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by Arthur

Chapter 5

As they finally came through the huge gates of the palace grounds; Eventide saw that there were in fact, two palaces side by side and of the same size.

The palaces were separated by the long wide pond in which grew large white flowers; he would later see that there were many multi coloured fish swimming in its waters.

"Brother, why are there two palaces; I fully expected there to be only one that we would share."

"The second palace; which is to be yours; was used for the Kahlif's wives, concubines and female children. It has been cleaned and made ready for you to furnish as you would want it."

"Why would he need a palace for his wife; did he not want to sleep with her as we do in our land?"

"Oh, my brother; here we have other traditions. If a man is wealthy enough or is of great importance, then he should have many wives. The old Kahlif had forty five wives and over one hundred children; he could not have all of them living under his roof; they would only be in the way. With sixty concubines as well his palace would be overflowing; it is better to keep them at arm's length or you would get no work done."

Eventide heard the chuckle from Mahmud as he told the story.

"It seems a very large palace just for one boy alone?"

"You will get used to it; perhaps one day you will have your own concubines to fill it with; for now I would suggest you stay with me until we can find some servants for you. It will take many to keep your palace running and in good order."

"How many do you think I will need?"

"Well there are two ways; you could purchase slaves at the market or, you could look for free men and pay them to work for you. Personally I would use mostly slaves like I do; it is almost expected that you would own them; it is part of your position. If you wish to have paid servants then you will need to go out and search for those that suit you best, either way it is what you would like and no other should say how you run your palace oh great Kahlif of the burning sands and Djin of Shaitan; your word is our command oh mighty one."

Even the sound of Mahmud's voice brought loud laughter to Eventide as he nearly fell to his knees on the stone forecourt when he heard the outlandish claims from Mahmud.

"Stop it brother or I will pee my pants from laughter."

"At your command oh great Djin, Master of all magic and Terror of the great sandy wastes."

Eventide had to grasp himself to stop from peeing as he rolled on the ground with tears of laughter in his eyes; even as tired from travel as he was; Eventide could not stop laughing at the outlandish titles.

Finally they made it inside the first palace; Eventide had never in all his life seen such opulence; everywhere he looked seemed to be covered in gold leaf or encrusted in jewels. Large swaths of white marble covered not only the wide passageways and tall round columns, but even the ceilings were made from marble slabs so large they would have taken a hundred men to lift into place.

The opulence just grew as they ventured further into the palace; even the sheer size of the palace took his breath away. While from outside the walls, Eventide had known the space was large, even though it was inside a great city; when he actually saw it he could not take it all in; to his mind there had never been such a place ever built and now he was standing right in the middle of it all and this was only one of the palaces. The thought of having to have his own palace of such a size made him pause to see if he was really awake.

Mahmud led the way into the main large reception hall; there in the centre of the hall were a large number of very well dressed people. Mahmud whispered to him that they were the people who ran the city and reported to them both at the end of each week.

Along the walls of the great hall were many younger people; these Eventide learnt were Mahmud's paid workers; behind them; and with their heads hard to the floor; were all of Mahmud's slaves. Eventide did not have time to count them all but there were a lot of them.

Even if he just guessed at the number, Eventide thought there had to be at least three hundred slaves and servants; would he really need that many.

For the next two hours; Eventide sat beside Mahmud as each and every man had to be introduced and then they would present Eventide and Mahmud with a small gift before taking a place on the side of the great hall to wait any orders. Eventide let Mahmud run things for now; this was a strange and new world for him and Mahmud knew better what to do and say to each of the guest.

As the last rays of the sun sank below the horizon; Eventide and Mahmud left the great hall for one of the smaller dining rooms where Omar waited for them. Eventide almost smiled at the old man as he saw many servants gathered around with offerings of sweet cakes and tea while Omar told them short pieces of poetry to while away the time while waiting for his hosts to appear.

Eventide saw that there was no central table like at home; instead there were wide, soft couches laid side by side around a central open fire; he was to discover that there was no need for a table as the servants would kneel beside the couch while he selected what he would eat or drink and wait until he had had his fill before leaving, he would then be replaced by another servant with a different selection.

