Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Chapter 1: Pathways to an Inn
Urma rushed out the doorway and around the back wall of the compound. Her mistress lay, unmoving, sprawled on the cobbled street where she had fallen. The unnatural angles and extra bends in her limbs made it clear she would not be walking until her body healed. It had only been a moment that Urma turned her back, and she had thought Perlina engrossed in her study of the night sky. That had been enough time for the Cainite to become distracted and decide to hurl herself bodily from the rooftop. Urma had returned in time to see the brightly coloured dress flutter as the breeze caught it and the figure plummeted from sight.
Perlina groaned as consciousness began to return to her crumpled form. The roof had only been two full stories above street level, an eminently survivable fall for one of her kind, although the pain of broken bones and torn flesh was no less than if a mortal frame endured them. The young woman helped the noble woman to stand on her one good leg and half carried her, hopping agonizingly, back into their quarters before even the house guards might see. Much as this was the house of one of Perlina’s friends, it would not do for her to be seen in her current state.
As she helped bind her mistress’ wounds and stripped away the stained emerald silk, Urma pondered the night’s agenda. “We cannot possibly meet with the scholar tonight my lady. You are in no condition to travel even around the city,” she said, knowing full well that when set upon a path of action her mistress could rarely be dissuaded by mere discomfort – even if that discomfort was a crippling injury.
Perlina sighed daintily, as if crumbs had been left in her lap after a light meal, “Of course we must not be rude. We have appointments to keep.” The matter of fact statement was as immovable as a mountain range as her ward wiped the blood from her rapidly healing face. The lady could weather all manner of inconveniences for the sake of etiquette, but to be presentable she always insisted on recovering her appearance even at the cost of the further distraction of needing to add otherwise unnecessary feeding time to an evening’s activities.
Urma selected a long gown of sky blue linen and held it out for her mistress’ approval. Perlina nodded, her graceful neck re-formed well enough now that such gestures were possible. A cursory glance told Urma that the broken leg was only healing sufficiently to allow easier movement, but her lady either had too little blood or patience to repair it fully. The two women struggled and balanced on one another to pull on and fasten the dress, shifting it around until the fit of the bodice and flow of the skirts were settled to the moon lady’s liking.
With a hastily acquired walking stick in hand, they made their way out into the warm night air. The moon-mad Cainite bathed in Luna’s glow looked every inch the porcelain predator as she seemed to sniff the fragrant night of the Levant. Not for the first time Urma paused to wonder at her mistress, the poise and presence alluring, dangerous and unpredictable in so many ways.
“My lady must be hungry,” said Urma, considering the effort that went into healing her undead flesh, “Should we attend to your needs on the way?”
Perlina nodded, smiling inwardly at her ward’s shrewd observation. It had been almost a hundred years since the childe of Malkav’s line had listened properly when told what she must do. Even when such advice or orders carried real weight her natural inclination toward rebellion and free thinking sometimes overrode reasoning. In a few short years Urma had mastered the art of gentle encouragement and had proven her judgement to be trustworthy.
They rounded slowly through the narrow streets. Ancient buildings and cobbles leaned together, their stones remembering the blood and death of thousands of years interspersed with the anointed footprints of prophet, king, messiah, and conqueror. Stone steps led up and down alleyways into deep shadows most of which were empty, but others clearly harboured denizens of the night city whose eyes tracked them as they passed. The city was filed with several generations of the disenfranchised from years of marauding forces. Lost and forgotten, widows and orphans scraped out meagre existences in the dusky margins.
Perlina had peered across the shroud which hid the lands of the dead on several occasions since their arrival. Jerusalem was filed with the lingering spirits from across the city’s history. She had become comfortable interacting with the Shadowlands in the years since Sister Maude had taught her how to look. She had stumbled in communicating at first, but now she often traded carefully negotiated favours with the dead as a regular part of her research. Tonight she did not have the luxury of time to learn secrets from restless spirits. Instead she merely watched history’s flotsam washing against the sites of the dead as they made their way across the city.
Snapping back to the living world she turned evenly to the occupant of a darkened alcove. Leaning heavily on her walking stick, the graceful lady bent low, almost kneeling to speak at eye level.
“Good evening my child,” she said, her voice the even and calming tones of and understanding mother, “You look hungry. May I offer you a meal and perhaps a softer place to sleep tonight?”
A murmured response sounded the affirmative and the pale lady offered her hand to the recumbent figure. Dirty fingers took up the offer and the arm that emerged into the less poorly lit street proved to be attached to a scruffy girl whose eyes were far older than her face. The girl had not reached the full blossom of womanhood, but neither was she the child Urma took her for at first. Her hard life had clearly left it’s mark on her youthful features, and even without it’s ravages she would never have been taken for a beauty.
