Chapter Three

 

 

          Tarbuk was gone for the best part of an hour. Faerl and Ohrl enjoyed some heavily spiced stewed meats, but refrained from trying the fish again. The meal went down well, settling both their stomachs and their nerves, but as the time dragged on with no sign of Tarbuk’s return, their doubt began to return. Ohrl looked nervously through the crowd, and noticed the crowd’s attention was drawn skyward. A warm wind had gathered, swirling softly through the market, stirring the smell of spices and herbs, but it also seemed to agitate those with their eyes to the heavens.

          The noise of the market grew, a buzz blossomed, and with scant regard for Ohrl and Faerl, everyone began eating and bartering even harder than moments before. Ohrl started to stand, worried that they had remained seated for too long without eating anything further, when a soft hand touched his shoulder and pushed him back down.

          “Eleven hundred and fifty, my friends. It took me a while, but I found a man in need of a large amount of kopjes to settle a debt quickly.”

          Tarbuk’s face was flushed, as though he had been running through the entire market network, but he wore his pride plainly on his face. Ohrl wondered what the real total was, but he was satisfied with the result.

          “Would you like to rest?” Ohrl asked. “Get some food. You look like you have been working hard.”

          “No,” Tarbuk said hastily. “I can wait. We have a lot to do before the sun sets. You will not be able to trade once the call begins, and tonight it will last a long time. Are you ready to leave?”

          Ohrl and Faerl nodded. They headed over to a crowded avenue bordered with pots and pans hanging from the walls. Some were plain and industrial, others ornately carved. As Ohrl passed the first stand, he saw an old man hunched over an anvil with a long fine nosed hammer in his hand, delicately tapping against the side of a pan, making small indentations that over time would create the wonderful sculptures Ohrl had seen on show. They moved past before he had a chance to see exactly what the man carved into the surface, but the decoration flowed like the scoured walls that lined the Temple of Origins.

          Ohrl turned, and realised he had almost lost sight of Faerl and Tarbuk. He soon caught his brother’s taller frame in his brown robe weaving ahead, realising at once how easy it was to register that they were foreign. He quickened his pace and caught up.

          “Tarbuk,” he said cautiously, wresting the boy’s arm to turn him in the crowd. “We must get rid of these brown robes as soon as possible. Can you take us to an area where we are not so out of place?”

          “Do not worry,” Tarbuk said, hardly slowing his pace. “This is not an area that I would normally tread. No one knows me here, so I will not be associated with buying for a foreigner. We will find a suitable shop, you will look over the garments you desire, and you will tell me which ones you want. I will then purchase the basic cotton robes that will mark you as more than a water collector, at which point we can begin. There are traders I trust in another quarter, and I will be able to find favourable rates for you there. I have no ties among these merchants, and I would be forced to bargain hard.”

          Ohrl thought about that, wondering if he could prove a better negotiator. I have the will of al-Din harnessed within my mind. I could easily use this against these unsuspecting merchants. They would be no match for me. He was about to suggest that he try when he remembered the damage he did to Master Lagerroth in gaining entrance with Na’ilah to his vaults. The risk of causing harm here in ways no one would understand laid rest to the idea, but a flame had been lit, and it burned at his thoughts. I must try, he thought. I must push my limits. He felt the frustration begin to prickle against his neck as he battled between his need for secrecy and the desire to improve his skills.

          Tarbuk turned down a small side avenue. Ohrl could see two more levels of rickety pathways on the levels over head leading to similar shop fronts, though there were very few people walking those paths compared to the swarm surrounding him. Those he did see were heavily cloaked, their identities veiled, and he wondered what services they provided in the shops above.

          As his attention wandered, he became aware of stern eyes staring at him from all directions. He felt their presence from the shadows of the upper alleyways, and he was instantly set on guard. Beneath the brush of conversation and footsteps on weathered stone, he heard a whisper, urging him to find and engage these men. The shadows grew darker, he lost sight of those in the market streets below, and the faces above became clear, their white eyes looming from the depths of the wooden bridges, hooded and brooding. They challenged him, a foreigner in their city. Their whisper rose, and he felt the call of al-Din’s army echoing through the markets. I will not back down, he heard himself say, his mind now losing all sense of those in the main thoroughfare who fought their way around him.  An overwhelming desire to dominate those who stared from the alcoves above flowed through him, but his concentration was broken as a man dressed in dark green robes bumped into him, almost knocking him from his feet. He turned on the passer by, who bowed apologetically when he saw Ohrl’s face.

