Though it served as a home to all people and creeds, a black man in Constantinople was something of an uncommon sight. Especially one who carried himself so readily who walked with an air of confidence, and carried ceremonial weapons befitting a Prince. Here was a man who cared nothing for the status he'd been given. He wasn't a slave, the people reasoned, for no imprisoned man held himself up in such a way, nor would one be granted such weapons to carry on his person. But if he wasn't the property of a slave owner, who was he?
For his part, Odai Dunqas cared little for their stares, or the words whispered behind his back. They did not need to know of his royal heritage. Or the lengths in which he took to get from Sudan to the heart of the Ottoman Empire. All they needed to know was not to cross him, which seemed to be accomplished quite effectively by the knives and daggers fitted into the sash at his waist. Perhaps also in part to his missing left eye, which he kept as hidden as possible by the way he wore the layers of cloth atop his head. Still, people could tell by the way he moved the way his head was turning more often than not, due to his decreased peripheral vision. How he came by such an injury, no one asked. And Odai was not telling.
He'd been here only three months, but it felt like no less than three years. Three months, asking for neither aid nor refuge. Of course, it'd taken nearly a year for him to arrive here from Eastern Africa, no thanks in part to the price currently on his head. If only his cousin could see him now
Odai scowled, his hand drifting automatically to one of the daggers at his waist. Every time he thought about his damnable cousin, Baako Dunqas, the current Sultan of Sudan, Odai went through the same motions. But the past was past; Odai could spill his blood if and when the time came. For now, he only needed to watch over himself.
The Istanbul sun was hot, but the layers of dark cloth wrapped around the warrior's head helped keep the worse of the heat from his shaven head, although his brow still grew moist in the intense sun. Odai kept to himself, barely glancing at the people who stepped aside to let him through. Worthless
The beggars and thieves, the swindlers and the blackmarket dealers. Each and every one of them was a blight on this very soil. If Odai had an army, he'd wipe them all out. Baako used to support him, back when they were but boys. And in becoming Sultan, Baako was finally in a position of authority, possessing the power needed to put to death such a plague.
Unfortunately, marriage and becoming a father had made his cousin weak. And when he no longer had such taste for Odai and his beliefs, he turned his own cousin into an outcast.
So be it. Odai, despite his welling bloodlust, left with his head held high. And having heard rumors in Alexandria of those who called themselves Templars, journeyed north, to what the locals liked to call either Kostantiniyye or Istanbul. It had taken him nearly five years, to do so. The city was far too diverse for his personal taste, but if these Templars truly existed, he would find them. Or perhaps, they would find him.
Dusk was beginning to fall. The merchants were packing up their produce and wares, looking forward to an evening spent with their families. Odai, of course, had no one to go home to, nor did he wish that he did. A man who surrounded himself with a wife and children was nothing but a weak-minded fool. True, there were occasional pleasures to be had in seeking out the temporary company of a woman. Even Odai periodically indulged himself (and he knew where to look). But a powerful man knew what he wanted in life, and was determined to seek it out and take it. A wife or children at his side only hindered such progress.
Odai arrived at his small apartment, located near the central hub of the Constantine district. It wasn't the richest area of town to live in, but he was far from the slums and the whorehouses, and few beggars milled about, which was particularly lucky for them. From the time Odai had arrived to this moment, he'd ended the bleak, pathetic lives of perhaps fourteen people, most of whom were beggars (although a few were practiced con-artists who'd chosen the wrong man to try and swindle). Mostly men, but a few women as well, and one particularly unlucky teenager. Of course, they were better off dead and in the ground then continuing on with their wretched existence. Odai granted them mercy and did them a favor.
And if he enjoyed it, as well
so be it.
The Sudan native made his way inside and closed the door behind him, setting down the weapons that had been secured against his waist. Glancing into the cloth bag he kept always on his person, Odai emitted a single huff. The riches he'd brought with him from home were quickly declining. While he loathed the very thought, tomorrow he'd have to start looking for work. And until he found some, he'd have to keep his expenses in check. Perhaps mercenary work would be to his liking
He'd seen the groups of heavily-armed men available for hire throughout every district of this city. Of course, Odai wasn't one for 'team-effort', but he supposed whoever thought to hire him wouldn't mind terribly. Fewer men meant less of a liability, and a smaller chance of being captured.
