Chapter V

Reaching Rhaz

The remainder of the time spent in the temple flashes before them. The final moments are filled with sad goodbyes, Lumi wishing his roommates Cara and Keira farewell, along with the other acolytes. Khimi felt a pang of envy when a large yilan man came to say his farewell to Lumi, gifting him a box and a ‘special’ garb, which Khimi immediately recognized as being akin to those worn by Dolman concubines. Their closeness and familiarity to one another had felt odd to him, yet he refused to speak of it. Lumi told him early in their journey to Rhaz the nature of his relationship with Hasim. Hasim had been Lumi’s teacher, showing him more refined techniques of the spear. Khimi was shocked to learn from Hasim of Lumi’s success with spears, his shock was only furthered when he learned Lumi could use divine magick. Khimi had been aware of Lumi’s connection with the Gods, but uncertain of his gifts.

The wagon jostles Khimi about while it begins its path onto the cobbled sandstone streets of Rhaz. He looks down at Lumi’s head resting in his lap and gently brushes the blonde hair from his face, revealing his drooling mouth dripping spittle onto his sarouel. He grimaces at the wetness from Lumi’s drool, quickly grabbing a battered kerchief and placing it under Lumi’s mouth, interrupting the trail of spit. Khimi sighs and leans back against the wooden wall of the caravan. Immediately, he notices Rashid glaring directly at him from across the wagon. Rashid smiles smugly, suddenly turning his gaze out the back of the wagon onto the streets of Rhaz.

Rhaz was unlike any of the other Desert Cities. It was vibrant where Porat was plain, it was loud where Betset was quiet, it was wild where Sidi was ordered. Rhaz was situated carefully between the Emerald Coast and the Endless Ocean, making it a center of trade and travel before merchants headed north of Loria or south to Dolmas. The city was known for its questionable morals, where anyone with enough wealth could have any desire met. Rhaz had once been known for a rampant guild of thieves, but in more recent years, it became known for the cutthroat merchants who ruled the city with their immense wealth. Khimi sighs again, it was almost a relief to be back in Rhaz, but a part of him deeply longed to visit his mother in Sidi, it had been ages since he had last seen her.

Rashid glances at Khimi again, “Let sleeping lion’s lie?” He says under his breath.

Khimi’s eyes narrow. “Funny, Rashid,” he says plainly. “He just…looks at peace, I don’t want to wake him.”

Rashid scoffs. “Be careful! From what some acolytes have said, that Little Lion is quick to bare his fangs,” he whispers when he leans in closer. “I heard he recently got into it with some girls there…a bit strange isn’t it?”

“He explained the whole thing, I am sure you would have done something about it too,” Khimi replies quietly. I’m sure you’ve had to beat a fair few women serving the Saint of Balance.

“I would have let those girls run,” Rashid begins, pausing to check if Lumi still sleeps. “Sometimes ya just need to learn to let things go. I am certainly concerned he could be a bit more immature than I thought,” Rashid continues.

Khimi sighs, suddenly annoyed with his advisor, “Not something that needs discussion,” he replies. Now you state your reservations – old bastard. “He’ll be fine, he just needed to get out of the temple.”

Rashid knuckles his back, “Well, if ya think ya can handle him, and he brings ya happiness…that is all that matters. But…ya can’t just leave him like a stray now that ya took ‘em,” he whispers, quickly sitting back against the wagon wall. “But don’t come bitching to me when you can’t handle hi—”

Lumi stirs from Khimi’s lap with a lengthy yawn.

“Finally awake?” Khimi asks Lumi, pulling the tattered kerchief from beneath Lumi’s mouth. He watches Lumi sit up, wiping his mouth free of drool, a sleepy look on his face.

Lumi’s ears wiggle inquisitively while he peers through the canvas flap, “Huh, we’re here?!” Lumi asks. “I only passed through here once with Eustes,” he adds quietly, an intense expression on his face.

“Why the distressed look?” Rashid asks quickly, taking note of Lumi’s expression.

“I have never been in a city for long,” Lumi replies softly. “I’ve only heard bad things for the most part…but I am looking forward to seeing all the new things.”

Rashid laughs, “House,” He says aloud and begins to chuckle. “My boy, Khimi, wouldn’t know what a house is if he tried. Y’re staying in something closer to a palace,” he says, leaning in. “A palace.”