          “Keep moving,” Faerl urged, shoving a hand in Ohrl’s back, moving him onward. Ohrl stumbled ahead, looking to the upper reaches for those same cold faces but none remained. It wasn’t until he stepped into a section of open space that he realised how clenched his body was, his hand gripped tightly around the hilt of his sword. He breathed deeply, forcing himself to relax, but his patience was beginning to wear thin. As he stood next to Faerl, his expression was wild.

          “What’s the matter?” asked Faerl.

          Ohrl shook his head, letting Faerl know not to enquire just yet. “What is wrong with the clothing shops we have passed so far?” he asked Tarbuk. “They all sell the same thing.”

          “Yes, for the most part, but these are the main thoroughfares between the port and the food court, filled with lazy traders and poor hagglers. If we try to buy anything from here, the price will be high, with the merchant unwilling to go lower because the next man will pay much more. These avenues serve those who do not wish to venture beyond the main road, who are afraid to lose themselves in the glory of the great hunt, or who simply do not have the time to spend. We don’t want to linger here, my friends.”

          Ohrl clenched his jaw in frustration. He turned to Faerl, talking in a growling whisper. “All we want are a few robes. We aren’t stocking a warehouse full of goods, how much difference can it make?”

          “Careful,” Faerl said. “Just let him do what he needs to. From what I can tell, building these relationships is paramount in the culture of Sira’an. If we’re not prepared to earn their respect, they might regard us as unworthy in other aspects of life.”

          “Then he had better hurry. If he doesn’t find somewhere soon he may find himself with more to worry about than bargaining for clothes. I told you what I did to Lagerroth when he prevented Na’ilah and me from entering his vaults. I had no control over the horrors I set in his mind. I am not sure what I will force upon Tarbuk, but my impatience grows.”

          “Do nothing,” Faerl warned, gripping Ohrl’s arm as they walked. “You must not interfere, not here. Calm yourself, you cannot let your anger take control within a simple environment such as this. We are in no danger, and we are not harried for time.”

          He almost shoved Ohrl ahead as he released his arm. Ohrl cursed beneath his breath, trying to shed some tension. He said nothing further as Tarbuk led them from the avenue, wending their way through several narrow twisting lanes until at last the crowd began to thin.

          “Wait here,” said Tarbuk. “I will go in search of a suitable shop down that alley. In five minutes follow me, but do not acknowledge that you know me. Simply stop at the shop I am at, pull out some of the clothes you are interested in, but do not bargain. You are just looking. If you begin to bargain, it signifies that you intend to buy. I will take note of what you want, and I will purchase something similar from the merchants that I trust. It’s best if they have no idea that we are together for now.”

          “Isn’t that dishonest?” asked Faerl. “Surely they will think you are taking away what would ordinarily be a more favourable sale.”

          Tarbuk shrugged. “I will negotiate openly only with those I trust. My contacts would rather I bring them your business than give it to someone else. If they feel I am working to bring customers to their door, they will value the repeat business over a single sale of larger profit. Plus it gives me greater status.” His face turned serious. “Remember, you do not know me. Simply mark the items you wish to purchase, and move on. I will follow.”

          Faerl waited until Tarbuk had disappeared before turning on Ohrl.

          “What is wrong with you? You have been tetchy ever since we caught sight of the city.”

          Ohrl scowled. “I just need space. The press of so many people is getting to me, and now we are wasting time building this boy’s reputation.”

          Faerl looked at the people around them. “No one cares that we are here. They are just going about their business, taking no notice of us. There is no pressure. In fact our task is being made easier by Tarbuk’s help.”

          “Yet we are not in control,” Ohrl said, backing into a sheltered alcove away from any prying ears. “It made me sick to my stomach having to rely on Jökull’s generosity in order to survive. Now that we have our freedom, we shrink from it behind a fourteen-year-old boy.”

