Dashki stood before Almah and held out his staff with reverence. The crispy corpse of the pugwampi dangled from it grotesquely. Almah eyed it with poorly hidden disgust. Behind them, all four of her red-armoured guards stood coiled, ready to pounce upon Dashki at a moments notice. Their distrust of the filthy tracker was obvious. The tension in the air was palpable.
Almah plastered a tight, forced smile upon her face, swallowing down rising bile as she did.
Bree smiled. Not the evidence she had hoped for? The woman got drunk on water.
“And they are solitary creatures?” Almah asked.
Dashki shook his head. “They live in packs, Princess.”
“I… thank you for your service, Dashki.” she said politely. She nodded at him, and then her guards. “You may go.”
Dashki puffed up his chest at her compliment then smiled triumphantly at Santon. The guards straightened and followed Dashki out of the tent.
Almah waved a hand before her face, wafting the smell of burnt flesh, filth and sweat around the room. “As there may be more of those… creatures about I have a further task for you.”
Bree wasn’t sure if she was talking about Dashki or the pugwampi.
“The Sultan’s Claw is obviously too exposed a location to use as a base of operations against Kelmarane. There is an old monastery nearby that should serve our purposes well. It is a half days walk away. I had hoped to avoid it, as it is likely occupied in some fashion by the more feral denizens of the region.” She eyed each of them in turn. “Travel to the monastery and prepare it for our arrival. Clear out any dangerous inhabitants you might find. We will arrive there two days hence.”
Nes nodded and stepped forward but Santon shook his head.
“Sorry, my lady,” he said with a sigh. “I would love to aid you in this endeavor, but we were hired as guards, not scouts and thugs.”
Bree’s jaw dropped. She had never seen Santon speak against an attractive woman before, least of all Almah!
Almah’s mouth tightened slightly. “I am willing to renegotiate the terms of our contract, of course.”
Santon nodded. “Of course.”
“I could offer you two hundred scarabs each, for this task.”
Bree furrowed her brow. Scarabs? Why would they get paid in scarabs? She racked her brain, trying to remember the desert currency. Scarabs were… gold pieces? She was offering them two hundred dollars each?
Santon shook his head. He looked offended. “Absolutely not! Is this all our lives are worth? This task is certainly dangerous!”
“I could offer you four hundred scarabs a piece. No more.”
“We have no guide! I would not do it for less than a hundred genies!”
A genie? Those were… silver? No, that made no sense. Why would Santon barter lower? It had to be platinum. That made it a thousand dollars a piece! Was he serious?
Almah sputtered. “Surely you jest! I could buy your lives for as much!”
“You are! For this task will surely claim it, unequipped as we are.”
“Four hundred and fifty scarabs each, and not a grain more!”
Bree frowned. She was pretty sure a grain was a copper piece, which they called a penny back home, but that meant they used penny to mean a silver piece here… Perhaps a grain was a silver piece, then? Froth and foam, she couldn’t keep up! She hated Katapesh.
Santon shook his head. “Five hundred scarabs a piece plus gear, and you have yourself a monastery.”
Almah nodded once. “Agreed.”
Santon clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “We’re in business then, my lady. That is, if my companions choose to accept your offer.”
“It sounds acceptable,” Nes said stoically.
Bree was dumbfounded. They were bartering over doing a good deed as if it were a cow. She didn’t understand these people at all!
“Excellent.” Almah said. “Father Zastoran has a rather large supply of potions you may each choose a pair from, while the mercenaries have a small array of weapons and armour for sale amidst their possessions. Inform them each that Garavel will handle the payment on your behalf. You may leave now, or first thing in the morning.”
“We are tired.” Nes began.
“It will be cooler now, than in the morning.” Santon pointed out.
Bree frowned. “I’m not leaving until morning.”
Santon turned to her and smiled. “Make sure you get some rest before morning, Bree.” He winked.
Bree blushed. “Worry about yourself, Santon.”
“Yes, I’m sure Trevvis will take care with you.” Santon opened his mouth in mock shock. “Of you, I meant, of course. Of you.”
Bree glared at him, pushed her way out of the tent and returned to her camp. Trevvis lay under her makeshift tent, half hidden in the dark.
“You came,” he said as she approached.
Bree smiled. “Of course.”
“You didn’t last time.”
She frowned. He made her blood boil! “You’re waiting at my tent, Trevvis. I couldn’t avoid you if I tried.”
He eyed her in the dark. Behind her, her comrades exited Almah’s tent. Santon laughed loudly before passing by, far closer than necessary, to where Trevvis sat and Bree stood.
Santon met their gaze as if surprised to find them together. “Careful with her, Trevvis!” he called. “I have need of her come morning.”
“Go away, Santon,” Bree responded with a call over her shoulder. “Or my blade will have need of you tonight.”
Trevvis fumed. “I can think of a few ways you could have stayed away, Star Flower.” He nodded in Santon’s direction, and then in Dashki’s. “And obviously they can, too.”
“I’m not a whore who ploughs a furrow with every man to walk by!”
“I worried.” Trevvis continued, ignoring her outburst. “It can be dangerous out here, at night.”
The frown slipped from her face and she smiled softly. She sat down beside him. “I wanted to come back to you and so I did.”
Trevvis placed a hand upon her head. “Star Flower, what happened?” he exclaimed. “You’re covered with more spots than there are stars above us!”
Bree blushed. “Oh, tipped tankard!” She brushed her hair over her face self-consciously. “I may have had an accident in a patch of cacti.”
“You may have?” He pushed the hair out of her face.
He laughed, wrapped his arm around her and pulling her close. “Well, maybe you’re beautiful.”
“Maybe?” Bree asked angrily.
“And maybe I’m glad to see you.”
Bree frowned and pushed him onto the dry earth.
He chuckled and pulled Bree down beside him. “Maybe, it’s as certain as there was more than one accident.”
She laughed as she lay down next to him. “I have to go on a task for Almah come first light.” she said with sadness.
“Best make the best of the darkness then, Star Flower.”
With a nervous feeling in her stomach and shaking hands Bree inched herself closer to Trevvis. She looked into his dark eyes. “Perhaps.”
He looked up at her and smiled. “Perhaps?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. “Definitely.”
She inched a little closer, pressed her side up against his and leaned over top of him. “And how would I go about that?”
Trevvis smiled and raised a hand up to stroke the side of her face. “I’d start by not being such a tease.”
Bree frowned and slapped him in the chest. Trevvis laughed. Bree moved to get up but he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her down to him. Her heart skipped a beat at the touch.
He rolled over her and leaned down, placing a rough kiss upon her lips. She kissed him back deeply.
He pulled back then, smiling down at her, surrounded by a nimbus of stars. She lay in the dirt, clothed in filthy armor, covered in dust, sweat and dried blood, bathed in the moonlight.
“Who’s the tease now?” she asked.
She reached her hands up to his face and pulled him down to her. She kissed him frantically. His hand brushed against the copper tankard at her hip.
Cayden Cailean, my Lord, She prayed in response. Let it be a long night.