREHM-deh-voy-ah-gehr) — Master of Travelers
damnaigh (DAWM-neye) — damnation
focáil (FO-kawl) — obscenity meaning to have sex with
haram (HAH-rahm) — women's quarters
Harun al-Rashid (HAH-roon al rah-SHEED)
Iblis (IH-blee) — Islamic Satan
ibn (IH-bihn) — son of
jambiya (jahm-BEE-uh) — dagger
kameez (KAH-meej) — tunic
kard (card) — knife
Khalifah (kah-LEE-fah) — Caliph
maqhah (MAH-kwah) — coffeehouse
masjid (MAHS-jihd) — mosque
Medb hErenn (mayv HAIR-rain)
meirc (mehrk) — rust
oud (ood) — lute
salwar (SHAL-wahr) — trousers
shamshir (SHAHM-sheer) — sabre
Teehar'owan (TEE-har-oh-wahn) — The Despairing One
Wa ’Alayka As-Salaam (wah AH-lay-kah as Sah-lam) — And unto you be peace
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