          “No.” Faerl said, wanting to shake Ohrl, but refrained from doing anything that would garner unwanted attention. “We are not being idle, and we are not afraid of taking charge. What we need to do is disappear, blend in, become part of this culture. If it takes someone to show us the way, then so be it. I need one or two days of rest before casting my mind into the River Stone. It would help me relax if I was comfortable in this new environment, and I would do well to know that you felt the same.”

          After a long silence Faerl’s eyes narrowed. “Is that all that is bothering you?”

          Ohrl lifted his gaze to meet his brother’s, staring long and intently before speaking. “I can feel him.”

          “Al-Din?”

          Ohrl nodded, his hands clenched into a fist. “Any slight obstacle in our path gets me frustrated beyond what it should. It is not so much waiting for Tarbuk. It is the idea that we have to bargain with these people for the chance to save them from their own death. That the things that slow us down are done by the very people we are trying to save.”

          Faerl breathed a sigh of relief to find this was all that bothered his brother.

          “You cannot blame any of them for this. They know nothing of what lies ahead.”

          “I know,” Ohrl said irritably. “Maybe it’s not even them that frustrates me. I just want to take what I need. There is something deep set that pushes me to lay claim to anything I desire, and that is his doing, I am sure.”

          Faerl rested a reassuring hand on Ohrl’s shoulder. “There is something I have been meaning to talk to you about. I thought to do it when we were alone in our room, but this is perhaps a better time. You have the strength to persuade others to do your bidding, and perhaps in time you will control their will altogether.”

          Ohrl nodded. “Forced only by rage. I still lack control.”

          “And I lack the skill to control the visions of the Khalada Stone. At the moment it is too vast for me to contend with.” Faerl waited to see if Ohrl could see where he was leading him, but his blank expression spoke otherwise.

          “What if you were to focus your mind on stabilising mine while I am in contact with the Khalada Stone?”

          That caught Ohrl’s attention. “You say you need to dominate the Khalada Stone before it will release what it stores inside?”

          “Yes. For now the memories it contains flood into my mind unrestrained and unabated, and the power of the River Stone is not great enough to contain them all. Or at least my skill in its use is not sufficient. If you could learn to channel my mind, help me to focus within the Khalada Stone, we could reduce our search tenfold, and all those obstacles in our way would be gone.”

          Ohrl let the idea wash over him, and felt his courage return. He smiled at his brother, who nodded in return, happy that Ohrl had taken on the idea with such enthusiasm. Faerl didn’t know if it was actually possible for the two of them to join minds, but it gave Ohrl something positive to distract him.

          “Come on,” Faerl said, relieved to have at last tempered his brother for the time being. “Tarbuk will be waiting for us by now. Let’s get this over with. I’m chafing under these robes. I don’t care if we are dressed as the Qhabir himself, I just want to be comfortable again.”

          They laughed as they moved forward into the alley where Tarbuk had entered, glad to have eased a little of their underlying tension. They glimpsed their young guide far ahead, casually standing in the entrance to a dimly lit stall. They made their way slowly to where he stood, taking care not to catch his eye, casting brief glances at the wares in other shops as they strolled by.

          The stalls were filled with an array of odds and ends, including practical goods, utensils, knives, silks, glass cups, and large vases with pipes attached, that Ohrl had no idea what use they carried. One shop sold soaps and candles, the flickering flame at odds with the steady glow of the firelights hovering above. At the back of another, under the dim glow of a pale blue firelight, a man tapped nails into the sole of a heavy leather boot, before rubbing oil into the leather with a dirty rag that he drew from over his shoulder.

          Faerl realised most of the vendors took one glance at them and decided not to engage. Tarbuk’s advice that they would seem too poor to trade appeared to be true. He casually stopped behind Tarbuk in the stall that held different racks of clothing. The vendor eyed them suspiciously, then turned to ignore them completely.

          “What do you think?” Ohrl quietly asked as he drew alongside his brother to view the various fabrics. “To be honest I don’t see much of a difference.”

          “Feel it. It’s hard to see under this light, but you can tell the quality under your fingers. The harder wearing robes are meant for those working outdoors. The softer for the bureaucrats and the wealthier merchants who spend most of their time in cool, well aired rooms.”

          As both brothers reached forward to touch the soft silk and cotton mix of an obviously more expensive material, the vendor suddenly appeared beside them.

