"And...who might you be?" The doorman's look was disdainful and his manner arrogant, from the glint in his eyes to the cock of his head and the note in his voice.
"Kazim and Khaled Kairos," said the former of the two. He made sure to say it before Khaled could open his mouth, too, and the little brother of the pair stewed. He made sure to gain some joy by looking around at the fountains and the green gardens, all inside the Prelate's walled mansion. Khaled wasn't a man of flora...but he did appreciate the wealth it required to maintain a house like this.
"Kairos?" The doorman mused. "Very well. Come in, and I shall set you up in the parlor."
"Thank you." Kazim inclined his head, then tapped Khaled's shoulder. The brothers followed their guide through emerald-crusted doors into a marble entryway, past busts of Prelates past and current, and past the man's brunette daughter, carefully polishing her grandfather's eyes behind a blank expression.
Khaled gave her more than a passing examination. Lithe and short, and that hair...cut short, he noted. She must have displeased her father something fierce: it had the look of new-growth. She had shapely legs and hips, too. He quite approved, even if she didn't, by her look.
"Hey." Kazim shoved him, not entirely gently. He nodded to the girl. "Morning."
"Morning," Khaled repeated, tearing his eyes away from the decoration far more lovely than any Prelate's stone face.
"In here, sirs." If the doorman had any opinion of either Khaled's staring or the girl's unseemly glare about it, he kept it to himself. Khaled shed his gloves without a care as he entered a study decorated in gold and white, and he admired the chandelier, a glistening display of Ardwal glass hanging by gilded chains and festooned with candles that emanated the scents of spring.
"The Prelate will be with you shortly." And with that, the bespectacled doorman was gone, and the door shut behind him. Khaled shook his head in wonder.
"I could get used to places like this," he observed. "Beautiful art, beautiful landscapes, beautiful..." He jerked his head to the door. "Did you see her?"
"I did." Kazim didn't look altogether happy. "Be wary of causing offense, little brother."
"Offense?" Khaled frowned. "I'm appreciative of his daughter's beauty. The Prelate will be flattered, not offended."
"I'm not talking about the Prelate."
"You mean the girl?" Khaled's frown only deepened. "You think she has a voice in his ear?"
"I think you upset her," Kazim corrected. "Be a bit more respectful. I've told you you're vain for years."
"I'm not vain," Khaled groused. "I'm far too modest to be vain."
"Life has a way of evening the scores," his brother warned. "Be careful what gods you offend."
Khaled made a noncommittal noise before resigning this to the basket of disputes he and Kazim would never see eye-to-eye on. "This house, though!"
"It's a house," Kazim agreed. "I'd love to have one half as grand as this."
"I want this one," Khaled mused. "Just this one. It's huge, it's beautiful, it's..." He coughed and steered away from commentary on the female population. "...well, it's just beautiful, that's what it is. It's a mark of status."
"It's also home to the Prelate of the wealthiest area in Ardwal." Kazim crossed his arms. "Minor details, Khaled: you're not materialistic at all."
"You like wealth," Khaled shot back. His big brother had to nod.
"If I didn't, we wouldn't be doing what we do." That was logical.
"We'll be Prelates by the time we retire," Khaled insisted, not for the first time. He dropped down on one of this Prelate's couches, and put his feet up on the arm. He fished an apple out of the fruit bowl on the table and took a sizeable bite. "One step down from Marona kings."
"Careful, now," Kazim chided. "Prelates are representative leaders of their areas. Kings? Dynasties?"
"Never in Ardwal," Khaled insisted piously, rolling his eyes. So what if a Prelate was technically not a dynast? The people knew better than to appoint anyone the last Prelate hadn't picked out. They knew better so well that the Prelates didn't bother asking them half the time.
Khaled had, more than once, bitterly resented the system of Prelates that ruled his country. But his resentment came down not to any sort of ideological distaste, but simple dissatisfaction that he wasn't the man in charge. He didn't want the system changed because he fully intended to reap its benefits for himself by the time he died.
