The Bazaar, Little Babel
The rows of shops suggests such a crowd of buildings and tents that they cannot help but stand upon each other, wooden trestles and frames supporting a second level on which are located tents and lightweight storefronts. Ladders provide a primitive sort of way for ground-dwellers to visit the typically Eeee and Vartan shops on the second tier, but even the stores at the ground seem oriented toward the minority of Eeee that occupy Rephidim, such as Dali's Pastries nearby which offers a range of delicious bug-filled (and some not-so-insect-riddled) treats, or the Fancy Perch which is a woodcarver shop displaying numerous richly varnished sticks and mounting brackets.
Having narrowly escaped the full force and wrath of the Inquisition, Bambridge and Chiri returned to the Bazaar to find that X had succeeded in stopping almost all the looting, with the help of some nearby merchants Bazaarites tend to help each other, after all, and no one wants the ill will of a healer from whom they may someday need life-preserving treatment. Having been assured that Chiri and more importantly (to X), Little Reed were all right, X then joined the party as they closed Chiri's little infirmary and went off to find something to eat…
"Come, come, my friends!" beckons the becloaked Shiga. Despite, or perhaps because of recent events, he has a spring in his step, and even hums the occasional snatch of some forgotten tune when he isn't chattering at his 'guests'. (Whom he owes.) The reptile twists and weaves through the crowds, finally in his own element again. "Ever been to Dali's Pastries? Excellent cuisine, simply excellent! Those Eeee really know how to cook."
Chiri casts a glance over her shoulder at her two slaves. "Makes no difference to me as long as it fills my stomach, and Reedy doesn't get sick from eating a bad bug."
Little Reed signs, "I won't get sick! I ate a bug once on a… Er, I ate a bug once and it didn't hurt me at all!" He follows his dad, a large Savanite marked very distinctively across the face.
X, the large Savanite slave, lopes along behind Chiri, a cowl obscuring his features from some angles, even though there isn't the excuse of a bright sun to shield his eyes from right now. His eyes glitter from the shadows under the coarse fabric, frequently darting between his surroundings and then to glance back at the much smaller Savanite cub.
Bambridge laughs, checking to see if Yellow Feather has caught up yet. "Dali's the finest chef this side of the bazaar, in my own opinion. Funny, most of the non-Eeee furbacks disagree with me… ptah! What do they know?"
When he thinks no one is looking (or hopefully would care anyway), X reaches back and ruffles Little Reed's headhair and ears lightly and briefly.
The Skreek half smiles. "So in other words it's cheap… " She kicks a rock in the street with one of her slender feet.
The Shiga clutches his chest in a dramatic fashion, holding an expression of mock pain. "Ksssha! You cut me to the quick, healer. That I, the Woo-… , uh, Scotch would serve guests anything but the finest? Scandalous! Ah, but no matter, here we are!"
Little Reed wiggles his ears at the head-ruffling. That's his dad. ;>
X looks around, regarding the place and its clientele.
"Be sure and tell me if the food tastes any good, X." Chiri adjusts her headband and follows behind the Shiga.
X bows to Chiri as he nods.
Dali's Pastries doesn't have an interior seating area that's something only the better and more expensive restaurants can afford, especially in the Bazaar where space is at a premium. What it does have is an enthusiastic looking peppered bat calling out to newcomers, "Try our Gnat Gyros! Spicy enough to get those taste buds really going! Gnat gyros, three for the price of two!" Several Eeees and a Vartan (bluish, with traces of green) are lined up already.
A large clay oven behind the stand allows the proprietor to cook several meals at once with numerous apertures, each marked with some runes that might signify temperature. Smoke billows cheerfully from its stack. Charcoal marked 'Gran's Best' suggests how the shop gets its fuel.
"Dali!" barks Bambridge, striding up behind the other customers. He pulls back his hood a bit. It may be curious to note that he looks a little more… speckly than before. And perhaps a duller green. Maybe it's just the light. "Hey, Dali! Hurry up over there! I've got hungry folks with me this time!"
Chiri almost steps on the tip of Bambridge's tail. "I'll take whatever you recommend, as long as it's spicy. Just don't make my slaves sick."
