A young woman entered our plaza, flanked by a chaperon and a pair of guards, and I sat up straighter. She wore green silk and gold jewelry, and seemed unaffected by the heat or the noise. A disreputable part of my brain immediately pictured her naked in my bed, and, having imagined her naked, an even more disreputable part of my brain saw her staked out over coals and glazed in garlic butter. I shook my head to clear both images, but my mouth watered.
The woman looked around the plaza, saw me, and turned in my direction; I forsook the meager shade of the pushcart that served as my office and bowed from my shoulders. The girl led her entourage to my cart, and I enjoyed the view; she was both younger and prettier than I had first thought.
The girl turned to her elderly, black garbed, and obviously uncomfortable chaperon, and whispered something; the chaperon turned to me, and said, with significant disapproval, "Her Grace, the Duchess of Greenbourne, wishes to know what manner of creature you are."
It was clear that the chaperon regarded me as filthy and ill-mannered, in spite of the fact that the former was not true, and I had not yet chosen to demonstrate the latter. The girl, on the other hand... The girl seemed to be truly curious, and struck me as pleasant, in addition to being utterly delectable on a couple of levels. I chose to ignore the chaperon and looked the girl in the eye. "Her Grace will find her wishes more readily granted if she speaks with her own voice, I think, but you may tell her Grace that Baffle, son of Slaughter, of clan Rend, is a gnoll, called by some a hyena-kin." The chaperon bristled at that, and I saw that she wore a Mortality Society brooch openly; suddenly I was almost as interested in her as I was in the Duchess. Almost.
"And where do gnolls come from?" the Duchess asked; she had a pleasant voice. I considered a childish answer to her question, and fought to suppress a smile; smiling gnolls show a disturbing number of sharp teeth.
"Gnolls live far to the south, your Grace, in the Sea of Grass. It is a place of hyenas, too much sun, and too little water." I realized that the Duchess was a fountain of pheromones, a phenomenon that made her guards very nervous. They didn't effect me, much, in my gnoll form, but I could sense them, and knew what they would do to my brain if I were in human shape. I found that I was looking forward to the experience.
The Duchess studied me. "And you walked here? From the Sea of Grass?"
"No, your Grace," I answered. "Most recently, my servant and I walked to Khosht from Knor, and we arrived in Knor by ship from Khazan." She seemed both puzzled and disappointed by that, and I continued, "But in my youth I walked from my village in the south of the Sea of Grass to the city of Kartejan, and from there to Karkadan, and then up the Long Road to arrive in Khazan."