13 The Royal Khanate
The main door to the Royal Khanate blew open, nearly coming off its hinges. Saracens, black robed, with blue turbans and veils began gliding into the room. A hush fell across the drinking patronage. Spreading in an arch, the Bedouin fanned around the entrance.
Khol ringed eyes, peeking from a slit in the curtains of a private booth at the back of the common room, widened. Bedouin in Susa! I’d not heard of this. Something is afoot.
The dark ringed eyes narrowed as they took in the next to enter, a pale skinned red-head, tall, walking arrogantly behind the eight well armed Saracen warriors. Red braids fountained from a gold clasped topknot as her faded blue eyes raked the room. Wearing a tight leather vest and skirt split high as if for riding, she practically dripped gold. Burnished torques clasped her throat and biceps, coruscating animal designs of gold thread were sewn into her vest and skirt, gold tassels winked from her sturdily built, pointed boots. An encrusted quiver and finely crafted Bedouin reflex bow completed her garb.
The freckled skin covered in swirling blue tattoos spoke as loudly as the ostentatious show of gold.
The second to enter though caused the shadowed eyes to fly wide open in shock. All knew the dusky skin henna tattooed in tiger stripe, her silken black hair glinting with blue highlights pulled into a single braid arching from the top of her head to the small of her back. A pair of matched tulwars jutted above her shoulders hanging in a black leather baldric fastened by a golden tiger head between her bared breasts and burgundy leather kilt only enhanced her feral grace. Her glowing jade eyes swept the room falling upon his.
With a gasp Khammu-Rabi fell away from the slit, sweat breaking out across his forehead. He dove behind the silken couch in his cubicle.
Has she been reassigned? I seem to remember something about Kedor receiving a new bodyguard. Just who was this Scythian? In the company of Bedouin no less!
“I require a private alcove.” The melodious voice rang out across the common room of the khanate.
Lilith, lounging amongst the pillows covering the floor of the private chamber, hissed, “An abomination has entered the premises.”
Looking sharply at his Babylonian bodyguard, he signaled silence. Khammu-Rabi could hear the proprietor ushering the new arrivals to the next door recess. As the patrons’ conversation rose in decibel approaching normality, he threw himself to the wall separating the cubicles, placing his ear against the cool stone.
I must know who this new player is! The Mistress of the Household has put her into play, well protected. Shikha and a Bedouin escort! Is the Bas Kadin involved as well?
“Calm yourself Master, all will be revealed in due time.” Lilith purred, “Another approaches.”
Frowning, he left the wall and returned to the split in the curtain. Curiosity prompting him to look to the entrance once more. Noting the door was closed, he angled a look towards the newcomers. He could make out several robed figures, obviously on guard. They alertly scanned the crowd, hands on the hilts of their scimitars.
He spun hissing, “What other?! You make me miss what is said in adjacent space.”
As he stood pointing, angrily regarding his smiling bodyguard, a second loud crash occurred in the common room behind him. He hurriedly returned his eye to the slit in time to see Iskander, Commander of the Padishah’s Rostan, berating a huge Scyth who was in turn ignoring the ranting cataphract. Khammu-Rabi couldn’t tear his eyes from the powerful figure beside Iskander, even as more Scythians filtered into the room.
The nomad topped Iskander by more than a foot, red braids cascaded haphazardly about his head, past his shoulders, resembling a lion’s mane. Each braid clasped by a tiny gold ornament at the end, chimed as he cast his sky-blue eyes about the room. His aquiline features were slashed diagonally with a tiger stripe tattooed in woad. His fair-skinned upper torso and arms were covered in spiraling blue tattoos interspersed with emerald tiger’s eyes. He wore leather breeches tucked into high boots. At his waist hung a gold chased war axe from a wide leather belt sewn with golden filigree.
The Tiger of Hyrcannia! He lives!
Khammu-Rabi turned whispering in awe. “Tidal Khan lives…”
Leaning into the sequestered space, Shikha resisted Kedor’s pleas. “I am your bodyguard and as such, young master, I’ll not willingly be blinded by entering this booth…”
“Yes yes, your duties. I would have benefit of your counsel, Shikha. We’ve plans to discuss as we await the arrival of Tabitha’s brother. The Bedouin stand guard and will alert us, should need arise.”
As Shikha prepared her retort, a huge calloused hand fell upon her shoulder.
“Finally, something of note in this cursed hive of a city.” The deep voice boomed. “Wench, I crave your attention.”
Shikha’s reaction was instant.
She spun, tulwars whirring; the hulking horse warrior found points pricking his neck and belly. “Will this do?”
He took a step backwards, startled. He tensed, reaching for the haft of his axe.
Stepping with the burly nomad, points drawing beads of blood, Shikha growled, “I wouldn’t, you’re not that fast.”
As the others caught up with the lightning Shikha, Kedor stepped from the booth, joining the Bedouin in a defensive ring encircling the poised pair. Bedouin scimitars hissed, as the Scythians converged from about the room, steel axe heads glimmering in the dim light. Kedor readied himself as twice their number of armed, glowering nomads approached.
Glowing in his polished plate, face flushed in indignation, Iskander thrust himself between the two parties bellowing. “The Padishah’s peace lies upon this establishment! Sheath your weapons at once, you cretins!”
Iskander’s outburst, gave moment for pause.
Tabitha’s radiant figure stepped forth from the private compartment, traces of amusement playing across her face. “Shikha, I ask that you harm not the lout. Though crude, I doubt not he meant no offense in his rough handling…”
“TABITHA!” His fierce visage moved from surprise to pleasure. “Please assure your menacing protector no offense was meant by this one’s inept expression of admiration.”
Stepping away from the blades holding him at bay, Tidal bowed deeply with a flourish. “My lady Shikha, allow me to apologize for the unpolished manner in which I approached. My intent was certainly not to offend.”
Rising, Tidal side stepped the still critical bodyguard, engulfing his sister in a bear like embrace, spinning her once then holding her at arms length.
“Imagine, once thought dead, I find my deceased sister quite alive, holding court at the Royal Khanate in the Capitol City of the Padishah. Surrounded by as fierce a crew as one could expect to assemble. May I express my astonishment and admiration at your cat like ability to land on your feet in the most trying of circumstances, dear sibling.”
Blustering importantly, Iskander attempted to regain control of the situation. “What’s this? You are familiar with this slave girl?”
Stepping between the towering Scythian and his cousin, Kedor pulled the shroud from his face. “Let me express my admiration and astonishment at your unfailing ability to offend nearly all you come into contact with, my pompous cousin.”
Iskander fingered the hilt of his new sword. “YOU… at the heart of every disturbance today. You out do yourself today, my little priss.”
Iskander glanced about at the unfriendly eyes surrounding him. “Since I seem to have allayed the imminent violence threatening your father’s establishment, I go now to report to our esteemed Padishah. Think not I will neglect your role in these incidents today, my fancy little cousin.”
Standing tall, Kedor sheathed his etched scimitars, feeling a pang of reluctance. “An excellent idea, my most insufferable of kin. Run to the protective skirts of my father before I leave you to the tender mercies of yonder steppe warrior.”
Blushing crimson, Iskander nervously eyed the simmering nomad as he hurriedly exited the Khanate.
“Slave?!” Tidal’s adamantine blue eyes captured Kedor’s placid smoky grey, ropey muscles stood in relief as he gripped the haft of his axe.
Tabitha placed a hand upon her brother’s chest. “A situation quickly remedied by the Valide Shah, Kedor’s grandmother. Sit with us, beloved brother, and I shall spin you a tale even a lout such as yourself will appreciate…”