My apologies for the slight delay. The scene ended up at almost 1500 words instead of the standard 1000 or 2 page limit. I hope the wait was worth it =)
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While her world had been dark for the past day, Zia appreciated being conscious.
Preparing the camels for the day’s travel in the early morning light, Kadir had questioned his leader.
“Why not make her sleep, my lady? We do not want her to remember the path between Maan and our hide-out.” His voice was slightly more nasal due to the previous night’s event.
The lady pretending to be Amon rounded on him, grabbing his injured nose. Kadir’s groan of protest was stifled by the lower portion of her hand covering his mouth.
“I am not a fool, Kadir. Question my judgment again and I shall make my own adjustments to your nose.” He grabbed his nose as she let go. “Using that herb too often can have dangerous side-effects, and she will be of no value to Babafemi in a damaged state.”
Heydar wisely focused on preparing his own animal, with a subdued snicker drawing an angry glare from Kadir.
Amon kneeled down to Zia, who sat on the ground, bound hand and foot. Her icy gaze had little effect on her kidnapper.
That feminine voice from a male’s face still jarred Zia’s observations. “Kadir does have a point, though. A blindfold shall be sufficient.”
Zia spoke with a measure of indignation. “I have never been in these lands before. I wouldn’t know what I was seeing.”
A mocking smile crossed the impostor’s features. “The child of a merchant not knowing the trade routes? I would not dare take that chance. You know where we are now, so you already know too much.”
Reaching for the veil of Zia’s tagelmust, Amon lifted it to cover her whole face, and tightened the binding so it remained in place.
The three abductors, after tying their prize tied to the back portion of the leader’s camel, made their way out of the town. They took a winding path through Maan, ensuring Zia’s sense of direction was unbalanced, before heading out towards their base of operations.
The day passed in a torturously slow manner. Tightly bound, her vision subdued to a bare hint of light reaching through the tagelmust, there was nothing to stimulate her mind other than remembering her beloved stories, now far away in Yafeu’s caravan. Wondering on what her betrothed was doing now, Zia allowed the rhythmic rocking of the camel’s movements to guide her into sleep.
A new sound reached her ears, waking her from her resigned slumber. The camels walked still, but their steps seemed to echo. The change in her surroundings stirred her other senses, with her vision still restrained. The relentless sunlight upon her back was no longer felt, and her sense of direction indicated an undulating path was being followed.
The now well-known feminine voice was heard. “You stir.”
“Where are we now?”
“We have arrived at the entry to our hide-out.”
“Can you at least lower my veil? Is there anything here you expect me to recognise?”
A moment of considered silence passed, until the animal ceased moving. “Well, I guess not. There is little chance of you being able to escape, since we are a day removed from anywhere of note. Kadir, Heydar. Dismount our guest, and loosen the bindings on her feet.”
Zia almost fell at the sudden jolt of her feet on solid ground. The lack of the camel’s rocking motion seemed to make her own body compensate, making it hard to balance even with her foot bindings being untied and reset at a walkable length. She remembered reading of Phoenician sailors struggling to walk on land after a long time at sea, a sensation described as ‘sea legs’.
A small piece of light appeared above her eye line, and eight fingers pushed their way into the gap. The fabric was lowered to its former setting, and what greeted Zia took her breath away. An amazing building was carved into the side of a cliff, with the setting sun’s effect adding to the depth of the ochre colouring.
“Is this Petra?”
The one posing as Amon turned their head in surprise. “How did you figure that out?”
“Yafeu mentioned it recently, saying it was a great city now abandoned by man and haunted by ghosts.”
“Your husband-to-be knows his merchant paths, past and present. The Babafemi family is renowned for such a thing.”
The four figures, with their tired animals in tow, headed to the right. Zia, being led by the impostor Amon, turned to take in the spectacular vision of the building, before looking forward again to be amazed again. More eye-catching buildings were carved into the cliffsides, and the widening expanse lead to a descent towards a wide plain. Once they walked upon the lowered plain floor, Amon lifted his fingers to his mouth and made a shrill sequence of whistles, making Zia wince as the noises echoed around the deathly quiet area. They continued diagonally across the grounds, the newcomer looking in wonder at the buildings both carved into the walls and placed on the plain’s floor.
Reaching a path ascending into the rock faces, the sound of many people running started to grow. Before long, a group of some thirty men and women had descended the steps and surrounded the weary group. Many seemed taken aback at Amon being the first face they saw.
“We are back.”
At the sound of the lady’s voice, the group cheered and excitedly welcomed their missing team members home.
Zia heard a man walking next to Amon ask a question, though it was difficult with many voices filling the passage. “You said there would a treasure trove worthy of a Pharaoh! Where is it?”
“It is not here, though we can still get it. Heydar and Kadir will confirm that the caravan was larger than what we thought. In fact, I found a way to have our lovelorn Egyptian merchant prince hand it over willingly.” A tilt of the head in Zia’s direction indicated the intention of the Sand Pirate leader.
The man laughed. “With headgear like that, he must have been trying to hide her ugliness.”
At the top of the passage, Zia saw another building very similar to the first one she saw once her blindfold had been removed. A set of troughs was set up along the far sides of the area, with some camels eating from them while other lazed under any piece of shade they could find.
Once the weary camels were lead to the troughs, and their riding gear removed, the three bandits led their prize into the building. Amon led Zia to the far side of the main room, and up the steps to the raised area. The impostor put their hands to their face, and Zia heard some words murmured behind them. She watched in horror as the side of their face changed from the dark tan of Amon to a wooden finish, and the hands lowered with a mask. Zia looked at her abductor’s true face, and her horror mixed with bewilderment.
“How is it possible?”
“Quiet.” Sayeh turned to address the audience, Kadir and Heydar at the front of the press. “I regret not keeping my promise of returning with untold riches. Know that the treasure is everything we imagined and more. Even had we taken you all, we could not take it all and store it here in the dried or abandoned caverns. With Kadir and Heydar’s help, we have stolen something even more valuable: the merchant’s wife-to-be.”
The room filled with the roar of approval from the Sand Pirates. Sayeh looked to her two companions, and was surprised by their unsettled looks.
“But now, I claim my right as your leader, and will open the treasure. As Zia here is not a treasure chest, seeing what hides behind this head garment shall suffice.”
Sayeh turned to Zia, whose eyes were still wide with shock. The fabric of the tagelmust was unwound with a degree of care, until the face cover was removed. The Sand Pirate looked upon Zia’s face, and her own face took on a look of shock. She grabbed the crown of the tagelmust, yanking it off.
“What sorcery is this?”
The pair looked at the crowd below, who looked at them with a rising degree of surprise. The many voices rose up, asking what joke or magic was at play here. Kadir and Heydar looked at each other, a knowing look passing between them before turning back to their leader and her prize.
Despite different hair styles and some bruising on the abductee, the two ladies had the exact same face.
One would think they were twins.
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