INTERMISSION 4: Aqaba, Eastern Roman Empire
The sound of hammering fists on wood echoed down the street, as an exhausted camel sat on its haunches in the middle of it. That it was almost midnight did not stop the crazed person from causing a disturbance likely to wake anyone sleeping within a two block radius. Towering statues of a bull and a boar guarded the gate, upon which each door was a wrought iron galley. A trident ran down the centre of the gates, with the initials LXF half way down. A camel stood in the middle of the street, showing little interest in the manic man futilely attacking the gate.
“Marcus Sicilius! Open this Bes-damned gate!”
The blows were soon joined the sound of rattling metal. A night patrol of five legionnaires were rushing to the source of the disturbance. The leader ran at its head, his metal armour and helmet shining slightly in the little available light.
“Who goes there? Are you mad, making such a ruckus at this time of night?”
The dark man turned to face the patrol leader, who assessed him with a measure of disgust. The disturber’s short dark hair was dishevelled, the black liner around his eyes was running down his cheeks, and his Vandyke beard was disgracefully. The blue eyes had a dangerous edge to them, like a cornered animal looking for a chance to attack.
“Get Marcus Sicilius out here now! The matter is of utmost importance!”
A metallic groan sounded. The trident split down its centre as the gates were pulled inward. A figure stood there, rubbing his eyes. He wore a white cotton tunic, and little else. The night hid much of the compound in shadow, with the cobbled pathway and the white walls of the imposing central building the only visible things.
“By the gods! Mars leading an army of the damned could not make more noise.”
“Marcus! Thank Bes you’re here. You must help me. They took her!”
The Roman ran a hand through his curly hair, his unfocused eyes showing that his mind was resisting waking up completely.
“By Jupiter! Is that you, Babafemi?”
“No, it’s the ghost of Caesar,” Yafeu responded sarcastically. “Of course it’s me, you fool. There is not time to waste. I need your fastest messengers.”
“Forgive me; I fear I had one too many psykters of wine tonight. Who has taken who?”
The Egyptian rushed forward, grabbing the front of Marcus’ tunic in both hands. “Who do you think has been taken, you drunken idiot? My betrothed was stolen from me in the desert.”
“Of course, of course.” The sleepy man rubbed his eyes yet again, Yafeu’s intense gaze doing little to unsettle him. “That is completely unlike you. You’re most scrupulous in ensuring your goods are protected at all times. How did this happen?”
“Some devils stole the forms of my personal guards. One of them prepared a meal for my lady and I, and they must have drugged it. I was eating, and the next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor and Zia was gone.”
“Ah yes, now I remember; the famed beauty of the Lady Zia of Susa. Were the stories true? I always take the stories of an exotic beauty in a far off land with a grain of salt.”
“Of course they were. Do you not remember the stories I told of her when we were younger?”
“Those were always the tall stories of a lovesick child, Yafeu. One does not take them seriously.”
Yafeu shoved the man away, who struggled to maintain his balance. The leader of the patrol quickly moved between the Egyptian and the Roman.
“How dare you treat the Centurion of the Legion X Fretensis with such disrespect!”
Marcus patted the soldier on the shoulder. “Do not bother yourself, Antonius. This vagabond and I go back to Alexandria, before the Roman Empire was divided.”
Yafeu glared angrily. “Enough of this nonsense! We must send messengers to every town between here and Jerusalem, so they know to look for my beloved.”
“Who would these devils be, do you think?”
“I would not be surprised if they were Sand Pirates. The one posing as Amon was able to mimic him perfectly. But it must be some kind of powerful magic to steal one’s face.”
Marcus rolled his eyes. “Come now, man. You must be overtired from your travels across the desert. No person can wear the skin of another and not be readily identified.”
“I am fine! And I tell no lie.”
“Fine, fine. Where did the caravan escorting your marriage dowry reside in the city?”
“I left them behind to seek you. They will arrive in the next day or so.”
The Roman looked at Yafeu incredulously. “Your personal guard abandoned you, and you trust the caravan to manage itself? Losing your wits over a woman is not admirable trait.”
“I could have said the same for you and Hypatia back in the day in Alexandria, but such remarks would be considered rude.”
A wistful gaze crossed Marcus’ face. “Ah yes, Hypatia. A fine beauty she was, yet I could not entice her to follow me here. Such is the life of a career soldier. What is she up to these days?”
“She remains in Alexandria, and was being considered as the head of the Platonist school. The various religions fighting each other was delaying the process to some degree. Now, are you going to help me or not?”
“Yes yes, of course. Bring your camel in with you; it would not do to leave it in the street. I will arrange sleeping quarters for you, and in the morning we can discuss how we can retrieve your lost love.”
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