          “No touching, unless you intend to buy.” His voice was rough, and he pushed past them to straighten the robes they had already examined, shielding them from his more precious wares.

          Ohrl was about to protest but Faerl stopped him, and nodded an apology to the vendor, getting a grunt for his favour before the vendor finally moved away. Though he had barely had a chance to examine it properly, it had been enough for Faerl to at least see the differences in the cloth. It was subtle, but he guessed that those subtleties would have a significant meaning.

          “This is an unusual material,” they heard Tarbuk say to the vendor, distracting him for a moment. “You have fine stock.”

          “What is it you are after?” came the vendor’s gruff reply, his eyes never leaving Ohrl and Faerl.

          “Today? Nothing, but this piece has me curious. What do you charge for such material?”

          There was silence for a few seconds.

          “One hundred twenty dhirat, for that one.” He pointed to the robe that Tarbuk held. It was the colour of a pale morning sky. “One hundred fifty for the one beside, which has deep pockets in the arms.”

          Tarbuk’s eyebrows rose, but he said nothing further, simply nodding his head. The shop owner did not chase the sale, and soon everyone stood in silence. Ohrl and Faerl pretended to cast a quick eye over the rest of the shop, and moved on.

 

“Eighty for either,” said the vendor as soon as Ohrl and Faerl were out of earshot.

          “I’m sorry?” said Tarbuk.

          “I tell you they are eighty. I did not want those two buying in my store. I don’t want foreign workers here. For you, eighty each.”

          Tarbuk stepped back, allowing the vendor to view his appearance. “Eighty is well beyond my means, though I thank you for the generous offer.”

          The shop owner was about to make a counter offer but he looked at Tarbuk’s clothing, then gauged his age, and grunted. “I have plenty of coarse cotton and wool. Please, take a look.” He opened his arms, inviting Tarbuk to enter the shop, but Tarbuk politely refrained.

          “I must make do with what I already own, though I will pray for more wealth within the great temple this evening.” He then turned and slowly followed the direction Ohrl and Faerl had taken.

 

          Tarbuk caught their eye and cautioned them to follow at a safe distance. Ohrl became totally disorientated as they turned down several small alleyways, forever shifting direction. He felt there would be no way he would ever find the route back to this very place should Tarbuk leave. The press of people caved in on him again, and he shifted uncomfortably in his heavy woollen robe, fearful the call of al-Din would soon break through once again.

          “Did you find what you were after?” Tarbuk asked when they finally regrouped.

          “I think so,” Faerl said with raised eyebrows, looking questioningly up at Ohrl.

          “Yes. It’s obvious we need anything above the station we now hold. Though I doubt we could afford the one hundred and fifty dhirat for the items you picked out.”

          Tarbuk laughed. “He said that amount just to scare you off. An average haggler would drop that price by half. I could have got him down to sixty, maybe fifty if he was willing.”

          Ohrl eyed Tarbuk, realising that if that were the case, the real figure would more likely be forty dhirat, the remainder lining Tarbuk’s pocket. He frowned at the prospect of leaving the work up to this young boy. Ohrl knew he could get any price he wanted if he bargained with the merchants himself, but word would spread if he used his strength against the will of any of these men, and soon curious eyes would begin to take a keen interest.

          “We each need two garments similar to what you wear, and some of finer cloth,” Faerl said. “Also, one each of something quite expensive, but not excessive. Something that says we come from a wealthy foreign family, but still understated. We don’t want to shout it from the rooftops. We want people to know we are trying to respect your customs, and are willing to learn your ways.”

          “Colours?” asked Tarbuk.

          “Muted, light blues, browns, cream. Nothing too loud, something that will blend into the crowd.”

          “It sounds to me like you don’t want to be noticed at all,” remarked Tarbuk with a slight hesitation in his voice.

          Ohrl and Faerl remained quiet, leaving Tarbuk with no option but to continue walking. They crossed one of the main avenues that led back to the food court, but neither Ohrl nor Faerl had any idea which direction they faced. They cut across and headed deep into another section of the great market. Ohrl noticed it was starting to empty out, the mad press of bodies no longer frustrated him, although he longed to see the light of day and breathe some fresh air.

          Tarbuk slowed and entered a long narrow shop. It was like any other, with clothes and robes lining each wall, displaying every shade and material in neatly folded stacks. They were greeted by a fat man, his robe straining over his massive frame as he struggled to move through the thin corridor between the clothes.