The moon childe moved so quickly that Urma did not see her strike. The girl from the alley went limp in her arms as she drank her life’s blood. Though the hunger of the Beast had clearly garnered strength from the injuries her mistress had suffered, Urma was pleased to see Perlina recover herself before draining her too far.
Perlina held the girl until she had regained enough of her strength to stand once more. She smiled a fang-less smile at the thin alley cat in her arms and released her gently, “Go to the house of the merchant Mattisyahu Banaburis by the square and tell the night watchman that the Lady of the Moon has sent you to his master’s hospitality. They will take good care of you for me.”
The girl smiled, apparently giddy from the drawing of her life blood and the promise of a good meal. Weaving a little at first, she started off down the street the way they had come. Only a score of steps away she turned and waved at the strange pair, “I am Marta. I hope to see you again soon!” Perlina raised an elegant hand in response and turned to continue on her own path through the dim streets.
The two pale ladies circled the more lively areas somewhat more slowly than usual, although even as they walked the seeress leaned less heavily on her walking stick. It seemed to her young companion that each step righted the vampire’s steps, lifting her from her stoop to an even gait by the time they reached their destination. If there was any doubt of their arrival, the lady’s anticipation set any doubt aside as palpable waves crashed around like a roaring surf.
The inn itself was, apart from its size, nondescript. Beside its sleeping peers on nearby streets the only thing that spoke of anything different under the flat roof partially obscured by the compound’s high wall was the lamplight reflected off its tan inner walls. The light color of the stones was no different, the design consistent, and even the wooden door barring their entrance were of the same bland planks as the rest. Still it was clear the open public house welcomed them when at their approach a doorman gestured excitedly for them to enter.
Just beyond the wide door was a bustling courtyard with women rushing here and there, some carrying baskets large and small as they went about the business of the house. The entrance to a stable led off in one direction, emitting contented animal sounds when any escaped it at all, and a rough path disappeared around a small building with no visible entrance or windows on the near side.
Otherwise the traffic seemed relaxed and content. Only on closer examination did it become apparent that there were a couple of small groups milling around, unloading animals and seeing to their needs before they entered the establishment.
The larger group seemed made up of several servants burdened with chests and barrels. They clearly represented the entourage of the well dressed man in their midst whose impatience was palpable. His anxious tapping and pacing rapidly became more pronounced as the two pale ladies passed by without pausing. Agitatedly pointing at them, he grumbled at the nearest servant as if the apologetic man could move faster at his master’s bidding to do anything about the situation.
By comparison, the smaller group appeared to be a humble couple in rustic dress. The brown dust on their sandals and cloaks and the weariness in their stance suggested a long journey from somewhere far beyond the city walls. The fact that they had not even stopped to dust themselves off or perform the ritual bathing dictated by the religious edicts common throughout the region spoke of the dire need of rest which drove them. Whatever brought them to this door must be a great burden to them, thought Urma.
Perlina swept through the courtyard without pause, apparently ignoring all of those present, striding directly to the door which opened from within to admit her and her ward to the common room within.
The Inn was busy with pilgrims and merchants gathered around humble meals on the tables. Long, short, round and square, the seats at each table rapidly filling as the two western ladies entered. Perlina allowed her sight to expand, stretching to pick out the myriad auras of the gathered figures, noting a number of pale coronas scattered around the room.
A surreptitious scowl peered from a table against the wall. The man returned to fervent entreaties with his companion, though the sound was lost to the hubbub of the room. The other man looked slightly uncomfortable at the pressures of anxious words flowing over him. Clearly the discussion was not his primary reason for being present as he regularly looked to the entrance expectantly.
Across the room, Perlina’s host Mattisyahu rose from his seat to wave a graceful hand indicating empty spaces where the two ladies should join him. Seated at the table were two other men who watched their approach carefully, studiously measuring them on some unknown scales. One man considered them through disparate eyes, one dark and exuding an intellect that matched his scholar’s robes, the other clouded through some previous injury whose fiery scars marred his face between dark, curly locks and matched luxurious beard.
Her friend’s broad smile and open arms welcomed Perlina’s arrival. “I’m so glad you made it,” Matisyahu’s jovial countenance never seemed to lose its shine, “Let me introduce Adam and Aharon ben David. I know you have many questions with which these gentlemen might assist you.”
The scarred man rose from his seat, bowed and spoke softly in accented Greek, “I bid you greetings, Lady Perlina, in the name of my sire, Abraham, and our line. Welcome to Yerushalaim. My progeny, Aharon, is largely unfamiliar with the tongue of ancient Rome, so we may converse in the words of Byzantium, yes?”