Khimi rubs his eyes, “You’re raising his expectations, Rashid…stop it,” he grumbles. What has gotten into you, Rashid? “It’s nothing so grand, Lumi. I assure you, it is modest in comparison to my parent’s home,” he says in a matter of fact tone. “It is a nice place. You’ll like it.”

“Now y’re just humblebragging,” Rashid says, his eyes pinch closed while he crosses his arms.

Lumi coos, “I am sure anything you live in will be lovely.” He looks between the two men with confusion on his face.

The wagon continues to rumble across the cobbles, several of the wagons behind them begin to turn through a large fenced yard. Lumi drops from his seat and crawls on his knees to the back of the wagon. An expressive smile forms across Khimi’s lips at the sight of Lumi seated at the end of the wagon. Lumi’s tail sweeps across the wooden planks in excitement.

“Did our caravan break up?” Lumi asks curiously.

Khimi points back to the fenced area, “That is the stables, we aren’t too far from the estate now. I should have woken you up when we approached…then you could have seen more,” he says cheerfully. He approaches Lumi from behind, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“He’ll see it all in time,” Rashid snorts. “Rhaz is big, but nothing in comparison to Dolmas or Loria. You could walk across Dolmas your whole life and still find something new every day. You could probably learn everything about Rhaz in a year if you’re the adventurous sort,” he adds, looking at the two.

“I’d hope to be here for longer than a year,” Lumi says and runs his hand over Khimi’s. “I’d love for you to show me the sites, Rashid!” He says with a flash of his fangs.

“I’d think Khimi would be all too pleased to show you,” Rashid scoffs and stands in the wagon, grabbing hold of the wooden siding. “Seems the lad can’t keep his hands off of you anyway,” he adds, chuckling while he moves to the front towards the canvas. “Baqil,” he calls.

Khimi runs his fingers through his hair, “I think that is a great idea. Perhaps you can see the wagoners paid and the horses taken care of?” He asks, glaring back at Rashid.

“And I suppose you’ll be showing Lumi about the estate?” Rashid asks, bracing himself for when the wagon stops.

“Hope that isn’t an issue?” Khimi asks, a smile on his lips while he watches the older man struggle to keep his balance.

“No, but I would love to see the look on Lumi’s face when show ‘em ‘round the place.”

Khimi looks back at Rashid, annoyed with their fickle exchange, “It won’t be nearly as entertaining as you imagine,” Khimi replies bluntly. “Let’s go, Lumi,” Khimi grumbles and hops from the back of the wagon.

“Oh, we’re here?” Lumi asks, taking Khimi’s outstretched hand.

Khimi pulls Lumi against himself, Lumi slamming against his chest. He feels Lumi’s quickening heartbeat against his chest. He looks down at Lumi, his eyes meeting the striking aqua eyes staring back. A confident grin forms on his lips, then turns Lumi around, showing him the majesty of the estate. Large sandstone walls protect the outside of the estate, several figures garbed in breastplates and linen sarouel stand watch at the gates. The size of the estate had always been something Khimi felt proud of, and now showing it to Lumi, he yearns for approval more than he cares to admit. He watches Lumi tremble while he looks about the buildings. Khimi grabs hold of his arm, much like Lumi had with him at the temple, walking past the guards and into the estate. The men give Khimi a small nod before their attention turns to the aslan on his arms, a flicker of concern in their eyes.

There it is. Khimi’s fingernails press against his palm in annoyance. Khimi had never believed that beastkin and other races should not mix, but he knew that it was something that was widely accepted across the majority of Talmus. He never really understood the specifics of why, though most people could never explain it even when they were asked.

“Wait – hold on!” Lumi pauses, turning to face Khimi. “This is your house?!” He asks, his face stunned. His jaw drops in awe.

Rashid laughs from the wagon. “Told ya, it’s a proper palace, Lumi.”

“This is my home…and if you care to stay it will be yours as well,” Khimi replies, blushing while he takes in the view of the Zeybek Estate.

Lumi squeals, “You’ll never get me to leave,” he says with a chuckle. “Lead on, please! Wait, Khimi…where do we go first?”

Khimi combs his fingers through his hair, “How about I show you the courtyard, the palms there offer a lot of shade…I think you’d like it,” he replies, leaning in to Lumi. “Unless, you’d rather see the bedroom first?” He asks while he gauges Lumi’s expression.