Eventide's first night in the palace of Sufaria turned out to be very entertaining and all thoughts of being tired from the long journey disappeared with the sound of Omar's gentle voice as he regaled them with poetry and short stories.

It was late in the night before the day caught up with the two young ones. Omar, seeing the boys yawn; smiled and told them it was past his bedtime. With kind words and a smile; Omar left the boys to go to their beds; he had accomplished the mission that had been set by his Emir. From this day on there should be little doubt or very few of the people that would not obey any command from the young Infidel boy.

It was the heat of the new day that awoke Eventide; he had been getting used to the heat of the desert as he travelled but first thing in the morning was still a struggle for his body to acclimate to.

After he had had his morning drink of fresh mint tea, a slow bath and had dressed in his best new clothes; Eventide was led to where Mahmud waited to start a new day. First was a visit to his new palace; waiting for them was a large round bodied man; his appearance told of being well fed and his flashy clothes said he had money to spare.

On the man's fingers were many expensive looking gold rings. Eventide did not like the man on first sight; there was an air of deceit about his demeanour and Eventide was careful about what he said or did.

Mahmud also did not look as though he trusted the man; after short introductions and, when the man whose name turned out to be Mustapha; told them he was the head of the household staff, Mahmud asked to be shown through the palace and to see what staff they had to work with.

After nearly an hour, the two boys finished with their tour of Eventide's palace; neither he nor Mahmud were impressed by the standards in the palace; it appeared as though the bare minimum had been done; what was really worrying was when Mahmud asked to be taken to the treasury and for Mustapha to produce all of the accounts scrolls for inspection. Both boys saw the large man start to pale a little as they waited for the accounts to be brought to them.

Mustapha looked nervous and tried to hide his hands as he fidgeted while trying to look calm; he was not successful and both boys knew he was going to try to hide something about the finances of the palace.

Mahmud called Ishmael to his side and whispered something to him. Ishmael nodded and quickly left the room; he had not returned by the time one of the old servants appeared with a large box full of scrolls in his arms.

Mahmud told the servant to put the box down and leave the room and then told Mustapha to stand to the side and wait until the man from his own palace arrived to go through the accounts. Achmed arrived with fresh mint tea for the two boys while they waited; it was only a little time later when a man Eventide had not met, walked into the room; one glance at the box of scrolls and he nodded to Mahmud and proceeded to open the box and unroll the scrolls for inspection.

Eventide was impressed with the little wooden frame the man used for counting; he had never seen anything like it before. After asking Mahmud he was told it came from the Far East and was called an abacus; the rows of round balls on different posts had varying value and could be used to quickly add and subtract numbers.

It took the newcomer only an hour to finally put down the strange instrument and even though he still had a number of scrolls left untouched; he nodded his head to Mahmud.

"How much is missing?"

"At this stage Kahlif and without doing a final count of the rest of the scrolls; I would say more than ten thousand gold; there is more but it will take me time to finish a full inspection."

"Thank you, please continue and give us a full accounting. Salud, I need you in here now."

Mahmud waited until Salud came inside the room before he nodded in the direction of the now terrified man who was already on his knees with his head on the floor.

"Salud, take this son of a camel to the dungeon; when that is done get the guards to arrest and hold all the staff of this palace; hold them until they hear from us."

Salud bowed and left with the crying man being pushed roughly by an angry Salud. As the man disappeared, Ishmael appeared and looked to Eventide.

"Brother, there is a street urchin at the palace gate; he said you told him to come here today."

"Yes I did, thank you Ishmael; could you bring him in here?"

Ishmael bowed and went out; it took only minutes before he came back with Habib by his side; the young street urchin looked in awe at the palace around him; in his wildest dreams he never thought he would get to enter such a place.

Eventide smiled at the look on the boys face; he knew just how the boy felt. When Habib saw the two boys sitting on two couches at the centre of the room, he dropped to his knees and bowed low until his head touched the floor; after the story yesterday by the great Omar; he knew he was in the presence of the great Shaitan Ben Izurak; this was not the time to be cheeky or arrogant.

