In-Depth: Rasaad yn Bashir
Published September 14th, 2012
Overhaul Games presents a short story by our very own Dave Gross, followed by an audio sample of Mark Meer as Rasaad yn Bashir.
Rasaad wound like a cat between the legs of the bazaar customers. They shooed him off as he brushed past or startled the camels by darting under their bellies. After an instant's irritation, they turned back to the colorful tables and ignored Rasaad as just one more urchin in the streets of Calimport.
Rasaad kept himself from staring directly at the veiled woman, but he never lost sight of her-nor of the jeweled purse at her hip. A crocheted veil obscured her features, but when she turned Rasaad could glimpse the whites of her eyes around dark irises. She wore an aba of such deep purple that it appeared black except where its folds caught the light of the sun.
Rasaad first spied her as she emerged from the khanduq's inner court, where the guards had twice turned him away. The second time the one with a jackal's face gave him a rap across the knuckles to remind him of his place, which was not where wealthy customers bargained for precious silks and spice in the Sufontis market.
In the teeming outer bazaar, no one noticed another eight-year-old boy. The problem was that the people there carried less money, often only a few coins in a closed fist to thwart pickpockets.
Pickpockets like Rasaad and his brother. Gamaz never called what they did "stealing." Instead, he said they were "fishing" for copper, silver, or gold fish.
Gamaz was two years taller, two years stronger, and two years wiser than Rasaad. He had even learned how to bluff his way past the khanduq guards to fish the inner market, where the customers' purses overflowed with gold and platinum coins more brilliant than the scales of the syl-pasha's famous carp. Rasaad had yet to learn his brother's trick. No matter how he practiced, he could not tell a convincing lie.
While he was clumsy with words, Rasaad was quick with his hands. More often than not, the boys bought their meager suppers with the copper and silver he fished from the purses in the outer bazaar.
Pretending to inspect a table of fresh dates, Rasaad sidled up to the dark-robed woman. He turned as if to walk away from the table. Instead, he kept turning and stepped closer to the woman. Gleaming topazes surrounded a large onyx on her purse clasp. Rasaad cupped the pouch in his left hand and raised the tiny blade between the fingers of his right hand. Before his blade touched the string, a hand grasped his wrist.
Rasaad crouched, ready to hurl himself beneath the date-seller's table and scramble away, but he recognized the hand upon his arm by its bruises. He looked up to see Gamaz shaking his head. His eyes, still blackened from a fight with rival "fishers," opened wide in fear as he put a finger to his lips.
Rasaad followed as Gamaz led him away from the woman. The boys did not stop until they came to the mud-brick wall that marked the border of the drudach.
"Did you not see?" said Gamaz. "That was the symbol of Shar upon her purse. She comes from the Temple of Old Night."
Cold sweat seeped out of Rasaad's pores and instantly evaporated in the morning heat. How close had he come to destruction?
Among Calimport's dark temples, none was more feared than that of the Mistress of the Night. Everyone had heard stories of the torments practiced in the House of Nine Blessings or of the fire-purification at the Imperious Flame, yet no one whispered a word of what occurred in the enigmatic Temple of Old Night. The mystery made the temple of Shar that much more terrifying.
"Thank you, brother," said Rasaad.
"Have you caught anything?"
Rasaad's empty belly grumbled as he shook his head no.
"Neither have I," said Gamaz. "It is time we worked together."
"No one in this market is fooled by that trick anymore," said Rasaad. He had escaped, but Gamaz had suffered a terrific beating the last time a man caught his arm while he was cutting his purse.
"Then we must choose a stranger. I see one now."
Rasaad followed his brother's gaze to a shaven-headed man. Black tattoos swirled up from his neck to curl upon his cheeks and chin.
"He looks like a bandit," said Rasaad.
"He looks like a stranger. The guards will laugh at him if he complains."
Rasaad smiled. His brother was right. He had learned how to keep them both alive, if not always well fed, since their father's death.
"You know what to do," said Gamaz. He pushed himself back into the crowd. An instant later, even Rasaad could not see where he had gone, but he knew where Gamaz was going.
Rasaad looked once more for a glimpse of the woman from the Temple of Old Night. At first he was relieved not to see her, but then he remembered that the power of Shar lay in shadow. He trembled to think she might have hidden herself to watch him and wait for her revenge.
He looked instead for the stranger. The man was easy to spot as he wandered from table to table, apparently unfamiliar with the bazaar. Dust tinted the man's robes and blackened his foot wrappings. He had traveled to Calimport from somewhere far away.
Gamaz was right. No one would care that he had lost his purse.
Dodging the adults in the bazaar, Rasaad threaded a path through the crowd. When he saw an opening, he rushed past the stranger's legs-not so close as to strike the man, but near enough to draw his attention forward. Rasaad ran on, confident that behind the man, Gamaz was doing his part in the fishing.
After he had run a good twenty yards through the crowd, Rasaad paused to look back. The stranger looked straight at him. Instead of the expected scowl of annoyance, a mild smile adorned the man's face. The expression gathered wrinkles around the man's bright blue eyes, making him look at once much older and more youthful than Rasaad had first thought.
The man's gentle countenance startled Rasaad more than a cry of "Thief!" He ran across the Tlaen Drudach and through the gate of the low stone wall into the neighboring Sukan Drudach. While both neighborhoods belonged to the great Sahar Sabban, moving from one to the other was like visiting a different city. Beyond the wall, the bazaar crowds thinned to allow even donkey carts to pass unhindered, and the scent of a thousand spices gave way to the intoxicating odor of baking bread.
As Rasaad ran beside the Twelve Ovens building, a pair of bearers lifted their litter of barley cakes out of his reach and continued their trip to the Golden Sands Breweries. Rasaad followed the porters through the high gate marked with a trident within an oval. They left the Sahar Sabban to enter the Larau Sabban, famed for its arenas.
