Scarlett’s evening routine is interrupted by a gentle knock on her chamber door.
By the Goddess! Will I ever have a quiet moment to myself?
Opening the door, the young woman finds Faisal standing in the passageway, looking awkward and distracted.
The dark-skinned warrior bows deeply, “Ten thousand pardons for the intrusion, Dawnsister Scarlet. I seek your wisdom and counsel on a pressing personal matter of Faith.”
Scarlet sighs to herself and gestures for the man to enter. Faisal steps past her as she scans the passageway for signs of Mikmek’s lurking.
Turning around, the priestess is taken aback by the sight of the warrior tugging off his thick woolen shirt. The man’s back is covered in a web of thin scars, barely visible against the deep bronze tone of his skin.
“By the light of the goddess, Faisal! What are you doing?”, gasps Scarlet. She glances wildly at the door, certain that Mikmek, Talreth, or another of the council members are about to step through the portal.
The young man turns to face her, a sheen of glistening sweat defining the muscles of his chest. Powerful sinews ripple across the expanse of his broad shoulders, the smooth skin marred only by the thin line of a fresh scar on one side. A thick belt is tightly buckled around his narrow waist, its dark leather a few tones lighter than the bare skin above. Five rows of tiny prayer beads circle the man’s neck, hundreds of gray orbs mingled with a few dozen golden spheres.
Misinterpreting the flushed look on the young woman’s face, Faisal nods and looks down at the beads. “Do not despair, Dawnsister. I do not blaspheme with an improper salaam-iqu.” He grasps the topmost, smallest ring of beads. "These one hundred serve me for the daily prayers and recitation of The One Hundred Names of The Goddess. The remainder were a gift from my… From the Oracle.
“But it is not the beads themselves that I have come to discuss, but rather their meaning. When the Oracle bestowed this salaam-iqu upon me, she also gave me a task; to ‘cleanse the heathen land of one thousand ahl al-fatrah’, unbelievers in your language. As I have carried out this holy task, the gray beads have turned golden, as you can see.
“But last month, just after we rescued the slaves to the west of Tuskany, three of the beads became gray again. I have struggled to understand how a soul sent to Her by my blade could become ‘uncleansed’, but I do not have the wisdom to solve the puzzle. I fear that some malicious force may be bringing them back from Her Glorious Wrath, to once again drag this land back into the darkness of its heathen ways.”
Faisal steps forward, suddenly close enough that Scarlet can feel the heat radiating from his naked skin. A clean, musky scent fleetingly crosses her awareness as she resists the reflex to back away from his forceful presence. The warrior kneels in supplication before the young woman, his tattoo of the goddess seeming to look directly into the priestess’ eyes.
“I seek your wisdom and guidance in this disturbing matter, Dawnsister. Help me understand, that I may better carry out The Eternal Phoenix’s Righteous Blessings.”
The Count knocks on the already opened door. “Pardon the interruption at this late hour Scarlet”, he says as he crosses the room to the table while looking intently at an open ledger in his hands. He places the book onto the table and turns to face the room and notices Faisal for the first time. He glances back and forth from Faisal to Scarlet…
He admires Scarlet’s lovely figure,
to Faisal to Scarlet…
her flowing red hair…
to Faisal to Scarlet.
He gives pause. Her face is almost as red as her hair and her mouth is hanging open.
on his knees?
“It is not what…”, Scarlet starts to say.
“Please forgive the interruption Scarlet lest I forget what is on my mind.”, Talreth says.
“Now Faisal, please stand. Just because I have been elevated from Baron to Count does not mean you need to drop to your knees when I enter the room. If you keep doing this other folks might think it is the proper etiquette. Either we’d need to look into getting softer floors or make a proclamation that tailors must make pants with padding on the knees.
“Nonetheless, it is a good thing you are here as well, I have come to discuss our Kingdom’s finances as it pertains to the building of the Holy city of Abu Al-Bazit. Now if you will both come look at the ledgers, you will see that our coffers are not overflowing.”
The dark-skinned warrior approaches the table and bows, “A thousand pardons Count Talreth. Could this discussion not wait until morning? I was here seeking the Dawnsister’s wisdom and counsel on a pressing personal matter of Faith.”
“No!”, Scarlet says a bit more forcefully than she intended, “Planning for the building of the Holy city of Abu Al-Bazit is most urgent.”
Talreth ponders the question, “My sincere apologies Faisal. I was unaware that I was interrupting a pressing matter of faith. Mikmek just rushed into my room a few minutes ago and said I really should discuss this matter with both of you immediately. I had met with Oleg to discuss finances this afternoon when we got on the topic of the Holy city.”
Talreth pauses in thought for a minute then looks at Faisal, “I almost forgot, Mikmek gives me his word that he had nothing to do with replacing your gold beads with gray ones. In fact he claims not to have known that you had any gold beads at all.”
“Oh and one more thing Faisal. Mikmek wanted me to tell to clean your blade and keep it in your pants… I’m sure he meant scabbard, I think my Draconic is getting a bit rusty for lack of use or maybe it’s slang.”
Faisal bows deeply to Scarlet. “Perhaps we could discuss these matters of faith tomorrow, after fajr-salat.” At the young woman’s quick agreement, he bows again and turns to Talreth.
“I beg permission to take my leave, honourable Count. I defer to the Dawnsister’s wisdom in matters of the Holy City and shall remain ready to carry out any decisions she makes in the service of the Greater Glory of The Sarenrae.”
The dark-skinned warrior bows again and turns to leave the room, forgetting to retrieve his tunic from the chamber floor.
“It seems I have pressing matters of Faith to discuss with another member of the Council.”