Eventide saw that the teen had used some of the coins to by a new pair of leather sandals although his Djabalah was still the same worn and torn one he had been wearing on the street.

"Stand up Habib." Mahmud asked the boy.

Habib could not believe his ears; he was being asked to stand and face the great Shaitan Bin Izurak and also the young Prince of the Bedou.

Trying to maintain a sense of deference to the two Kahlif; Habib did as asked and stood tall but kept his eyes lowered; it was a time to show deep respect to the two Kahlif. Eventide got the nod from Mahmud and began to tell Habib what he had in mind.

"Habib; as you heard the story yesterday, I am not from here but I find myself with a large problem. We have discovered that the Major Domo, who was meant to watch over my palace, was in fact stealing; he also had included a large number of the original staff in his scheme. I now find myself with very few people to look after the palace and my own needs. As you must well know; a palace is very large and takes a lot of people to keep it clean and working but, most of all I need someone who will be honest and can organise the others; someone who will not fail me when I am not here to watch over the palace. Is that someone you, Habib?"

"My Lords; I know little about running such a large house although should you ask me to watch over this palace then I can raise enough boys to do that."

Mahmud then took up the discussion.

"Habib; we all know the reputation of the street boys and their habits of lifting things that do not belong to them; would you place your life in harm's way to do that which my brother asks of you; if you do I would then find an older person with the knowledge to run the house over-all but it would be you and the boys you name that would do the work and be responsible for the safety of the house and my brother."

"My Lords, you have only to ask and I will lay my life down for you; I also promise to find as many honest boys to do the work you demand; I promise this on my life."

"Then take note for it is your life that you will lose if anything goes wrong with my brother's palace or his valuables. If you agree to this then you and all those you name will be well paid and given good clothes and food; you will all be housed inside the palace and your life on the streets will end but; take note; it is your life that hangs in the balance should one of the boys named by you ever show himself to be a thief or worse, for you shall stand beside him when the Scimitar falls on your head."

"Then my Lords I shall place my head in front of the Scimitar should I fail you; tell me how many boys you need and I will find them."

Eventide had no idea how many he would need and so turned to Mahmud for the answer. Mahmud whispered to Eventide.

"You will need at least one hundred boys; I have a young man who has been in my palace since he was a young boy and is well able to help with the organisation of a large palace; he is also very honest as he is also a Bedou although not one of the brotherhood. Do not forget you will have to have some slaves, even if just for appearances. I would suggest you buy at least twenty slaves, we can go to the slave market later today."

Eventide nodded his acceptance of Mahmud's advice and turned to Habib.

"Thank you Habib, I would ask you to go and find one hundred honest boys; you will be in charge of them; my brother will have a young man come to organise my palace and to show you all of what needs to be done each day. How long will it take to find enough boys?"

"My Lord, it will be no more than two hours; do you wish them all to come back here for you to meet them?"

"I have to go to the slave markets to purchase slave to also work here."

"My Lord; If I may be bold; should you wish to purchase new slaves then I would suggest I go with you. If the sellers see you they will raise their prices higher than normal so they can make huge profits; even with My Lord Prince at your side, they will try to inflate the price. If you would allow me to accompany you both, I would be willing to act as your agent so that they do not know who is bidding, it will be my proof of honesty to purchase the slaves at the least price to you."

"Then I will wait for you to return and then we will go to the market."

Habib bowed low and walked backwards until he was at the door; with a final low bow he left and the two boys sat back to relax; while they waited, Eventide asked about the keeping of the slaves and what he should do and look for in buying them.

Mahmud began to give him a few short lessons in the keeping of slaves in the old world. For this region it was an old and respected way of life. Some slaves were those captured after battle and others were hunted way to the south of the great desert; Eventide would have to decide what he was looking for and then tell Habib exactly what he wanted them for. It gave Eventide something to think on while the two boys waited for Habib's return.

It was after their midday meal before Habib was shown into their room; he had assembled all the boys who he said he trusted with his life and had made them wait out in the courtyard for the two Lords to look over.

Mahmud had called for a young man who, to Eventide's eyes; looked to be in his early twenties; he was called to accompany them outside to inspect Habib's young friends.