In the meantime, he could dream: dream of gold, dream of mansions...and dream of beautiful girls.
Even if Kazim was a stick-in-the-mud.
"Look at this." Said big brother nodded, and Khaled glanced. He frowned at the glass display on the wall.
"It's a stick."
"It's a staff," Kazim corrected. "Not just a staff. That's a wizard's staff."
"Is it?" The younger of the pair frowned. "I do believe it is. How does a Prelate get one of those?"
"However he wants," Kazim posited, which was also logical.
The door opened. Khaled glanced up from his apple as in came a cannonball of a man: short and round enough the mercenary almost wanted to roll him across the floor. He pranced along in white with gold trim, beaming widely, with a vapid fool's cheer in his eye.
"You must be the Brothers Kairos!" He took Kazim's hand in both of his, mustache quivering as he shook heartily. "What is that you wear, young man?"
"This?" Kazim glanced to his gauntlets: bronze and iron interwoven, stretching from his palms back well above his elbows. He patted the large metal housings wrapped around his forearms. "Dwarven make, sir." A genius stroke, that: the Prelate could only be four and some feet tall, which suggested mountain people heritage close to hand in this house. "We have friends and reputations there. These are weapons."
"Armor?" the Prelate asked, and Kazim smiled.
"Yes, sir. And more." He mimed leveling his wrist at an enemy. "Bang."
"Splendid!" Prelate Archer's beam only widened. "You are the gunman of the two of you, then?"
"Aye. And my brother Khaled is the swordsman." Kazim nodded, and Khaled waved lazily from the couch, mid-bite of delicious red apple.
"Wonderful. You are just the men I need. Your reputations come with story and legend from far across the deserts and the mountains."
"You flatter us," Kazim demurred.
"Deservedly," Khaled added, which earned him a fraternal glare.
"I should hope so." Archer rubbed his hands together, as his doorman ushered in...
"What is this?" Khaled demanded, as the girl settled into place behind her father, head lowered very properly.
"You'll see, you'll see." Archer moved along. "I have a problem to the east. There is a pack of werewolves and worse, preying on my people. I can't stand for it!"
Or for the threat to your glass mines? Khaled almost asked. He had just enough diplomacy to avoid that question, fortunately.
"That's what you said in your letter," was his rejoinder instead.
"You came to the right team," Kazim took over, with a warning look. "We can deal with your problem...for the right price. You mentioned a 'kingly reward' for said service."
"I did! And so too shall I provide." The Prelate waved, and the girl approached, docile, hands clasped before her. "I offer you the eldest of my daughters, as servant and wife."
All eyes fell on Khaled. The Prelate frowned dangerously, and Kazim winced. The girl remained impassive, studying her toes as was her place, while Khaled guffawed.
"Is this insult you offer?" Archer demanded.
"Insult? You're the one offering insult!" Khaled wiped tears from his eyes. "You promised us a kingly reward, Prelate Archer, and you turn around and...and..."
"I offer you my own daughter," he pointed out. The girl herself might have trembled.
"My brother is simply-"
"Silence!" Archer waved Kazim down. "I want to hear what such a high and mighty man believes himself righteous in saying."
"Your own daughter. Right." Khaled snorted. "The world knows, Prelate Archer, that you have ten daughters of body. If you have so many, one is of little value. And if she were of value, as servant or wife, you would hardly fritter her away so easily." He took another bite.
"You're trying to con us out of pay," he finished, mouth full. "And I'm not having it."
The Prelate glared. The girl quivered. Kazim ground his teeth together, very pale.
"You are smart." Archer finally relaxed, and that was the glint of intelligence in those vapid eyes. Khaled nodded internally: this man was not the fool he put himself on as. "You are correct, Khaled Kairos: my daughter is of no value." He waved. "Begone, girl. Return to your work lest I require you again."
Very properly, she bowed, still silent even with her eyes hollow. Khaled turned his gaze away as she backed out of her father's presence, hands still clasped and head still down.
"Since you are far too savvy of a man to be conned like this," the Prelate concluded, as the door ground shut, "let's discuss payment."