Fustat was home to disappointment. To be sure, it was nice to get within the safety of the walls and to see homes after so long on the road, but the town was wary. Everyone eyed the band with untrusting eyes, and doors were largely shut to them. Even Erogan, in all his finery, was only able to convince the townsfolk to point him in the direction of the Sheik, not offer much help of their own.
The guards that led them past the gates of the palace acted with a quiet efficiency that Sarai had long come to associate with the desert men of the east. The palace itself was not large, lacking all the grandiosity that Munjim had held, but it was elegantly built, tiled in white and blue.
“When entering the palace, please state your names and your business here,” the guard explained. “You have come on a fortunate day, the Sheik is not normally so keen to meet with foreigners, nor so free as to grant an audience such as this.”
“These are unusual times,” Faolan agreed.
The guard only nodded at this and gestured to have the sturdy doors swung open.
Erogan spoke first. “Your majesty, we come to seek an audience with you and to ask of news from Munjim and its destruction.”
“I have seen you before, dwarf. Braeburn, yes?” The Sheik hesitated. “Do you not come from Munjim? Perhaps I should be asking you of news.”
Sarai watched in silence as the dwarf struggled to master some complex emotion.
“I do — we do — your majesty.”
“The reports from the dwarven city are confused and mad. Destruction, you say? Has the city fallen?”
When Erogan did not continue, Faolan stepped forward with a polite nod and took his place. “Yes, fallen. Buildings crumbled, the mountain came down upon the city.”
There was a stunned silence, though whether at Faolan speaking out of turn or at the news of the demise of Munjim Al’Jawahir, Sarai could not guess. Eventually, the Sheik gave a small cough and asked, “To what foe has so great a city fallen?”
“Of that we cannot say. We only just made it out of there with our lives, let alone tales of the enemy.” When the air grew frosty once more, Faolan continued. “We were attacked by those we had believed dead. The king fell, and strange beasts arose from corpses and the very air around us.”
“This tallies with what the few dwarves who have made it to our gates have said, though you are right to call it madness.” He sighed and rubbed at his brow before continuing. “What can we do? You have seen our city, we are not as prosperous as the dwarves are. Or were. But what can we do to aid you?”
“For now,” Erogan spoke hoarsely. “We simply desire a declaration of safety within your walls so that we may use it as a base while researching what it is that happened.”
The Sheik nodded, a dry smile twisting the corner of his lips, “We can certainly promise that you and your friends shall not be attacked, Braeburn. There is little enough crime here.”
“And would you be able to provide us with accommodation while we remain here?”
“You are not the first of your kin to arrive here. I must admit that, on seeing the state of such travelers who left their home in such a rush, we took them in, leaving no space for your dignified company.”
Erogan frowned. “Surely you must understand that we have come looking for the cause of such attrocities as happened in Munjim. Can you offer nothing else?”
At this the Sheik’s features shut down. “My apologies, Erogan Braeburn. I will offer what I can, but right now, I cannot offer anything.”
For the remainder of the afternoon, Sarai, Augt, and Faolan prowled through the market while Erogan sought out his people and what further information he could glean from their experiences.
The stalls were bare, and what goods were to be had were meager and overpriced. Faolan failed in his search for a book, and Sarai was only able to find one stall which sold sumac, though she was only able to come away with a few small sprigs of the dried berries, and those at the outrageous price of nearly fifty tekels.
Still, for their trouble, they were able to sell the lumber and fine rug that Augt had found in that basement in Munjim, allowing him to purchase a proper bedroll for himself.
Leaving Augt and Faolan to see to lodging, Sarai slipped off to seek after information on the supposed bandits Kandake had hired them to seek. This far from Ard Al’Sahali, she found it wearying to be seen as such an oddity. When asking, it would often take a few minutes of awkward conversation to explain that, yes, she was far from home, that, no, she did not know any dragons, and that, no, she would not rob them.
Kandake was the magic word that finally got her somewhere, though. On mentioning this at a stall, the man two stalls over beckoned the kobold over.
“You seek after Kandake?”
“We have just come from meeting with her,” Sarai said, offering a flourish of her tail. “We have been hired to find a group of theives who have stolen from her caravan. Bandits, she says.”
The man nodded. “She is Ourash’s daughter. A fine trader and–” He paused to wink conspiratorially at Sarai. “–a fine woman. What do you seek, little one?”
“Any information that you might have on unsavory types who made it through Fustat would be most helpful. She seemed to think that perhaps they had some ties here.”
The man leaned back and mopped at his brow. “Bandits? No, Fustat is to civilized for those. You would have better luck asking the hill tribes to the east.”
Sarai nodded and made a mental note to pass this on to Faolan and Augt, bowing once more to the man before turning to leave.
“Little one, these are strange times, as you must know, but there was one oddity that caught my eye yesterday.”
“A small troupe of dwarves — hill dwarves from the north, by the look of them — came through the market selling spices yesterday.” His brow furrowed. “Spices from down in Istakhr, not the pungent herbs they use in their cuisine. They should not have had those spices, unless they were trading with someone.”
“With Kandake?” Sarai hazarded.
“Ourash trades often in spices, and the most recent caravan he brought in came from Kufan. They would have had ample oportunity to purchas Istakhari spices there.”
Sarai bowed again, more deeply this time, and flourished her tail. “Thank you, sir. You have offered us much which may be of use to us.”
The man nodded in return. “Do you trade in wool, little one?”
“I am a member of guild that focuses on emeralds and other precious stones.”
The man laughed. “I suppose we have missed each other on a trade. Perhaps you would join me for a cup of tea?”
Sensing that she was being asked for payment for the information received, Sarai shook her head. “My time is short. However, if you have some thread…”
The deal was quick, and, poorer by three drachma, Sarai turned back to the market to find Faolan and Augt.