Guards were placed at the outskirts, though they were of the more ceremonial nature, this close to Sentinel and civilization. The troops were around their fires, roasting hares, cooking broth, playing dice, making jokes, honing their blades, and telling stories of home. The stars above their heads were unveiled, jewels far away in the enormous ink setting of night. All was well. But not in the Patriarch's tent.
As Sahar walked past the two guards posted outside the huge, creme-coloured tent, who gave her a strict, curt nod, she could instantly hear the raised, agitated voices from within.
“...can not possibly be serious.”
“... what if they tell our...”
“... all fools, send our finest and sort this mess out!”
She pushed the heavy fabric out of her way and stepped inside. The voices halted, and twelve heads turned her way. The tent was lit by a single burning brazier and the dozens of oil lamps on the several crude pieces of furniture, fit for a life of travelling. She could smell incense. Eleven faces stared at her – savage, painted Orcish faces, refined faces with high cheekbones from High Rock, and the tanned faces with heavy eyebrows she had seen around her all her life. The men sat around the long table, with maps scattered all over. At the head sat the only one who did not shamelessly stare, but simply glanced at her from under his thoughtful, frowning brow. Sahar did not hide a catlike grin and bowed with a hint of theatrical flair.
“The Patriarch called?”
Tecca smirked thinly – he did that more often of late, she had noticed. “Yes, thank you for coming. Men, meet Sahar of Gilane.”
Again, the eleven other men trailed their gazes all the way from her black-haired crown to her toned calves in the supple boots. One of them, a grey Breton with a hoarse voice, looked at the Patriarch.
“Why did you summon an actress, Tecca?”
Sahar tilted her head back and laughed softly. The beads woven into her hair jingled.
“Actress. That's new.” She crossed her arms over her chest and ignored the staring, looking right at the man who summoned her with a perked eyebrow, waiting. Tecca cleared his throat. He seemed impatient.
“Sahar of Gilane has crossed the wastes on her own and lives to speak of it. I daresay she might be of use. Have a seat, Sahar.” She arched up another eyebrow as she sauntered towards the single untaken seat she was pointed towards, at the far end of the table. And where did you hear that, Patriarch? She leaned back comfortably and slowly placed her right leg on the table, over several maps, before resting her left leg on top of it. To her right side, a young Redguard stared at her, and his polished armour, intricate patterns of war symbols on his skin and stubborn jaw could not hide his nervous gulp. Sahar grinned and winked at him.
“Pretend that I'm not here.”
Tecca cleared his throat more loudly at that, and eleven heads turned the Patriarch's way once more. “What would you have us do, Hergym? Sit idle?”
The grey Breton, sitting at the patriarch's right hand, replied. Sahar noticed how he laced his words with caution. What is going on in here?
“I'm afraid a chase is what they want, Tecca. They are hoping we'll come for them. We'll end up stuck in the sands, parched, weak, dying... And then they'll jump us like a pack of lions. It's a loss, but one we must take.”
Instantly, the chaos she had walked into earlier thundered through the tent again. The young Redguard to her side jumped up and pointed a finger at the grey Breton.
“If they were men from High Rock you would not even suggest it, Hergym, and you bloody know it! Patriarch, those men swore allegiance to our cause, we cannot let them rot. Give me leave to take my regiment and I swear I'll bring them back!”
A bulky Orc had jumped up as well, growling. “Hassur is right, curse it all! Are we quivering boys, fresh off our mothers' breasts, or soldiers?! I won't stand for this!”
More of the men started yelling, disagreeing on each and every front with each other. Within seconds, Sahar was the only one still sitting down. The rest of the company had jumped to their feet, shouting and swearing. She slowly licked her tongue over her teeth and looked at the far end of the table. There, Tecca sat in silence, brooding as he rubbed his forehead. When he caught her glance, she tilted her head aside, and questioned him with her eyes. She could see how he sighed.