“I-I,” Lumi stutters, “Yeah. Let’s do that,” he stumbles in response and latches back onto Khimi’s arm. “Show me!”

Khimi walks Lumi through the large, ornately carved wooden doors, the dark wood gives off a somewhat menacing appearance while they pass through the threshold. They walk by several seating areas, the light from the large windows leaves the rooms brightly lit. They walk through the covered walkway and approach a building separated from the main estate, surrounded by a large walled courtyard. Towering palms encompass the structure, desert succulents grow in abundance around a small pool of water against the building.

Khimi places a gilded key into the curious locking mechanism of the wooden door, twisting sharply and pushing the door. The grand room is unveiled. A low seating area is situated in the corner with dozens of cushions laid across the floor, a curious blue tinted window above the area mimics the sensation of being underwater. In the center of the room rests a large poster bed with rippling sheer curtains which fall gracefully from a suspended wooden trellis. They walk deeper into the room, Lumi pauses at the wading pool nearby the bed.

Lumi gasps, “You have a bath built into your bed chamber?” He scoffs. He dips his feet in the lukewarm waters.

“Do you like it?” Khimi asks and grips Lumi’s elbow, tugging him away from the water.

“I don’t know what to say,” Lumi begins, looking around the stately room. “I-I…I’ve never seen a room this grand before. Even in the temple, there isn’t anything quite like this. At least not that I have seen!”

Khimi tosses a rucksack onto the tiles, “Glad you like it,” he whispers and pulls Lumi against himself.

Khimi slowly envelops him in his arms, brushing his chin between Lumi’s rounded ears. Lumi’s arms slide beneath his own, then he pulls him back toward the bed. Khimi cannot help but smile while Lumi tips backwards, pulling them both onto the mattress. Fiendish little lion. Khimi brings his lips across Lumi’s forehead, his lips work down Lumi’s face, his warm breath passes over Lumi’s parted lips before their lips meet.

Lumi’s leg nudges between his own while he turns onto his side. Khimi grips Lumi’s waist, his fingers twist into the linen chiton. Lumi whimpers between Khimi’s kisses, his tail thumping against the bed in anticipation. Khimi’s heart races. It had only been moments since they had walked into the room, and already he is filled with desire. He slides his hand beneath the tunic, Lumi’s soft inner thighs radiate a mild heat. Hells, I’ve wanted to touch him like this the whole journey. Pressing his lips against Lumi’s, his lips part to allow their tongues to meet.

 Khimi runs his hand further up the linen chiton, pausing while his fingertips brush against Lumi’s soft sack. He feels the hardness of Lumi’s erection throbbing against him, the white fabric wet with his precum.

Khimi whispers, “Excited?” He taunts.

Lumi, “Y-Yeah.”

Khimi pulls himself further atop the Lumi, his fingers moving with certainty along Lumi’s sack and down to the eager entrance. He leans over Lumi, watching his expression while he presses his middle finger against his soft hole. Lumi moans softly under the pleasure of the finger pressing against him.

“Does it hurt?” Khimi asks, his lips moving over Lumi’s nipple. He pushes the fabric aside to suckle delicately on the swollen skin.

“N-No, it was just sudden,” Lumi whimpers. His fingers grasp at the soft, vibrant silks.

Khimi whispers, “I’ll go slower.” His tease on the hardened nipple, suckling gently.

“Don’t slow down…” Lumi orders, reaching a hand into Khimi’s raven hair. “Show me you want me,” he pleads, pressing Khimi’s mouth back over his chest.

Khimi bites down hard, his teeth sink into the soft flesh around Lumi’s nipple.

“You can be rougher,” Lumi whispers, his foot pressing against the bulge in Khimi’s sarouel. “I’m tougher than I look.”

Lumi cries out, the sharp bite of Khimi’s teeth tighten around his perky nipple.

“Your ass is so warm…” Khimi breaths between his bites.

Lumi’s feet rub along Khimi’s legs, his toes curl while Khimi begins to edge his finger inside of him. Khimi bites and sucks on the hardened nipple, leaving a thin trail of saliva. His lips move along his chest and neck. Lumi whimpers against Khimi’s touch while he applies pressure against the soft entrance. Khimi sits up, observing Lumi’s body while his finger finally breeches him. Lumi’s chest rises and falls with Khimi’s movements, his boyish form squirming beneath him. They stare deeply into one another’s eyes. A primal need unlike anything Khimi had ever felt surges through him. I want to fuck him. Lumi’s lips tremble with words unspoken, while a cocksure smile forms across Khimi’s lips.