Rasaad parted ways with the cake-bearers at the Arena Sabam, whose soaring basalt walls he had never entered because of its admission charge and mandatory wagers. On the three days each month when gladiators raced chariots drawn by horses, monsters, or flying steeds, the crowd's thunder rolled over all the drudachs of vast Calimport.
He passed the Arms House, with its gates adorned in brass for the courage of the gladiators who trained with the priests of Tempus, god of war. Once they entered, the combatants never again stepped outside the chained gates of the complex, instead traveling through underground tunnels leading only to the sabban's two great arenas. Victory was their only route of escape.
All the way across the Shomoz Drudach, beside the high stone wall separating it from the Marekh Sabban, stood the Arena Efreetum. Its name came not from the spirits from the City of Brass but from its colossal support pillars, each carved to resemble a column of flames. It had been the boys' first rendezvous ever since the day they had stood within its sandy grounds and witnessed their father fight and die for his debts.
A snoring beggar occupied the nook beneath the ramps to the arena's upper tiers. He stank of cactus pear wine, and Rasaad recognized the grizzled beard jutting from the cotton hood he had pulled over his face. The beggar sometimes tried to rob the boys of their day's catch. Together the boys could drive him off with stones, but without his brother's support, Rasaad knew it was better to move on.
Rasaad went to the Zeqra Drudach and their second rendezvous, this one beside a closed Golden Sands Brewery. Yet it was not his brother Rasaad saw sitting upon an empty barrel beside the abandoned brewery. It was the stranger. The man sat cross-legged like a storyteller, plucking the red arils out of a halved pomegranate. He spied Rasaad and offered him the other half.
Rasaad tensed, but before he could flee he heard a muffled voice shouting from inside the barrel. He could not make out the words, but he recognized his brother's voice.
Indignation wrestled with fear inside Rasaad. He was used to being the one rescued, not the one to come to his brother's aid. In the moment when indignation was stronger than his fear, Rasaad snapped, "Let him out!"
"How fierce you are." The stranger smiled. Despite his shabby clothes and weathered skin, his teeth were as straight and white as a sultan's. He threw the pomegranate hard at Rasaad's chest. Rasaad surprised himself by catching the fruit in the cup of his palm before it could strike him. He looked up to see whether the stranger was impressed, but the man was gone. The lid of the barrel flew off, and Gamaz popped up, gasping for breath and still clutching the stranger's leather purse. He looked at Rasaad, and his eyes widened. "Behind you!"
Without turning, Rasaad threw himself forward in a somersault. As he came up to his feet, the stranger stood less than a foot in front of him. Rasaad had not seen him move. He simply appeared there, like a wizard. Rasaad stepped back. The man made no effort to grab him.
"You are quick," said the stranger. "Quick of foot and quick of wits."
Behind the man, Gamaz had climbed out of the barrel and held its lid in both hands. He crept forward, his eyes imploring Rasaad to capture the man's attention.
"Where do you come from?" said Rasaad. "You are not from Calimport."
The stranger nodded. "I come from the Sun Soul Monastery to buy supplies for my brothers and sisters."
Rasaad felt a brief pang of shame to know that they had stolen from monks. Monks were almost as poor as beggars, although they at least had a home in the monastery. Gamaz inched closer to the stranger, the barrel lid raised to strike. The man began to turn his head.
"What is this Sun Soul?" Rasaad said, taking another step back to draw the monk's eye.
Once more the man smiled, and Rasaad knew his ploy had failed. The man was perfectly aware that Gamaz was sneaking up behind him. Yet he did not move away or turn to defend himself.
Rasaad shook his head to warn Gamaz, but it was too late. Gamaz swung the lid with all his strength.The man collapsed to the ground, but Rasaad saw that he fell just before the lid could strike him. The stranger tumbled backward, rolling beside and behind Gamaz in one smooth motion.
As his target dodged, Gamaz fell forward, his momentum throwing him over the lid to sprawl on the dusty street. Rasaad gasped, astonished by how easily the man had evaded the blow and repositioned himself. His feat had seemed as casual as a shrug.
Rasaad pointed at the monk. "You are the one who is quick and clever."
Gamaz rose from the street, stunned but unharmed. The monk's leather purse lay on the ground. Gamaz crouched, ready to flee, but Rasaad knew neither of them could outrun the man. He picked up the purse and offered it to the monk. "Please forgive us and let us go in peace."
The man pushed the purse back into Rasaad's hand. "Keep it. With the money inside, you and your brother can eat for months. Or-"
"Thank you, sir!" Gamaz bowed to the ground. He tugged on Rasaad's trouser leg, encouraging him to bow also. Rasaad remained standing. He peered into the stranger's blue eyes, trying to look past that disarming smile. "Or what? What were you going to say?"
"Or come with me," the man said. "Bring the purse, and help me carry supplies back to my monastery. There you will work hard, harder even than you have worked here on the streets of the city. And you will learn to read, and what you read will be harder than all your other work. But you will work and read every day. You will become quicker still, quick of foot, quick of hand, and quick of mind."
Rasaad liked what the man said, but he did not trust the easy manner in which he had caught the boys. It occurred to him that Gamaz and he were not the only ones who had gone fishing at the bazaar. In stealing the man's purse, the boys had taken both bait and hook.
"Will you teach us to fight?" asked Gamaz.
"You will learn what is more important: How to avoid fighting, and when fighting cannot be avoided."
The enthusiasm in Gamaz's face dimmed.
"But also you will learn to fight."
Gamaz brightened. He was the elder, so the decision was his to make.
Rasaad asked, "What shall we do, brother?"
"We shall learn how to fight."
Check out these clips of Mark Meer as Rasaad yn Bashir:
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