5. Introductions

Obrázek uživatele Blanca
Kapitola: 

The amir's mansion was built more like a fortress in the best tradition of these parts. It was more modest than some Mawhub has seen. It wasn't especially well armed, as far as defenses went, either, as he noticed when the gate finally opened – after a brief squabble between the picket guard and the captain – and the jeep drove through it. It was hard to tell what offensive capabilities the complex held at a simple glance, but from the little the guards volunteered in answers to his questions along the journey it seemed that the amir wasn't the bloodthirsty or warmongering type. Which, of course, didn't mean he wouldn't be ambitious.
There was a healthy number of people milling about in the outer courtyard between the main building and the outbuildings. The car was flagged down by a man in a simple caftan and headwrap and stopped a bit to the side. The captain was the first to jump down and he and the man exchanged a burst of rapid-fire Arabic, with the captain's head bobbing towards Mawhub once or twice. Finally the new man nodded and turned back into the house, while the captain motioned for the rest of the men to get out of the car and follow.
The was built to an almost square plan with an inner courtyard lined by pillars and circled by a first floor balcony. The party crossed the courtyard and entered into what might have been a dining hall… or an audience room. A richly dressed man in his fifties sat cross-legged on a small dais at the head of the room with a steaming pot of coffee on the low table in front of him. He was talking to a couple of women, but quickly dismissed them as the group entered. Mawhub noticed the women stopped just beyond the decorative veil serving in lieu of a door in the wall behind the dais. The man who brought them in bowed low and was dismissed by a swift gesture, going to stand behind the amir's right shoulder. It was the captain's turn to bow to his master.
“I ordered you to bring me a prisoner for questioning, didn't I, Abdul?” the amir's voice sounded soft, as if the man wasn't accustomed to raising it. “And instead you return with… what?”
“Amir, I bring you something more valuable than a prisoner. I bring you an ally,” the captain said, still bowing down. “His name is Mawhub and I believe you want to hear what he has to say.”
The amir looked at the captain and then at Mawhub, who stepped a bit to the front and sketched a bow, that wasn't anywhere as deep as the soldier's. The sitting man's face broke into a smile as he lifted a cup to his lips.
“I see,” he said with an almost imperceptible gesture – more of a twitch of a hand, really. Next thing four or five men stepped out of various alcoves around the room, each one of them holding a loaded automatic gun aimed at the group.
“You should have let me be the judge of that, Abdul,” the amir said, raising his hand. “A pity, you didn't.”
To his surprise, the captain straightened and moved in from of Mawhub, just as the rest of them men of the group formed a protective circle about him. Moment later the six guns – the amir's personal servant/bodyguard pulled out a pistol – pivoted and ended up aimed at the sitting man, instead of the group.
Mawhub stepped out in front of the tight group once again, fixing the amir with a steely gaze. He didn't say a single word. The older man's arm slowly fell back to his side and his head shook, before he brought the cup the rest of the way to his lips and drained it in one gulp, never breaking the eye contact with his uninvited guest. Then he slowly stood up, ignoring the movement of the six barrels still trained at him, and stepped towards the edge of the dais. The staring contest between the green eyes of the stranger and brown eyes of the master of the house went on for a few more moments, the room so quiet you could hear the agitated whispers of the women, who still stood behind the veil sounded almost like shouting. Then the stranger bowed once again and the guns dropped their aim.
“Your men, they call you amir Zuwaihir,” Mawhub finally broke his silence. “With my help everyone could soon be calling you sheikh. Sheikh Zahabia.”
The amir looked at his 'guest' for a few more moments and then broke into a laughter.
“You certainly have very interesting ways of introducing yourself, stranger,” he said and shrugged. “Come, sit, before the coffee gets cold. The rest of you… clear out. Go find something to eat and something worthwhile to do.”
With that he dropped back into his seat, pouring two cups of coffee and motioning for Mawhub to join him, which the other man did.
“Now you can begin to tell me more… about what will your help cost me.”

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