“Fuck me,” Lumi whispers finally, running his hand along Khimi’s forearm to his cheek.

Khimi hastily begins to pull at the top of his sarouel, his cock leaps from the trousers with surprising enthusiasm. A heavy line of precum immediately drips over Lumi. His cock hangs over Lumi, the sight of it shocks him. The tip of his cock sits past Lumi’s navel. It’s going to kill him, he thinks, almost fearful. Both of their expressions become sullen at the sound of a half-dozen loud knocks on the dense wooden doors. A soft woman’s voice calls through to Khimi.

“Lord Zeybek, there are individuals who have been awaiting your arrival,” the voice says loudly through the door.

Khimi hangs his head, “I am sorry,” he begins, a frustrated look on his face which becomes pained while he tucks his cock back into his trousers. “I hope you’ll wait for me.”

“It’s alright” Lumi whispers, quickly sitting up and pulling his chiton down over his body. “I knew you would be busy,” he says, his ears drooping. He looks about the room, averting his gaze from Khimi.

“My Lord…?” The voice asks loudly. “Should I keep them waiting?” She asks.

Khimi balls his fist, “No-No…I will be out soon. Tell them I only just arrived and needed a moment to collect myself,” he shouts, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Please don’t be upset with yourself, Khimi,” Lumi whispers before he places his hand on Khimi’s back.

“I didn’t think our timing would be so…unfortuitous,” Khimi sighs. He turns to Lumi. “There wasn’t a moment in the caravan when I didn’t want to be with you,” he adds while looking towards Lumi.

Lumi bites his lip, “I felt the same, but…I kept to myself for Rashid’s sake,” he laughs in turn, placing his forehead against Khimi’s back. “You should really take care of your business. We will be together soon!” He says confidently.

Khimi stands, “I know we will,” he mutters and fixes the collar of his jacket, “Feel free to explore the estate, or if you want …just wait for me here.”

Lumi smiles, “I am sure I can find my way around,” he begins, standing and following Khimi towards the door. “Unless you think it’s safer here?” He asks.

“You should be fine,” Khimi replies with a sigh. “No one should cause you any grief. Hopefully I won’t be gone too long.”

“Should be?” Lumi mutters while Khimi turns his back to him.

Khimi opens the ornate doors and notices the youthful woman awaiting him nervously outside. She wrings her hands then turns to him. Khimi immediately begins following her along the pathway back to the central building, each of her words deaf to his ears. Every thought is focused entirely on the upcoming evening and what he should do to make Lumi’s time with him more enjoyable. Perhaps I can bring him into the city tomorrow, I am sure that he would love to see everything. The girl opens the massive doors and half dozen merchants turn towards him in the parlor.

He flashes a false smile, “Gentlemen!” He calls with exaggerated bravado, his hands extended in welcome.

Khimi Zeybek, Merchant Prince

Nearly a week had passed since Khimi had last seen Lumi. The time they spent apart seems to grow more lengthy by the day. No matter how much Khimi wants things to be different. No matter how much he wishes that he had more time, he knows that would never be the case. Even though there is a sense of guilt, he hopes that Lumi will understand that his life and duty will always be bound to his family, to the Cerulean Star.

The Grand Hall doors remain open. Intricate cushions and trays of food are scattered about the brilliant tiles. The cool from the sandstone tiles provides a bit of relief from the uncomfortable heat. A vulpo merchant across from Khimi fans himself with an intricate folded paper. The design catches Khimi’s attention until he returns to the scroll in front of him. The letters and numbers he had written make nearly no sense even to himself. He had not been able to maintain his focus within the last few hours.

The midday heat brings perspiration across many of their brows. Khimi scribbles across the scroll before him, lost deep in thought. He wonders what the merchants are still discussing. The only reason Khimi had not dismissed the group by this point had been out of sheer cordiality and because of their loyalty to the Cerulean Star.

Beneath the scroll is a stack of other documents and from the edges, Khimi spots the framework of a map. The merchants continue to discuss their troubles with rival merchants and bandits. He traces his fingers along the outline of the Desert Cities. The major cities and trade routes are each marked and displayed with carefully placed ink blots. Many of them hold exciting memories that Khimi longs to relive. Nostalgia claims his attention, the surrounding merchants are forgotten.

