4. NQILA KABIRA (Big Vehicle) نقيله كبيره
Asif blew down the pipe, gave the order.
'Damp the fires, steam off!'
He heard the creak of the wheels. Twice as tall as a man and as heavy as Shaitan's heart. The valuable iron bound the solid wheels' rim. Valuable or not, the wheels would not do another trip without repairs. A circuit around the Caspian took 3 years, by the time the infidel were converted or transported beyond, according to their preference. Insh'Allah the craftsman and the metal would be in Astara. The crew would be glad of the break in the port. Asif didn't doubt that his Soldiers of God would get into a fight with Allah's Seamen. They were scum, people said that they ate pork and drank alcohol as soon as they were out from under the eye of Allah.
The great vehicle ground to a halt. The stokers leaned the ladders against the side of the fore left wheel. Asif undid the leather straps and stepped out of the cockpit. A sharp point of stray wicker pierced the cloth of his trousers and he almost lost his footing on the ladder. Blood! Son of a donkey! It meant a visit an apothecary. No point in surviving 3 years spreading the Word of Allah only to die from some infection. Asif stretched and looked at the assembled crew. Hamed had lined up the two stokers and the Swords of Allah for inspection. Asif had no intention of looking closely at their uniform. It was an opportunity to remind them to steer clear of the Seamen. And any other temptations in the town. He dismissed the crew. Hamed lingered, the engineer considered himself close to the pilot, although Asif permitted him no liberties beyond the usual, during a Conversion Raid. Asif watched Hamed's lip tremble as he told him to report to barracks for reassignment. A new engineer was imperative for every trip. Asif liked engineers fresh from the Madrassa. Young, naïve...Malleable.
The Pilot headed for the Souk The Apothecary's was on the other side: in a part of the port some people called the Quarter. In dark corners, behind locked doors, its inhabitants called it the Persian Quarter. Uttering such an name might cost a tongue in the New Caliphate. Half a millenium of Allah's kingdom and still fools believed in such myths as Persia, or even Angle Land. The wound on his leg was but a scratch, but it meant he needed to see an Apothecary. What of it, if he chose to go out of his way for this one?
The shop had an animal hide for a door, and cloth covering the window holes. The walls seemed have been assembled by a drunken sailor. A faded painted flask stood to the side of the threshold. Asif entered and was struck by the dingy disorder within. A voice spoke, although the Pilot could see no-one at first.
'You have a wound to your leg?'
Asif gulped, began to stammer, but the voice interrupted,
'Any fool can see a limp, but I am proud that I smelled blood on you.'
'Ah, very good.'
The man produced a lit candle from ...somewhere. Asif did not care to ponder this further.
'Of course, Pilot, I can do nothing about the stale blood, only the fresh.'
Asif remained nervous throughout the cleaning and binding of the wound. He thought better of his secondary reason for his visit, fumbling past the bottle in his bag and retrieving his purse. The apothecary, a young man to all appearance, accepted the money and looked at Asif.
'Well, goodbye,' the Pilot said.
'There was nothing else?'
Asif reached into his bag. Pulled out the bottle. Placed it on the cluttered counter of the shop.
'This?' The apothecary said.
'I have this too,' Asif laid a tattered kilim beside the glass bottle.
'Leave them with me, Pilot Asif. Come back tomorrow, if you can.'
The Pilot stumbled from the shop, blundered into a building nearby. A squat barrel stood beside the threshold of this, rather better constructed, building. He had a headache, the wound in his thigh had begun to throb. He ordered a glass of wine from the leering character behind the counter. His head grew heavy. He heard the words 'another hypocrite! and he wished he were meeting his maker with purity of body and soul.