The very worst thing about Tabruth was the smell.
The city was nothing more than a squalid collection of unsanitary slums, huddled together in tightly packed rows and crushed around by restraining walls, which were more effective at keeping the garbage and disease in than any enemy out – and smelt worse than a fresh batch of organically produced fertiliser. Even in the allegedly luxurious rooms which he had been assigned in Tabruth’s castle – it’s most superior dwelling – Elias Bazath found the sewer stench of the place was insidious and inescapable. From a distance, Tabruth might look like a picturesque, historical reconstruction in a theme park, but close to it stank like a rotting corpse.
If the stench was the worst aspect of the place so far, there was a lot more besides that which conspired to turn Bazath’s visit into a trial of endurance. In terms of providing physical necessities and fundamental comforts, Temsevar did not even score on the baseline. If one wished to be clean – a state to which it seemed to him that few of the natives seriously aspired – it was necessary to parade naked through the castle’s very public bath house. The clothing was ridiculously impractical, seldom laundered and usually infested with parasites. The food was served so highly spiced as to be almost unpalatable to disguise the fact that much of what was served up was already half rotten. Fresh water was drawn from a well, swimming with so many impurities such that all who could afford to do so chose to drink the wine in preference. Bazath, careful of his health, simply refused to drink anything he had not treated first.
Temsevar, he decided, was an uncivilised cess-pit which had managed to maintain itself somehow by planting one foot firmly and with grim determination in pre-history and the other, more precariously in a barbaric slave economy and feudal system. The people he had met so far had done little to improve his opinion of the place. The soldiers, craftsmen and above all slaves, which seemed to form the vast majority of the population in the castle, were complete non-entities and seemed even to regard themselves as such. The Castellan was obsequious and weak, cowering behind a thin charade of haughty pride. The Warlord’s man, Commander Caer, was a surly, ill-mannered lout, and unintelligent enough to make no attempt to hide his hatred for Bazath. The Castellan’s nephew, Keshalgis, had the most to recommend him – he was almost intelligent and something of a diplomat, but even he seemed not to realise the importance and urgency of Bazath’s visit and displayed an infuriating lack of concern about the slow progress of negotiations.
He stood there now, wearing a supercilious, almost patronising, expression as he explained, through the interpreter, for the third time that the Castellan could not possibly fit in another audience with the Honoured Lord from the Stars until the following afternoon at the earliest. And would not the Honoured One prefer to spend the day hunting with himself and the Castellan’s charming lady wife instead?
It was at moments like these that Bazath realised, to his great chagrin, that he had far more in common with the filthy terrorist in the dungeons than with any of these posturing morons who considered themselves the nobility of Temsevar. He despised their immense ignorance, barbarism and over-inflated self-importance. Put any one of them on a half-way civilised planet and they would be lucky to find work as a refuse processor. But here they gave themselves grand titles and lorded it over their peers, behaving as if they were the equal of a delegate in the Coalition’s Legislature.
“Tell the simpering imbecile that I have no wish to waste my time chasing wild animals around the countryside,” Bazath snarled impatiently as the interpreter finished speaking. “I came here to transact business – to purchase a slave – and not to sample the dubious delights of primitive culture in the raw. I want to speak with the Castellan immediately.”
Although Keshalgis had reacted to the leashed anger in his tone, it was obvious that the interpreter translated the message without the insults, as Bazath had expected him to. He paid the man to put into diplomatic niceties whatever he needed to say.