From village to village, Khimi had lived as a mercenary after he fled from Sidi. Doing his best to avoid the larger cities, he had found a way to stay undetected and unseen by Rashid and the men under his employ. Some of his greatest memories had been forged during those years. Hunting bandits and wanted criminals, escorting caravans through the dangers of the great dunes and Dolman jungles, duels with murderous mercenaries, and the occasional gladiatorial match in Betset. Within the time he had been in Rhaz, he had already grown eager for excitement and adventure.

A soft laughter echoes around him, a gentle smile crosses his lips. Lumi’s laugh, even after hearing it only a handful of times, he could pick it out of a crowd of thousands. The adventure he craves, his desire to explore the world once more. He wonders if Lumi would be able to acclimate to the life of a traveler. He glances up and around the room, the merchants all glare at him with dire expressions.

Khimi?” A voice calls.

Khimi tilts his head up to the merchants, “Yes?” He questions quietly, lost in thought.

“Were you listening?” The vulpo asks, fanning himself with increasing fervor. “Did you hear anything we said?” He asks again, his cheeks red with color.

The vulpo’s skin is smooth as cream and equally pale. Draped from head to toe in clothing befit his status, the uncomfortable heat overcomes the merchant. A fur-lined kaftan of the finest sable and boots only seen by far travelers add to the increasing discomfort.

Khimi massages his eyelids and looks over the small group. “S-Sorr–” He pauses, his father’s words pierce the back of his mind. Only a weak man apologizes, Khimi. It had been ages since he heard the words, and yet they still managed to be dredged from the recesses of his memories. “I heard,” he says, rolling the scrolls in front of him. “I was just contemplating.”

“A decision has to be made soon, Khimi,” A thin framed merchant with a dark complexion mutters, a hint of anger. “We can’t keep taking losses on our routes… Ziad promised us.”

“Even if the bandits are hired by Omar, we have no proof!” The vulpo growls and slams the fan into his palm. “Ziad would have handled this by now! We have long been loyal to the Cerulean Star, but there is only so much we can be–”

“Enough,” Rashid snarls from the doorway. “Lord Zeybek will not suffer such insolence!”

“Rashid,” Khimi begins and raises his hand with a sigh. “It’s alright. I admit, I find myself at a crossroads. The bandits and mercenaries who have attacked your caravans…there is no way we can prove Lord Kappas contracted them. If we denounce Omar before Revya then it may be seen as the Cerulean Star conspiring to extend its reach.”

“The Cerulean Star is the most powerful merchant company in the Desert Cities! Nay, within Aldorri–”

“Be that as it may,” Khimi says, his hands firm over his knees. “The Cerulean Star has kept its reputation and power because we act within the confines of the law…because we follow the letter of the law.”

“But not the spirit,” a gentle-bearded merchant says under his breath. “Is it not known that the Cerulean Star abuses their understanding of rules and laws to take precisely what they want?”

“Hessiah!” The vulpo roars. “The Cerulean Star is famed for many things…but you must not forget yourself. You sit before the blood of Ziad Zeybek. Show some bloody respect.”

“As should you, Kaan,” Hessiah replies, pulling his keffiyeh[1] from his head.

Khimi’s fingers dig into his knees, his lips thin while he grits his teeth. “It’s fine, I a–”

“Khimi,” Rashid mutters with a nod of his head.

Khimi sighs and continues, “Regardless of what sins you believe the Cerulean Star to be responsible for,” Which we probably are, “It is in your best interest to never bring that thought to light again, Hessiah. Lest you forget the pledge you swore to the Cerulean Star.”

“I thought my pledge would come with protection for my men, for my wares. Do you have any idea what sort of losses we suffered in that last attack?” Hessiah growls and leans forward over the tiles.

“Enlighten me,” Khimi groans with a wave of his hand.

“Lord Zeybek, a bit more…sympathy may be appropriate.”

“Fine,” Khimi says, managing a smile which fails to touch his eyes. “Please. Lord Hessiah, tell me. As part of your pledge to the Cerulean Star, you understand you will recoup your losses…though I am sorry for the lives of the men you lost,” he says, his voice trailing at the thought.

“Harod would have handled this by now!” Hessiah says, his eyes shaking with anger.

