Of the Brothers of Sinbad
From Ahmed ibn Zafir point of view.
Clasping hands with each in turn Ahmed bade farewell to the friends and allies he and the Five had made among the merfolk deep under the sea. The Five had been greatly honored by the undersea people for their valiant defense of the kingdom and willingness to risk everything to help. Heavy pouches of rare pearls were tied to their gear, a tangible reward.
Glancing across the court, Ahmed saw Araceli embrace the Princess. Theirs was a a deeper bond and no doubt the Ilf would find herself here again someday. Whether the rest of the Five would still be tagging along with her was another question. Ahmed frowned. Araceli had been having the nightmares again. Her venture into the tombs had marked her deeply and he knew they needed to vanquish the evil spirit that was torturing her sleep.
But first they needed to return to the “lands above”. Keeping the merfolk kingdom a secret was paramount so a grand ruse was devised. At the next storm above, illusions of a foundering ship would be created by the merfolk mages, flotsam from past shipwrecks littered across the surface, and the Five let go close enough to swim to shore on an island passed by ships now and again.
“The surface? The real world? Sun on my toes? Brilliant!” exclaimed Pesci, the annoying engro. Ahmed frowned at the half-folk schemer and made sure to keep a fair distance. Tabari was more comfortable with deals and haggling and soon he and Pesci were in discussions about setting up trade with the merfolk in wine and pipeweed.
A few days passed waiting for the surface storm and then it was time. Final farewells, a truly rough time on the surface, and a very exhausted arrival on the beach of the small island. For a time Ahmed enjoyed the feel of the sand under him and then the sunlight on his skin as the storm passed.
“Survived that ‘wreck’, did you?” asked an old man who was quietly harvesting star fruit from some trees. He made it clear that he did not believe the story of the wreck though the Five would maintain it. “Come, let me give you sustenance.”
Over a generous meal of hard tack, bread, and fruit, the old man explained that he was a member of the Brothers of Sinbad, followers of the epic hero who had died hundreds of years before. Brought to the island by his ship which still stood anchored off shore, he believed that Sinbad was not actually dead but trapped by tricksey Jinn. On that very island, there was a cave in which the old man had found a book of equations, but one missing the last page. He believed if the equations were solved, the clue would allow a portal to open again in the cave and perhaps Sinbad could be rescued!
“I sent a Brother back to the mainland to track down the missing page but I fear he has been waylaid. If you were to bring the final page back to me, the Brotherhood would be eternally grateful!”
“Have you not thought to seek it yourself?” asked Ahmed bluntly.
“I have much to do here still to prepare. The equations are complex and I must divine the perfect order of solution…” mumbled the old man, his finger tracing in the air and leaving glowing numbers and letters that faded in a few moments.
“I think we should help him,” explained Tabari when the Five were alone. “It is the honorable thing to do for the generosity of his table.”
“It would also get us back home,” added Salim.
Quickly agreed, the old man offered use of his ship, The Spirit of Suleiman, to return to Akhmim to find Naji ibn Shakir, the wayward Brother. Traveling again in the ship they had come to know was of some comfort as it cut through the waves on a strong breeze. In only two days, they sighted the cliffside city of Akhmim and the ship’s crew deftly brought her into the docks. Ahmed truly breathed deep, savoring the smells of the land and the peace he found being once again in Suleiman’s first city.
After riding the platforms up the cliffside, they stepped off and around the massive stone golems who hauled the platforms up and down tirelessly.
“You ask around,” suggested Ahmed, knowing Tabari was much better than he at such things, “I want to have a word with Hiram the swordsmith.”
The afternoon passed with Ahmed crouched watchfully in Hiram’s workshop as the aged but excellent smith secured the Walkstone as the pommel of Ahmed’s favored scimitar (“Flash”) and rebalanced the weapon. The smith tutted here and there where the original smith’s workmanship had been less than perfect and by the end of the afternoon, Ahmed had a weapon worthy of a master. He practiced with it, feeling the balance and how quickly it moved in his hand, as if it were alive and aching to leap into battle. He gratefully left most of his pearls with Hiram.
By the time he tracked down the rest of the Five at an out of the way tavern called the “Last Port of Call”, almost all of his pearls were gone, given here and there as he saw mothers in need or left donation at a Kada. Entering the tavern, he saw that Tabari was engaged in a boisterous… negotiation with the tavernowner who could not stop crying about the dinar Naji owed him, the damage done to his tavern when Naji fought some people there. Eventually, Tabari paid for Naji’s overdue rent for a room which quieted the tavernkeep somewhat. Examining the wayward Brother’s room showed that it had been ransacked but the tavernkeep was able to point them to the home of a girl (Hawazin Bint Rizq) who was always at Naji’s side when he was drinking.
Outside the tavern, Araceli had met a street urchin she’d known from her first days in the south named Anis ibn Anis. For a small coin, the smartly dressed boy was willing to take them to Hawazin’s home. At first the girl’s mother was having none of these strangers asking after the ne’er-do-well Naji whom her daughter lay pining for in her room. Once again, Tabari’s wise words and Araceli’s pure heart softened the woman and they were allowed to speak to the girl.
“The men grabbed us both, roughly, and dragged us to the docks. I bit one and he let me go.”
“Where did they take Naji?”
“I can’t recall exactly, I was so terrified I just ran and ran until friends led me home. But it was a big building and there was a sign out front… something red with a blue stripe.”
“We’ll find Naji, Hawazin, though he needs to leave the city for a time.”
“Permanently?” whispered the mother hopefully, pressing five dinar into Tabari’s hand. Graciously, the wise one did not commit on that score but also did not commit to bring Naji back.
It was late in the evening before they found a warehouse with the incriminating sign. Eager to test his blades, Ahmed lobbied to move in quickly. “You never know when they might harm him!” With little opposition, Ahmed and Araceli crept into the building, the Ilf taking to the loft to get angle with her bow. Ahmed skipped neatly up one of the piles of crates, planning to swing down to two thugs in a manner that would be quite entertaining when Tabari told of it later. unfortunately the criminal gang had done haphazard work piling the crates. One tipped sharply sending Ahmed sliding and dropping to his feet next to the thugs.
Once the fight was on, Ahmed felt his blood race and his blades flashed and sang, slaying three of the heinous criminal gang. Salim and Tabari entered as well and soon a whirling cone of sand pummeled and tore at two more thugs. When they reached the far end of the warehouse, they found Naji hanging from his bound hands and threatened by one of the thugs, sword to his throat.
“One more step and I’ll kill him!” threatened the thug.
“I don’t care,” snarled Ahmed which gave the thug pause and Araceli a moment to take position. Without pause, she sent two arrows into the thug, his sword dropping to the ground un-blooded.
“Oh praise the gods!” squeaked Naji. The Five unbound him and quickly questioned him. Apparently Naji had gotten into debt with these men over a shipment of hashish he’d misplaced. Why Naji was doing work for dealers of the narcotic instead of securing the final page was unclear.
“I didn’t exactly find the page, but its the same thing.” Plucking a slightly bloody paper from the vest of the slain thug leader, he handed it to Tabari. “It’s a page that tells you where to find the page, I’m guessing.” He handed Tabari a small amber crystal. Holding the page to a nearby lantern and the crystal to his eye, Tabari saw it was a fine map of the land and islands of their region. A small X appeared on a tiny island not far from the Isle of Korsar.
“My obligation is completed!” declared Naji. The Five proceeded to explain to him the meaning of oaths and obligations. As they walked away from the bodies in the warehouse, they confirmed that Naji would be going with them until the true “Final Page” was returned to the elder Brother on the Island.