          “Welcome, welcome… Ah, Tarbuk, it is good to see you again, young nephew. Come through.”

          “Hello uncle,” said Tarbuk, formally embracing the man as best he could. “I have brought guests that are staying with us. They have need of some robes.”

          The man shuffled closer to get a look at Ohrl and Faerl, but stopped short when he saw the two young men in dirty brown robes. He grabbed Tarbuk by the arm, almost dragging him to one side.

          “What were you thinking? I don’t want their sort in my shop. You better have a good explanation for this.” The fat man made no pretence of hiding his feelings in front of Faerl and Ohrl, but Ohrl was surprised at how little Tarbuk reacted.

          “No uncle, they are merchants from Hejveld. They exchanged their own robes for these, tricked into thinking them common attire within our city. I have brought them to you, for they are in need of something more suitable to their station.”

          The fat man huffed, his chest wheezing as he stared at Tarbuk, his grip still tight around Tarbuk’s arm, then he released him, and not so gently pushed past Tarbuk in order to gauge the worth of his newest clients.

          “Come in please, both of you.” Ohrl and Faerl were invited deeper into the shop, where no one could see them from the main alleyway. “Sit down,” Tarbuk’s uncle said sharply, and cast an eye outside to see if any had already caught sight of the two young men. He snapped his fingers, and a skinny boy barely eight years old jumped down from a dark and hidden alcove.

          “What were you doing up there? Sleeping? Stools. Quickly.”

          The boy was about to respond but received a cuff behind his ear, and was sent on his way.

           “Now, what exactly were you after?” Tarbuk’s uncle asked of him, then paused as he looked down at Ohrl and Faerl. “Can I pour you some tea?”

          “There is no time for tea, uncle. I will select what we need.”

          “Nonsense,” he said, almost dismissive of Tarbuk. “There is always time.”

          He called over to the boy.

          “Three teas, and make mine sweet. Then help Tarbuk find what he needs.”

          The boy quickly returned with three stools, placing Tarbuk’s uncle’s first. Ohrl noticed Tarbuk was not offered a drink. Ohrl accepted his stool, then couldn’t help but ask an obvious question.

          “You are Tarbuk’s uncle? Are you related to Sadri?”

          The fat merchant almost choked.

          “No, we are not related. My name is Rabah. Tarbuk calls many of us ‘uncle’, but there are no blood ties. When he came from the eastern lands with Sadri we all adopted him in a way. He has been hard at work trying to build a life for himself and his family. Sadri is his only actual relative still alive.”

          Ohrl nodded, noticing the lack of compassion in Rabah’s voice. The young boy returned with three small glasses, two inches high with thick rimmed bottoms, encased in ornately carved gold leaf. The tea was much sweeter than the wild-grass extract common in Hejveld. It yielded a subtle fruit taste, and Rabah dropped an additional two cubes of crystallised honey into his glass.

          “So, if I may ask, what business are you attending here in Sira’an?”

          Ohrl hesitated, taking too long to swallow his sip of tea.

          “I am sorry,” said Rabah. “It was a personal question. It is not my place to intrude.”

          “No, it is okay,” Ohrl said, placing the small cup delicately upon the silver tray the boy had set out, where it was immediately refilled. “We seek to learn about trade here. Our late father was an antiques dealer in Hejveld, and he thought it prudent we learn what we can from the way the Sira’anese do business. Unfortunately, he recently passed away, and we are only now able to afford the time to complete his request.”

          Rabah looked at the two brothers, his eyes steely for a moment, before flooding with empathy. “To lose one’s father, he who guides us throughout our lives, is never an easy task. But for two so young….”

          Tarbuk returned at that moment with ten robes. “Here uncle, this is what they have requested.”

          Rabah cast an eye over the robes, before shooting a disapproving look toward Tarbuk. “Have you not been listening to what they have been saying? They are the heads of their household, yet you have brought clothes only fit for idle sons. These men must be clothed with respect.”

          He abruptly stood, whistled to the boy and pointed frantically to various points around the shop. The boy pulled thirty different robes from the stacks, all of differing colours.