He'd find work, eventually. For the moment, the black-skinned man set aside his various daggers, keeping but one on him in case of emergency, before lowering the light-weight spear he kept firmly attached to his back via a heavy strap that ran over one shoulder, and down under the opposite arm. It was a marvelous weapon, and one that been passed down from his great-great grandfather, to his grandfather, to his father, and finally to him when he was but fourteen years of age. It was when boys became men in Sudan, and seeing as his father had died when Odai was but eight, the family relic became his to own. And since then, it had served him well.
He leaned the impressive spear up against the wall of the tiny apartment, taking a moment to stare at it. The blade needed sharpening
He'd see to that first thing in the morning. If there was one thing he liked about this over-abundant clash of cultures, it was that you got the best blacksmiths from all over the world to choose from. As much as Odai hated to admit it, the smiths he'd found had proven themselves to be even more talented than those back in Sudan. His daggers and sword were in top form. Now only his spear remained in need of repair.
"One day, this very spear will cross your heart, Cousin." He grumbled, finger brushing the fine metal spearhead, made unique by the hollow diamond-shape in the center. He then stepped back, brushing his dust-coated palms against one another. Self-meditation was a fine way to pass the time, but so was some well-deserved rest. He'd focus on furthering his revenge another day.
Odai Dunqas wasn't dreaming. Someone was inside his apartment.
He sat up from the small cot on which he'd been dozing, fingers immediately grasping for the well-balanced dagger he kept always within arm's reach. He firmly grasped the hilt, climbing slowly out of bed. Bare feet against the hard wood floor, Odai listened the soft scraps and muffled chatter coming from his main living area, just outside the bedchamber door.
There couldn't be too many trespassers. Three or four, maybe. They could be armed, but more likely they were nothing but simple burglars, intent on making a coin or two from what they hoped was an unattended residence.
Odai tightened his grip around the hilt of the blade, his knuckles giving a sharp snap. Just outside the door, the soft creaking came to an abrupt halt.
"What was th "
The door to the bedchamber burst open, and Odai descended on the intruders, swinging his blade to the ready. Blood spurted from what used to be the hand of the nearest man, and amongst his guttural screams, Odai finished him off with a clean slit to the throat. The three remaining men backed away from the carnage, and the dark-skinned man could see nothing but the whites of their eyes. They stared at him at who they no doubt had hoped would be nothing more than an elderly merchant or priest. Instead, they had found one of the greatest warriors of all East Africa. Their eyes lingered on the dagger in his hand, then to his lips, formed into a tight snarl, and finally to his missing left eye. Their own pupils grew wide. Good. Let them be afraid. It would all be over for them soon, anyway.
Odai launched into his second attack, careening toward the nearest remaining would-be thief. The man, dressed in little more than rags, put up equally little fight. He moved to grab his attacker's knife-wielding arm, hoping to keep the blade away as long as possible. Odai curled his lip and, at the last second, dropped down to his knee, only to force the crudely-carved dagger up through the man's unprotected diaphragm in a single, clean stab. The man's lifeless eyes stared into Odai's, mouth gaping open, as the warrior thrust the dagger back out, and the body slumped wordlessly to the ground.
Two burglars remained. Both of them drew their own swords, while Odai faced them carrying only a short blade. Still, he liked his odds. These men were unlikely to have been properly trained, given that they had been reduced to petty breaking-and-entering. Odai smirked at the two, who were bracing themselves and trading uncertain glances. He almost pitied them.
One of the men started forward at a sudden dash, hoping to catch his opponent off-guard. Odai grabbed his wrist and forced it violently upwards, feeling the complex array of bones crack and break under his steel-tight grip. The man screamed and his knee shot up, catching the warrior in the chest. Odai let him go, taking a single step back and bringing his knife to back to bear. Angry, he slashed at the intruder, swiping across his forearm and bringing a sudden spurt of blood. The injured man shrieked, but instead of diving back for the retreat, as Odai fully expected, he swiped back at his attacker, driven by both terror and desperation.
