Before we jump into the next portion of ‘Sayeh and Zia’, I must apologise. Past scenes have said that the procession were headed to, and had arrived in, Arar. I double-checked my research, and saw that the city is only 62 years old! Definitely not in the 400AD timeframe that the story is set.
The previous scenes have been adjusted so that the caravan were heading to Sakakah, which has existed for over four thousand years. The procession are now headed for another city, one that has been in existence since 4000BC. The modern-day city is the only seaside city in Jordan.
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INTERMISSION 3: The Arabian Desert
The procession departed Sakakah, commencing the second half of their trek across the roof of the Arabian Desert.
As Yafeu had promised, the three whipped men were removed from the caravan to Alexandria. He had ordered Amon, Nakht and Akh to escort them a day towards Damascus. The trio were trusted enough by the Egyptian that they would find their way back to the group before they reached their destination.
The weather had grown much hotter in the previous three weeks. Though the distance between Sakakah and Aqaba was almost equal to the previous trek from the Persian edge of the Arabian Desert, the rising heat would ensure that the next two weeks would be pure torture. Such conditions were sure to test the endurance of the travellers, and their ability to resist challenging their water rations. The punishment of the discarded trio remained fresh in everyone’s minds, providing them a reason to restrain themselves from challenging the Alexandrian’s leadership.
The hills of the area rose higher than they had between Samawah and Sakakah, leading to murmurs among the group that the hills had eyes. Yafeu moved amongst them, promising that there was nothing to fear from any nomadic folk that they may happen to pass. He mentioned that some of the city-shunning desert-dwellers had suspiciously fashionable clothing, including tagelmusts such as his wife-to-be was wearing.
A nervous traveller found the nerve to query Yafeu. “How could they?”
The Egyptian shrugged nonchalantly. “Lax caravan supervisors may have found themselves lighter a camel or three by the time they reached Sakakah. Other than that, maybe a Sand Pirate was particularly generous one day.”
The questioner laughed nervously, while the others nearby looked around nervously. Just surviving the desert trip was enough to focus on, let alone the chance that Sand Pirates may see fit to attack them.
A hard edge came to Yafeu’s eyes. “You are nervous about the Sand Pirates? Do not be. They have never been able to offload any of my cargoes, and that was when one of my trusted team led a caravan. If they dared attempt to steal from me when I am in the caravan, they would know pain that would make them beg for death.”
The comment caused the men to shudder, and to focus back on their own affairs. Yafeu continued his rounds, trying to reaffirm the team’s confidence.
As he did so, Zia sat near the front of the procession. No one but Yafeu had spoken to her since they had left the desert caravanserai, causing her to become lonely. She found a measure of relief by retrieving one of her books from a nearby camel. The stories of seafarers allowed her mind’s eye to travel far from the monotonous continuation of sun-bleached sand and wind-eroded ridges.
A week into the trek to Aqaba, a message from the rear of the procession made its way up to the leader and his wife-to-be. There was slight rising of sand on the near horizon, not enough for a sandstorm but enough to consider evasive measures. Yafeu, taking Zia with him, moved to where the originator of the message shuffled along. Eyes squinting, he watched the sand cloud slowly move closer.
Some hours after the initial sighting, a trio of riders were sighted.
Yafeu turned to Zia. “Look, my dear. My guard have finally caught up to us.”
Face hidden behind the tagelmust, she looked in the direction her betrothed was indicating. “Should it have taken them a week to catch up to us? I thought it would have been three days at most.”
He looked to her with a small measure of respect. “You are quite observant, my love. Only my best underlings notice such things. You would have made a fine caravan leader, should you have been born a male.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly at his derogatory compliment.
The chasing trio finally caught up to the tail end of the caravan, where they drew many wary eyes. Yafeu and Zia made their way to their position.
The three looked ragged, as though they had not ceased travelling for many a day and night.
Yafeu greeted them warmly. “Welcome back, my friends. I trust that there were no troubles from our dearly departed?”
Amon rode closest to his master, with Nakht and Akh flanking him a camel length behind. “No, master. Some choice remarks about yourself, hoping that Bes curse you and your sorry excuse for a caravan.”
The merchant laughed. “The fools! It is their loss that they now travel to Damascus. It may have unique riches of its own, but Alexandria still shines brightest of all merchant cities.” He considered the men’s appearance for the first time. “Take any man’s water ration for yourself, and I will seek out some food for you to eat as we travel onward.”
Zia considered the three men as they rode side by side with their master, speaking of the eventful moments of their previous week. There was something different about them, but she could not convince herself of the reason why. The extended pursuit looked to have taken a toll, their sitting in the saddle a measure less upright than she remembered, and their presentation somewhat less refined.
Amon took his eyes off his master, looking directly at her. There was a different look in his eye than she remembered. There had always been an edge to his eyes, but the edge now seemed to be borne of anger and not a soldier’s dedication to his task.
Zia averted her eyes, looking onward to the desert path that remained until the caravan reached their coastal destination. After almost a month of seeing nothing but sand and stone, a proper body of water would bring joy to everyone.
The guard considered Zia a moment longer, a small smirk turning the corners of his lips before he returned his attention to Yafeu, who was discussing what preparations would be of utmost importance once they reached Aqaba.
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