“Look yonder,” coughs the dust choked voice of Enzo, that fine old peddler of mithril and melons as he nods toward the horizon.
It was the last leg of your journey, for a week gone now you have been breathing in the warm, fresh air of the Blossoming Sea that promises a nearness to your final destination, Shelzar. Following the crooked finger of the merchant you can see the glint of the city ahead. High walls of drab stone are dismissed and overlooked as eyes are tugged toward the glinting spires of the city of pleasures. Gold, ivory, jade and marble sparkle like jewels in the afternoon sun; elegant spires, graceful domes and Elzan sky arches dominate the skyline and, from this distance at least, the city’s reputation as a place of beauty, elegance and unimagined riches seems very true to life.
A loud “Caww” sounds from the merchant’s shoulder drawing your eyes away from the city scene shimmering on the horizon. Horsemen approach from the dusty road you are traveling upon and Enzo’s constant companion, the ragged crow, Delshad, ever the distrustful guardian, sounds her usual alarm cry at the approach of strangers.
Approaching on horseback are a trio of men, each with skin colors of various shades of dark. From caramel to coffee, these brown-skinned men were arrayed in matching colors that would seem garish on the citizens of any other region of Ghelspad. Thick, green-blue sashes slashed diagonally with gold are banded around their slender waists, gold-hilted scimitars rest on their hips, hanging from these sashes. Billowing breeches of pale orange tuck neatly into polished brown riding boots. Above the waist snowy white blouses ripple in the breeze, up-turned sleeves leave hairy forearms bared. Atop the head of each man nests a swirling coil of ornate green and gold linen, these turbans are decorated with two short blue feathers that sprout from a polished black onyx at the forehead.
“Merchant? You’ll follow this road. Haul your goods and beasts of burden through the triangle. I recommend stabling them before passing the city gates – save yourself a few ordu. Move on old man. Move along ye gawkers.” Calls one of the men in a voice that is musical and difficult to understand all at once. He speaks Ledean, but with a clipped and lyrical manner, his volume rising and falling at odd places, stressing certain syllables in a way that makes otherwise familiar words sound very foreign.
You realize his last comment was directed at you and your comrades, your eyes still turned upward, gazing in awe at the vast city towering before you, though you are still a few miles from Shelzar’s walls.
Enzo gives a chuckle and spurs on his great draft horse, Celestine, with a flip of his reins. Delshad flits from merchant’s shoulder to alight upon one of the round barrels of melon roped down in the cart’s bed. Dust kicks up in the wagon’s wake as Enzo raises his voice, urging you to keep up with his quickened pace. “Come on lads, Shelzar awaits: The culinary bliss of the Epicurian Palace, the ancient wonder of the Alabaster Bridge, the famed menagerie, that divine monument the Grand Temple and of course the beacon of faith amongst the murk of vice and sin: the Fortress of Selah where the Order of Iron stands tall and steady as a tide of filth batters its unyielding walls daily.”
He lifts a hand to wipe a stray tear from the corner of his eyes, his glazed look staring ahead with pride, as if he could see the gathered paladins through the hills and walls ahead. “And here lies life for our companion Kade, dearly missed has he been these last few days. Blessings on Goran, blessings on Hwyrdd for preserving his form low these many weeks, I pray his soul awaits its return to us, rested but eager to resume the good fight; I know if anyone can help him it will be the paladins and priests that lie ahead. Shall we make directly for the fortress or do you seek lodging or bathing first?” As he often does, Enzo does not provide space for a response and instead shoots you a stern and concerned look,
“Mind you avoid the worst of the neighbourhoods and keep your wits,” he commands with a snap to his voice that startles the crow. "No one seduces like a Shelzari – you are soon to see riches, finery and women more exotic, more lovely and more within reach than you are likely to ever see anywhere. Avoid the Maze, avoid the brothels, avoid the perils of Enkili and his fickle followers. Most importantly, when you see the most beautiful woman in your life flashing a smile that promises lifelong happiness and sensual bliss, run the other way. Run for your life lads.”