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The degonti of the Stone have a very strange way of bartering. Every item, whether it’s a tent or a spear or a bundle of hinterweed, is assigned a value. Instead of trading the actual items for each other, a degonti of the Stone trades small pieces of metal that represent that assigned value. The metal is of no practical use unless you were to melt it down and forge it into spearheads, but doing so would make the degonti of the Stone very mad, which why it is best to just store the chits or throw them away. I remember Tiichi poking holes through each of his coins and stringing them up in his tent. While the degonti of the Stone frowned at this, they were still accepted as currency, and they did make such a lovely tinkling noise in the wind.

The Sandwalker didn’t have any currency accepted by the tavern. Azzir didn’t have the heart to tell him that degonti of the Stone didn’t exchange drinks for cured hides, so he bought the drinks himself, promising another night of dishwashing in return.

At least he’s familiar with alcohol, Azzir thought gloomily, watching the Sandwalker sampling the local brew. While most Sandwalkers seemed to grow their hair as long as possible, this one's head was shaved clean. His grey scalp shone in the light of the tavern’s fireplace.

“I am sorry,” the Sandwalker said at length, setting his mug down. “For the bad bartering. I do not know your customs.”

“The Julakhan’s customs, you mean.”

The Sandwalker cocked his head, so Azzir elaborated.

“Julakhan. This land's held by House Julakhan. I don’t come from here, you see, so they aren’t exactly my customs. I'm a son of House Telerine.”

"You are of the clan Telerine?" The Sandwalker looked faintly disappointed. "So you know your parents."

"Of course. Don't you?"

The Sandwalker remained silent. Azzir again wondered if he had offended the degonti, or if he was just slow on the uptake. The Sandwalker closed his eyes, so even the faint glow of his irises couldn't give Azzir a clue as to what he was thinking.

"I am called Drai. My clan and kin longer important," said Drai at last. His eyes opened, and they were a dark color Azzir had only seen in very ill degonti. He tensed up, unnerved. But then Drai blinked, and they were back to normal. "What is important is I find degonti."

“So you said before,” muttered Azzir.

Drai sighed and pulled a string of beads out of his tunic. He tossed it down on the table as if it would explain everything. Azzir just stared in bewilderment, eventually picking the beads up when Drai didn’t take them back.

“These are, ah, very nicely carved. Would probably sell for a fair amount. But what is it for?”

“They show prophecy," explained Drai. "Is old prophecy, important to my tribe. I look for the one on the first bead.”

“This hooded and cloaked man?” Azzir asked, flicking the carving on the top bead. “Is he the prophet or something? Why is he so special?”

Drai reached over and took the beads back, sliding them into his tunic. Azzir winced, but the oddly unoffendable Sandwalker just sat silently for a few minutes, his eyes a thoughtful brown.

Hasafla iso-ia imasa,” Drai whipered. Azzir could only guess it was the Sandwalker language. “The Wanderer chooses the way,” Drai explained haltingly. “It means he chooses path? Or way of being? I know not your words."

"So he makes plans for others," Azzir suggested.

"Plans, yes. He chooses what others will do. Tama sa-uba dia imtasa. The Wanderer goads the kings to act, to fight the evil, then...I do not know words for the rest. Is long prophecy. But I must find this Wanderer. Find him, and side-near-side bring prophecy to bear.”

“Side-by-side,” Azzir corrected absently. He stared at Drai’s tunic, where the beads were hiding, as if that would help him picture what was engraved on their sides. “It’s rather vague, even for a...a myth. Now I’m not saying it’s all folly—“ Azzir held up his hands. “—but it’s not much to go by. Isn’t there something else you know about this Wanderer guy?”

“There is another prophecy, different prophecy, about the Wanderer.” Drai stopped, his eyes glowing an ever richer color of golden-brown as he jogged his memory. “Prophecy is not right word; perhaps story is better. It tells of a Ba'malra, separated from his kin, and now has no riches, no honor. Many do not like him because of his looks.” Drai pointed to his eyes, referring to the double-meaning that a foul-hearted degonti was often revealed by the colors of his eyes as well by as his demeanor.

“And what happened to him? In the story, I mean.” A noble in exile, like me, thought Azzir glumly. But a bad one. Not like me. Definitely not.

“He is hunted into desert by those he once called friend. He is taken by Demon Prince, Re’Sheek.” Drai paused, and his eyes flashed that odd dark color again. “The story does not tell how, but he later re-emerges as a leader of his people.”

“Huh,” said Azzir, his tone sullen. "So an exiled noble, is he? They're easy to spot. You know them by that funny mad look in their eye."

“How can one be funny and angry at the same time?” asked Drai.

“Not that kind of funny," Azzir growled. The mention of exiled nobles had put him in a foul mood. "Funny like...odd. Strange."

“Funny is a funny word,” said Drai. If he hadn't known any better, Azzir could've sworn he saw a gleam of mischief in the Sandwalker's eyes.

Irritated, Azzir replied, "There's a lot of nobles around here. So you better get started if you hope to find him in the next century."

“You are not coming?” Drai actually looked crest-fallen for a moment.

“Well, I suppose I could," Azzir said reluctantly. "What would be my compensation, hm?"

Drai looked at Azzir blankly. Azzir sighed.

“I find you the exiled noble, and you give me something in return. Like bartering. That's compensation.”

Drai’s eyes narrowed. “It is Ba'malra custom to exchange favors for goods?” When Azzir didn’t answer, Drai snorted and continued, “I will do Sandwalker custom. You will get favor in return for your favor. You may chose now or later what favor will be.”

It wasn't as good as money or hinterweed, Azzir thought, but it might be worth something. And anything was better than washing more dirty dishes.

"Fine, deal. I'll do a tour with you of the whole neighborhood if you want. We'll even case the baron's manor while we'll at it," Azzir snapped sarcastically.

“You have more knowledge of this hunting ground than I,” said Drai mildly. Azzir whipped his gaze back around to stare at the Sandwalker, thinking he had detected another note of mischief.

But Drai only stared back at him, eyes darkening with confusion.

Shaking his head, Azzir shoved himself to his feet. “You’re just going to have to learn to speak our language, buddy.”
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