Khimi grits his teeth. His fingers bite into his knees, leaving half-moon shaped marks through the linen sarouel upon his flesh. Harod. A distant relative of the Zeybek family and one who Khimi had only met on rare occasions. Upon Khimi’s arrival in Rhaz, he had been charged by Aleyna to dismiss Harod of his duties after learning of his treasonous behavior.

The whole event happened within a fortnight, after Khimi’s arrival in Rhaz with Rashid. They had informed Harod of his dismissal and though Harod was furious with the news, he did not raise any questions on the matter. Rebuilding the reputation of the Zeybek name in Rhaz since Harod left had been a task which Khimi still constantly fought through.

“Harod’s gone…but you have me now, and I will do my best as the heir of the Cerulean Star to meet your expectations,” Khimi proclaims calmly.

The darker complexioned merchant nods his head respectfully and adjusts his agal. “Our family has always stood beside the Zeybek line…I am sorry for my outburst, Khimi. I pray for your forgiveness.”

Khimi nods and hangs his head, the weight of the golden collar growing heavier with every word. “Thank you, Kaveh. I hope that you all can understand that the Cerulean Star did not support the actions that Harod had taken during his tenure.”

“At least he took action!” Hessiah grumbles and pushes himself to his feet.

Kaan stands abruptly after him and tosses his fan onto the floor. “Enough, Hessiah! Did you not hear him? You will be compensated!”

Hessiah approaches Kaan, pushing the vulpo with great force. Khimi along with all the merchants rise, angry shouting erupts along with squabbling conversation. Rashid hurries to Khimi’s side with his hand over his shamshir. Khimi shakes his head knowingly at Rashid, signaling for him to relax.

“Ya seem…distracted today,” Rashid whispers, then leans against Khimi. “Do ya feel unwell? Shall I have tea prepared?”

Khimi pushes his hand from his brow and stretches from side to side while he watches the merchants argue amongst themselves. “I’m fine…my head is elsewhere.”

“Ya can’t let y’reself be distracted like that…during these types of things. People will take it for weakness. I don’t mean to tell ya how to live and all, but y’re going to be running the Cerulean Star one day…and all of these merchants will be y’re charges. Such is the duty of Lord Zeybek.”

“Well…how do they get on knowing Ziad has been in the Golden Isles for as long as he has?”

Rashid smiles and bumps into Khimi’s shoulder with a playful smile on his face. “Oh, I am sure he finds a way to keep his eyes and ears in the Desert Cities. Even someone as brazen as Omar Kappas likely fears Ziad…even if he is half a world away.”

Khimi sighs and blows air through his teeth. “Alright,” he begins with a clap of his hands. The merchants begin to settle down, and Khimi brings his palms before himself, lowering them to signal for the merchants to be seated. “Hessiah, we will do all we can to help with your issues. Rashid will ensure that you have additional mercenaries hired to guard your caravan next time… Kaan, and Kaveh. We will make arrangements as they are required. I only ask for your continued support of the Cerulean Star.”

The youthful Hessiah nods and lowers his head in a bow. “Thank you, Lord Zeybek. Apologies for my outburst.”

“Apologies,” Kaveh and Kaan both reply in kind.

“The heat must be getting to us,” Kaveh suggests, prostrating himself before Khimi. “The heat and Lord Kappas’ chicanery.”

Khimi palms his face, removing the perspiration dripping from his lip. “Be that as it may, none of you are to interact with Omar Kappas unless he seeks you out…until then be vigilant and aware. Lord Kappas and those who associate themselves with him are no friends of ours,” he finishes with a nod at Rashid.

“Lords,” Rashid begins at Khimi’s side. “Please enjoy the feast we have prepared for you this evening. Lord Zeybek will join you shortly,” he says in a slow and respectful manner, his hand on his shamshir.

Khimi offers a small bow to the small gathering of merchants and drifts from the Grand Hall with Rashid close on his heels. The moment Khimi reaches beyond the columns which run along the veranda, he sighs and bites into his knuckle, cursing under his breath with an intense heat.

“Harod is it?” Rashid asks quietly. “We’ll have to keep an eye on that Hessiah’s loyalties…he’s a minor lord. B-but ya shouldn’t allow him to talk to ya in such a way. Ziad would have never allowed it.”

Khimi curses again and pushes against the column, stretching his back. “I am not my father…I am not Ziad.”

