Amidst the flat, windy plains of Harborhead, far south of the capital, lies the city of Tiraktou. Once a minor settlement, in the Third Age its access to water has drawn many to dwell within its cramped walls, and far more to encamp in the vast tent cities just outside. (...)
Upon the great poles that rise above the city's walls, a series of colored flags rise up, telling all travellers what is on offer at the great market that lies at the city's heart, a haven for Guild traders and the Varangian merchant class. Today, it seems, a great slave auction is being held.
Imrama The dress in red garments, died with henna rather than with blood, and make a joyous noise on timbrals and trumpets made of horn. The parade descends on Tiraktou out of the arid flats from the East. They sing hymns they have written themselves, and the veterans, who have been traveling for nearly three weeks now, tell the new recruits of the miracles they have seen.
The cries carry on the wind and over the walls of the city, bringing a sense of forboding to Tiraktou's inhabitants....
Imrama To a one, they refuse to call him by the name he gives them, whispering in hushed tones "Ishadhi", then singing the word, and then shouting it as they merge into the crowd. As they approach the gates of the city, the man Imrama Stormfound walks at their head, smiling.
The gates of the city are... well-protected. A group of twenty women, the ephemeral red horns that mark them as the Exalted brides of Ahlat burning on their brows, bear the traditional spear-and-curved-blade combination known as the Bull's Horns and Tail, (...)
stand warily at the ready as a group of about ten over-dressed priests, clearly nervous, pour out from their place in the city, a single more confident Hierarch, bedecked in elaborate ceremonial finery, at their center.
Imrama raises his left hand over his left shoulder, signaling the company dancing behind him to halt. Remembering his sermons about the rigor and discipline required of a soldier, most of them stop quickly, and signal to the others to follow suit. Imrama stands with his arms folded, still smiling, waiting to see what the Tiraktouans do.
Kwasi The hierarch steps forward confidently, the brides flanking him closely on either side (and glowing with low levels of Essence use) and speaks, clearly and plainly. "This demonstration is not in keeping with the ways of our peoples, stranger."
Imrama makes no indication of listening to the Hierarch. Without acknowledging the man's words or presence, he walks slowly and deliberately up to the younger of the two foremost brides.
Kwasi The woman smoothly and without uncertainty brings her Bull's Horns up to a threatening position as Imrama approaches.
Imrama Coming near to her, but still far enough apart that their shadows cannot touch, he turns his face down and to the right, looking at the ground and preventing eye-contact. His body language is in accord with the customs of Harborhead, as he addresses the woman with the title "Hemayni". It is the respectful method and term for an adult son to address a woman who is his father's wife, but not...
Imrama ...his mother.
Imrama "Hemayni Isoku. I have come with these good people to attend the market. May they be allowed to enter your city?"
Isoku The woman speaks clearly and without hesitation, though not cockily like the priest. "Your entourage is not in keeping with our ways. They journey with no tribal leaders and bring no cattle for sacrifice."
Isoku Kwasi makes a face of surprise at the disrespect paid to him by Imrama, though he does not interrupt
Imrama "The people mean no disrespect to the city or to its people, but their hearts can no longer abide the old ways you describe. They travel without tribal leaders, because they have renounced their tribes; their only loyalty is to Ahlat, and to all those who are fellow servants of the God of War and Cattle."(...)
Imrama "And because of this, they cannot offer even a single calf, the living, breathing presence of their god upon the earth - they cannot carry such a one to a slaughter disguised as sacrament by deaf old men who mumble prayers they do not hold in their hearts."
Kwasi leaps forward and spits in anger. "You blaspheme against Ahlat to claim to speak for him so!"
Imrama rounds on Kwasi without hesitation. Gone is his affable and respectful demeanor - his rage is visible, his eyes smoke with sunlight, and the earth trembles as he speaks. "I make no claim to speak for Ahlat. I speak not for but to the souls of his people." At this, a rift opens in the soil, spewing fire high into the air. The crack does not endanger anyone directly, although it stops just...
Imrama ...short of Kwasi's feet.
Kwasi leaps back with a yelp.
Imrama re-adopts his attitude of respect towards Isoku, and continues to wait for his answer.
Isoku listens to Imrama's words, considers for a few long moments, and then, gestures towards the gate. (...)
Isoku Kwasi screams at her "How dare you! Ill-kept we--" He is interruped by a surreptitious clonk on the head by another bride, who says "They shall trade in the city. If Ahlat wills otherwise he shall speak of it upon his return."
Imrama bows. "Many thanks to you, Hemayni." Imrama enters the city, his followers close behind him, cheering. As one force, they make their way to the market place.
Isoku The marketplace is bustling and active, though a growing number of its inhabitants seem to stop what they are doing to gaze at the great mass of people that walks into the market.
Imrama Upon entering the market, the crowd behind Imrama fans out and disperses into the throng. They have wares to sell themselves, and countless needs to meet. A small cluster of old men and women stay with Imrama, holding several bushels of wildflowers between them. They follow Imrama as he approaches the auction block, surveying the slaves and those who trade in flesh.
Isoku There is a bountiful "crop" of slaves today -- hundreds of people in bondange wait to be auctioned off, as large musclebound warriors protect the reed-thin, shrill auctioneer who stands amidst the auction block, rapidly making as many sales as he can.
Imrama enters the throng of buyers waving and calling for the auctioneer's attention. Imrama raises his arm above his head, holding a single violet flower a deafening thunderclap peals out of the cloudless sky. In its wake, he announces his bid in a booming voice. "One flower, from the plains of Harborhead, for every soul chained in Tiraktou."
Isoku The scene stops entirely, as voices cut off mid-sentence and bodies freeze amidst frantic gestures as their faces are drawn inexorably to Imrama.
Isoku After a moment the guards move at first to attack Imrama, but then they pause, uncertain. The auctioneer seems to be rendered in a state of utter shock for a moment, but then, surveying the crowd who have spontaneously moved to stand in unquestionable support of Imrama, he swallows deeply.
Imrama "One flower, treasure of the parched soil, for each of the men and women you hold in bondage. All you have purchased today, Welano. Every hand who works your fields and keeps you home, Tmoshte." Imrama fixes his stare on the auctioneer. "And every last person remaining on your block, Ulen."
Isoku The man seems to consider, for a moment, an answer of spite, clinging to his vile work with the tenacity of the damned, but then, he sees the faces of the throng who have come with Imrama -- and the others who move to join that throng even as the moments pass -- and even the brides of Ahlat, who now stand beside him with defiant stares...
Isoku and he says, in a low voice, almost too quiet to hear "...s...sold."
Imrama All throughout the market, those who entered the city with Imrama explode in cheers and celebration. Imrama rushes up and embraces Ulen, his companions showering the little man with arm-fulls of flowers. "You have made a wise and generous choice, Ulen," Imrama says as he hoists the former slave merchant onto his shoulders, and carries him through the streets in celebration.