Odai backed up, but not before the very tip of the sword caught his own arm, bringing with it a sharp jolt of pain. He ducked out of the way of the second swipe, getting down low for the next attack. But the two remaining criminals worked together, unlike their unfortunate team mates. The fourth man used Odai's decreased peripheral vision to his advantage, ducking in from the left. The African warrior spotted him, but it was too late. A deep gash formed in his side, causing him to gasp and nearly lose his balance. His training aided him, and he quickly regained his footing, forcing his blade through the tissue and muscle composing of his unfortunate victim's stomach. The dead man pitched forward, the upper half of his body impacting the weakened Odai. Ignoring the open wound as much as possible, he raised himself back to his feet, eyeing the single remaining man with renewed wariness. His lips formed a cold snarl.
"Make this easy on yourself. And I will grant you a quick death."
The thief tightened his grip on his sword, glancing briefly to his three dead comrades. Even injured, the dark-skinned man had proven himself to be more than a match for him. Perhaps now was a good time to make a deal
After all, he was no trained warrior. He'd simply gotten lucky once or twice.
He nervously licked his lips, fighting his rising panic.
"I-if you let me go, I swear on my life that I will never " His protest was cut short by his attacker's dagger impaling his abdomen. Collapsing to his knees, he stared helplessly as Odai carefully made his way over, arm wedged tightly against the gash in his side. The thief fell onto his back, staring wide-eyed as the man stood over him, then gave a weakened gasp as a boot crashed onto his hand, breaking several fingers and forcing the hilt of his sword from his grasp. Odai scowled down at the burglar, before finally crushing his boot heel into the skull of the man who had injured him.
Without further ado, Odai slipped the dagger back into his sash and headed for the hastily abandoned bedchamber. There was work to do.
"There is a strange man seeking a healer."
Seraffo frowned under the bird-beaked mask he wore, staring with rapt attention at his latest project. He ignored the call from upstairs, murmuring soothingly to the tightly bound woman in his 'care.' Her wide green eyes flickered upward, staring in terror past his left shoulder. Seraffo sighed, raising the unique syringe he kept on his person at all times. The woman's panicked but muffled screams were cut short when the tip of the needle stabbed into the base of her throat, unloading a measured dose of toxin into her body. She gave a fierce shudder, but no longer was her body under any form of conscious control. She slumped, brown stains already appearing in her once clear eyes, her skin beginning to turn a sickly gray pallor.
Seraffo lowered his arm, glancing back over his shoulder with an irritated huff.
"I am busy."
"Not anymore, by the looks of it." Came the sultry purr. Seraffo reattached the now half-filled syringe to his belt, turning on his boot heel and striding over to the narrow stairs that led to his actual shop. The Romani woman sat comfortably in his way, only getting up reluctantly when he stared her down. She draped herself over the railing, smirking at him contentedly. Why on earth she chose to hang around him in his shop, the Venetian expatriate hadn't the slightest clue. The reason could lie with his penchant for poisons, of which Mirela was also a known practitioner. Still, she used herbs and fungi, while he dabbled in toxins such as mercury and amalgams. Hemlock had its uses, but Seraffo greatly preferred his chemical concoctions, which could be dispensed effectively using the very air itself, once Seraffo came up with an effective way to do so.
Mirela laughed at the doctor's big ideas, all the while playing with the tiny needle she used to dispense her own plant-based poisons. Of course, she was something of a botanist herself, and Seraffo occasionally enjoyed drilling her on her knowledge of poisons and medicinal herbs, alike. Still, there was a line to be drawn. The Romani couldn't just visit whenever she pleased, and her presence often caused raised eyebrows and unwelcomed questions. Which was why he'd informed her time and time again not to intrude on his shop, uninvited.
Clearly, it was time for a second lesson.
Seraffo pushed past her on his way up the narrow, wooden stairs, unamused. He paused at the top.
"Where else would I go?"
Seraffo said nothing, but decided he didn't have anything better to do then to take her at her word. He pushed open the heavy oak door and quietly greeted the impressively armed man before him. He knew at once why even Mirela considered this man to be 'strange'. His skin was dark brown, almost to the point of being completely black, a hue which perfectly matched that of his eyes, or at least the one that Seraffo could see. And he carried an abundance of weaponry, including a long spear, headed by a sharpened, metal tip. The doctor didn't need to look at the injury to know what this man had received it during a fierce battle. He wasn't a slave; that much was clear. But who was he?