His voice was almost lost in the din of the common room. Straining to make him out, Perlina understood his unspoken cues and sharpened her hearing with the powers of the Blood. The Cappadocian wished them to converse in a language that, while not uncommon in certain parts of the city, would be less likely to be accurately overheard by unfriendly ears. Also, he wished them to do so in such a manner that only a Cainite with a command of Auspex would likely hear them.
The eyes of the scholar briefly slid in the direction of the bearded, scowling merchant and his disinterested audience. Seeing that Perlina understood him, the corners of Adam’s eyes crinkled with pleasure, and he continued.
“I thank you.” The scholar lowered his voice yet further, “I am pleased that you have sought our humble counsel. I must say, your reputation has preceded you in our fair city; our trade associates speak well of you.”
The elder swept his arm towards his childe, inviting the younger Cappadocian to speak, “Aharon, in particular, is eager to make your acquaintance.”
Ibrahim Yilmaz sits relaxed at a small table enjoying the aromas of the steaming coffee wrapped in his hands before him and the atmosphere of the common room. While a tardy appointment would have usually been cause for concern, demanding a reasonable discount upon the coming transaction, the merchant’s absence felt immaterial.
Jerusalem seems to agree with me, Ibrahim thought to himself reflecting upon the positive bearing of his ledgers, the steady increase in his professional connections and his new favourite inn. “Alhamdulillah” he spoke aloud but intended for Allah’s ears alone, as it was by his will that these blessings were made possible.
Ibrahim’s eyes were drawn to the grace and poise displayed by the newest entrant of the inn who had just made the simple act of entering the building something to be admired. As the scarred man rose from his seat to greet her Ibrahim’s stare was suddenly broken by the realization of his embarrassing breach of decorum.
Aharon watched as the door swung open, letting in a cool and chilly blast of air that would guarantee any mortal being a shiver as the wind caressed their bodies. Fortunately for him, he was beyond these petty concerns thanks to his “condition”. A few hours ago Aharon was slumped in his seat the day before as he attempted to puzzle out a small riddle that the gemara had thrown his way while studying with Abraham, and was irritated when Adam walked into the room and interrupted him.
However, when he was told that a certain mutual acquaintance of theirs had invited them to meet a fellow Cainite who had just arrived in the city, and was a merchant herself, Aharon had jumped at the opportunity – it wasn’t every day that he got a chance like this to conduct the betterment of his family’s fortunes and he was eager to see what this could mean for the ben-David clan.
Now as he sat with Adam and Matisyahu in the tavern, he couldn’t help but feel a little excited at the prospect, something that he hadn’t felt as much in the three hundred years of his life – except when he was studying of course. As the Lady and another human, who to Aharon’s extraordinary senses told him was a mortal, stepped into the tavern, all eyes had seemed to converge on this beautiful lady.
In Adam’s choice to rise up himself in welcome, the ancient vampire had afforded her an honor that he didn’t afford a lot of others – in Jewish society, one rose from the table for ones betters, and as a show of respect. Following his sires example, Aharon rose from his seat as well, and as he held out his own chair for her to sit down at, he promptly did as his sire instructed and called on the power inherent in his blood to sharpen his senses.
He sighed as the rush of blood and the power that it entailed flooded his body in a short burst of warmth, before once again leaving him the icy cold being that he was. Looking unobtrusively around, he swept the room with his eyes, as his past lessons from his teachers echoed in his mind – always be prepared for the worst. It was a maxim that had saved his life many times, in the past and he was not going to lose his life, not when he had just gained the power of immortality…
Perlina smiled demurely, accepting the proffered chair, transitioning comfortably to the mode in which the conversation was to be conducted, “I am honoured at such a welcome. More so for it to come from one such as yourself whose reputation, along with your whole line, surely holds so very much more to carry it beyond the boundaries of this ancient city.”
She paused, turning long enough to indicate to Urma that she should sit rather than continue to shuffle her feet and looking uncomfortable. The pleasant smile never wavered from its good humour, perhaps gaining an element of parental amusement at her ward’s continuing discomfort.
“Thank you for meeting with me, I have heard so many wonderful stories of the wisdom and depth of knowledge of your whole line. So many questions spring to mind, and yet I cannot imagine asking a great many of them even so close to answers,” the words cascaded in barely audible rolling waves. Turning her attention to the younger Cainite, her smile exuded warmth and an underlying camaraderie, “And I look forward to learning how the interests of the ben-David family might share mutual benefits with my own. Some of my favorite connections draw wonderful and desirable goods from branches of your family. I can only hope that closer ties can enhance our fortunes.”
Out of sorts and tired from their journey, the merchant Perlina had passed in the courtyard stormed into the crowded room. Grimacing at the busy room he barked almost unintelligible words at his servants, one of whom scurried through the crowd looking for the innkeeper. The scowling man’s companion offered some pleasantry and waved to get the attention of the splendidly dressed new arrival.