Little Reed holds onto X's tail, following close. He seems to enjoy this sort of thing.
The bat looks up. "Ah! Bob! Back for more of the same?" He peers behind the chameleon. "And you've brought friends!" he says delightedly.
X looks over his shoulder, as if looking for someone more than just Chiri, but then just looks back at nothing in particular again.
Bambridge sets his paws on the counter with a thump. "Scutes straight, I did! I think a discount is in order for all this business, eh?" hisses the lizard. "I'll take the usual, the lady here would like something with some kick. Something meaty for the grown-up spotgrunts. Got anything in a kiddie platter for the younger? Something crawly he can play with, with no pinchers!"
Dali smiles widely. "Aiee! Discount this, discount that, you eat me out of home and shop pretty fast if I give you percentage off, Bob. But you good customer. I throw in extra honey-locust plate for dessert for you all, okay?"
Little Reed blinks looking at some of the squiggling sandwiches the customers are getting. He tugs on X and signs at him, "Do people really eat this stuff?"
X looks to Little Reed and signs, "Not so bad if you smash it up so you can't recognize it so much."
"Done!" The reptile beams at his guests reassuringly.
Little Reed scratches behind an ear. And people pay to eat this?
Chiri, amazingly, doesn't seem the slightest bit phazed about eating here.
X's ears wiggle. "Don't worry, Little Reed. I'll protect you from dinner."
Dali gets to work cooking everything up. "Everything absolutely fresh," he reassures the customers. "No day-old bugs here! Fresh, fresh, fresh, 'til you can see the legs still wiggling!"
"That Eeee is an artist," hisses Bambridge, with a knowing nod. "Few Bazaar-goers respect his skill, but his waashu-hot pastries will clean your sinuses right out."
X self-consciously covers his nose with a hand at this … testament.
While the group waits, the Shiga turns back to his guests, holding his paws out palm up. "Ah, but Chiria! The little one I know, but you still haven't introduced me to your other associate, ah?"
A few minutes later sees the delivery of a turnover-shaped pastry (but somehow crafted so that the pastry is floppy and chewy rather than crispy) stuffed with mealworms and a beetle-juice drink for Bambridge, several large stuffed skedats which are supposedly 'waashu hot' and a large milk for Chiri; X gets a giant bug with the head chopped off *whack!* and the guts cleaned out and replaced with some kind of bread stuffing the meat is still intact of course, and another beetle-juice drink, and for Little Reed, Dali genially offers him a bun cut in half with a patty of millipedes fried in a crisscross-fashion between them, a slice of tomato, a pickle, and some yellowish sauce, plus a large berry juice. Dessert is a platter with eight locusts fried in a light batter and dipped into honey. "A miracle of delectable food at ridiculously low prices! For you, Bob, only fifteen shekels."
"So let's sit down already… or are we going to have to perch on the roof like one of the squeakers?" Chiri casts a glance upwards. "My other associate? Oh… " she eyes the larger Savanite. "This is X, I bought him in Abu Dhabi a few months ago."
Little Reed looks suspicious at the bun with its greasy cargo.
X silently bows to Bambridge.
Bambridge forks over the money with a broad grin, wagging an index claw at the Eeee proprietor. "Huh, you call that cheap? Well, we pay for premiums, don't we? All right, here you go, but I want you to give little Reed here a hissing roach to play with, if you haven't run out, yet." The Shiga turns back, and returns X's bow. "A pleasure. You've sired a fine boy. Did you catch your Rhian?"
Dali grins. "A Snappy Meal, eh? All right, let me see what we've got left." He ducks down under the counter and rummages around in a box.
In response to Bambridge's question, X dares a hint of a smile, looking at his right hand, which he folds into a fist and opens up again a couple of times.
A little later, Dali brings up a paper bag with what sounds like several strange-sounding insects inside and hands it to Little Reed. "Here you go, kid! Remember, at Dali's, a meal isn't just a meal, it's an adventure!"