Questions such as these were of little use right now. His own eyes then drifted down to the bloodied wound in the man's side, hastily bandaged together by what seemed like torn strips of bed linen. Without a word he moved from around the counter, drawing close to the powerful-looking man.
Odai almost drew back when the white-garbed doctor came close, but forced himself to stay still as the Venetian knelt down to get a closer look at the injury. His glove-tipped fingers brushed the strips of cloth away, causing Odai to flinch and grit his teeth. The doctor ignored him, studying the wound closely.
"This is recent. I can sew it back together for you, but it will cost. Any medicine will cost you even more."
"I have money." The man growled, dropping a small sack of coin on the otherwise mostly empty counter. "Only keep your pet Romani whore out of our business." Seraffo glanced at the pouch, but his mind had already returned to the wounded man. He straightened up, giving just the slightest tilt of his masked head.
"Take a seat. I will be with you shortly."
Mirela drifted near the good doctor's worktable, peering intently at the lifeless body of her Romani brethren. It was a pity that Aishe had to be disposed of so readily, but it really was all for the greater good. She studied the body for a moment, but drew back when the sharp stench of mercury met her nostrils. The sound of Seraffo's footsteps on the landing forced her to withdraw further from the body, putting to an end her investigations.
"He is interesting, is he not?" She spoke up, staring innocently into the mysterious doctor's black-as-coal glasses. He slipped past her, beginning to rummage around in the various drawers and cabinets opposite the bound body.
Mirela quirked her brows together. "That's it?"
"He is a native of the dessert. Likely from the far south, brought here as a slave." Mirela sniffed, seating herself on the single available stool in the cramped little basement. She crossed her arms in front of her, content to simply watch the doctor search.
"He doesn't look like any slave I've ever seen."
"No. He does not." Seraffo grabbed his things, slipping them into an easy-to-carry bag.
"Then why did you "
"I said that's why he was brought here. Most likely." A faint ring of annoyance shown through the doctor's otherwise emotionless tone. "I didn't say that's what he is."
"So then find out. He doesn't seem to like me." Mirela pressed, ignoring the clear irritation displayed toward her for the second time that afternoon. "Ask him. Bring him down here
" she motioned toward the medical table and, beyond that, the chair in which the dead Romani still lifelessly sat bound to. "
and ask him."
Seraffo glanced back at her wordlessly, then continued up the stairs, carrying his bag. Mirela sighed, letting herself slouch back down in her stool. The doctor certainly was a curious one.
The Venetian doctor found his new patient having followed his doctor's orders, seating himself on the tiny cot stuffed into the corner of the shop. He made his way to him, pulling up the only available chair and setting his bag down at his feet. Ignoring the injured man's questioning glare, he dug through the sack, pulling out some basic needle and surgical thread, as well as a small vial of clear liquid.
"What is that?" Odai asked at last, eyeing the final item suspiciously. Seraffo smiled ruefully under the long beak of his white mask. He'd heard enough of the man's accent to realize that he was from the Western deserts not northern. He had no idea what the people so far south were currently calling their war-strewn lands, but this man's accent was clearly not from the Sahara, and his skin was far too dark for an Egyptian. Interesting.
"Medicina." Seraffo replied tonelessly, filling a small syringe with the clear liquid before setting the spare hypodermic back down on the table's edge. "Do not worry about it, now."
"If I am paying for it, I want it to be used."
"And it will be. If you need it." The doctor held the needle and thread and stared blankly at the annoyed-looking Odai, who finally relented and growled under his breath. Following his doctor's motions, he raised his left arm over his head, glancing down at the muddied mess of clotted blood that matted his ribs. Seraffo wordlessly got to work, piercing the man's flesh with the tip of the needle.
It was a painfully slow process. Odai hadn't realized just how bad the wound was until the doctor began meddling with the badly torn flesh. Now he grimaced in pain, trying to keep himself from involuntarily punching out the man who was trying to help him. For his part, Seraffo paid little mind to the annoyed growls, but grew frustrated himself when his patient began to shift.
