Of the five of you, you were sure you were the happiest to be returning back to Huzuz.
The reason, of course, was seeing Tufala bint Waleed.
Tufala had been your language instructor for many years. Truthfully, if one measured her competency in how quickly her students no longer needed her services, she would be considered a disaster, since you were still taking lessons seven years later. Obviously, you no longer really needed instruction, but it was fair to say you really needed Tufala. You would never have known any girl like her back in the mountains. Quiet, with a subtle beauty and a fierce intelligence, you could get lost in her dark eyes as she went on and on about an ancient language like Kadari, or the fiery expressions of Ignan. What’s more, you genuinely enjoyed learning, enjoyed the educational opportunity your lessons with Tufala provided.
It was just really nice to be with Tufala.
You paid the street urchin Umar al-Fennec to take a note to her, letting her know you had returned to Huzuz, and wished to meet her at your usual spot. Umar was to find you with her response as soon as possible. With the time in between, you wanted to make preparations to make a good impression; you had been gone a long while and hoped to charm her with a well-groomed appearance. With the stink of the Grey Jungle still on your clothes, you needed to hit up some of the best shops in Huzuz. Fortunately, you knew where to go.
First stop was Sadik’s. Sadik Harama was a dwarf weaponsmith who made decent to fine weaponry. You trusted his work enough to sharpen the blade of your axe again while keeping the weapon’s balance as you liked it. While there were many weaponsmiths in Huzuz, Sadik employed two ogres, and since they were each almost as strong as you, you trusted them to ensure the heft of the weapon remained to your preferences.
Off now to see another ogre, this time the tailor Hakim Sayad. Hakim owed you a favour from a while back, and you called it in to get an emergency appointment with him. The fastidious ogre took too long (he always seemed to) but you eventually walked out with fresh silk pantaloons, new sandals, and a bold vest that he tailored to appear conservative whilst also showing off your incredible physique. Money well spent. He did sniff in snobbish fashion when he was fitting you, however, and casually worked into the conversation that Gomir probably had an opening right about now.
Taking the hint, you set off for Gomir al-Kasir’s barber stall. Normally popular with the tourist trade, Gomir rarely had regulars from Huzuz, which suit you just fine. The friendly man was happy to see you, and for a few silver dirham he gave you a fresh cut, washed the dirt and tended to your wounds, and anointed you with some spices and perfumes to remove the last lingering odours from the jungle. You never felt better.
While you were getting your shave, Umar had returned with a note from Tufala. You read it more than once. Was that a curt tone? No, not curt, but…distance? No, couldn’t be.
You left Gomir’s and started for your usual spot: a café right across from Fatima’s. That’s where you had first spied her. Fatima Kossi ran a boarding house for poor pilgrims visiting Huzuz; you stayed there yourself for a while. The café served great coffee (both hot and cold) and a lemon sherbet that you knew Tufala enjoyed.
She was there waiting for you. Over 2 warm coffees and two lemon sherbets, you caught up with one another…but something felt off. Like, she was holding something back. Patient at first, eventually you asked her flat out what she was hiding. What could possibly be wrong?
With tears in her eyes, she explained how she had been invited to a party in the noble district. It was lavish and she enjoyed herself immensely. She made a great impression on whom she thought would be future customers. It turned out she made a better impression than she could have imagined. The next day, her home was visited by Prince Tannous himself, the Grand Caliph’s uncle. He spoke with her parents, then left a gift for her.
She was to join the Grand Caliph’s harim as a concubine, with the hope that she would finally give him the son Fate never could.