Rather than have its own seating area, Dali's storefront opens onto a communal area shared by several other restaurants, thus providing a nice packed dirt area where people can stand about or if they've brought blankets or straw mats (which can also be rented for a shekel or two) they can spread these out and 'picnic' right here in the convenience of the Bazaar. Occasionally acts and bards will go through this area, hoping to attract money from lunching patrons.
Without so much as an eyeblink, Chiri snatches up one of the skedats and takes an impressive bite out of it. Her eyes water a bit, but otherwise she seems amazingly unaffected by the spices.
Little Reed nibbles on the millipede-burger.
X gobbles down his meal without pausing to taste it.
"So, Bob, Bam, Scotch, or whatever you call yourself, do you mind telling me exactly what happened that brought you to my little tend, and why that Zelak was after you?" Chiri squeaks between bites.
Little Reed munches on the millipede burger and then looks funny with one of the worms sticking out of his mouth. He tries to decide if this tastes good or not.
"Good, isn't it?" hisses Bambridge, pausing to spit a tiny twitching leg off to one side. He sit cross-legged on one section of a ring of rental mats, munching and crunching away. "Well, it's kind of a longish story. Given the need for healing around my… uh, workplace, I'll have to trust you a little if we wish to establish a working relationship, hmm? Sad thought it may be, I might be forced to bring you a good deal of business in the future. They call me the Wooden Shekel."
Bambridge adds, "'Uncle Scotch' will suffice if anyone asks you any uncomfortable questions."
Little Reed decides it's okay and munches down the rest of his milli-burger quickly.
X manages a proud smile at Little Reed's bravery and gives him a light pat on the shoulder once the cub is finished.
Bambridge waves his sandwich in a non-chalant gesture. "As to the Zelak, and Envoy… well, the first goes back a little longer." The reptile relates the story of the crashing airplane and the oddly crippled Eeee inside, making sure to note that pressing business meant he didn't have time for questions.
The rat's eyes glint a bit. "I've had quite a few dealings in darkside, you've made quite a name for yourself." She takes a casual sip from her glass. "People are wondering if you're gonna be the next big thing or not… "
Little Reed gives X an adoring look. "My dad is the biggest thing around!"
X unsuccessfully tries to repress a smirk.
Chiri rolls her eyes.
"Well… it's a name, and that's all," replies the reptile, shrugging. "If I keep my head on straight, maybe I'll make it an important name. As for Envoy, well… she was in the absolute wrong place, and I don't think there was ever a right time. That Zelak business just chose to catch up to me about when I brought Envoy to you."
Chiri goes back to eating. "So how long have you been in 'business' in Rephidim?"
After munching on his burger, Little Reed looks inside the bag. *BOING!* A big grasshopper thing jumps out! It rubs its legs together, producing a sound remarkably like bacon frying.
Bambridge takes a sip of his beetlejuice, pausing to bemusedly watch Reedy's Snappy-Meal prize do its thing. "I guess it's been almost a year now, maybe more, maybe less. I haven't kept track of time. How about you? I've frequented the Bazaar for a while now, but only recently had I heard news of a good, quiet healer."
Little Reed jumps back from the giant bug! His ears go up as he crouches, tail swishing side to side fast.
Chiri stares at the bug impassively and then hands an empty plate to X to use as a swatter. "I've been here and there," she says to the lizard. "I was born in Himar… I think. Skreek's fortune kept me moving a lot."
X's ears flatten back under his hood, as he is caught by surprise by the large bug, supposing it to be about as big as one of his hands. He reflexively lashes out with one hand, just barely catching it. The sound is not quite so remarkable as that of bacon frying, but more like … well …
Little Reed looks disappointed he won't be able to practice pouncing the bug. He signs, "Is that what it's supposed to do, Uncle Scotch?"
The rat puts her plate over the ex-bug. "Until recently I worked for a merchant named Demes Oresta, before that I was an assistant healer in the Bazaar, and before that… " her tone lowers. "I was a… er… privateer."
A gaunt-looking Savanite arrives looking all fuzzled out so that it is no longer so easy to count his ribs… He smells of soap, suggesting that Bambridge made him take a bath before joining the others.
