And on that day a smell will blow in on the sands to wander the streets of our great city. And it shall be a foreign smell, an odorous thing to offend the nostrils of camels and the people will throw wide their windows to investigate the strange stench, then seal them tight-shut and hasten from room to room, flapping blankets, towels and all manner of cloths in their efforts to beat out the smell. And thus they will be united in common ignorance, for none will yet know the foreign odour to be the herald of our Saviour. And the smell shall be named after a great hunter. A bird of prey, who shall fly into our midst from a distant land.
Falcon Moskirque blew some of the sand out of his nose, but for all the wealth of silt in his handkerchief he could still feel some grains clinging to his nasal cavities. After the desert trek, he’d been looking forward to a hearty ale to wash the dryness from his throat, but now it looked like he was going to have to snort the stuff as soon as he found a decent tavern.
Blasted Xandria, he thought.
The city was the jewel of the Gyptian coast, but it didn’t half collect a lot of dust. Checks at the gates had been rigorous, with the guards loaded with questions like quarrels of crossbow bolts to be fired at him in rapid succession. But they let every particle of dirt freely enter without so much as a by-your-leave. Not that Falcon could think of an effective way to fence the desert out. The scrap of sack-cloth he’d fastened to the front of his helmet filtered out some, but still enough got through to provoke coughing and sneezing fits.
No wonder the guards had looked at him funny. Locals didn’t bat an eyelid at a bit of invasive sand. Falcon had probably confirmed himself as a feeble foreigner and they’d likely wondered what he was doing here. And with his grubby ginger hair and freckles he must’ve looked partly made of sand, so why was he coughing it up?
Well, he answered their routine interrogations but kept two answers to himself: no, I am made of stuff much less stern than sand; and I am here to seek a future, far far removed from a regrettable past.
The guards waved him on, into their fair city, muttering in Gyptian and flapping hands under their noses. Yes, yes, Falcon thought. A bath would be needed as much as the beer.
Endless days of trekking across the world’s open oven had unleashed a whole host of rare aromas. Pigs, in his experience, sweated apple sauce by comparison. A bath would wash away the journey, but he was acutely aware that some of the stench would cling. Ingrained, like his damned freckles.
Footsore and dog-tired, he dragged his baked carcass through the busy streets, taking in what he could of the sights through dusty narrowed eyes.
People backed away from him, the general sea of bustle parting to let him pass. He was used to that wherever he went. So in that sense the city wasn’t so foreign to him as it might’ve been.
Nearly all who noticed him – and that amounted to most – awarded him funny looks just as the gate guards had done.
What was their problem? He understood Xandria to attract visitors from all over. Some pasty-faced warrior, half-clad in leather, half-clad in dirt, could not be so strange a vision to the native population.
Falcon smiled at a number of them, testing the friendliness of the waters. But that just seemed to make matters worse. They bowed and backed away some more, as though humbled by the passage of a religious leader. Or hero.
Falcon was neither of those, to be sure.
And he shall walk among us as an ordinary traveller, armed but dangerous to none save for noses. And he shall be known by his hair the colour of a freshly uprooted carrot and the pallor of his visage and the freckles upon his cheeks as of a handful of desert cast at a face sticky with perspiration.
And he shall not know himself to be our Saviour. For heroes are not born straight from the womb, but in moments – sometimes in a single moment – later in life.
Half an hour’s meandering delivered him Falcon to Xandria’s harbour front.
Although Xandria’s harbour was a wonder, one that continued another entire third or perhaps even half of the city. Falcon, strolling the dockside, had merely reached the edge of the mainland.
Before him, a bay opened impossibly wide arms, protecting a gathered host of islands and islets, each crowned with pyramids and minarets. Many of the islands were wreathed with palms, fig and olive trees, and other buildings – houses like scattered earthenware bricks with windows clustered at the base of many pyramids, servants at the feet of their geometric masters. While the grandest structures were left to rule their respective islands alone. Ships, steam and sail, ploughed the sparkling blue channels, threading convoluted courses between the islands.
Falcon turned from the panorama, his thoughts returning to bed and board. And bath.
He scanned the jumbled row of blocky buildings along the harbour front. Size alone suggested most were warehouses, but one or two boasted signage that might’ve meant inns.
He tugged at the sleeve of a passer-by. “Excuse me. Can you recommend a decent – ?”
The man stared and backed away a pace. And bowed and muttered a prayer through his beard.
And the people shall be humbled by his presence.
For his coming shall be a sign that we are saved. But not before, on the morn after his arrival, our city shall be visited by great devastation.
[To Be Continued…]