"If you do not stay still, I cannot help you." He pointed out, lowering his hands. Odai leaned back against the wall, taking a slow breath.
"It will be fixed." Seraffo assured him quietly, looking over the exhausted man. Mirela hadn't been entirely wrong
He would indeed make for an interesting subject. Never before had Seraffo the opportunity to test his projects on a man such as this. Plenty of beggars and stray orphans, of course. The occasional Romani outcast that Mirela was able to persuade back to his shop. And at one time, a sickened slave that he had purchased for a mere three akçe; a pittance, considering what he had learned from that one. But here was a man who came from worlds away. Seraffo was positively itching to know how his physical makeup might be affected by the many toxins and solutions he was in possession of.
"It will just take some more time." He concluded, sounding infinitely more patient. "Why don't you lie down. In order to rid your body of ill-humors, I will need to bleed them out." The dark-skinned man scowled at the doctor, but Seraffo only stared back at him silently.
alright." He reluctantly agreed, carefully lowering himself to the thin mattress. He rested his arm up past his head, staring stonily at the wooden rafters that made up the ceiling. Seraffo worked quietly for a time, slipping an anti-coagulant into the warrior's wound. In moments, the wound began to bleed faster.
"So tell me. What brings you to Constantinople?" Seraffo asked, working to hide the blood flow. No use in getting his latest test experiment even more wary. Odai continued to glare up at the ceiling, keeping his mouth shut. Seraffo continued, feigning oblivion.
"The minstrels were about, today "
"Scum." Odai snorted, wrinkling his nose distastefully. "Petty idiots, preying on the stupidity of their fellow man. They make their living on bringing entertainment to the rich, whilst prancing about like fools. Pathetic."
Seraffo blinked, taken aback. This was
"And the Romani?..."
"Pick-pocketing swindlers. All of them. They seek to invade your city, fill it with their own wretched kind, and meddle in your politics and affairs. Their infection weakens all of Constantinople, and here you let them have free run of your home." He sniffed.
Seraffo skillfully ignored the dig. "And the Byzantines?"
Odai drew to a halt. He stared wordlessly up at the ceiling, until his eyelids began to flutter and droop. Seraffo quickly rethought his plan, now hastily applying a thick white gauze to the injured man's side. No need to knock him out, now. At least, not yet. In case of emergency, he did have a powerful sedative on him. No need to leave anything to chance.
and the Byzantines?"
"I have no familiarity with these men."
Seraffo frowned, disappointed. "They are only a local sect, but are growing once more in power. In part, due to the Templars."
Odair raised his head sharply, his one visible black eye staring into the two dark pits that made up the doctor's 'face'.
"The Templars? I had heard rumors, but
"But they do exist." Seraffo murmured, focusing once more on the wound. He stitched another inch of skin, causing his patient to snarl and curse aloud.
"And how do you know this?" Odai demanded sharply. The doctor said nothing, pretending to focus all attention on the wound.
"Lie back. You will injure yourself further."
"What is it the Templar's plan?"
"I do not know what you mean."
Odai huffed in annoyance, once more lowering his head to the thin mattress.
"You do. I know you do."
"Your world views are
interesting. Tell me, if you did indeed meet with these Templars, what would you say?"
Odair eyed him critically, then returned his gaze to the wooden rafters.
"As I said, I have heard only rumors. But
I imagine that we could work together rather nicely."
Hidden behind his white beaked mask, Seraffo smiled knowingly. His eyes flickered to the right, where, standing just barely in his field of vision, was Mirela. She grinned at the black-skinned man on the cot, whose visible eye darkened considerably.
"Romani dog!" He hissed, tugging himself up and reaching for his nearest knife. In a single fluid motion, the doctor grabbed the hypodermic needle from the edge of the table just behind him, placed his gloved hand at the man's sternum and stabbed the syringe into the base of his throat, ejecting the clear amber liquid into his bloodstream, where it hastened to take effect. The man's eyes grew wide, and he let out a sharp snarl at the stinging pain. Recovering from his initial surprise, albeit slower due to his prior blood loss, he slammed his right hand into the center of the doctor's arm, spraining the appendage. Seraffo jerked back, standing up as his victim struggled to rise.