It took a moment for the waving to have its effect above the crowd and noise. Eventually the merchant noticed the signal and, brightening somewhat, elbowed his way over to the table as the scowling visage moved away to lurk in a corner further out.
Aharon watched as Perlina demurely accepted the chair offered her with a grace that made Aharon’s own movements, not to mention the rest of the patrons in the Inn, seem like that of a newborn babe struggling to master its own body and awkwardly taking its firat step. With a half smile that hinted at a mischivous streak, Perlina motioned for her ward to take a seat next to her and settle down.
As Perlina addressed his sire and Master, Aharon casally walked to a different table and pulled a chair from it closer to the table to the right of Adam and facing the merchant princess. It was all very intriuging to the young and mostly inexperienced Cainite, and he was a little unsure of how to deal with this dangerously beautiful creature. Books were far easier to understand, and didnt answer back – something that Aharon far preffered. It was far more interesting to learn a page of gemarah or wrestle with a previously unknown piece of mishna and apply it to the cases that were brought before him as a dayan in the Jewish quarter.
Forcibly pulling his mind back from his musings and focusing on the present he wracked his mind to remember what Perlina had juat said. Luckily for him his memory was flawless and he easily pulled from his subconcious the last few minutes of conversation.
He blushed slightly at his gaffe, stroking his beard in a clear attempt to buy some time, pretending to mull over her words as he framed a suitable reply. “I look forward to it as well” he said with obvious pride, the ben-David family were the only thing he had left tl tie him to his humanity and to God, and without them he was just a dybukk and a lost soul. “I am sure that if we work together both our fortunes will rise considerably and I am eager to discuss with you further ways with which we can help each other out”
“I’ve always found Jerusalem to be such a wonderful crossroads. So many opportunities abound,” the tongue of the Greeks danced melodic and fluid on Perlina’s lips, “Not only are there so many wonderful goods to trade, but the beating merchant lifeblood of the city is ripe for all manner of alliances.” Her eye danced around the room, alighting here and there on the obvious caravan traders. A second look at several pierced the veil of thought to spy several others ready to buy wares.
Most paid little thought to their table, but she smiled daintily at one hurriedly turning his eyes away. His dress spoke of the Queen of Cities, his pale aura of the Blood, and his interest in their table, however fleeting, suggested that he hoped to meet with someone.
“I believe there is one individual who might overhear our business, so perhaps we should discuss our more mundane aspects for now,” she turned and smiled at the stranger to call the rest of the table’s attention to the man, “I suspect his attentions might actually include a furthering of our mercantile interests.”
Nodding to the graceful woman who had evidently noticed hiss clear interest in the members of her table. Ibrahim motioned patiently over the increasing clamour of the room to gain the attention of the nearest bar maid. “A woman just entered wearing a sky blue linen dress” Ibrahim stated to the woman who just masterfully weaved between a number of patrons to appear next to the table, “can you please deliver this box to the table to my left where she has just seated herself?” Reaching into a bag at his feet he handed the woman a plain but well-crafted wooden box.
With the grace of a dancer, the waitress lifted the wooden box with her open hand and twirled through the crowded room. One hand dipped to deposit a platter of bread and hummus at the ordering table before her lithe form spiraled between the backs of two more patrons. The box held aloft, it sailed over one man’s head as she squeezed through the gap without touching either.
Arriving at the target table, she placed the box by the lady in blue. In response to the quizzical look she received, one finger indicated the man at the nearby table. The waitress gave a shrug and a smile before disappearing back into the throng without a word.
Both eyebrows raised, Perlina turned with her group’s unspoken question for the man who’d sent the box. Not seeing a clear answer, her fingers drummed on the box lid allowing her sight to probe for hints in the wood itself. Vague images tried to form, coalescing momentarily into a vision of the man holding the box out to a stern-faced person.
Her fingers pressed on the lid, sliding it toward Aharon’s reach. “I believe this may have been intended for both of us. Would you care to examine the offering?”
Mattisyahu hovered at the table’s edge, looking expectantly at his friend and this acquaintanceship newly formed. Having given up his seat, the jovial merchant searched uncomfortably nearby for an empty one to procure. Perlina’s recognition alone meant much to him, but to meld a trading agreement with the Ben David family would be another twist to his prodigious belt.
The lady smiled in his direction briefly, a glance to reassure her friend that he had not been forgotten. With it the nervous anxiety that had been building faded away, further nullified by a strikingly swift recovery of a chair. Thus seating himself in this august company, suddenly all was right in his world once more.
The Elder Cainite prodded his progeny, “The lady has graciously offered you the first option to decline an opportunity. Such chances should be taken humbly don’t you think?” The almost gruff admonishment faded into an unexpected half-smile at the foreigners, quickly banished beneath a stoic recovery.