Eventide was surprised by the number of rag-tag boys massed in the courtyard. Like yesterday, most were dressed in ragged and soiled Djabalah although now some wore new sandals but most were bare foot. The boys looked up expectantly as the two new Kahlif appeared above them on the steps of the palace; there was an immediate shuffling as they all went to their knees and bowed their heads on the stone flags.

Eventide turned to Habib.

"These are the boys you personally vouch for Habib?"

"Yes My Lord; each boy I know well and would put my head on the block for; I trust them all with my life, My Lord."

"You may well do that Habib." Mahmud said with a smile before Eventide continued.

"Thank you Habib, tell them they are now in my employ. This man is named Yusuf; he will be in charge of the palace and will tell you all what needs to be done; for now I want you to go and find some good clothes so you can accompany us to the slave market. Go to the servant's quarters and see what you can find; those that lived there before will not need them anymore."

Habib did as he was told and soon the horde of boys was trooping quietly into the palace; Yusuf keeping a careful eye on them all as he followed behind. It was not long before Habib returned; this time he was dressed in clean clothes but not too fancy; as he told the two Kahlif.

"If I was to dress better, the auctioneers would again inflate the prices. If I may suggest My Lord Izurak that you disguise yourself as one of the Bedou; that way no one will see your face and know who you are. After the tale of Grandfather Omar, there are many who would recognise you."

Eventide agreed and went back to redress as a Bedou; once done he rejoined the others and they made their way towards the city centre; it was a longer walk to where the slave pens were and the three boys kept their faces covered so as not to cause any unwanted attention.

It was the smell of the pens that first struck Eventide; the hubbub of noise was overshadowed by the pervasive smell that was a part of the slave selling business, that and the unmistakeable but subdued rattling of chains as the slaves were pushed forward to be sold.

Eventide and Mahmud let Habib take the lead; they would stand behind him and let him make the bids while they told him who they liked the look of. Before they went near where the slaves were sold; Habib led them to the rear where the slaves were on show; the stench was even stronger here as the barred fronts of the small pens were not cleaned until all the slave in them had been sold.

The two Kahlif were only too glad to leave the pens; at first it did not give Eventide any hope of finding the right slaves for his needs; he was not even sure if he wanted slaves at all. Having come from a low station in life; he did not like the thought of having others enslaved to him but Mahmud had said it was expected and so he would have to adjust his thoughts to the present situation he now found himself in.

The slave market was full; there were still other long lines of slaves arriving from all over the known world even as the auctioneers worked hard selling those already there.

Habib stood at the middle of the large crowd with the two others just behind him; around the trio were others all looking for bargains or just cheap workers for the mines or fields outside the city walls.

The bidding was fast and furious; Eventide noticed that there was also a lot of riballed remarks at some of the wealthy men that made purchases and what the slaves were going to be used for.

When Eventide or Mahmud saw a likely slave, they would whisper to Habib and let him do the bidding; it was Eventide's preference that the slaves be young and healthy looking; he had his own private plans for the slaves at a later date. It took four hours for them to finally gather twenty one slaves; all were young and; although some looked underfed and weary; they all looked to be healthy.

Eventide ended up with five youngsters from the European lands and the rest came from the far south. The southerners were all very dark skinned but he had been told they made good slaves and would take to learning their place quickly while the lighter skinned ones could sometimes be trouble and would need a firm hand at first.

At the end of the day and once the coins had been passed over in payment; Habib was given the job of leading the newly purchased slaves back to the palace; one of the keepers of the pen followed along behind to take back the slaves chains once they were settled in the palace.

It did not take the keeper of the pens long to realise where they were going as the three young teens led him closer to the palace; he would have to tell his auctioneer how they had been fooled by the two new Kahlif and the prices paid were far lower than they should have been able to get out of the wealthy young teens. Perhaps next time they would be able to inflate the prices to recoup what they had missed this time.

Once back at the palace; Habib was given the job of taking the new slaves to the slave quarters under the palace; there they would be marked and given a good meal; Habib was also told to make sure they were all bathed and rested before they were allowed to go to their beds for the night; tomorrow they would be told their duties and any errant slaves would find out what would happen if they played up.