X wipes his hand off on the ground, the blushing of his ears hidden by his cowl. He gives an apologetic frown to Little Reed.
Little Reed shrugs to X. "You gished it good, Dad! I get the next one, okay?"
"Well, you're supposed to go easier on the bugs, hunter! They're no match for you! signs the Shiga, grinning. He stops, raising an eyeridge. His tone lowers as well. "A privateer, Chiri? Well, well, well, that is indeed remarkable. You're setting up a quieter trade. But now, these two spotgrunts… I'm no fool, friend healer, they're more than servants to you."
Yellow Feather stands near Bambridge, looking hungry.
X nods in agreement to Little Reed. "If I get one, I'll save it for you."
Chiri's eyes narrow. "And what do you think they are to me?"
Little Reed grins, and then looks in the bag to see if there's anything left…
The scarred Savanite misses Little Reed's grin, as he looks to Bambridge warily.
And there is! There's a tiny little bug at the bottom which Little Reed picks out. It looks like an oversized grub, of an off-white color. As he holds it in the palm of his hand, it starts to swell up.
Bambridge finally spots Yellow Feather. "Ahh, there you are! You're smelling much better now. Here's four shekels, and… lemme find my charcoal pencil, hang on." The reptile digs out a writing instrument, and takes on of the napkins from his meal, writing, "Dali, please cook this slave a good meaty meal. Four shekels should cover it. It better be big! Bao-Bob." Bambridge hands Feather the note. "Take this to Dali, he'll get you fixed up."
Yellow Feather blinks a bit startledly, not used to this much attentive treatment. He nods to his master and walks off to the pastries shop.
The reptile regards Chiri again, leaning back, and nursing what remains of his beetlejuice. "Well, I'm trying to put a fingerpad on that, healer. There are some key differences here. Your 'servants' look at you. They look at other people. Little Reed doesn't mind talking to me. And you too, I think you look differently at Reed, and X, than the owners that I've seen look at m-… at their servants."
The little Savanite studies the swelling bug curiously… And then it vents all the air it had in one long shriek! *WHEEEEEEEEEeeeee… * (well, perhaps bugs don't have much lung capacity) Everyone looks at the small Savanite for a second, and then slowly start to turn away, seeing no signs of a show about to start or other attention-grabbing stunt.
Little Reed drops the bug, surprised, jumping back with his tail bottlebrushed out. After a moment, he signs to X, "Loud!"
X is distracted as well by the noise, as he jolts to attention, looking to the bug. This time, however, he represses the "gishit" reflex.
The tiny grub starts trying to crawl off somewhere.
"Then allow me to shed some light on the matter for you." Chiri says sharply, not even bothering to look at either of the two Savanites. "I purchased X after a fool mistake he made that almost got me killed because my old boss was moron enough to let his slaves run off after old girlfriends. On threat of my life, I've sworn not to reveal the details… but suffice it to say I probably should not be alive today. When I got back I purchased X… mostly because I wanted my revenge on him myself. Reedy is just a kid though, and it would take a crueler rat than I to hurt a kid." This time she looks at the larger slave for just a moment. "But who knows what would have happened to him if I hadn't bought him, eh? It just reminds X who he owes."
X's attention returns to the conversation, but he drops his gaze to the ground.
Chiri squeaks, "You'll pardon my passion about the subject, Mister Scotch. But I had joined the merchant to escape such a lifestyle, and was none to pleased to find myself back in it again."
"Well then. Quite regrettable, and understandable too," hisses the lizard, flicking at a wayward gnat thoughtfully. "Perhaps I'm not a good judge of furback faces… as it is, I may be bringing you more business in the form of Savanites, and that little bit caught my attention."
Little Reed tries to pick up the bug without it swelling up again to give its alarm…
"I don't hate the spotties, mind you." the rat says, munching on her skedat again. "Reedy's been a pretty good helper, and he keeps my life interesting. I just don't forgive easily."
X just silently keeps his gaze affixed on the ground, on no particularly important spot.
Yellow Feather comes back from the stall chewing on a sandwich, two hunks of brown bread between which are crammed fried insects, some gooey-looking cheese, and bits of onions.