“Your name precedes you in many circles,” Adam continued, “I gather you are on something of a pilgrimage across the Levant. Having no doubt seen many wonders in your journey, how does our fair city appeal to your sensibilities?”
“I am most impressed with this holy city,” the lady in blue replied earnestly, “So many millennia of recorded time poured into each stone. There may be no end to what one might uncover with the right eyes and ears.” Perlina’s smile, both wistful and mysterious, left the old corpse wondering how much she might already have seen.
A flutter of long forgotten life tickled his veins as if his very vitae sought to give away his motives. His musings strove hard against his control to wrest their way to the surface as if trying to render him an open book with inscriptions on flesh laying bare his darkest dreams. Shaking himself internally from his reverie he wondered if this too were part of her enchantment.
“Does she speak to you enough to retain your lovely attention for a time?” he asked, grasping for an opportunity to turn the conversation and his thoughts elsewhere.
She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving him as her swan-like neck bowed its noble charge. “For a time certainly,” the whispered words again laced with some arcane meaning, “Although my hope remains that your line might provide more reasons for me to stay. Obviously your childe and I have shared interests, but I would dearly love to explore less mundane areas with yourself and your sire.” She leaned in conspiratorially, “A number of your sire’s peers spoke very highly of both enthusiastic conversations as well as a repository with some true depth.”
The conflict waged between the Elder’s nature and his almost involuntary attraction to the Saxon’s presence. Her generosity and grace did not seem to have been exaggerated. Could it be that the rest of her formidable reputation was similarly accurate?
He stroked his beard, forcing himself to lean back from the table. The stories that had reached him seemed incredible and yet here, in the sphere of the woman’s breath, he could not deny that something eldritch moved when she spoke. Whether she moved in concert with unseen forces or they because of her seemed irrelevant as sunshine in his darkened world.
“I do believe that our paths collided with something akin to the weight of destiny,” he mused, “We should meet again, discuss the possibilities further.”
Perlina turned to look at the man at the nearby table who had sent the unexpected missive. “I would very much like that. Is there an opportunity to suggest some relative topics? I would be very interested in the paths of the ancients and tales of their travels,” she paused without turning and curled her fingers to indicate her invitation, “Perhaps we should invite our new friend over to see what it is that interests him so?”
The elder dropped his head in submission to the moon lady’s eccentricity, “Certainly. I will have to leave you for the evening shortly… my childe will no doubt be able to assist in any further trade discussions.”
Mattisyahu smiled at Perlina and Adam and nodded. His voice low to match theirs, he uttered, “I know that one a little. His name is Ibrahim Yilmaz, of the Qabilat al-Khayal. A merchant of no small water, most recently of fabled Byzantium. He resides in the house of Mahmud ibn Suleiman, although he is not that worthy Ashirra’s progeny. Although he has dwelt in our city for a few months, so far he has made few friends among our kind. I believe he could be a most useful ally, given his connection to Mahmud and the Queen of Cities. If it please you, it shall be my pleasure to proffer your invitation and have him join us. Shall I do so?”
Thank you, my friend,” that smile of hers blossomed again, speaking unreadable volumes, “I would appreciate making his acquaintance. Perhaps he has news of the jewel of the Bosporous as well.”
Mattisyahu stood to go and she turned to Adam again, “Some friends of mine were to arrive not long before her fall. As you can imagine some news might quiet unfounded concerns.” A cloud of sorrow passed underneath her smile, “So sad that a porcine crusade should trample that pearl. It will be generations before we see its like again.”
Mattisyahu veritably glowed as he bowed to Lady Perlina and Adam, nodded to Aharon ben David, and made his way over to Ibrahim Yilmaz. The elder Cappadocian watched the Toreador thoughtfully as Matisyahu slipped through the crowd, shaking hands with this merchant or calling out a friendly greeting to that.
“I pray that your allies in Constantinople have weathered the storm that has broken over that city. I confess that I have never had the pleasure of gazing upon her domes or her walls.” Nodding in the direction of the retreating Persian, he added, "A remarkably convivial soul, is he not, Lady Perlina? You have chosen your friends well. Would that we were all so fortunate.
A powerful elder of my clan dwells in Byzantium. Alexia Theusa has traditionally proven intolerant of extended visits from her kin. A shame, for her reputation as a master of the arts of Mortis rivals that of my own sire. Much could be shared and learned if only she were more welcoming.
It is tragic that so many innocent mortals have suffered once more at the hands of a crusade. A pox on those brutes! My childe and I both survived the destruction wrought on this city by the crusaders a century ago. Many of our friends did not."
Both Cappadocians bowed their heads briefly, their shared grief at the devastation wrought by the First Crusade obvious. It was clear that the pain was fresh despite the intervening years and the many wars fought over the Holy City. Not for the first time, Perlina wondered at the scars carried by the Children of Caine, forever witnesses to the follies of history.