On entering the palace; Eventide could hear the sounds of boys in almost every room as they scrubbed and polished everything in sight; Yusuf walked among the many boys to show them how to do each chore and tell them what he expected to see as a result; even this early; Eventide could see the change in the palace as Yusuf worked his magic and followed through on his own sixteen years of being a student under Mahmud's household.

There was now only one thing missing to complete the palace; a cook, for this Mahmud again came to the rescue. In his own palace there were ample numbers of kitchen workers; he told Eventide that he should eat with him tonight and then the two of them could go to his kitchen and see who they could place in Eventide's palace as head cook. They now had plenty of new staff to be able to place some of them as kitchen hands.

Eventide was amazed at how much there was to just staffing a palace; the thought of having to go through the same thing when he returned home was almost daunting although he knew that Freeman would have all his properties well staffed by now.

Their evening meal as always was sumptuous and well cooked. At the end of the meal; Mahmud led Eventide into his cavernous kitchen to find the needed cook. Eventide could not believe his eyes as he looked over more than one hundred staff now in the process of cleaning everything ready for the next morning; he dearly hoped he would not have to have as many hands in his kitchens. His hopes were dashed as soon as Mahmud began to call out names and point to different helpers.

Mahmud selected two mid aged men for the position of head cook for Eventide; both had been working in his kitchens since he was young; the fact that both men were Bedou also helped.

It was not long before twenty cooks and helpers were lined up waiting for their orders to move to Eventide's palace to begin their new task for caring for the young Kahlif; Eventide could only stand and stare at how quickly Mahmud had done this small piece of work.

During this time; the Emir had sent three of his personal physicians to take care of Shaun's twisted leg. Eventide did not want to watch what was to happen, but Shaun insisted he would like him to keep his company while he went through doctoring.

The three physicians each had their own place and work to do; first one gave a drink to Shaun; this; Eventide was told; was a soporific to make the boy sleep and lessen the pain it would take to repair the leg.

When Shaun was in a deep sleep; two of the men then used two wooden blocks to re-break the damaged leg; Shaun gave a very sharp and unnerving grunt as he lay sleeping when the two blocks came together and the loud sound of the broken bone was heard in the room.

As one physician felt lightly with his fingers to straighten the leg and make sure the bone was properly in its place; the other was working on the boys foot; twisting it and pulling steadily on it until it was seated in the right place by the other.

The third physician was working on a strange fine white powder in a large bowl to which he was adding small amounts of water as he stirred the white paste.

Eventide asked what it was and was told it was a white rock that they ground into a fine powder and, when water was added; it would heat up a little and when dry would be as hard as rock; it would be infused into cloth bandages and wrapped around the repaired leg to keep it from moving until it was healed enough for Shaun to once again move around like other boys.

Shaun was kept in the bed for the first two weeks before he was allowed to get up and, with the use of two long sticks was able to hobble around for short periods; in all of this, the young boy complained only once and that was about the stale smell his leg gave off from not being able to wash; that and the beginnings of a continual itch were the only comments he had made.

The first three days of his ordeal and Shaun was kept sedated with the soporific; the physicians had warned that too much and the boy could become addicted; Eventide had been very concerned when he found out the soporific was made from the poison the Brotherhood used for slave making.

After three weeks everything began to settle down; Eventide's household was now orderly; the slaves were being well trained and his kitchen was preparing meals of the highest quality; For Eventide it was a time of learning about the running of such an important city and continuing with his Hashin training.

The palace stables were now busier as the last of his promised horses had arrived and all his camels were now held outside the gates on the common lands. Mahmud had insisted on finding a Bedou cameleer to take charge of them; he also had had to find twenty boys to work with leading the camels once they went out to trade for Eventide.

There was little problem in finding the right man and there were many young Bedou boys who wanted to work for the two Kahlif; the caravan guards would also be from the Bedou with at least one of the Brotherhood to take charge of them.

It was in the fourth week that Mahmud told Eventide it was time to send their first caravan off to trade; they would join together Eventide's twenty camels with Mahmud's one hundred. Mahmud had used an agent to purchase many of the goods arriving from the east as this was as far the eastern caravans went.

