The tenth crack of a whip sounded across the caravanserai yard, the guttural howl of pain that followed it causing the nearby animals to add their panicked protests.
Yafeu had forced everyone in his caravan to watch his punishment of Sayyid. Kadir and Heydar attempted to rescue their companion after the first two whips. The pair had been quickly subdued by the Egyptian’s personal guard. The guards named Nakht and Akh pinned the arms of Kadir and Heydar behind them, while Amon stood in front of them, each hand pointing a blade to each subdued man’s throat.
Yafeu paused to look at those in the crowd, the whip in his right hand. Its point was coated in crimson, with sand sticking to it where it lay on the ground. Many looked uncomfortable at the spectacle. The kneeling man’s white shirt was cut where the whip had struck, blood working its way into its fabric. The victim’s bound hands and feet ensured they could not move to avoid the onslaught. All those watching wanted to ensure that such wrath did not turn on them.
“No-one addresses my wife-to-be when I am absent! She is mine, and mine alone!”
A voice called out from behind him. “Stay your hand!”
The Egyptian’s eyes widened as he spun to the source of the voice. Heydar struggled against Akh’s grip. The men were of like size, yet Yafeu’s guard held him with ease.
“You dare tell me what to do?”
“Sayyid did nothing to warrant this. I should be receiving those whips.”
Kadir did not struggle against Nakht, but turned an incredulous look at his friend. “Don’t be a fool. He can take the punishment.”
Yafeu stepped away from the kneeling man, striding back to the pinioned men. His eyes bordered on murderous. Tapping Amon on the shoulder, his guard lowered the blades and stepped aside. He landed a solid punch on Heydar’s left cheek, following through before reversing to back-hand Kadir’s right cheek. Both grunted from the hits.
A sneer crossed Yafeu’s face, joining flashing eyes that were made more intimidating by the kohl darkening them. “A word more from either of you, and Amon has my permission to open your carotids!”
He spun around, and strode back to Sayyid. The man had not moved, staring at the ground in front of him. Yafeu raised the whip to continue his lesson.
A lady’s voice rang out. “Enough!”
This voice gave Yafeu pause. He looked to his left, where Zia stood. She still wore a veil as he insisted, which meant he only saw her eyes. They were lined with tears that refused to fall.
“You have made your point. No-one will be absent-minded enough to speak to me out of your earshot. Let the man go.”
The Egyptian glared at his betrothed. “The rule is twenty whips for disobeying my orders.”
Zia’s eyes hardened. “And I have said ten is enough. If you have any respect for me, you will cease whipping him.”
Yafeu looked at her for several moments, frustration and admiration clashing in his eyes. Finally, he gestured to Amon.
“Get him off his knees.”
Amon stepped forward, pulling the man to his feet. He spun Sayyid around to face Yafeu. The barely suppressed rage in Sayyid’s eyes was equal to the anger in the Egyptian’s.
Yafeu leaned forward so his face was a hair’s breadth from Sayyid’s. “Be sure to thank whichever deity saw fit to have her interfere on your behalf. Only my love of her has saved you.” He looked past Sayyid to Amon, and tilted his head to the side. “Take him from my sight.”
Sayyid’s eyes narrowed slightly as Amon led him away. The whipped man hazarded a look to the lady who had caused this, and saw the tears and shame in her eyes. He gave a slight nod to thank Zia for her help.
“Nakht! Akh! Bring the other two forward.”
Zia’s eyes widened as Heydar and Kadir were brought forward and made to kneel. Yafeu took a leather strap from each of his guard’s belts, using them to immobilise Sayyid’s companions. The two struggled to avoid being tied up, receiving punches to their kidneys as reward.
Yafeu turned to face Zia, a child-like look of defiance crossing his face. “As you requested, I stopped whipping him. I always strive to be fair in my dealings with those under my charge. These two can equally share the outstanding balance.”
Each man received five lashes. They moaned piteously by the end of their punishments.
The Egyptian looked upon them with disgust. “You are both a disgrace. You and your friend are no longer welcome in my caravan. Take your goods and head for Damascus.” He turned to the crowd. “We depart for Aqaba tomorrow, so make your preparations. It will be a two week trek with no creature comforts. Harden yourselves for what awaits.”
The crowd dispersed as Nakht and Akh untied the whimpering pair. A solitary figure of that crowd remained in place. They did not struggle due to the pain, and were casually dumped beside Sayyid. The guards moved off, looking to catch up to Amon and Yafeu, who were talking as they headed into the hall of the caravanserai.
Zia walked over to the beaten and bloody men, kneeling down beside them. “I am sorry that your misfortune has been caused by me.”
Sayyid looked to her, the glint in his eyes returning. “Do not worry, my lady. Fate will ensure your husband-to-be receives his reckoning.”
– ∏ –