A Fateful Meeting
Santon walked the narrow, winding pathways of Katapesh for the last time. He walked as if he had not a care in the world and seemed to pay no attention to the stalls about him. He wore his self-righteous smile with ease and bore his chin tilted up. As he walked he listened to those he passed.
“Finest silks in all of Katapesh!”
“Ancient Osirion relics!”
A trio of whores purred at him through pouting lips. “Santon! Come visit us.”
He smiled and bowed deeply. “Fear not, fair maids! I’ll stop by as soon as Father allows me the funds!”
“We miss you!”
One of them even meant it. Interesting. He waved his hand in farewell. “I pray it will be soon!”
A pickpocket fumbled at Santon’s coin purse, but he let her lift it off of him without reacting. It contained fake coins. The poor fool would probably lose a hand when she tried to spend them. Perhaps it would teach her some caution.
Santon continued down the road towards the Dock District. He intended to book passage on a ship heading straight for the island city of Okeno.
“Talking apes from the deepest jungles!” a slaver called out above the crowd.
“Camels! Camels for sale! Finest camels to walk the sands! On sale now for just-“
“Yes, yes.” muttered a swindler. “Of course I know the way to the Dawn Gate. I can lead you there.”
“I won’t pay.” answered his mark.
“Oh, of course not! Old Rafiq here needs no payment to do a good turn for a man the likes of yourself.”
Santon shook his head and held in a laugh. Old Rafiq was playing the oldest game in town. First you offer your services as a guide, then you take your tourist down a back alley and shank him for his gold. Only Rafiq was such a poor liar it hurt Santon to even listen. Had the man no guile?
“Thank you, peasant.” the mark responded. “I wish to leave through this Dawn Gate as soon as possible. I am needed in Kelmarane.”
Santon stopped dead in his tracks. His smile froze for a moment, but never slipped from his face.
Santon was not a pious man. Despite the myriad of gods known to him he didn’t worship a single one. He did, however, trust his gut. And when his gut told him to go one way, his brain told him to go another and a completely random event occurred to bring his gut reaction back to the surface, Santon knew better than to ignore it. He would go with his gut.
Old Rafiq turned out to be mighty old, indeed. He looked like a long-time beggar and bore the dirty clothes and missing teeth to match.
His mark had bronzed skin and impeccably clean, rich, silk robes, but had a foreign look about him. He sat upon a spoiled looking camel groomed better than many of the people milling about them. He appeared frail, but pampered, as if he had never done a days worth of physical labour in his life. He carried a parasol in one delicate hand and held his camels reigns in the other.
Beside him stood a man who had almost the exact same facial features as the first. They were brothers, no doubt. Oddly though, that is where their similarities ended. The second brother, younger by his guess, walked upon his own feet. He wore filthy, threadbare clothes and was almost as covered in dust and grime as Old Rafiq. He was muscular everywhere that his brother was delicate and obviously the more physical of the two. His eyes had something of a blue sheen to them, while under his torn, slightly too short, linen pants Santon caught sight of what appeared to be light blue scales upon his legs.
Old Rafiq beckoned the brothers forward, into a nearby alley.
The elder brother on the camel followed without hesitation, while the dirty, younger brother grabbed onto the camels reigns.
“No, Nes. He means you ill.”
“Nonsense! This Rafiq fellow will show us the way. Come, Fudin.”
Fudin released his brother’s reigns and Nes entered the alley. Fudin paused for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and followed.
Santon shook his head in disbelief. They were both idiots.
Santon followed them into the alley. He threw his arm around the younger brother’s shoulders. The strange foreigner tensed, but made no move to shrug him off.
“Fudin, my friend!” Santon shouted with gusto. “Long has it been since you visited last. My Father bids you stay with us, again! Come!”
Fudin raised his eyes to Santon’s. Nes turned his camel to view them both and opened his mouth to speak.
Santon cut him off. “I am sorry, Rafiq, but you’ll have to find another mark today. Pactbroker Sayyid would like a word with these two.”
Rafiq blanched and raised an eyebrow. He doubted Santon’s claims, as any native of Katapesh would, but knew better than to make a fuss. Santon, at least, saw through his lies, which meant that these two strangers would no longer be an easy kill.
“Yes, of course.” Rafiq answered with a bow of his head as he slunk away. “If the Pactbroker wills it…”
Santon smiled. “Good man!”
“Fudin,” Nes stammered. “How do you know this man?”
Fudin shrugged off Santon’s arm. “I do not. But, you should thank him nonetheless, my brother.”
“He lost us our guide!”
Santon chuckled. “I suppose I did.” He bowed to the elder brother. “My apologies, sir. I just noticed that poor man looked rather worn and, as I happen to be heading to Kelmarane myself, I thought I might lead you to the Dawn Gate in his stead.”
Fudin raised an eyebrow and Nes cocked his head.
“He did look rather… tired.” Nes responded. “And this blasted heat can take such a toll on the body…”
“Besides,” Santon continued, “You look like you would enjoy a higher class of company. I myself am the son of a powerful merchant lord. Quite a few steps above the common riffraff you’ll find wandering these streets.”
The suspicion left Nes’ eyes. “Yes. Lead the way, Merchant.”
Santon smiled and threw his arm back around Fudin’s shoulders.
“The name’s Santon Synger and the Dawn Gate is this way.” He turned the duo back around and out of the shadowy alley. He glanced once more at the distant ocean before beginning the long, meandering walk to the Dawn Gate.
Okeno could wait.
Kelmarane was calling.