The dangers of the eastern road were nothing compared to those that presented themselves on the roads and deserts to the west.

Eventide was amazed at the variety of goods to be traded; amazing smelling spices, bolts of fine cloth with colours he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. Large square blocks of salt; metals and pottery as well as gems or gold and silver; all was packed and sorted into loads capable of being carried long distances by a single camel; Eventide was glad he did not have to organise it all.

Shaun was now more mobile and would hobble down to the stables every day to be with Shaitan; the horse looked as though he fully understood the trials of the small boy and gave him no trouble where others could not even approach the black horses stall.

The caravan had long disappeared into the western wastes on its journey of trade; time had passed and it was now the time for the physicians to remove the hard cast from Shaun's leg. It had not been easy for such an active young boy to hobble around while others could run and go about their duties.

The removal of the white cast; which was now far from its original clean colour; had arrived. While one physician used a large pair of sheers to cut through the heavy cast, the other checked that Shaun was comfortable and there was no pain from the repaired leg.

When the last cut was made and both sides of the cast were dropped to the floor; Shaun gave out a long and loud sigh; at last he was rid of the burden that he had struggled with for over six weeks; the wide and happy smile he gave everyone when he first saw his once twisted leg was now straight, although very pale and a little thinner than his good leg; still it did not detract from his joy at once gain being able to walk like any normal boy.

Shaun had taken only his first few unsteady steps when Mahmud arrived; he told the boy that; as a gift for his ordeal Mahmud would give him the young white horse that he had ridden when entering the city, for his own.

Shaun could not believe his ears; with all the years his family had been tending the horses of others; none of his family had ever owned his own horse; he was taken aback and did not know how to thank the young Kahlif; only the tears of joy told those watching what the horse meant to the smaller boy.

It was two weeks later that the first bad news they had ever got, arrived; it was in the form of a bloody and badly wounded guardsman from one of the eastern caravans; as yet unknown by the new Kahlif's; this was to be one of those defining moments in their young lives.

The boys had just taken the first few paces down the wide steps at the front of Mahmud's palace when the bloody guard was helped into their presence; their planned horse ride was put on hold immediately they saw the wounded man.

Eventide noticed immediately that the man was not dressed as other people on the city; his armour was all made of leather with bronze studs throughout. A heavy bandage was tied to around his head and his left arm was hanging limply by his side.

Under his right shoulder for support was one of the city militia guards who was trying to help the wounded soldier to the bottom of the steps where the two boys now stood.

The wounded man tried to pull himself upright and gave the two boys a rough salute; there was no bow of respect as was common in the desert people.

The man gasped as he tried to tell his tale and, with the aid of the militia-man; he slipped to the lower step to sit; it was plainly obvious he was in a bad way and would possibly not last out the day.

The two boys rushed down the steps and knelt by the man as he tried to tell them in broken Aramaic what had happened to him and the caravan they had been guarding.

The short tale was one that had not been heard for a long time in the city of Sufaria. Two days to the East of the great city; the caravan from the high steppes had been attacked by a large gang of well organised brigands. The man told the boys that the discipline and tactics of the large group had shown some knowledge of battle and were not the usual rough attacks of loose bands that were more normal in the far reaches of the desert.

As the injured man was taken away to the physicians where he could be healed, if that were possible; the two boys turned and went back into Mahmud's palace; it was time to make plans as well as advise the Emir of the turn of events.

Eventide followed Mahmud up the long winding steps of one of the four minarets that stood at each corner of the palace walls. He had not been up one of them since taking residence and was intrigued by their height and grandeur.

When they finally reached the upper most part of the tall tower; Eventide was surprised to see an elderly man surrounded by caged birds; the heavy smell of bird droppings was almost stifling in the hot morning air; it took little time for Mahmud to explain why they were there.

"I know you do not have this in your country but here; where the distances are vast we have come to use these birds as messengers; they are fast and can get a message to the Emir by the end of this day."

"It is indeed a new and strange thing you have here, Brother; what are the birds called?"