          “Now,” said Rabah, at last happy with what lay before him. “From Tarbuk’s initial selection, I noticed you were not sure of your relative wealth within our society. This is good, for you should never assume, and it is better to adapt to the situation as it arises. What you must show, and this is where my nephew failed,” he said critically, scowling at Tarbuk, “is that no matter what class you represent, you are the leaders of your family. Normally this falls to the father, but in your case, both of you shall wear the robes of one in charge of their house.”

          Rabah tugged one robe open, laying it out in front of the brothers.

          “Notice how the weave is mixed, offering a shimmering or slight pattern change when compared to the plain robe Tarbuk wears.” Ohrl looked at Tarbuk’s robe, seeing for the first time how coarse the material really was. It wasn’t until now that it made any difference to how Ohrl viewed Tarbuk, and by the forlorn look on Tarbuk’s face, he had guessed Ohrl now understood his real station in life. He was poor, with no prospects save what he made for himself. Rabah was reminding his ‘nephew’ of this fact, of how far beneath him Tarbuk was. Ohrl caught Tarbuk’s eye, and gave him a friendly smile, before returning a grave look to Rabah.

          “This material will tell all that you encounter that not only do you have authority to act on your family’s behalf, but that only you make the decisions. The decorative stitching, as opposed to these more simple lines, indicates that you are a businessman, and not just buying for a household. So by displaying both, you are instantly recognised by the merchant as the business owner, and head of your family. It means you will not be insulted with ridiculous offers when bartering for goods. A well chosen robe can save you money, and should be invested in wisely.”

          He handed the more luxurious of the robes to the boys. “Come, you must try them on.”

          Faerl and Ohrl stripped the heavy brown robes off, relieved to feel fresh air against their skin. Faerl wore nothing but the leather leggings that Jökull had supplied, but Ohrl wore his full leather armour, and he still had his sword strapped to his side. The sight of the weapon surprised Rabah, who shuffled nervously away.

          Ohrl and Faerl admired each other once they had slipped into the softer cotton robes. Faerl’s was the colour of light wood, the different weave and thread working like grain to shimmer through the robe. Ohrl’s was a blend of light grey and white, like crushed snow melting against rock. After a quick inspection, he found deep pockets inlaid within the sleeves, and some more accessible under the arms. He still had no direct access to his sword if he wished it to remain hidden, an issue he would have to amend.

          Ohrl could feel Rabah’s eyes scrutinizing him before he even looked up to meet his gaze. Faerl was busy inspecting the different robes, and he selected the eight remaining garments they wished to purchase. Rabah snapped his fingers again, and the young boy collected the remainder, folding them neatly back into their piles.

          “I promised I would negotiate on their behalf,” Tarbuk said from behind Rabah, but his uncle did not move.

          “If they are to learn our customs, Tarbuk, it is best they do so on their own.” He was smiling, but Ohrl felt no warmth from it. Faerl looked up and registered the exchange, desperate to caution Ohrl in what he was about to do.

          Ohrl had taken an instant disliking to Rabah. He was lazy, cruel, and unsympathetic to Tarbuk’s loss of his own family. He guessed the reason that Tarbuk brought them here was not as a means to fair trade, but that Tarbuk owed Rabah something, a favour in exchange for a new life in Sira’an. Rabah was exploiting that favour, and Ohrl knew Tarbuk was in no position to argue.

          Unfortunately Ohrl had no real idea as to the value of the robes. They were all of superior quality to Tarbuk’s, the ones they wore appeared of similar thread to Rabah’s. He was unsure at what price to begin, so he used an old trick his father had taught him. Ohrl stood before Rabah, not as a young man from Brúnn, not as a poor water seller robed in brown, but as an equal who demanded respect.

          “Tarbuk has brought us to you in good faith, Rabah. Out of respect for Tarbuk’s better judgement, we will not seek out any other merchant to trade with for this sale. It is his responsibility that we receive a fair price.”

          Tarbuk lifted his chest a little when he heard this, but lowered it warily when he saw the corners of Rabah’s lips twitch with interest.

          “We put our faith in you, Rabah, to act fairly in this single exchange, for it will determine the possibility of many trades to follow, and not only for clothing. So I ask this of you. Name your price. No haggling, no counter offers. One price, and we will decide if it is acceptable or not.”