The Wooden Shekel nods solemnly, reaching for something in his cloak. "Well, that's good. If I'm fortunate, most of the Savanites I bring you won't require questions like this." Bambridge's rummaging paw comes up with a small herb-pouch. He hefts it, and proffers it toward the Skreek. "Can you tell me what this is? Feather's previous owner had to brew it for him every morning."
Bambridge pats on one of the mats for Yellow Feather to take a seat on. "Tuck in, Feather, you really look like you need it."
Yellow Feather sits and eats ravenously.
He looks up mid-bite at the mention of the herb-pouch however, looking worried.
Chiri takes up the pouch and eyes it. "Why did he HAVE to brew this for him?" She pinches some of the herbs between her fingers.
Little Reed notices some small Kavis scampering by and signs, "Wait! I want to show them this… " He runs off to follow them, the bug in hand already starting to swell ominously.
X jerks his chin up to look after Little Reed, then looks apologetically to Chiri. "Master?" he signs.
"I'm not altogether sure, really," muses the Shiga. He looks at his Savanite charge. "Feather? It didn't occur to me to actually ask you, yourself. Can you tell the healer here why your owner brewed that tea every day? It could be im-… Reedy! You shouldn't-… oh, vermites."
Yellow Feather pauses to try and swallow his last bite so he can put the sandwich down and free his hands to sign.
"Go on, X. I'll meet you back at the tent later… " Chiri says, still examining the herbs.
X gives a quick and low nod, then hops up and sprints off in the direction Little Reed was last seen headed in.
Yellow Feather tries putting the sandwich on his shoulder, then on his knee, and settles for sitting cross-legged and balancing the awkward sandwich on his legs. He starts signing, "It is how they make sure we won't run away… "
Bambridge shrugs his narrow shoulders apologetically at Chiria. "Heh, I didn't realize the Snappy Meal would get Little Reed so worked up." He watches Feather's paws for a moment, nodding slightly as the Savanite's sign.
"They give us this because they say we will get sick and die without it," Yellow Feather signs. "There is only so much of it at a time, and if we try to steal much of it… " He shudders.
A loud "Bweeee!" from a distance followed by Kavi laughter suggests that Little Reed is evidently putting his Snappy Meal surprises to good use.
Chiri squeaks, "Little Reed gets worked up when he wakes up in the morning. Anyhow," she looks at the herbs one more time. "This just looks like tea to me. I don't recognize anything helpful or malicious in it, unless you count the caffeine."
Yellow Feather signs to Chiri, "It is a drug! It is very addictive. We would die without it! First comes shortness of breath in the morning, and then a faster beating of the heart… " The Savanite looks horrified. "Maybe you have wrong pouch?"
Bambridge rests his elbows on his knees, looking grave despite the merriment not far down the street. "Hmmm… are you very, very certain, Chiria? Feather, was there any time that Door failed to give you the tea in the morning?" Upon watching the Savanite's reaction, his brow furrows. "Wrong pouch? Feather, look inside it, see if you recognize it."
The rat hands the pouch to the Savanite as she ponders the symptoms in her head.
The slave formerly known as Corpselicker takes the pouch and some of the powder, examining it. "This looks like it… "
The Shiga appears genuinely puzzled. "Could it be a ruse, healer?"
"Sounds like a ruse to me." Chiri squeaks, draining the contents of her glass and then picking her teeth with a broken off pincer from one of the bugs. "The symptoms your slave described sound more anxiety related than anything else. Certain drugs tend to have very specific symptoms, unless you went into the really expensive stuff, and I don't see anyone but some insane high noble even thinking about doing anything even remotely like that."
"There was never a time when they failed to give us the tea in the morning, Master er, Bambridge," Yellow Feather signs. "But once, they showed us a slave who had run away for a whole week and whom they found and brought back. He was already dead, but he was purple in the ears and pink on the nose and all his spots had green rings around them, and his tongue stuck out… He stank horribly, too."
Yellow Feather looks horrified at Chiri. "But I saw it!"