"We call them, Homing Pigeons. They are trained to return to their nest boxes in the Emir's palace; they are so much faster than the normal messenger on horseback as you will see."

Eventide watched as Mahmud talked to the old man; the young Kahlif then took a thin strip of fine silk and wrote a short message. Once complete the message was rolled tightly and slipped into a small round container which was then attached to one of the bird's legs. With little ado; the elderly man went to an open window and released the bird high into the air; the bird circled the tower twice before taking off at speed towards the distant city where the Emir held court.

While Eventide was enthralled by the system of using birds as messengers; he was only too happy to leave the tower and the thick heady smell of bird droppings. The use of the birds was to be a small trick he was to rely on heavily in times to come.

When the two boys returned to the large official grand hall of the Kahlif's court; Eventide saw all twenty boys of the brotherhood were gathered behind the two thrones that he and Mahmud used when giving orders to the city folk or the guards in an official capacity; the hall was filled with all manner of people. Most stood around in wonder of why they had been called so suddenly to the Kahlif's palace; others had a look of knowing and were waiting patiently for their orders, which they were sure were to come soon.

As the two boys took their thrones above the waiting people; one of the brotherhood came close to their shoulder and began to whisper information quietly into their ear so that those waiting below could not hear; it was not unknown for spies to be in all the courts of the land and the Wadhi Sufaria was no exception.

Once the final report was finished; Mahmud lifted his hand for silence in the room; there was an immediate hush as the gathered people looked up and waited for the young Kahlif to begin speaking; this would be the first official dictation of the two young Kahlif; it was time to see the metal of the young boys.

Some among the crowded hall had thought the favouritism shown to two such young boys was beyond careless; even though one of them was a nephew of the Emir but; for an Infidel to be given such an honour was cause for much speculation; it did not go unnoticed by the ever watchful boys of the brotherhood; they all took note of those who showed certain traits towards their little brother as he sat beside Mahmud.

Mahmud began to speak to all those gathered below the thrones.

"Some of you may have heard the rumours; I am here to tell you they are true. For the first time in ten years; a caravan under the protection of the Emir has been attacked not more than a few days from the city. This will not go unpunished. Blacksmiths; you will prepare the weapons in your foundries. Guard Commander; you will ready fifty of the cities guard to accompany my own soldiers; they are to be ready by first light in two days time. Hostlers; you will prepare a caravan of fifty camels and have them loaded with food and water as well as forage for our horses. Commander of the Army; you will have fifty men ready to leave by first light; they will join with our bodyguard from the Bedou. You all have your orders; as I said we leave at first light in two days, now go and have your men ready."

There was an instant scuffling as those with orders hurried away to prepare their men; it was to be a full hunt for the perpetrators; there would be little mercy shown for those who would attack an innocent caravan so close to the Kahlif's city.

Eventide followed Mahmud from the great hall and into their own private quarters where the members of the brotherhood now awaited them; they would now have their own strategy meeting. The new events would be the first real test for Eventide as a brother and there was a lot of planning to do before they left in two days.

On his return to his own palace, Eventide still had a small problem accepting the sight that met his eyes every time he return home; his free servants met him at the top of the steps and his new slaves were kneeling inside the doorway with their heads firmly on the marble floor. It was the slaves that always gave him cause for discomfort; he was just not used to having others bound to him and at his mercy. He well knew it was the norm in this land but it did not make it any easier.

Finally the day of departure arrived; as both Kahlif could not leave the city together for any length of time; it was decided that Eventide would lead the small army and Mahmud would stay behind to watch over the city.

On the previous evening, just as the boys were to sit down for their meal; a contingent of elder brothers had arrived under the orders of the Emir; they would bolster Eventide's twenty young brothers by thirty. While all were now dressed as Bedou, if the occasion arose they would change into their usual black if there was work for the brotherhood.

Eventide felt strange as he lead the long caravan of soldiers out of the main gates of the city; he was dressed mostly in white as was befitting a Kahlif; his brotherhood clothes were packed along with the others. He was not sure he was fit to lead so many but Mahmud had said it was no different than when they faced the squires; Eventide did not share his confidence; the men they were now chasing were not inexperienced squires but ruthless brigands.

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