Journey to the Naqsái Lands
5 Hasanpór 2372
We woke around noon. There were plenty of aching heads, but soon the musicians began gathering again. Mridék spent the day trying, unsuccessfully, to find the local harbourmaster’s office. I decided that I wanted to trade for some of the local clothes, a couple of their clay pots and one of their remarkable clay knives.
At the ship, Davé woke to find that all his clothes were gone and native clothes were put in their place. He was not amused.
Chatán and I returned to the marketplace. It was mostly raggedy tents and lean-tos. The produce was such poor quality that even the Shén turned it down. Eventually I found a stall with an old woman who had some knives. I was curious about the use of the clay material that they used for knives and weapons. Most of the knives the Naqsái make are plain, double-edged and almost two hói long. I picked up one and asked if I could trade it for the spare kilt I brought along. The woman indicated that the kilt was far too valuable and that it was worth the whole of her shop. I produced a small scarf and I was able to buy several knives, hammers, and tools. I also got one of their “writing shells”. Since there is no parchment or paper, all documents are written on thin slabs of clay or on large, flat, oval shells. The writing is curious and unintelligible. I have no idea if I bought a piece of a famous poem or the list of the woman’s inventory.
Another vendor we saw sold wax statues. These were supposed to represent one’s enemies and could be melted down to cause them harm.
Chatán decided that he wanted to trade for some perfume for his slave. We found a dealer who specialised in scents and oils for skin protection. It smells of fish oil and is applied to exposed areas of the skin to keep it from burning. Since the sun is so hot here, during the day most people wear clothes that cover their body for protection and coat any exposed skin with the oil. The merchant also carried jars of scent similar to those used at the Temple of Dlamélish back in Tsolyánu. He only had perfumes used by men to attract women, but there were none for attracting men. We were told that we could buy a scent like that in the Old City. We sent one of my servants back to the ship with our purchases and the merchant provided us with a boy who could be a guide for us in the Old City.
On the way to the Old City we passed a caravan. Since they know nothing of chlén, carts, or palanquins, everything must be carried by hand. Caravans here consist of many men who have a thin plaited fabric that cross their foreheads and go back over their shoulders to support a sack that hangs at the middle of their backs. They dress in long robes and trek into the desert to trade with the nomadic tribes there. Occasionally we saw people who were plainly more official, or of a higher status. They wore much newer clothes that were often dyed in different colours. All of the local people also wore cosmetics of red clay mixed with oil. It gave their skin a more even-looking colour and texture.
We passed through a decrepit brick gateway that marked the entrance to the Old City. From there we passed through many series of gates and alleys. The Old City is composed of short, squarish buildings about two storeys high, constructed either of clay or stones made up of compressed shell. The roofs are flat and many have tents or awnings so the residents might enjoy the cooler breezes from the ocean. The town goes inland and eventually up into the feet of the low hills that border the desert. Occasionally we saw old neglected gardens with the dried stalks of dead plants. Our guide told us that it had been twenty or maybe thirty years since anything bloomed there.
Eventually we stopped at a dark doorway. A pleasant looking middle aged woman greeted us, but I still felt wary and uncomfortable. I came to understand that this place was a kind of safehouse and brothel. One could come here and hide out for a while. We all went in except for my servant, who opted to wait outdoors. The woman began busying herself with bottles and jars of cosmetics. She told us that inside she had a room where people could worship the goddess. When pressed, she explained that the goddess tells people how to behave and foretells people’s futures.
She offered us cosmetics with scents. Every scent has an effect that is tailored to the individual. For me she offered a scent that indicated that I was shy and virginal, but willing to experiment. For Oténeb she chose a scent that would create the illusion that she was veiled and mysterious. We were told to keep at least a dhába away from Chatán, since he might not be able to control himself.
A woman entered from the back room and wanted to take Chatán back with her. The older woman laughed and indicated that Chatán was not well equipped enough for her, and handed him a salve that would increase his endowment. Chatán was immediately hauled away. After being assured he would come to no harm, Oténeb and I decided to return to the ship, asking the boy to guide us back. When we stepped outside, there was no sign of my servant, and after a brief search we walked back to the ship to see if he was there.
When we reached the dock, I tipped the boy with a piece of cloth. He was very pleased.
On the ship there were a number of local merchants and girls. Mridék was trying to find out some information about the demon woman we encountered months ago on board the ship. He was told that we would have to seek out the information in the Old City. When he asked about how one would defend oneself from such a creature, they told him that there were no defences, and continued to tell him that he needed to seek the answers in the tall building in the centre of the Old City. I turned to Oténeb and asked about the goddess they worship here. She told me that she had no name.
A quick look around the ship revealed that my servant hadn’t returned and that Vakúlaz was also missing. I was concerned because Vakúlaz was so reluctant to leave the ship. Trying not to worry, I took my shell plaque with the Naqsái writing on it to see if Mridóbu could interpret it. I went down to Davé’s cabin, but he wouldn’t let me in. He sounded terrified, and after some convincing, he allowed me to slip the plaque under the door. It was quickly slid out again and I was told that Mridóbu was unable to read it. I continued to look for Vakúlaz. A couple of sailors told me that he went into the Old City looking for some fun. Things seem to be getting more and more out of hand. Vakúlaz and my servant are missing, Davé is hiding…
Chatán had returned to the ship and immediately went to sleep. Mridék was also indisposed. Having no one else to talk to, I visited Tékuna in his cabin. He was studying a plaque similar to mine that he also brought back from the city, although his was made from local clay. He was also concerned about Vakúlaz.