“Well, Rok,” he scathingly said, tapping the tip of his bronze spear on the rounded edge, polished with the steps of many peoples and through a many weathers. He tapped, tapped, tapped, methodically counting out the seconds, letting his innocuous threat settle with Rok. The sun tanned soldier, with a defined jaw and a aquiline nose, grinned wide as if he grinned from horizon to horizon, white rectangular prisms locking out the world like a jailor’s cells. Rok felt stymied, abashed, and naked, as if this soldier with his threat — if not in word then in meaning — had stripped the leather trappings he worn and laid his body bare beneath the baking sun.
He continued, “Miqo’te, meek, you seem to me,” he said me with a drawl, “to be illegally entering Ul’dah.” I thrust my eyebrows up, my mouth hanging slightly agape and tremulously gesticulated fishing for some answer not coming. “Have you papers, meek?” He asked with a widening sneer closing in the white prison his teeth provided.
I, again, was at a loss. I had went from high hopes for the soldiers who approached us to puzzlement over their behavior; and from puzzlement over their actions to a paralytic fear, stultifying and abject. The soldier held my gaze more with his sneer than with his eyes. He still rested the tip of his spear at the lip of the carriage, now sliding it along the point, now absently sliding back along the traced path. I felt the hot wind across my face and across the beads of sweat on my brow. It was dry and heavy, carrying no sound along its long travel. The cacti, some towering over Roegadyn, others a height of Lalafel, resolutely stood and dotted the landscape, their shades of green varying among where the sun hit them, casting their shadows criss-crossed up and down the desert. My nerves echoed dully along my catatonic spine. I had never known what it meant to have power, but I now knew what it meant to have none.
I answered as precisely as I could. My agitated nerves infused my words with a tremor. “I have only my journals.” He spat on the deep yellow ground and turned back to me while his saliva was soaked into the ground. “Need papers,” he said, putting some sort of dried native plant into his cheek and moving it into position, “permission to enter,” he added after it was apparent I still had yet to completely swallow the meaning behind his words, using his hands in a crude shoveling motion as if he only needed to insultingly coerce the meaning of his easy words in. Then he spat onto the ground, but this time he rolled the black saliva like molasses through and around his immaculate white teeth; then he spat the mucus black slime onto the floor boards in front of my feet and grinned into the weary eyes, weary from undeserved fright. He chewed the cud from one cheek to the other and spat another abysmal lob, this time at the sand where a isolate dung-beetle was crawling.
The soldier hefted the long spear so that the light of the sun above glinted off the tip blinding myself and the old man in the open carriage; swinging it down it landed in the sandy soil releasing a miniature cataclysmic cloud harbingering another coming Calamity (which, even across the north seas my people had heard of, the effects of the Calamity and the defeat of Bahamut echoes still in my native land) for the organisms too tiny to see. Its point in the sand, the brigands (as I was won’t to refer to them as at this point in the encounter) had forced their hand and moved closer in towards the cart. One stayed up front with the Lalafell whose incomparable stature forced him to stay seated. He clutched the reins of the feathered mounts tightly, gritting his teeth and narrowing his eyes. We’ve stayed put too long. But, what were we to do?
And now to the point, “Let’s just say me and my friends here,” the inquiring soldier began, spitting another glob of muck onto the sandy soil, “we take, say…” counting on his fingers, “…500Gil and we’ll forget we even laid eyes on an old man and a ‘migrant,” he added with a still stinging insinuation. The soldier scratched his beard while the other soldiers with him sneered at us, chuckled at our misfortune, or took turns taking drinks from a flask. They were all unshaved, as if they had been on patrol and away from the city for a few days. It was now obvious this had been their plan all along: coyly look for smuggled goods, incite fear where necessary, and take off with Gil to line their bellies at the local taverns when their stint on patrol was over. And who would doubt their veracity? Who would believe a foreign Miqo’te and an old, salt-haired merchant who spoke little?
The merchant and I exchanged glances, he shrugged his slumped shoulders and I fatally exhaled the held breath I had been holding for an unknowable amount of time. I had acquiesced despairingly to handing over the few Gil left in my pouch in the bottom of my burlap traveller’s bag. I could hand over the potions if they thought the Gil was not enough, but they seemed eager to move on, potentially prowling the southbound road leading into Ul’dah for other foolish prey. I had just begun searching for my pouch when the soldier left up at the head of the carriage let out a high carrion-like call ushering in a frantic commotion among the soldiers. The merchant pointed at the land behind me, where now all the soldiers were looking. The the peak of the hill not farther than 100 meters from us were half a dozen of Amalj’aa.