Below is the first entry into the ‘Sayeh and Zia’ short story for this site. As with my ongoing science fiction story, the PDF of the story to date is under the ‘Stories in Progress’ page. Alternatively, bite-sized portions are available here.
Onward we go…
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The betrothed couple travelled inland towards Pasargadae, taking just over three weeks to do so. They had been accompanied by the personal guards of the Babafemi and Karawa families. A contingent of merchants, with Yafeu’s blessing, had also been allowed to travel with them.
The first three days were spent following the south-east path between Susa and Ohrmazd-Ardaser. Sugarcane fields, which had been the region’s most famous commercial good for over three millennia, lined the path between the old and new cities. Susa had been established for over twenty-five hundred years, while Ohrmazd-Ardaser had been built on the ruins of Taryana less than two hundred years ago by decree of a then-Shahanshah. Many new merchant families had established themselves in the new city, but Zia remembered reading of the Karawa family not moving due to their undying loyalty to Susa, and in a sign of respect for their predecessors.
From there, the procession turned eastward, towards the feet of the Zagros Mountains. Another week of travel, with stops in the cities of Arjan and Bachsaran, saw them arrive at the entry into the mountain pass. Zia was able to direct the procession through the cities of Basht and Masiri, using her knowledge of the paths her father used when trading with Pasargadae and other cities on the eastern portions of the mountains.
The procession was delayed at Masiri, after some of the merchants had a heated argument. Some looked to continue southward to Nurabad, as was the original path. Others wished to move northwards to Yasuj, claiming that the largest mountain city should not be bypassed. Yafeu saw the merit of the argument, and selected a group of merchant to follow a Masiri guide. A member of Yafeu’s guard mentioned three men looking to prove themselves, and that this could be their opportunity to earn a place on the caravan returning to Alexandria.
Those not selected to travel to Yasuj appreciated the extended stop in the city, as Yafeu kept a demanding pace. He had no reservations travelling through the night if bad daytime weather prevented progress, or of only stopping briefly at a caravanserai before continuing on. However, the rule he enforced most strongly was the protection of any merchandise collected during the journey. Many merchants had taken to negotiating a deal, with the intention of collecting their goods on the return journey to Susa, to ensure any goods they had already collected did not overwhelm the animals they had brought along.
The group returned from Yasuj three days later, bearing samples of goods they thought worth considering for transport back to Susa. The trio brought back some finely woven rugs and mosaic tiles, claiming they were sourced from some of the lesser known producers within the mountain town. After assessment of all the samples that had been returned to him, Yafeu was convinced of the three men’s merchant credentials, and agreed to take them back to Alexandria with him and his bride-to-be.
The trek continued further into the mountains towards the city of Kazerun, renowned for its dates and fruit orchards. From there, the winding path would lead the procession into the fine wine city of Shiraz. The many elevations surrounding the cities allowed for remarkable panoramic views, such as the cliff on the outskirts of Kazerun that allowed a majestic view across the wide expanse of Lake Parishan. The more modest Lake Arzhan awaited the travellers after circling the base of an insurmountable mountain, and indicated the final winding pass that led onto Shiraz.
When the team finally reached the end of the mountain passes, and the city of Shiraz came into view, a cheer rang out amongst the weary travellers. A full week has passed, filled with exhausting climbs and less than comfortable stops, and Yafeu keeping a pace that would run many a messenger off their feet. The abundance of vineyards leading into the city raised the spirits of the team. At Zia’s suggestion, Yafeu provided a night of well-earned festivity to celebrate the team’s survival of the perilous trek.
The path onwards was much less onerous, with the next three days travel guided by the passes leading further into the centre of Persia. Zia related to Yafeu the story of her father’s first travels as a merchant; a delivery of fine rugs from Susa to the central desert city of Yazd. Zia’s grandfather had advised Behnam to take a less onerous path as his maiden delivery, but her father has stubbornly refused. He had almost perished due to his young and brash courage, collapsing from exhaustion near his final destination at the small town of Abarkuh. Unconscious under the branches of the city’s renowned cypress tree, it had given him enough shade to recover his sun-drained wits. He was awoken by an immature cone landing on his forehead. At his request, a local had provided Behnam with the required materials to grow his own cypress, which he brought back to Susa and established his own compound around.
The building making the Tomb of Cyrus the Great marked the procession finally reaching their destination of Pasargadae. Yafeu paid his respects to the ruler who at one point had controlled over twenty countries, reaching farther than any Pharaoh had ever dared to consider.
The travel had not persuaded Zia to the virtues of her husband-to-be. Though he did the right thing in leading by example, his way of doing things seemed needlessly hard. The handful of times they could have easily spent a night in a small town, but instead he had opted to continue on and make camp in more temperamental weather. After the first few times, she was almost certain he was doing so as a way to prove his survival skills. Such things may have impressed other ladies, but Zia thought little of it.
A week was spent at Pasargadae, with Yafeu making use of an exceptionally rare situation to deal directly with merchants he had only known by correspondences that had taken months at a time to reach him. The resident merchants treated the Egyptian as if the Shahanshah himself had come to personally pay them a visit, providing as many gifts as could be loaded upon the travellers’ pack animals.
At the end of the week, the delegation from Susa made their preparations to return home. Some residents of the city vowed to accompany them home, to ensure the extra beasts of burden gifted to Yafeu did not cause any undue delays or difficulty.
With all the goods they carried, Behnam would be hard-pressed indeed to surpass them with the marriage dowry expected to accompany Zia to Alexandria. Some of the team’s eyes almost gleamed with greedy dreams of untold riches.
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