As Mattisyahu Banaburis navigated his way across the room, he was aware of the eyes that followed his progress. Many of the mortals in the room were acquaintances, and a few of them tried to catch his attention as he passed. Doubtless they hoped to bend his ear regarding a worthy cause or a forthcoming mercantile investment. He shook hands, patted backs and offered platitudes, but did not pause in his progress. Such matters could wait. Tonight, he had a rare occasion to accrue further capital among his fellow Cainites, and such an opportunity could not be wasted.
Passing the spectacle of Yusuf ibn Azif badgering Nasawi ibn Hamad, the Persian inwardly smiled. To be sure, Yusuf was formidable by his tenuous association to the dangerous Azif, and he was not unskilled at the games Cainite play, but he clearly failed to pick up on the Rayeen al-Fen’s antipathy. Indeed, Mattisyahu was sure that the Mushakis merchant was so fired by zealotry that he was altogether devoid of appreciation for any point of view that did not match his own.
For his part, Nasawi ibn Hamad smiled and nodded as he half-listened to Yusuf, but it was clear to his clansman that the smile was forced and the geniality did not extend to his eyes. Instead, they rested somewhat anxiously upon the door to the inn. Although they were hardly friends, Mattisyahu knew that Nasawi’s childe, Zaina, was overdue from her trip to Damascus. It was no secret that the Rayeen al-Fen patron had eagerly awaited in this inn for the three nights previous, but no word of her had yet arrived.
Nasawi glanced at Mattisyahu, and the disquiet in his eyes was briefly replaced by a pleading look. In return, he offered an expression of his own that assured his clan-mate of full sympathy but no help. He held Nasawi’s eyes for a moment, then led them towards the member of the Qabilat al-Khayal who sat on his own. Priorities abounded, and Mattisyahu had a prior engagement. The other Toreador understood, and returned his half-hearted attention to Yusuf.
As he finally approached Ibrahim’s table, he smiled warmly at the younger Cainite. They had only met the once, but Mattisyahu genuinely liked the Lasombra’s faithful and forthright manner.
“Good evening, friend. You may recall meeting me soon after your arrival in the house of Mahmud ibn Suleiman? Once again, I am Mattisyahu Banaburis, at your service. I trust that you are finding your feet and prospering in Al-Quds? Your gift has been well-received by Lady Perlina, and it would please her if you would join our table. Would you care to do so?”
Having watched Mattisyahu move across the room Ibrahim stood in preparation of providing the full courtesy required to an individual of his standing. Impressed with the courtesy shown by greeting a younger Cainite first Ibrahim returned a similarly warm smile. “Assalamu Alaykum Mattisyahu” Ibrahim stated in return while placing his right hand on his chest, “I thank you for your kind words and the courtesy you afford me, this fair city treats my current endeavours well and by the will of Allah it will continue to do so. I am pleased Lady Perlina finds my humble wears suitable and I gratefully accept her invitation.”
Locking eyes with a large scarred Greek man leaning against the far wall with drink in hand, Ibrahim’s eyes fluttered momentarily with annoyance before being replaced by a smile once more. Bringing his attention back to the opportunity at hand Ibrahim gestured towards Lady Perlina’s table “After you my friend”. As the two merchants moved through the crowded room the large man grudgingly placed his mug upon the nearest table and moved to lean upon the wall furthest from the bar.
The Rayeen al-Fen and Qabilat al-Khayal traversed the noisy room in companionable silence, slipping through the crowd towards the table of Cainites in the corner. Once more, Mattisyahu could not resist sliding his eyes towards Nasawi and Yusuf. While his attention, and his words, were directed quite obviously on the other Rayeen al-Fen, the eyes of the Mushakis merchant were fixed firmly on the egress of Mattisyahu and Ibrahim. For the first time, the Toreador found himself wondering if perhaps he had underestimated Yusuf.
Arriving at their destination, Mattisyahu sank into a grand bow before Adam and Perlina, rose smoothly and with a flourish, and swept his arm towards the dignified Lasombra, “Most esteemed elders, may I present Ibrahim Yilmaz of the Qabilat al-Khayal , lately of the city of Constantinople and honoured guest of Mahmud ibn Suleiman? He is the childe of Yusefoğlu İskender, an eminently skilled merchant known for shepherding the Turks to prosperity in Anatolia. Iskender himself is the childe of the noble Safiye Zarif, that great lady who oversaw the rise of the Seljuk from the most humble of origins. She in turn was brought under the veil of night by the wise and illustrious Bahram, who ruled the majestic city of Estakhr at the height of Persian and Parthian glory.”