Odai grunted from the effort, feeling all the energy leave his body. He collapsed back against the worn mattress, chin scraping the rough fabric. He braced his well-calloused palms against it, but to little avail. He had no strength left.
I will kill you
" He growled, quickly losing consciousness. The image of both the doctor and the Romani the former clothed head to toe in white, and the later wearing blue rags and a heavy sneer seared into his brain, even after his one remaining eye stopped seeing. Then his entire world drifted into a sea of black.
The voices were garbled unintelligible. Odai felt himself slowly begin to drift back into consciousness, although the process was a slow, arduous one. Only dimly was he aware of sound of light, and of the course fabric beneath his head. His one eye creaked open, but all he saw was a faint glow.
"Did he tell you his name?"
"No. I only know that he is of East African origin."
"He's so dark
" The Romani woman grinned coyly at their new play-thing, slipping closer to the cot, only to jerk back when Seraffo cut in front of her.
"I was only "
"I know what you were only doing." He grumbled. "Prince Ahmet has not yet decided what we will do with him."
"I already know what I want to do with him."
The doctor let out what sounded like an annoyed huff. Mirela wondered briefly if he fogged up his glasses every time he did that, and found the image in her head remarkably funny. She slipped away from the group, shoulders positively shaking, and Seraffo once again looked to the semi-conscious man, shaking his head.
The Prince folded his hands in front of him, watching with a bemused expression.
"She is an interesting one."
"You invited her to join us."
"I did. And I have a feeling that she is not going to like this one as much as she thinks." He returned his eyes to the African man, whose own was just beginning to flutter.
"Good evening. Or rather, good morning." Prince Ahmet greeted him in a professionally clipped tone, standing straight and looking rather impeccably groomed. As usual. Seraffo carefully sat down on the stool nearest to the cot, but kept his posture tense. Being the closest, and the only person in the room who was responsible for drugging the man put him in obvious harm's way. He watched silently as his victim slowly sat up on his elbows, before reaching back to run his hand over his perfectly shaven head. He glowered hatefully at the doctor.
"Where is it?"
Seraffo pointed to a pile of cloth wraps tucked off to the side of the cot. The man let out an irritated growl and grabbed them, wordlessly fixing them back into the same style turban he had been wearing before. Ahmet watched him with some amount of interest.
"What is your name?"
"You are the Prince." Odai regarded the wealthy and powerful public figure with a certain level of wariness. He rubbed the base of his neck, sore from the deep puncture of the needle. "I can say that I did not expect you to be here, of all places." Odai frowned slightly, but now he was more curious then angry. He carefully swung his legs over the side of the cot, bracing his palms against the edge.
"You can call me Odai. I left my people in Africa, in a part of the country we call Sudan. It's a god-forsaken wasteland
Nothing like the marvelous cities I've seen on my journey here."
"And why have you come here?" Ahmet questioned. "I've been told
things concerning your, should I say, philosophy?..."
Odai emitted a raspy chuckle, shooting the white-garbed doctor an amused look. "I should have guessed. You are one of them. A Templar."
"We are all Templars." Ahmet cut in. "You could become a part of that. And we can offer you more than just money, effendim. But also power. Information. Women. Security." He smiled knowingly. "So long as you serve us, all of this can be yours, Odai."
The African studied the Prince for quite some time, eventually standing up. He reached for his knives, only to spot a shift in movement on the far side of the room. He stopped.
"Forgive me." Ahmet cleared his throat, motioning to the black and white-clothed figure who had previously been leaning against the door to the shop. Odai had not seen him, due to his incredible stillness. "Odai, might I introduce my loyal Vizier, Ali Pasha."
Odai eyed the powerful-looking man in proper black robes, noting the particularly disdainful look in his eye. Ahmet might be willing to make peace with an African, but his Vizier was apparently not. Odai gave a slight smirk, grasping the hilt of his crooked dagger and sliding it into his sash.
"Relax, friend. I mean your Prince no harm." He replaced the other dagger back in the sash as well, then bent down to pick up his favorite weapon the 5ft, razor-sharp lance off the ground. He gripped it tightly, looking over the metal and inlaid silver.
"It would be an honor to serve the Templars, my Prince. Only tell me where to begin."