The Grand Caravan arrived that afternoon in sunlight fresh enough with the spring season to ignore the dust of the travelers and settle on the bright colors of their exotic robes and turbans instead.
Outriders had preceded them into Tengwa Tep, and the merchants and citizens of that entrepôt that could spare the time gathered on the southwest outskirts of the city as soon as the news had spread that the Grand Caravan had come, as scheduled, and that the trading season with sarq -Zannib and upstream Kigali had begun for the year.
Penrys rode well back in the caravan, dressed in the riding-length robes that all the dark Zannib wore, men and women, on horseback. Najud, her husband, was near the front, but the rest of her companions, as new to the caravan as she was, chattered excitedly about their first look at a Kigali city, its yellow brick golden in the light from the west, varied by the colorful stucco of its many residential and manufacturing compounds. By comparison, the caravan's first stop, a few days ago, had just been a large market town.
She'd seen cities before, in Ellech, across the northern seas. Here it was the children that caught her eye-dozens and dozens of them, screaming with excitement. Some were with a parent, but mostly they ran free, the littlest ones trailed by irritated older sisters or brothers. Unlike their elders, with the long single braid that almost all Kigali not in the military used, the children wore their hair loose or, at the most, gathered into a tail.
"Did they come to see the riders?" Rubti asked.
Penrys smiled at her sister-in-law's eagerness, a ten-years-younger version of Najud. She was an apprentice herd-mistress, a dirum-malb in her own language, and she'd been fascinated by the rehearsal the night before of the entertainment the caravan would provide this first evening, to entice the crowds to trade for the five-day stop before it swung west, upstream, paralleling the Junkawa, for the longest leg of its great circular route-to Jonggep, the Meeting of Waters.
Ilzay leaned across his saddle to catch Penrys's attention. "There's our setup place." The young man pointed to the left, into the open pasture that was bare of animals and clearly set aside for the use of the caravan, divided from the outermost commercial buildings on the west side of Tengwa by a well-used broad dirt road.
The caravan broke into its smaller components and the travelers began to unpack and erect their dwellings in the unchanging sequence they would maintain for the entire route. Penrys recalled Najud's advice when the caravan started from Qawrash im-Dhal to pick their neighbors well, since they'd be living with them for four months. That wouldn't be true for Penrys and Najud who would be leaving the caravan here tomorrow with their apprentice Munraz, but the other four would be hauling their two kazrab and trade goods on all but the final leg, parting from the caravan only once it had returned to sarq -Zannib and reached the land of clan Zamjilah on its way back home.
The six of them led their pack-strings of horses, five each, to their designated spot and began unloading their goods from the pack frames. Before the first of the three round kazrab had been raised, Najud trotted in with his own pack-string.
"Sorry, Haraq-we've been summoned. Can you take charge of getting our kazr up? Munraz can tell you where everything goes. I need to grab Penrys for a while, by order of our imperial... hosts."
A grimace crossed his lively face. Sorry, Pen-sha. They're waiting for us. I'll stall them until tomorrow-we don't want to cross the river in the dark, I assure you. But they want to make sure I brought you. As, um, requested.
Penrys felt the mix of exasperation and tension in his mind-speech. "Shouldn't we change our clothes?" She beat her sleeve w