At once, the tent fell silent again. The patriarch rose to his feet and leaned on his clenched fists as he stared at the maps in front of him.
“Thank you. You may leave.”
The company exchanged restless, unruly glances, but did not disobey. As they started to make their way to the exit of the large tent, Sahar slowly slid her legs off the table as well.
“Sahar, you stay.”
She froze her movements, and placed her legs right back with a grin on her full lips. She felt the stares of the officers piercing her back as they left.
She watched the Patriarch walk to a bronze basin on thin legs. As he dipped his strong hands into the water and splashed it into his face, she clacked with her tongue.
“Somehow I feel you didn't invite me to a party here, Patriarch.”
He rubbed his eyes slowly, and she waited with patience as he grabbed a piece of cloth, drying his face.
“We have a problem.”
“I can tell.”
She slid her feet to the floor and rose from her seat. She crossed her arms once more, and slowly walked around the table, her eyes on the patriarch's back. “I don't know why it concerns me, but if you want me to be of any help at all, I will need some details.”
Tecca bent his neck from side to side, she could hear a faint crack, and then he turned to face her.
“A while ago, we received envoys in our camp... Rugged Orcs, a few Redguards. They came here to swear allegiance to our cause and the Order, said they wanted to support the Covenant. Our numbers are thin, Sahar. I gladly accept more men.” She could hear how he said it as if he was sorry he did so in this particular case, and she frowned lightly. As he took his seat at the head of the table once more, she slowly walked over and took the liberty of sitting down in the chair the grey Breton had occupied moments ago.
“They said they had a camp of their own, and that they'd need help before all of their numbers could reach us. They had many injured men, many sick, a lot of camp followers... No supplies, no medicine, no fresh water. They gave us an indication of where their camp was, said they'd lead us there if we were willing to help...”
The Patriarch stared at the bronze bracer around his wrist, loosened it, and tightened it once more. Then he proceeded.
“I allowed it. If we could get these men back on their feet, we'd bolster our numbers a great deal. When the envoys left, I sent our own men with them. Thirty, give or take, along with supplies.”
Sahar could see Tecca's jaw tighten, how his frown deepened. She smirked.
“You've been tricked.” It wasn't a question. The Patriarch growled lowly.
“Only one of those thirty came back. This evening. The man had managed to escape what the bastards had planned for us. In the middle of the desert, the thirty men were robbed of their arms in the middle of the night, were bound, gagged and captured as that filth simply took the supplies. Our escaped hero says he is unsure what they intend to do with our men, they might keep them as slaves, hostages, a bargaining chip so we will give them more supplies... I'm not sure. The point is, we've been robbed by common bandits.” Tecca could not stay put, his annoyance got the better of him as he once again rose from his seat and paced across the tent. Sahar smiled thinly. A nasty bite from a very small bug... She followed him with her honey-coloured eyes.
“And now what?”
“You heard how my officers are torn over the matter. Some think we should leave it, that we risk losing so much more if we pursue this. We don't have the time, the men... Others, as you could hear, cannot stand the dishonour.” He fell quiet, not saying what he personally thought. But he did not have to. Sahar slid her dagger out of her right boot and slowly turned the curved blade in front of her eyes, making the light of the oil lamps reflect upon the elaborately treated bronze.
“Neither can you, Patriarch.” She looked at him through her eyelashes, turning the dagger slowly, again and again. The bronze shimmered. Tecca leaned on the table and glared at her, a hint of zealous anger in his dark eyes.
“They whisper you made a pact with the desert.”
“Men whisper many things about me.”
The Patriarch, despite the entire ordeal, grinned for a brief moment. “How can you help, Sahar of Gilane?”
She held his gaze for a second, and then inhaled deeply. The scent of spices filled her nose as she pulled a map closer to her.
“Where were they last seen, this scum?”
This post was last modified: August 24th 2013 10:16 AM by Triskele