The hall of the Sakakah caravanserai was incredibly opulent, with immaculately kept furniture and the art of many different cultures adorning its walls. The sound of merriment ran around the room, with Yafeu’s travellers mingling with merchants who had arrived before them.
Zia sat at the wooden bench placed on a dais, in her finest green dress and veil from her old home. Shamali had insisted on placing her and Yafeu there, citing their importance and his own pride at their being here. As the owner moved amongst the seated patrons, he used their raised placing to indicate to all who would listen that he knew the very important lady since she was a literal newborn.
Yafeu had recognised a traveller, and excused himself from the table over an hour ago. She had moved to join him, but he urged her to remain at the table. The meal Shamali had provided her was a fine one, but one she had eaten in a half hour. With her betrothed away from the table, and everyone wary that approaching her would incur Yafeu’s wrath, she was left with little else to do but watch everyone else enjoy their relaxation time.
After looking over the hall for a measure of time, Zia began to feel drowsy from the lack of interest in the proceedings. Those on the floor who were making merry and conversing freely were oblivious to her, making her wonder if she should just leave from the table and return to her rooms. One of the things she had longed for was a night spent reading one of her treasured stories. After so many days seeing nothing but sand and the occasional hill, she had a fierce desire to read a seafaring story of the Phoenician Traders.
As she began to rise, she noticed motion to her left hand side. An obviously inebriated man was making his way onto the dais. She looked out across the hall for Yafeu, but he was nowhere to be seen. The man stepped up, and came to sit next to her. She felt imposed upon, and the fellow’s unkempt beard mixed with his inebriation to make him seem like any drunken beggar one might find on a city street.
“A fine view you have here, my lady.” He looked out for a moment, quickly turning his head from Zia as a noisy belch passed his lips. She grimaced at the improper behaviour, and the faint trace of the emission reaching her nose.
“It is. I would warn you that my husband-to-be would not be amused to see you up here.”
The man waved his hand. “I’ve seen you here by yourself for far too long. I would be bored, so I thought to come and keep you company.”
“I thank you for your concern, but Yafeu would not consider it a kindness. And I doubt you would consider his response a kindness either.”
He laughed. “I have had the worst done to me, my lady. Nothing your master could do would compare.”
“How could that be?”
“When a man has had his defining appendage severed, I think there are few tortures to compare to it.”
She gasped, raising a hand to her mouth. “I had heard mention of such things, but thought it a travelling merchant’s joke.”
“Indeed not, my lady. It made me more valuable for a time, since to some a man is more valuable without what he treasures most. Eunuchs still need to be useful, but I did not meet the needs of my purchaser. I was thrown outside of the city’s walls, and told death awaited me if I ever returned.”
“That is terrible. What happened after that?”
“I wandered aimlessly along merchant paths, usually finding enough pity for some scraps and a fill of my water container. Close to death, luck looked favourably upon me one day. I stumbled across a caravan that had halted on the path, so an investigation seemed a wise decision. As I got closer, moving amongst the many animals, all these well-dressed travellers were bound and on their knees. I knew that meant only one thing.”
Zia listened transfixed. “Sand Pirates?”
He nodded. “As I realised that same thing, I was noticed. Running amongst the animals, I managed to find a loose weapon. As I got closer to the edge of the grouping, I thought myself free and with a useful item. A figure stepped in front of me from the side of one of the camels. The person was slight, and of a similar height. Thinking I had the advantage, I charged in with my weapon. As I went to strike, the figure drew their sword and deflected my blade with an ease bordering on a taunt. Before I could regather my wits, a left-handed punch knocked me near unconscious. The last thing I remembered was a figure kneeling over me, and a lady’s laugh.”
“Heydar! What are you doing?”
Zia and the man were shocked out of their conversation. The person who stood in front of them glared at the inebriated man. This man was plain to look at, in bulky clothing that did not flatter.
“Saye… Sayyid! The lady looked bored, so I thought to converse…”
Sayyid’s glare cut the drunken man off. “Master Babafemi was generous enough to let us join this expedition, and you think to jeopardise it with this foolish behaviour? Get down now, before you are seen.”
Heydar rose quickly and descended the steps, almost stumbling in his haste. The remaining man turned to Zia, giving a formal bow. “My apologies, my lady. I will see that he is punished for such inappropriate behaviour.”
Zia waved away the courtesy. “He was entertaining. His Sand Pirate story was…”
The man eyes widened just as a voice bellowed above the din of the crowd.
“What are you doing up there?”
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