On the sands of Homireia* We met and we danced In the streets of Herakleia I asked for your hand *Himyar in Pelasgian The words of the famed Tiburian popular song "The Sands of Himyar" echoed through the wide streets of the Propontine port of Hagios Simeon, between the cries of vendors and the endless chatter of the locals going about their daily business. A trio of street musicians, wielding a bouzouki, a baglamas and a violin filled Agoras Street, the large thoroughfare which cut between the Fishmongers' Market and the Flea Market of Hagios Simeon, the clicks of coins dropping inside their instruments' cases intertwining with the music. The sea of people moved to and fro on the pedestrian street, with officers of the Municipal Police posted outside the market, flanked by a few of their colleagues from the National Police. Running through the street and between the crowd was a young boy, no more than twelve years old, on his way to run some errands at the Fishmongers' Market. Stopping by the stand of a young man from Pergomeni, the boy counted the coins and bills in his pocket to make sure he had dropped no money and looked at the fishmonger's stall. Decidedly he pointed at a large swordfish he had spotted. "I'd like this one," the boy said with an air of confidence. Surprised but smiling, the fishmonger responded with a question: "The whole thing?" "Obviously not" the boy exclaimed, "My parents are hosting family and we need food for eight and a half! So... how many slices would you say?" "Who's the half? You, lil' Giorgos?" "No!" the boy protested the fishmonger's tease, "It's my aunt's baby!" The Pergomenian man let out a loud, honest laugh, closing his dark eyes and leaning slightly back momentarily. "Alright then, six slices should do it. Come back in a bit and I'll have it ready for you, cleaned and everything. Should be around seven kilos." The boy moved his head down and then back up, signifying his acceptance. He deposited one thousand oboloi (or 82 Euromarks), around half the price of the estimated seven killos based on the rate inscribed on the chalk plaque above the swordfish; the other half would be given on his return, as per local custom. Then, with impressive speed, the boy ran over to the stall of the crustacean merchant, watching the water tanks full of lobsters and crabs with an intrigued gaze. His mother had asked him to buy some little blue crabs, and if he had money to spare, he could also buy some sweetened crab legs. Luck had indeed blessed little Giorgos on that day, for he had exactly eighty oboloi (or 3.29 Euromarks) to buy the sweet confection. Clutching the shiny metallic blue box, with its intriguing drawings of crabs and ornate white lettering, the boy run back to the fishmonger's stall, a plastic bag with little crabs inside hanging from his elbow. Suddenly, the boy stopped running, having fallen on the leg of a stranger; as he fell to the dirty floor-tiles, Giorgos noticed a peculiar amulet which the stranger seemed to have dropped when Giorgos fell on him. Giorgos picked up the strange object, a small golden piece in the shape of a coin, with a featureless head crowned with a crown of thorns on the obverse, and some undecipherable writing surrounded by peculiar elongated shapes on the reverse. "Hey Mister, I think you dropped something!" he said as he looked up. His gaze fell upon a man dressed in a black suit, with dark, somewhat long hair and brown eyes. "O thank you, my good child. What's your name?" the man asked as he reached and picked up the little blue box of sugared crab legs that Giorgos had dropped and handed it over. Normally, Giorgos would know far better than to give his name to strangers; but he felt peculiarly drawn to this man, who looked so out of place in his fine suit and freshly washed hair in a market full of working class people in dirty clothes and with sweat and dirt all over them. "They call me Giorgos," the boy said. "Well, Giorgos, would you happen to know which way Dr. Gavaliotis' office is? I have an old debt to repay and I really need to see the man." The question did not need much thinking to answer. Everyone in Hagios Simeon knew of the learned and celebrated doctor with the charming and kind wife, whose rich mansion took up the space of three normal residential buildings. And giving directions in Hagios Simeon was a piece of cake even for those who did not know the place as well as the young adventurer in question, thanks to the well-organised grid of roads first built by the ancient Tiburans and still maintained by the modern Tiburians. "Oh yes, you just need to go straight for two streets, until you see the police station, and then turn right. The Doctor's office is in the red building that overlooks Naftilias Square, it's the biggest mansion of them all. You can't miss it!" "Thank you again, Giorgos. May the Gold-clad King keep you safe and healthy," the stranger said amicably, and then went on his way as directed by the young boy. Giorgos was momentarily perplexed: everyone knew the Autocrat of Tiburia wore purple, not yellow! Was this man some kind of foreigner? The little blue health insurance booklet that Giorgos' parents had been issued for him did have the Autocrat's Crown on it but one did not really need to wish for that... it was provided by law. Suddenly, his train of thought was interrupted by a realisation: he needed to get the swordfish slices! If he was late again, his mother would not let him hear the end of it. Once more, the youngster from Propontis' oldest port run off with the speed of the bullet, headed for the stall of Antonis the Pergomenian Fishmonger. ---- Later that afternoon, Giorgos made his way to the cement-floored, open air public basketball field where he and his friends usually played. With ball in hand, Giorgos quickly crossed the streets of the Tiburian capital's oldest port, a working class area full of buildings in the simplified neoclassical style, along with some more modern, simple cement, steel and glass structures. Almost all these buildings were painted white, or some light colour such as light blue and light yellow, to reflect the light of the sun which shone brightly in the hours around noon, even in early October. As he was about to cross the street he noticed a familiar face on a poster: it was the stranger from the market on a Police wanted poster. Next to it was a bulletin published by the local Archbishopric of the Orthodox Church: the symbol on the man's amulet was drawn, with a warning writ large above: "BEWARE THE SIGNS OF HERESY". Giorgos gulped in fear and froze, as he thought of what he should do.