Mattisyahu could feel the pride and gratitude emanating from Ibrahim, and allowed himself a momentary pause for effect before continuing.
“Most honourable Ibrahim, I bid you salutations on behalf of Adam, elder of the Qabilat al-Mawt of Al-Quds, and Lady Perlina, visiting elder of the Franj Bayt Majnoon. This other gentleman is Aharon ben-David, childe of Adam. A merchant of the utmost puissance and a noted ancilla of the Holy City. Perhaps you have met him in the home of your patron already? Please, sit and be welcome.”
He gestured at the seat that he had vacated himself but a few minutes earlier, and signalled one of the waiting hosts to bring him another.
Urma studied the newcomer closely, her hands disappearing into her sleeves reflexively. Her mistress’ languid invitation held her in check even as her inward being remained coiled and watchful in the bustling inn. Though there was no immediate danger it was clear that there were threats in the room. At the same time this new Cainite didn’t appear to be a direct concern, though such a gathering of predators in one place could no doubt attract more unwanted attention.
For her part, Perlina’s smile was enigmatic as a sphinx. Whatever motives might be driving her this evening were unreadable to her ward. Nonetheless, the welcome for the merchant was genuine and freely given.
“Do join us, please. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Ibrahim. Your sire has been a great partner to me when our interests have met in the past,” Perlina’s demeanor remained relaxed as she considered her own thought. Some inner conversation held her attention briefly as her eyes drifted to the wooden box before Aharon. Her hand waved to the tan grained object on the darker table, “Your missive is also intriguing at the very least. I’m sure there is a fascinating opportunity involved. Are you long arrived in Jerusalem?”
“You are most gracious and kind elder Banaburis for sharing such praise of my families deeds, I hope that in time Allah will also find me worthy of such accomplishments.” Placing his right hand upon his chest and with a slight bow Ibrahim greeted each of his new acquaintances in their own tongue and in order of their perceived social standing before seating himself.
Remaining in a formal posture Ibrahim politely waited for Mattisyahu to become seated and comfortable before proceeding. Speaking Greek in a gentle manner, “It is truly flattering that you find my humble missives intriguing Lady Perlina, I had hoped for such a meeting with the esteemed ben-David family and to have someone my Sire speaks so highly of present is a true gift.
“Since sadly leaving my home in Constantinople I have continued to nurture my trading partnerships in the east with the aim of reconnecting these goods with the markets in the west. With this endeavour in mind this holy city has blessed my efforts and I feel it will continue to do so.” Placing his hand on the wooden box and initially opening the lid towards himself, Ibrahim slowly turned it back towards his hosts so they could clearly see the contents within. With a functional design and well-crafted features the box’s polish glittered in the gentle light of the room. The interior was divided equally into four compartments each containing a fine leather drawstring pouch of different colours: silver, red, white and brown.
Gently pushing the box to the middle of the table Ibrahim continued, “This box represents a fine opportunity which would benefit everyone involved, with the western connections and local influence of everyone at this table and my reliable suppliers in the east I’m sure this is an opportunity we can all profit from. My friends, please take the time to review the quality of the items within and ask any question you wish to satisfy your curiosity.”
Placing his hands on the table Ibrahim patiently waited for the elders to respond.
A delicate porcelain hand plucked the white pouch from the box, seemingly at random. The fingers rolled the leather across from one side to another and back again, considering the heft of it before dangling it back into its container by the string. The smile above remained enigmatic and kind, a small nod indicating approval, although of what it was difficult to say.
The lady’s gaze drifted and became distant for a moment, a tinge of sadness adjusting her features like the passing of a cloud’s shadow on a sunny day. Her thoughts drifted to a a sense of loss that hung over the table ever so faintly between the ageless beings. Nothing tangible stirred, but the faint sense of something beyond the shroud dragging at her attention remained a little longer before dissipating.
“I appreciate the opportunity to do business,” Perlina’s voice came almost unbidden to snap her attention back to her companions at table, "We can discuss details and fair exchanges in a more private setting. I’m interested in learning the rest of the opportunity however.
“Mattisyahu my friend, this seems like an arena we might be able to tie into the caravans to Schaasburg and Bistritz. Perhaps a trade in salt from thence, and linens from the Nile would trade well?”
Mattisyahu sat back, nodding as he considered the question for a few moments.
“Perhaps, my dear. As you know, the south is still very unstable. The civil war for the destiny of the House of Ayyub is only but a few years in the past and the Nile flood has been poor for almost the entire decade. Travellers tell tales of the great famine that has swept Egypt. Desperate men roam the fringes of the desert. Whether they be Al-Afdal’s deserters, Bedouin raiders or simply desperate and hungry bandits, it is immaterial.
