Jabbar continued, unperturbed. “I sent a servant to eavesdrop on their goings-on last night. I’d heard rumors of some…plan to attack us.” Jabbar stared at some indiscernible spot behind us. “He was returned to us, thrown at our door, sporting a quiver-full of arrows as payment for his services.
“But we sent him to spy! Did he not deserve to be punished?” exclaimed Zahir, who immediately cowered upon speaking. “Quiet, Zahir!” said the Moezin leader. Jabbar tore his eyes from his servant and smiled at us. “So we repaid them in kind. Their highest ranking servant, Salah, we kidnapped and killed, thus returning an eye for an eye. It is the law of the desert, do you not agree Lord Angrok?”
“But Salah el-Altir had nothing to do with the assassination of our servant—”
“Shut it, Zahir!”
Jabbar half rose from his chair while his servant scrambled behind his, like a dog expecting a beating. I marveled at Zahir’s insubordination, but as a guest in House Moezin I made no comment nor did Angrok show any reaction.
“I admit we may have paid back more than an eye for such an act of disrespect,” the clan’s leader conceded wryly. He winked at my lord as if this were some inside joke among sultans.
Zahir screamed hysterically, “You mean you slashed Salah to pieces and sent him back to House Altir in segments. Just like you—”
This time Jabbar flew to his feet and, crying out in frustration, grabbed his spear and arrowed it straight through Zahir’s heart. The thin man gasped, looked wild-eyed at the wooden pike buried deep in his chest, and slumped out of his chair, gushing blood on the dais.
“That’ll shut you up,” Jabbar hissed.
“Enough!” cried the old woman. “Bring in the wellspring bowl.” A young servant girl immediately left only to return a few moments later with a large white ceramic vessel. Obviously long dedicated to some ceremonial purpose, the bowl was chipped, its scars interrupting its green painted rim in several places. Jabbar’s mother took the empty basin and set it at the table’s center.
Family members gathered close while Angrok and I remained where we were, the container having been placed in front of us.The elderly woman took two jars of water brought out by two other servants and filled the ceremonial urn. Grasping the sides, she shut her eyes and chanted a series of verses I thought might be from some ancient scripture. Suddenly she stopped and looked at us and said, “Out of the wellspring of the past, come visions of truth.” She then commanded Angrok and me to peer into the deep waters before us
The vision we saw was of soldiers streaming from House Altir. Their compound took up two full city blocks, and rose much higher than the buildings surrounding it. On the outer walls of their massive House were mosaics of Issa, the goddess of dance and sensual love, as well as depictions of white tigers, her token animal. The sun was streaming into Bezakirah from the east while their warriors marched to the town square, to the very market we’d come upon earlier that evening.
A group of worshipers, followers of Mazdah and members of House Moezin, were there, kneeling in a corner of the courtyard in prayer. At the conclusion of their service, others began entering the town center. Noblemen, merchants, and villagers mingled together in trade and conversation unaware of the threat bearing down upon them.
Swiftly the soldiers burst into the square, upending stalls and wagons of goods – grapes and melons, fresh figs and other seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of the people scattered, and the armed men let them go. But the soldiers began to circle the worshipers who were huddled together now, weaponless and frightened. They systematically slaughtered the innocent members of House Moezin, slicing limbs and decapitating heads and tossing them throughout the square until blood soaked the earth.
The vision faded.
“The wellspring bowl has revealed to you their treachery,” Jabbar’s mother stated. “Now, Destroyer, bring judgment on House Altir. By Mazdah’s wrath we seek blood vengeance and implore you to destroy completely our bitter foes.”
During the vision I had sensed a change come over Angrok and so I was alert to any subtle movement he made. His normally silent demeanor was now deadly quiet, and I slid my hands within easy reach of my weapons. Angrok rose slowly and I with him.
“What say you Lord Angrok?” Jabbar prodded the iron clad warrior by my side. “Is this not a clear case of provocation? Our numbers are obviously depleted, therefore we call upon you to fulfill the desert code of honor and bring judgment on House Altir.”
“House Altir must indeed own its role in this ongoing rivalry between your two clans,” Angrok agreed. “But it is not their treachery today that will be judged.” Suddenly Angrok drew two long, sharp sabers from the serpentine engraved scabbards at his side. In one fluid motion I grabbed my crossbow and packed on a bolt.
“What betrayal is this?” Jabbar yelled as he likewise raised a sword and rose to face us. “Guards! Seize these infidels!”
They did not get the chance. We immediately broke from the table and met their attack with death blows. Four or five guards dropped before they could put up a defense. The family members scattered while the servants screamed and ran ahead of us on our way to exit the hall. Jabbar had escaped through a back entrance, but I could not concern myself with him as more soldiers made their way into the hall to block our path.
Several guards in leather vests came at us. A bolt from my crossbow pierced one’s heart and he dropped to the ground. His light animal skin armor stood no chance against the sheer mechanical force of my weapon. While I renocked my instrument, Angrok dashed forward and sliced off two heads in two clean strokes. As the dismembered heads hit the ground, my master let out a mad, bestial roar. With animal-like frenzy we hacked our way out of House Moezin and found ourselves on a darkened narrow street that led back to the market.