- Orphans recuperate at Aunty’s house.
- Yunnus arrives to settle Babazadeh‘s claim for restitution.
- Siblings argue but the ruling goes to Babazadeh.
- Yunnus offers to have pearls appraised and use their value against the debt.
She looked over her brothers for a long time with a look that was equal parts curiosity and disdain. Finally, she said in a curt voice “You stink.”
“Akeylah, please,” said aunty as she grabbed an extra blanket to cover up Faruq. The thrill of the mermaid’s kiss had passed and whatever he and Guzman had picked up in the foul waters of the disused bathhouse was running them at a fever whilst also giving them the chills. Guzman was pale and sweating, his eyes rolling back in his head and truthfully Faruq was even worse.
Akeylah nodded, and went to get the boiling water Aunty had set to the fire. She poured it into two ceramic cups that contained Aunty’s all-purpose herbal remedy. Soon, the small kitchen filled with the sweet and pungent smell of the hot beverages. The young woman, stone-faced as ever, took the steaming mugs to her aunt, who administered them to her sick boys.
“Drink slowly, you need to let the herbs do their work” cajoled Aunty as Guzman tried to down it all in one gulp.
“I don’t need this!” hissed the barbarian, struggling to stand up. It was a testimony to how sick he was that he failed to overpower Aunty and sit up.
Akeylah arched an eyebrow. “Yes, you do,” she said coldly. “Look at you, you look like you’re going to die, even with the drink.”
“Akeylah, please!” said Aunty with an exasperated voice. “He’s sick; he doesn’t need to be badgered…”
“You stink too,” she said, fixing her elven brother with a stern look.
Su shrugged his shoulders. “We all had to do some impromptu swimming, dear sister.”
“Yet you’re not as sick as him,” she said, indicating Faruq.
“Oh, that’s not the diseased water, that’s just his bad hygiene finally catching up with him.”
She looked at him quizzically.
Su rolled his eyes. “My apologies, dear sister; I forgot you don’t have a sense of humour.”
“What? Who told you that?” She seemed genuinely offended.
“Well, that is… you know… ”
“I know what?”
“Well, that,… I mean… .Akeylah, you never laugh.”
“I laugh. People think I’m funny.”
Su‘s eyes widened in surprise and disbelief.
“People think I’m funny,” she insisted.
Sulayman was racking his brain, trying to imagine what people his sister was talking about.
“For instance,” she continued, “I know how funny an elf looks with a black eye.”
Su raised his hands defensively and backed away, a sardonic smile on his face. “I’ve never heard that one. Gods willing, it will be a long time before I do. Reminds me, though… where’s the nice sister hiding? She might be able to do something to help our hapless brothers.”
Akeylah gave him a quick look. “I heard that.”
“How you said that. How you hit the word ‘she.'”
“Akie, I have no idea what you’re talking about… ” protested Sulayman.
“Shut up,” interrupted Akeylah. “I’ll help; I just don’t want you thinking you manipulated me somehow.”
“Sister, who could manipulate you?”
Faruq stirred, barely awake. “What… ?”
“Were you brave?” insisted Akeylah. “Did you show bravery? Is this pitiful condition you’re in a result of you exercising courage?”
“… yes… I suppose so,” whispered Faruq.
Her gaze softened at his words. “Courage should be rewarded, brother, and Hajama looks after those who are brave. If you’ve been brave… ” She placed her other hand on his chest and after a few moments of concentration, the young genasi began to feel better.
Aunty smiled at her. “Now, don’t you feel better having helped your brother as opposed to haranguing him?”
Akeylah frowned in genuine confusion. “Can I not do both?”
A tut-tut from Aunty meant that particular conversation was over.
There was a sudden commotion by the entrance. “Aunty! Look who’s here!” In walked Chaka, eldest sister of Aunty’s brood accompanied by a much taller man. Eldest but smallest in stature; Chaka was a Halfling with a personality as large and giving as Aunty’s. It was an unspoken assumption that she would continue Aunty’s work with orphans after Aunty passed, though the latter event was far, far off as far as Chaka was concerned; Aunty’s health was the first thing Chaka prayed to the Ten Thousand Gods for at every prayer time, and every other time she stopped to pray, which was often.
“Yunnus!” exclaimed Aunty, rushing towards the man who had walked in with Chaka. They embraced warmly, with smiles breaking across their faces. Yunnus was a former “Aunty’s Boy” a while ago. With the help of her and Uncle JoJo, Yunnus found a passion for law enforcement in the Golden City. Initially, he tried to become a member of the Diligent contingent of mammluks, but found he lacked the constitution for it. His officers, however, saw the young man’s keen intelligence and flawless memory would be great tools as a qadi and wrote excellent recommendations for him. Studying law and graduating at the head of his class, Yunnus al-Awwa became a qadi for the City of Delights. It was whispered in more than a few corners that he was being fast-tracked to become a palace qadi. Yunnus was one of the greatest success stories to come out of Aunty’s generosity.
