“Try it, my dear.”
Deirdre takes the proffered bread, nibbling the corner more out of politeness than any desire to eat. Her eyes widen in surprise at the taste, and she takes bigger bites, unable to believe that she is actually enjoying the flat bread.
" Passef is much more palatable when warmed over hot coals", explains The Oracle. “Most Qadirans would know this, but it does not surprise me that Faisal neglected to pass along this nuance. He always considered such things to be a sign of weakness.”
Deirdre nods absently, still focused on her sudden hunger. The difference in the bread was small, but heavenly after so long away from real food.
Washing a mouthful down with mint water, Deirdre looks back at the dark-skinned woman. “Thank you, Oracle. I am in your debt. But how did you happen to find me? Did you know that I needed your help?”
The beautiful young woman laughs gently and places a hand on Deirdre’s arm. “My dear, a white-skinned young woman with a northern accent hiding in a brothel is hardly an everyday occurrence, even in a city as large as Katheer. When my spies reported your presence in the city, I suspected that you might be tied to Faisal and the abducted child…”
“Spies?”, interrupts the acolyte. “The Oracle of Katheer has spies?”
The Oracle laughs again, and glancing at the twisted beggar who guards the doorway. “Of course, Deirdre. While The Goddess grants me the blessing of Her wisdom at times, these gifts are no match for the deadly intrigue of the Satrap’s court. Even Her Oracle needs to have other resources to draw upon.”
“Do you know what happened to Armando and his men? Why were we attacked?”
The dark-skinned woman nods sadly. “The soldiers you were with caused offense to one of the princelings who guest with the Satrap this season. The men you fled from were his compatriots seeking redress. I’m afraid that two of your escort were killed, and the third sent to the slave markets.” Deirdre’s gasps in horror at the news. “But the sergeant has been purchased and is already on his way here.”
Deirdre frowns in confusion, certain that she has misunderstood the woman’s meaning. The Oracle turns to the door expectantly, and the beggar pulls back the portal to reveal Faisal standing with his fist raised to knock. Armando lurks behind the holy warrior, looking alert and wary.
Deirdre leaps up, weeks of uncertainty and fear suddenly relieved. The remaining bread scatters on the floor as she steps toward the young man, but stops short as the warrior approaches the Oracle and kneels.
" Assalamu aleikom wa rahmatoh Sarenrae wa barakatoh, Jaiya… Oracle." His voice is thick with emotion and Deirdre can feel the tension in his posture.
" Wa assalamu aleikom wa rahmatoh Sarenrae wa barakatoh, feda-ghazi ", replies the young woman, gesturing for him to rise. “I have been visiting with your friend.”
Faisal notices Deirdre for the first time, and quickly enfolds her in his massive arms. She can barely make out his mumbled pray of thanks, and she feels her heart beat faster before the warrior coughs, quickly releasing his grip and stepping back. The Oracle raises her eyebrow at the young man, but says nothing.
“I am in your debt one thousand thousand times, Oracle, and I beg your forgiveness another ten thousand times, but I must ask…” Faisal stops as the dark-skinned woman raises her hand.
“I know why you are here, Faisal. The child being kept at the safehouse near the western bazaar. Many of the guards have been engaged in searching for you in the city. Perhaps next time, you might consider not announcing your presence so dramatically to those who would oppose you. But at least if you act quickly, you may be able to retrieve her with minimal bloodshed.”
Faisal kneels again before the beautiful woman and kisses her hand. “Thank you, Jaiyana. We will go immediately.”
Deirdre steps forward. “I’m coming too.”
“No!”, echoes the response from both the warrior and the Oracle. The young man bows his head in deference, and the dark-skinned woman continues. “My dear, you are weakened by the hunger and sleep deprivation of your tazkiah fasting. You are in no shape to cross the city, let alone rescue a child from the Isha-Ghazi. You can remain here, and I shall tell you stories of Faisal before he became feda-ghazi.”
“Thank you, Oracle”, says Faisal, lingering for a moment before turning and leaving the room with Armando in tow. Watching the exchange and the warrior’s body language, Deirdre suddenly hears the young man’s words from months earlier.
“I cannot honour your wishes or my desires, for my heart already belongs to another.”
Oh Goddess! He wasn’t talking about Scarlet! It’s The Oracle that he loves!