“Of Course y’re not,” Rashid says, then removes his keffiyeh. “I-I didn’t mean to impl–”

“It’s fine,” Khimi grumbles and turns back to Rashid quickly before adjusting his tunic. “I need a moment.”

“It looked like ya needed a moment,” Rashid grins. “Where was y’re head? I saw you go all doe-eyed and ya didn’t hear a single word, did ya?”

Khimi itches behind his head and looks down at his feet. “I was thinking about – traveling. About the excitement of it all, surely you remember what excitement is like, right?” He mocks with an impish smile.

“Sure, when I could still walk and didn’t have as much weight on my gut. Maybe back when I was spry and youthful like y’reself,” Rashid replies, with a roll of his eyes. “Sure, ya weren’t thinkin’ bout the aslan?”

“Sure…briefly. I was wondering what it would be like to travel with him. I’ve barely spent a moment with him since we arrived back. It’s like he sleeps all day and is gone all night…strange, isn’t it?”

“Surely he’ll take some time to adjust, but ya can’t let these thoughts distract ya from the Cerulean Star. Y’re gonna have to learn how to balance both…and I know ya will. In time, at least.”

Khimi rolls his eyes, “Or I can run back off into the desert,” he laughs with a cheerful grin.

Rashid gives him a knowing look, “I don’t think I could catch ya again. Last time, ya about killed me with all the legwork it took to keep track of y’re ass. Besides, I know I got lucky finding ya.”

“Or rather, I was unlucky.”

“Someone’s gotta have bad luck,” Rashid grumbles, his arms crossed.

Khimi tilts his head thoughtfully from side to side, “Yes, well…let’s hope that it is Lord Kappas’ turn to experience some rotten luck soon. Else, I fear my hold over these merchants will dwindle along with the power of the Cerulean Star.”

Rashid rubs his shoulder and looks back to the Grand Hall’s entrance. “Then it’s time to buckle down and get to work, Lord Zeybek.”

Khimi follows Rashid’s gaze to the Grand Hall, the sound of bickering merchants occasionally rises loud enough for him to hear. “Right.”

The hours pass quickly with the aid of copious spirits and the addition of a hookah to help pass the time. By the end of the night, all the merchants seem amenable to Khimi’s wishes and desires. Hessiah had finally settled down after receiving a small payment for his pledge of loyalty to the Cerulean Star. Though, Khimi is unsure if Hessiah’s loyalty will only last as long as the coin flows freely into his pocket.

The merchants disperse from the Grand Hall, bidding their farewells and wishes, Rashid stands in the entrance again, leaning against the door. With a smile on his lips, he gradually approaches Khimi, his shamshir clinking against the metal buckle beside it. Familiar servants sweep about the room, collecting empty plates and dishes, while Khimi lays back on the colorful cushions.

“Tell Pavan I need a shave,” Khimi mumbles and looks up at the mosaics on the ceiling.

Rashid stands above him and looks down with his arms crossed, “Aleyna and Ziad would be proud of ya, even if ya did just get ‘em all drunk to get what ya wanted out of them.”

“At least they can say they left fat and happy,” Khimi says, turning his attention to his advisor. “Have you seen Lumi around?” He inquires, trying to not seem overly eager.

Rashid shakes his head, “I was about to walk ‘em to the Shrine…care to join?” He asks, cocking an eyebrow curiously. “I need to have a few words with ‘em first, though.”

Ahh,” Khimi grumbles, placing his hand over his chest and taking a lengthy drag from the hookah. “Go on then. I can see him tomorrow, I suppose…best not to keep the Gods waiting, right?” He asks with a spiteful tune.

“He is an acolyte,” Rashid mutters, his silk babouche tapping on the tile. “But I’ll tell ‘em ya inquired about ‘em.”

Khimi turns on his side and blows a cloud of smoke into the air, “Best not,” he whispers. “I don’t want him to skip out on his duty.”

Rashid smacks his lips in thought, “Well then,” he manages. “Don’t overdo it. Ya’ve got a lot of work ahead. And there was a letter from Omar…seems he’d like to meet again.”

Bile rises in the back of Khimi’s throat, “Ugh, truly?”

“Truly,” Rashid clears his throat with a loud ahem. He leaves a lengthy pause before he continues,“And there are reports that his baker is much better than y’res, Lord Zeybek,” he adds with a taunting smile, “if that is somethin’ ya care about.”


[1] A traditional headpiece worn in the Desert Cities.