“Hello, hello all,” he said in a friendly fashion as he went about the room, Aunty’s arm locked with his own. “I trust you are all well… or… as well as can be hoped,” he trailed off, seeing the shivering form of Guzman.
“I’m fine,” responded Guzman in a guttural voice, clearly irritated at the attention he was receiving.
Akeylah looked at him somewhat sternly. “You are hardly ‘fine,’ ” she reproached him.
“Oh, he probably just doesn’t understand what the word means, Akie,” added Sulayman with his trademark smirk. He received a strong pinch on the arm from Aunty for his sarcasm.
“Nothing! I’m fine!!”
“You won’t tell me?” asked the Halfling. “Really?”
Yunnus cleared his throat, breaking the tension in the room. “I’m afraid that you’ll have to tell me, however,” he began. “Sadly, this isn’t just a friendly visit.”
“What do you mean?” asked Aunty with concern.
“I’m afraid there was an incident in the wharf area today, Aunty. One that involved the boys,” offered Yunnus.
Both Akeylah and Chaka rolled their eyes in unison. The little halfling shot a look at Guzman, then asked “Honourable Qadi, before you interrogate my brothers, may I minister to this one’s sickness first?”
“Yes, by all means.”
After a quick prayer where the little hakima named off several gods at once, Guzman had to admit he was feeling much better.
“The midday bell for prayer is going to ring soon. I suppose this is going to take a while?”
“Sadly yes, little sister.”
“Fine, then. I’ll make sure to pray for all of you in your stead. Coming, Akie?”
The young woman arched an eyebrow, not sure what was going on… but she didn’t want to miss prayers. “Yes, coming,” she said in a low voice, joining her sister as they headed for the mosques in the center of the city.
“They are good, your sisters,” said Yunnus as he looked at the doorway they exited. “I know you are too,” he hastily added. “But… I will need to know your version of events, today.”
“What events are you talking about?” asked Sulayman.
Yunnus fixed him with a look that said Let’s not play this game, little one. Sul, arched an eyebrow, but didn’t respond.
They all stood looking at each other.
Finally, Aunty said “You boys need to speak up! Yunnus IS a qadi after all, and he’s family. I’m sure this can all be cleared up. Let me go prepare some coffee, while you all sort things out.”
After she had left, the judge looked over the boys. “Please. I am trying to help here, but there are serious charges pending against you.”
“What charges?” asked Zephyr
“Babazadeh is asking for you to be charged with grand larceny.”
Yunnus tilted his head. “You agree it has merit?”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened, and let me decide, all right?”
Su crossed his arms in front of his chest but didn’t say anything.
Yunnus sighed. “Fine. What about the rest of you? Faruq?”
The fire genasi struggled with himself, but finally relented. “All right, I’ll… don’t look at me like that, Su! Yunnus is family… ”
“Not our family… he was gone by the time we all got here.”
A silence descended on the room. Aunty had returned just in time to hear the young wizard’s comment, the hurt obvious on her face. “I… I came to see of anyone wanted something to eat with their coffee… I… I should go.” Before anyone could say anything, the sweet old lady had retreated back into the kitchen.
Faruq then took the lead to tell Yunnus everything that happened, with Zephyr offering some details his genasi brother missed, and Guzman offering some colour commentary. Yunnus listened intently, asking some questions for clarification every now and then. He subconsciously started biting his nails during the recitation, obviously uncomfortable with what he was hearing.
Finally, with a sad look on his face, he said “I am sorry, my friends… but Babazadeh has a case. According to the law, I must rule in his favour.”
“And what of the man he was beating, Khalid? Nothing happens there?” asked Sulayman, breaking his silence.
Yunnus took the question seriously, nodding. “I spoke with him at length. In the end, he refused to press charges against Baba. Either he feels bad for being ensorcelled or he doesn’t want to engender hard feelings… either way, he seems to have forgiven and moved on. Sadly, for all of you, Baba has not.”
Looking somewhat concerned, Zephyr asked “So, what does this mean?”
Yunnus bit his nails again. “Some sort of monetary restitution needs to be made. I’ve asked around the Grand Bazaar and gotten an idea of what he could have sold his fish for… ”
“Mermaid,” corrected Sulayman. “Talking, thinking, and with full consciousness.”
Yunnus nodded again. “Yes, I thought that might be a way to dismiss the case, but… mermaids are not considered Enlightened creatures. They have no protection under the Law of the Loregiver.”
Su snorted, and Yunnus ignored it.
“Yunnus… we have no money,” began Faruq. “And, certainly, you have heard of… ”
The qadi raised a hand. “I have, of course,” he interrupted. “And I am greatly saddened by it. Aunty has refused all help from me, and others, from what I have heard. I am sympathetic to your situation, truly, but… it cannot influence my judgement here.”
“But, we really don’t have any money,” began Zephyr.
Yunnus looked at them. “Baba gave testimony that you all received some pearls from the mermaid… that could be used to pay for restitution. I would have them appraised and count them against what needs to be paid.”
“And if we don’t feel like handing them over?” growled Guzman
Yunnus sighed. “Boys… please don’t have me bring in the city guard into the house of one I love so much… “