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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 8: Kondor 138
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Previous chapter: Chapter 7: Beam 2
The hike through the city to the palace was about four miles of gently rising ground, by Kondor’s estimation. Since they were relocating to guest rooms in the palace, they brought everything--Derek walking his bicycle to stay with the group. The city around them looked if not opulent at least well kept and prosperous, but Kondor considered that the route, which was not quite straight, was planned to avoid any impoverished areas which must exist in a city this size. After all, he and his companions were regarded visiting dignitaries, nobles from another country, and the Caliph would want to put the best face on his domain.
Some of the streets were clearly designated as market areas, and merchants offered goods off carts and wagons or small easily-moved stands. Other streets were clear, as if everyone knew that sales were forbidden there. Camels were not exactly abundant but at least common, moving through the streets or tethered near merchant locations. Although salesmen were aggressive, a glare from their guide seemed to keep them away from the travelers.
The palace itself was something from the Arabian Nights, the roofs of the spires gilt with gold shining in the sun, trim at the windows and doors studded with semiprecious stones, and expansive to the point that palatial seemed the appropriate word for its size. Passing through the doubled double gates brought them into a spacious courtyard; the smell of stables nearby suggested that horses were used at least sometimes, although Kondor was not certain he would know the difference between horse and camel by the smell.
They were quickly brought inside out of the heat, and given a chance to sit for a few minutes and touch up their appearance. Shella seemed to be straightening her robe; Zeke ran a comb through his hair. Their guide was patient, and soon they were moving again into the heart of the palace.
“You are in time for dinner,” he said. “I am instructed to bring you to the dining room to meet His Potency there.”
Slade, who seemed to have taken on the role of group spokesman, responded to this, and in a moment doors opened into a spacious airy room in which something between fifty and a hundred people were ensconced on cushions on the floor, eating a variety of foods which were set on tables at one end of the hall, buffet style. The guide snaked a path through the diners toward a dais on which a few apparently more important persons similarly sat, one notably turbaned and marked with a large gem. Reaching the edge of the dais, the guide stopped and waited to be acknowledged. In a moment the turbaned man did so.
“Speak, Master at Arms.”
“Your Potency, may I present your guests, Robert Elvis Lord Slade of Slade Manor, Friend and Ally of the Djinn and of the Caliph of the West Wind; his wife the Lady Shella; and their companions Doctor Joseph Kondor, Lieutenant Ezekiel Smith, and Derek Jacob Brown.”
“Welcome, friends,” the Caliph responded. “Please help yourself to food and come join me here so I may hear of your travels and the lands from which you have come.”
This is going to be interesting, Kondor thought, not at all certain how to explain either where they were before or how they got here. However, Slade was responding.
“Thank you, Your Potency.” With that, he set his pack and rifle alongside the dais, led the way to the tables, and began putting food on a plate and grabbing a cup of some beverage Kondor supposed must be beer. He himself looked for water, but it wasn’t offered. Spying some oranges, he decided they would have to provide juice for him; he hoped he didn’t dehydrate in this climate with only alcoholic beverages made available.
As they returned to the dais and space was made for them to settle on the cushions (some sat cross-legged, others laid on their sides propped on pillows) Slade took the lead in the conversation.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #275: Versers Reorient. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: