A/N: I've made it the right length. I could never get past the first chapter and a bit, and I finally have, so I'm really excited about it. Really, really excited about it.
Please let me know if there are any mistakes. I'm not doing any editing until the end on my own, because else I'll get really tired of the story really quickly. If you're interested in editing for someone, I am looking for a capable editor right now, but I'm not too interested in going searching for a beta quite yet, because the way it's set up on the site is really impractical.
Anyway, I hate asking for reviews, but if you have a moment I'd like to know what you think. Thanks!
Chapter 1 –
Grace stepped out from under the shade of a doorway into blinding sunlight. The sights, smells, and noises of the city market swarmed her senses. As she walked away from the inn where she was staying, people began to call out to her. Merchants beckoned her to look at their wares, jewels, fabrics, spices, incense and many other things displayed under tented booths. Animals walked alongside the crowds, four legged animals like camels, horses and mules adding their own cries and smells to the already overwhelming market. For every step she took at least two people bumped into her, and whether it was on purpose or not wasn't of any concern to those that noticed.
Her steps were relaxed, but her eyes were wary as she made her way through the crowds, scanning faces both near and far from her. The dark orbs calculated, watched, and scrutinized all the people around her, men, women, children, of all shapes and sizes. No one looked twice at her; her dark eyes, hair and olive skin didn't make her stand out, though she was from a completely different country. She could speak Arabic fluently though, a talent taught to her by her mother.
"Lady, these jewels would shine brighter than the sun on your skin! Come, I will give you a bargain if you buy from me!" a man called to her in heavily accented English. She was surprised. She didn't look like that much of a foreigner, did she?
Grace turned to look at the merchant, a fat man who was sweating profusely and dressed in silks. The thick beard and moustache was sprinkled with grey that was also at his temples. Balding, and barely a threat, Grace thought. "My own beauty is brighter than the sun. I do not need cheap baubles to adorn my body!" she called back in the native language.
Shock flickered across his face, and then anger, and then amusement and he laughed at her and waved her along. "I don't want your business! Take it elsewhere!"
She obliged and disappeared into the crowd. She couldn't waste time, although she was not in a rush. It was imperative she get to the market centre, where the large fountain was. Maneuvering her way through the crowd was easy though; crowds never bothered her, and she knew how to drift through them without really standing out.
The fountain appeared as the crowds seemed to thin towards the forum. The white marble now had hairline cracks that came with time and the edges were smoothed from sand storms and countless hands and backsides. It was a perfect resting spot, no longer one that people were uncomfortable about touching or being near so as to not wreck the initial beauty.
Initially she just stood there, unsure of what to do now that she was there. She had to wait for someone, that she knew of course, but until then she didn't want to stand out or look awkward amongst the locals. That would lead her to look suspicious, and if she looked suspicious then her contact might not appear...
In the end, Grace decided to sit on the edge of the fountain. She began trailing her fingers across the surface of the cold water idly. As the liquid bubbled and rippled, it skimmed over her skin, a startling contrast against the hot dry air around her. An oasis, a place of rest, she thought as she looked at those people around her that relaxed and lounged along the fountain's edge.
It was at that moment, out of the corner of her eye, that she spotted the bright green shirt and white shorts that was the chosen outfit to recognize her contact. Before she even assessed the situation, she was standing up and wiping her wet hand on her trousers. Grace reached into her pocket, brought out the tiny box that had been there and by then she was in front of the man.
"The sun is hot and I have no water. Can you spare some?" she said, a recited phrase given to her almost six months ago. Her nerves were going crazy with excitement and anxiety, but she made sure not to let it show. She was very good at hiding what she was feeling.
"I find the weather quite fair, so I don't mind sharing," the man answered. He was a shorter man, stocky but not thick. His dark hair curled a little around his ears and he was clean-shaven.
Perfect, she thought excitedly. It was finally happening. After years… "Here, this is for you. If you can, could we go somewhere more private to discuss matters?" she asked, formalities and secrecies over with.
The man, who she now knew to be Amal, nodded and gestured her to follow him. Her former tutor sent her to the man, their meeting planned a year ago. All to get to the next man, who would finally give her the ability to be freed from her days…
They walked through the mass of people that were concentrated at the exits of the public space, not really acknowledging one another. They knew it wasn't safe for a man and a woman to be seen together as they were, so when he ducked into an alleyway Grace almost walked by the alley's entrance.
She saw him halfway down the building, gesturing her to come closer, before he opened a door and walked inside. Not letting the small pebble of fear in her tummy get to her, she followed him into the building, closing the door behind her. This was nothing. This was what she had trained and trained to get to. She was so close; she couldn't back down now…
"So, Grace Bradford. To think that you would be in Arabia…" Amal said.
The room was dark that she had entered, and it was also large. Lots of tables and chairs were scattered about, and she immediately guessed it was some kind of gambling spot. But who was she to guess? She barely knew anything about the culture of Arabia; she was only taught to speak the language. It took her a moment to adjust to the light, so she didn't even see Amal sitting already at the far end of the room at a more luxurious spot until after a few moments. His hands were steepled in front of him, his elbows on the table as he leaned forward from a fairly decorative seat. When she finally saw him, she crossed the room and sat down across from him.
"Amal, I need your help. Will you aid me? I believe you know exactly what I am talking about." Her voice was strong, vehement.
The older man grinned in response.