Long, long day, Alibaba thought much later, heading through the village to Jahan’s family house. At least he knew this time the odd looks he was getting had nothing to do with any trace of a cool breeze. No one was getting close enough to feel it.
Good. Because this is kind of ridiculous. “Madam Sindukht,” Alibaba called out at the doorway, definitely not venturing inside toward that swarm of awed young eyes. “Do you have a small fish you wouldn’t mind getting rid of?”
“Alibaba, what on earth-?” The lady of the house stepped out of the doorway, youngster in arm, and stared.
Alibaba reddened, knowing what he looked like. Ends of his hair crisped. One edge of his rolled-up cloak dark with heat. Bits of sand and dried sea-salt clinging where he hadn’t been able to brush it all away. And most daunting of all, a six-foot salamander krait coiled smugly over his shoulders, tongue occasionally flicking near his earrings.
Gently, not shifting his arm more than he had to, Alibaba pointed a thumb at lazy scales. “I’m hoping I can bribe her off with a fish.”
From the stifled noise behind her hand, Sindukht wasn’t sure whether to shriek or break down laughing.
“Oh, wow!” Dina stared up at him. “Grandpa is going to yell at you so hard.”
“I bet he will,” Alibaba agreed ruefully. “I just leaned against a rock, honest.”
Dina waved a scolding finger, just like her mother. “He’s going to yell at you so much.”
“Dina, go get one of the crab baitfish.” From the giggly tremors in her voice as Dina ran off, the lady really was trying not to laugh. “You leaned on a rock? The older females usually don’t leave the water unless they’re going straight to a flame vent.”
“The rock might have been on fire,” Alibaba admitted.