Strangers on a Train?
Mission: Chapter 10: Brakes on a Train
The Peacock carriage was roomy and luxurious, but Daenelia was curious what else was on the train. She'd raided the family maid's wardrobe and found a simple dress that would attract less attention, to blend in on a train with landlubber passengers.
She left the carriage and flipped a coin to go left or right. The random outcome led her to a crowded carriage with shops and shoppers. The train was remarkable stable, she thought. The swaying of the carriage was even less that that of a sky ship. Still, she managed to bump into someone carrying a bowl of noodles, which she knocked out of his hands.
"Excuse me! Sorry!" She smiled apologetically and tried to get past the man.
The man displayed impressive reflexes as he deftly caught the falling bowl mere inches from his bare feet. When he straightened again his handsome face wore a wide grin framed by a neat moustache and beard. His clothes were simple, good quality yet slightly worn; a wide cloth belt separated his billowy golden shirt and sky blue three-quarter length trousers.
"You must not mention it, Khanum," the man replied, bowing elaborately, "I was distracted and did not notice your approach; the apology is entirely mine." His accent could only really be described as exotic - Qarabian was the most obvious, but there were hints and inflections from any number of different countries and languages - yet his Brittannic was fluent, if flowery.
He stood slightly shorter than Daenelia, her heels accounting for the difference, his hair was tied into a tail high on the back of his head, the rest falling loosely to somewhere between his ears and shoulders. Daenelia's trained eye picked out various items of jewellery but seemingly no other personal items. Though the man did stand out from the crowd, it put her mind at ease to know that outlandish garb may not be as uncommon on the train as she had first thought. Her crew might not need to work too hard to blend in.
"Apology accepted," she said with a grin. She was curious, though. "You're not from around here, are you?"
The man smiled and opened his arms as if in surrender, the bowl balanced perfectly on one open palm. "My lady is most perceptive," he said. "I am a visitor to your wonderous land, this is most certainly true." The woman did not seem particularly like the rest of the passengers, and she certainly had something furtive about her, but he kept that to himself.
"I am ... Daenelia," she said. She held her head to the side, "and I am a bit hungry. Where could I get a bowl of those...?" She pointed at the noodles.
The man bowed extravagantly again, twisting the bowl with his movements so as to not so much as spill a drop of sauce. "Omar Salah, at your service, Khanum," he announced, "last of the Flying Salahs - you have heard of us, no?" He paused almost imperceptibly before continuing, "but surely, Rani, a lady of your position would choose something more befitting than a humble bowl of rice noodles suitable only for the likes of an impoverished foreigner such as myself?" The corner of his mouth curled playfully and his eyes shone.
Daenelia straightened up. Damn right, she thought. It's been too long since I had a meal that didn't have kitling-hair in it. "What would you suggest, mister Salade?" she asked, clearly mishearing his name.
"My name is Salah, Mistress," he stressed the word carefully, "Omar Salah, but it is of no matter," he waved away the error, if it bothered him he hid it well. "You have many choices Czarina," he continued, "there are several outlets of meagre provision among these very shops, ranging from these simple noodles," he glanced briefly at his bowl, now sure to be almost cold, rubbery and barely edible, yet his polite and friendly manner did not waver, "to more hearty pies and other pastries. However, in the next carriage along there is a very fine restaurant, so I am told, that is very popular among the gentle folk aboard this magnificently monstrous machine or a more modest eating room for those with simpler tastes."
He indicated the way to the carriage of which he spoke and waited for Daenelia's response, glancing wistfully once more at his rapidly congealing noodles. Daenelia's stomach rumbled, and she had money to spend, thanks to the Peacocks. But the sign next to the door said 'Second and First Class Ticketholders Only". She had to have the ticket belonging to Madame Peacock, and she lost that one to Ashrieda.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly go in there," she said modestly, batting her eyelashes. "I don't have the right ticket for that."
Omar's eyed narrowed in thought for a moment. His suspicions over this woman grew but he kept his tongue still.
"That is indeed an unwelcome complication, Khanum," he began, not asking for details, "perhaps you would allow me to purchase you something? The eating house I spoke of does a wonderful sandwich of beef," he held out an open hand, fingers curled upwards to indicate the generous portions, "they call it a 'hamburger', so I have heard, though I do not know why, and they allow customers to take it away. It is very much of the fashion, no? I can bring one to you?" He seemed ready to leave immediately, his eyes wide with expectation and feigned innocence. "It would be my most humble honour, mistress..."
Daenelia pulled out a purse. At any other time she would have let the man pay for her food but at the moment that would confuse things. Better to not have any strings attached to a free meal. "Here," she said, not considering for one minute that the handsome man would not return with food for her. "I can't let you pay for me, that would not be proper."
Omar inclined his head slightly, to hide his smile. When he looked back he seemed as if he was about to protest but appeared to pull himself together and shrugged slightly. "As you wish Czarina, if that is your custom," he said. "Please, wait right here, I shall return with your food in the merest blink of an eye." He turned, paused, then turned back and gingerly held out his bowl of noodles with raised eyebrows. "Could you..." Daenelia took it from him and he grinned, bowed his head in thanks and left the carriage.
It took close to an hour for Daenelia to realise she had been conned out of a few coins.