As a result, the Saharan salt supply has been disrupted. It could be years before Al-Adil restores order to the desert trade routes, especially as he has had to consolidate his fortresses with the recent Crusade. We could turn a modest profit there with an alternative supply. You have told me that your Transylvania is also rich in gold and silver? Such goods would be welcome here and in Damascus. Our margins might improve with access to such a market, if you should be able to open it.
And further, if the cities of Transylvania are growing as quickly as you say, it will not be long until luxuries grow in demand. Egyptian linen and cotton would be welcome, I’m sure, and the silk garments of Damascus too. Of course, I have a supply of that last commodity coming in next month…"
The affable Persian winked theatrically to the Cainites gathered, evidently warming up to the idea.
“Also, if these guilds you have been telling me about continue to grow apace, then I daresay the need for paper for record-keeping might be called for. In bulk, it would be much cheaper than parchment and vellum. I happen to have a friend in Damascus with interests in a paper-making concern.”
He smiled with pleasure, his eyes aglow at the thought of a good deal.
“Yes, my dear Perlina, there is merit to your thoughts, but I think we would have to move quickly. Al-Adil is a formidable sultan. Now that the 4th Crusade is finally dispersing with their plunder and the prince of Antioch has sued for peace, it will not be long before he returns his eyes to Egypt.”
He turned his attention to Ibrahim and Aharon.
“It is well, friends. What do you think?”
“Mattisyahu I believe Allah has blessed me with such company and I am more than happy to explore how we may complement each others efforts. Before I retire tonight may I invite you all to my villa at a convenient evening to discuss this accord in more detail?”
After a brief pause and the acknowledgement of those present he continued, “I will have my servant arrange the details with your relevant household staff.”
Moving a short distance from the table and with hand on heart he said, “Shukran, may your evening be blessed and prosperous.”
Perlina bowed her head, placing her hand on her heart returning the gesture, “I will look forward to our next meeting, and will gladly accept your invitation soon.” Smiling with real pleasure, she bowed her head a second time to this new business partner.
Watching the Qabilat al’Khayal merchant depart, Adam too rose from the table, followed by his childe.
“I too must take my leave. Lady Perlina, I am pleased that we could make such a pleasant new acquaintance, and I shall enjoy talking further of such esoteric matters in which we share an interest. I’m sure that Aharon has much to discuss with you, but I fear that I have neither the temperament nor any understanding of matters of trade.”
The elder Cappadocian bowed to Perlina, and then nodded to Mattisyahu. The light from the oil lanterns seemed to dance on his scarred face as he smiled at those gathered.
The old scholar pulled the hood of his cloak up and made his way towards the exit. He was soon lost in the crowd.
Having watched the exchange between Yusuf, Perlina and Mattisyahu with calculating and pensive eyes, Aharon now turned back to the table and resumed his seat. Electing to maintain the nigh preternatural volume of the earlier discourse, he murmured, "My own most useful contacts, other than those inside Yerushalaim, are mainly in Jaffa. I believe this would give us a convenient port with which to ship our goods. If needs be, I have people also in Tunis and Alexandria.
“My trade interests are concerned with transport and security. Perhaps I can serve best by ensuring the integrity of our paper caravans between Damascus and the Holy City, and the exchange of linen and salt from ships bound from Alexandria to Jaffa, and Jaffa to Constantinople. I have long hoped to expand my interests to that great city. What say you?”
Clasping her hands before her, the dark haired lady exuded a child-like glee as she leaned in further. Forgetting her composure and her volume for a moment she bounced in her seat exclaiming, “Oh yes!” Suddenly self-conscious, she settled and hastily looked from side to side, scanning the crowded room for someone who might have overheard. The bustle and thrum continued unabated with none paying her any mind.
“My own transport can carry goods for us from Constantinople or Alexandria to Iberia, and beyond by land as far north as the Baltic and and Rus, and west to the great ocean,” her remembered whisper dropping almost too low for even her own preternatural senses, “And drawing from that distance we certainly have other options for goods as well. It seems like our connections fit hand in glove through this.”
She paused again, suddenly bird-like with slight twitches of her head to the side. Her eyes unfocused, shadowy auras becoming crisp and defined lines across the room and into the world beyond.
Whispered words passed her unmoving lips, “Our path is set. Our goals aligned. A coterie forms in the holy city. The smell of the weeping earth speaks of peace bought dear. Marionette pawns dance on the tangled web and a bird cries out in solitude. Are we the passers of messages? Messengers of heaven?” Her eyes snapped back, burning with a fire that threatened to scorch Aharon with its intensity, “No, we are the Couriers of the Dark.”
The bright smile flicked to life as quickly as it had departed. “What a wonderful council we make!” she whispered, “We must send word to the compass points and begin the routes!”
(XP: Perlina 4, Mattisyahu 3, Ibrahim 3, Aharon 2.)