The Tarxian expedition

Ismael is somewhat alarmed at the sight of weapons; he's learned the peasant rule that it is best not to be noticed by men of war.

"Sahir, we on Great Lord's land, perhaps men take his salt?

The men appear to be watching rather than approaching, and have noticed that you appear to have spotted them. One raises his arm in what appears to be a gesture of hailing you. Cheech takes off for the group, grins at them and sits down in front of them.

Tomas just smiles at Cheech's choice of responding to his request. And then waits to see what the men do / say to what appears to be a monkey. And also to wonder how long Cheech will choose to wait before speaking.

The men watch the monkey for a bit, then ignore it as they turn their attention back to you. After a little while Cheech comes back "They speak Arabic, they wonder why you are up here, as you are not shepherds and appear civilized. One of them spoke of grabbing you, but the leader over ruled him, saying they are only to take primitives. I think they want to talk, but are divided as to how to approach, wanting to stay safe but not provoke a fight, at least until they know who they are fighting and why."

"Thanks Cheech. Ismael, why don't you go forward within hailing distance, with Cheech net to you. Vincente and I a bit behind, without drawing any weapons. See if they will answer your questions about who they are. I think that describing us a scholars is probably still the right move."

Ismael will approach the quartet and from a safe distance hail them. "Salaam, sidi, we offer hospitality, poor though it may be. You are welcome to join us for bread and olives." Ismael is short in stature, long in tooth, and wearing old clothing. A native would immediately identify him as not from these parts, but to anyone else he might easily be mistaken for a Maltese peasant of Saracen ancestry.

"We welcome your hospitality and offer our own, let us see if our wine goes well with your olives, if the drinking of wine does not offend you."

They approach your group in a good mood.
"What brings you to these lands? I dare say you have found the place of least abundance in a land of poor abundance!"

Ismael will bow to their graciousness. Despite his peasantish demeanor, his Arabic is both refined and without accent. "Thank you for your offer, I abstain from the consumption of alcohol, but I believe one or more of my companions may take you up on your kindness. I am Ismael, in service to these scholars. They do not speak the civilized tongue and I translate for them, although I understand them only slightly less poorly. They seek knowledge of where the ancients lived and stories have led them here. Are you in service with Count Henri? I believe these men or their compatriots are in correspondence with the Count's men."

"Not Count Henri, but Abdul-Azim-Faquesh, whose lands these are under treaty. I fear their tales have led them astray, the only ancients around here dwell in caves and have no wisdom to speak of."

"I do not know your lord, can you enlighten us with tales of his fame?"

With a strong tone of irony the man intones "For certain, the family Al Faquesh has held these lands since they were seized from the Byzantines in the Jihad where they were called to serve, and the grandfather of Abdul-al-Faquesh bravely defended his territory by acknowledging the rule of the Sicilian counts over the island and pledging his fealty to the same. Abdul now follows in his grandfather's footsteps from afar, defending his claim by making sure he is little taken notice of while he uses the few resources of this land to help fund his ambitions at home." The man grins broadly "speaking of which, if you have beyond a passing interest in this hill, I can certainly pass along any requests you might have to his most esteemed lordship."

Vincente accept the offer for wine with, which while not the best he had is refreshing nonetheless. Throughout the conversation, he will try to remain close to Tomas, and ready to draw his sword if need be. He will also listen to the conversation, however modest his mastery of the arabic language might be.

Ismael will translate for the others, but continues to ask questions about their sultan. "A Sultan in absentia? Sounds like an ideal lord for those who remain behind. Is there a vizier who rules in his stead, or does he rule from across the waves?"

Looking around as we eat and talk, is there any sign of ruins? If so, ask Ishmael to inquire about them. The initial notes indicated ruins, but that may have been misleading. The conversation seemed to imply they know of something buried. So if I don't see anything, try to inquire about that. Also try to find out if there are any odd "events" associated with this piece of land.

"More Vizir in absentia than sultan I think. To be honest my grandfather knew more of which rank meant what. I know we have been given the job of patrolling these lands for the primitives, who are to be sent on to his other estates, and collecting taxes from the shepherds, mostly in milk, wool, and mutton enough to keep ourselves strong and equipped. If you know of anyone looking for wool blankets, we have some for trade." He smiles benevolently at this "Mostly people try to avoid this hill, it makes them uneasy, as to what lies beneath, the whole of these lands is covered with hidden caves and lost bits of ancient stones and other such things. If your scholars would be interested in buying them we could start collecting them."

'Who are these primitives that you speak of? It sounds like you mean something different than the peasants of this isle. Anf yes, they might be interested in stout woolen blankets, as well as a steady supply of mutton. They seek to settle somewhere in these lands and know little of herding."

When that bit about collecting ancient stones is translated, Tomas looks thoughtful for a minute. "I think that we would prefer, over time, to arrange for permission to explore and collect ourselves. Our former leader was very big on looking at things where they were found first. Hmm. I can understand why this area would make folks nervous. There must be quite a lot down there. Not a great place for a hospital though. And as you observe the locals have not made a good living of the area." (pause) "Are you and your men simply so used to the area that it does not bother you, or so armored by Allah as to be safe?"

"The area they avoid is small, and the primitive avoid it as well, at least as far as we know. The primitives, no we do not mean shepherds, the primitives have lived here since before the Moors took these lands, they are rumored to have been here since before the Romans, they live in caves with little clothing, emerging at night to live of the land, except when they steal the occasional sheep."

Does Ismael know anything about the primitives? He's been on Malta long enough to get pretty good area lore (5), coincidently specializing in history. I don't want to use this to spoil any "discovery" stories, but it could be a convenient way to funnel info.

Ismael would have heard of them- apparently when the Romans first colonized Malta there were some indigenous people who went into hiding in the caves of the island where they have been living since as troglodytes. They are regular human beings who happen to dwell in caves, though there are stories of them abducting children or being giants. The second might be possible if a group is living in some kind of high level aura underground, but otherwise they seem to have been developing their own independent culture, and most people tell the odd story about them and don't go exploring too far into caves...