          Rabah’s twitching passed from his lips to his eyes. Ohrl was forcing him to weigh up the worth of this single sale against many. If Ohrl agreed to an inflated price, it would mean fruitful pickings in all their future dealings. Yet if Ohrl felt he was over charged, Rabah may lose the business altogether. In fact there was no guarantee of any future business at all. There would be no cat and mouse games, no discovery of Ohrl’s limits, or of how hard to push him to being building the wide boundaries set for future deals. Rabah flicked an irritated glance to Tarbuk, before examining the robes set out before him.

          Ohrl enjoyed the feeling of control over Rabah, but it was not enough. In the darkness of the shop, after the frustration of following Tarbuk’s lead, Ohrl finally had control over this outcome. It was only a small victory, but it was his. Confidence flowed through his blood, and he sent soft waves of disparagement to Rabah’s unsuspecting mind.

          Rabah began to sweat. He mumbled calculations under his breath, and reached for a cloth folded within his robe to wipe the beading sweat from his forehead, before beginning his calculations again. Finally he stammered out an answer.

          “Three hundred and eighty… fifty. Three hundred and fifty dhirat.”

          Faerl looked up at Ohrl, but his brother was still deeply engaged in Rabah’s mind. Faerl then turned to Tarbuk, who in return looked shocked, but nodded vehemently at Faerl. Satisfied, Faerl stepped forward and gently took hold of Ohrl’s shoulder. It took a few seconds to break his concentration, but Ohrl finally let out a long breath, slowly releasing his grip on Rabah’s mind.

          “We agree to the named price,” Ohrl said. “Three hundred and fifty dhirat.”

          Rabah stood still for a moment, and then sat his huge bulk back down on his stool. With a lack of enthusiasm, he waved the young boy over to the robes laid out on the table, who came to fold them neatly for Ohrl. Rabah’s demeanour brightened when Ohrl pulled out his coin purse, pouring three hundred and fifty dhirat into an ornately carved silver collection dish.

          “It seems that I am the one to learn how to bargain from you,” Rabah said, wiping a cold layer of sweat from his forehead, his chest still wheezing from the exchange.

          “It is good to know that Tarbuk has kept his word, and has brought us to someone else we can trust.” Ohrl was happy to give Tarbuk the credit, but then caught Faerl frowning at him out of the corner of his eye.

          “Now you look like real men of Sira’an,” called Tarbuk.

          Rabah grunted, and shoved his way past Tarbuk, escorting the brothers to the entrance. “It is time for you to leave. I must close the shop and make my way to the temple. It is almost time to gather.”

          Tarbuk collected the robes, stuffing the thicker brown ones into a separate sack. He thanked his uncle, who merely waved him away. When at last they entered the food court, Ohrl noticed that most of the people had left. The wind had risen, and he could smell the sea air being thrust against the city from the south. Scanning the horizon, he saw dark clouds gathering, their tips cast bronze by the setting sun. Their black bellies were still distant, but he knew they would soon burst upon the city. The swirling air was warm and thick, but with the looseness of their new robes and the lack of people pressing in upon them, Ohrl felt his mood lighten. He turned to smile at Faerl, but was struck by the anger smouldering in his brother’s eyes.

          “You did most well,” Tarbuk said from over his shoulder. “I am surprised uncle Rabah let you have those robes at such a good price. I thought you would pay another hundred dhirat for such fine clothes. He must hope for some profitable business to come.”

          Faerl gave Ohrl the blackest of looks, but said nothing until they had entered Temple Avenue. “Why are we in such a hurry?” he asked Tarbuk.

          “The call will soon come, and I must get home to uncle Sadri.”

          Faerl and Ohrl looked at each other, and as if in answer, the white firelights that lined the Temple Avenue erupted into life. They shielded their eyes until the firelights dimmed, and all became silent. Startled, the brothers stopped walking while figures loomed from the shops as the last of the merchants closed their doors and merged into the avenue. As the firelights reset their dim hold upon those scurrying to escape, the night filled with a haunting voice that echoed from every shadow. It sent a chill wind through Ohrl’s robe. His skin shivered, but in the recesses of his mind he responded to the call. He was being summoned, and the warm wind that gathered swelled around him, pulling him ever closer to a voice that sung his ancient name.