Bambridge bobs his head lizardishly, swinging it to look back over at Feather. "I don't know… Door's doesn't strike me as the type to want to bother with all that, and I don't think he's making bushels of shekels off that pub. I'll tell you what… "
Chiri rolls her eyes. "Green rings around spots, pleeeease! You'd think that some fool slavemaster would have the intelligence to come up with something a little more believable." She shakes her head. "Nothing I have heard of in my ten years as a healer has ever given anyone markings like that. They probably killed him and let that insane artist Ikata paint him up."
Yellow Feather begins to look even more horrified. "Then you mean all these years we've been drinking nothing but… " He looks at the pouch.
"Tea. Cheap tea at that, bleaugh." The rat makes a face.
The Savanite faints.
The reptile grins wryly, pulling the drawstrings on the pouch to close it. "I'll brew a cup of this stuff for you tomorrow morning, Feather. If the healer's right, and I have a feeling she is, then you should be okay all day. If you start turning green, pink, and purple, we'll… Feather?"
Chiri picks up X's abandoned glass of water and flings the contents of it at the fallen slave.
Yellow Feather jumps up, looking around. "Master! I'm awake! I was just resting my… " He blushes in his ears, dropping them back.
Bambridge, still grinning, blinks slowly, once or twice. "As I was saying, we'll see how you do without the tea. If you go all day, then you're in the clear, my friend."
The gaunt (but slowly defuzzling) Savanite looks worried, but signs, "As you wish master er, Bambridge."
Chiri drums her blunted claws on the table. "Never seen anyone faint like a spotty… except a poodle, and they rarely come to my tent."
"Well, we'll see if we can't cure poor Feather of that," hisses the Shiga, stretching his back with a grunt. "I think things will be all right, especially now that I've given you a heads-up, Chiria. I appreciate your discreteness in the matter."
Yellow Feather reassembles his sandwich and starts munching it quickly, as if today might be his last day on Sinai.
"Discreteness is my middle name." Chiri says with a wink. "In fact, allow me to give you a bit of discreet advice… "
Bambridge quirks his head to one side. "That is?"
Chiri squeaks, "I'm a rat that's seen a lot of things in her time. You know how it is with us, we're the garbage of Sinai, like the Kavi… me even moreso with these Dagh ugly straight legs of mine. I've heard that you've hooked up with a new 'family' member, something I did with the pirates so many years ago. Well, don't spend your whole life doing it, you'll regret it. I almost did. Because of my life I'll probably never smell a flower again, or taste fresh fruit. I paid my price… don't let your price get as high as mine was."
Bambridge rests his paws on his chin, looking off at some spot in the Bazaar with unfocused eyes. "I… really don't know much else," he murmurs, somewhat to himself. "Maybe after my task is complete… maybe… "
"If you can, learn." the rat says, quietly eating her last stuffed skedat. "All of my friends are dead, or sworn to kill me someday for leaving… I don't keep X around for just guard duty for my shop, you know. It took me getting my head split open on the deck when the Bloody Shekel's gondola blew to set me straight. Going legit ain't an easy thing to do… but in the end you'll be happier and you might even manage to die of old age.
Bambridge is quiet for some time, rocking back and forth a little bit. Finally, he hisses, "Well… perhaps you're right, and perhaps you aren't… the option isn't open to me for a little while yet. Yet… " The lizard is quiet for a few more awkward seconds, and then he straightens his back. "Well… I'm stuffed, and it looks like Feather's finishing up. I hope you enjoyed the meal, healer. Thank you for the information you've given me, I'm sure I'll be back for more in due course."
"Of course," Chiri squeaks, brushing crumbs off of her front. "Leastwise, now you know where I learned to swear so well." She winks. "But seriously, I'm not your mother… or whatever you Naga types have, just consider it to be advice from a rat. You may take and discard it as you wish."
"Any nephew worth his picks never discards advice," replies the lizard, his leathery face creasing in a smile. "Maybe I won't make use of it now, but I'll hang onto it. /And/ I'll remember some of those indelicate phrases for emergencies." He chortles to himself, and stands up, stretching some more. "We'll be in touch, Chiria."