Sayeh and Zia: Intermission 5

INTERMISSION 5:  Aqaba, Eastern Roman Empire

“Yafeu, this is madness!  You don’t even know where they would have taken her.”

The Egyptian’s eyes narrowed as he turned to face Marcus Sicilius.  The past handful of days had been a whirlwind of torment, not knowing the fate of his betrothed.  The only constant had been anger; at being fooled by the impostor guards, at having something of his stolen so blatantly, at the delay in the caravan reaching Alexandria.

“They are Sand Pirates, Marcus.  They would have headed back into the desert, to whichever forsaken hole they crawl into.”

The Roman ran his hand through his dark curly hair, his frustration barely hidden.  Yafeu had always had a temper, and a way of talking down to those his equals.  Marcus wondered again why he was bothering to help this man.  The heat of morning sun was beginning to increase, with the glare off the grey paving of the courtyard causing them to narrow their eyes.  Placing his hands behind his back, he and the merchant walked amongst the square of legionnaires standing ten deep by ten wide, both casting a critical eye over their postures and maintenance of their uniforms.

“It is not a small expanse of land they have to hide in.  The nomads have travelling those sands since before the time of Julius Caesar.  In four hundred and fifty years, it is likely that they have discovered every possible ‘forsaken hole’ that exists out there.”

“That is why you are letting me borrow a tenth of your legion.  If the Legion X Fretensis are not able to help me find Zia, their reputation will be a disgraceful lie.”

Sicilius clenched a fist, grateful that his other hand was holding the wrist.  Babafemi would have been lying on the ground otherwise, his nose flattened and bloodied.

“Our history goes back to Julius himself, and you can rest assured that the reputation is deserved.”

Yafeu sneered.  “Nothing lasts forever.  Your once-mighty Empire has split in half, with each throne being held by a snivelling child.  Both would be easy prey to the political machinations of the Prefects and Consuls.”

“You should be grateful.  Those political machinations have allowed me the time to help you.  The rest of my legion is on their way to Constantinople now, to try and quell the unrest Gainas and his Goths allies are causing.  A set of messengers travel with them, in case any news is heard on the way there regarding your lady.”

“It has been a week.  They could be past Amman by now, given a swift camel to travel with.”

Marcus nodded his agreement.  “That may be so, but the order from Arcadius was to travel with all haste.  If the pirates have made it that far north with your lady, it will only be a matter of time until my legion catches up to them.”

“I hope you are right.  There have been rumours of stolen Sand Pirate goods as far away as Antioch and Laodicea, so they are not shy of travelling into the more fertile lands.”

“They would have to.  Most of their goods would be from caravans moving between Persia and Egypt.  It would be a bold robber to try and sell their stolen wares in the lands of their victims.  There is a greater chance of selling without retribution in the north.”

The Egyptian laughed.  “Those northern merchant cities are as corrupt as the Empire they reside in.  I would not doubt for a second that they find their own way to cut a piece of profit form the illicit activities they turn a blind eye to.”

The Roman levelled a challenging glare at Yafeu.  “You had best watch your tongue.  You wish to be a hypocrite by accepting help from the Empire you are so heartily deriding?  You can always find your lady on your own.  Arcadius would appreciate another hundred men being sent to his aid.”

Yafeu huffed, before replying in a sickly sweet voice that bordered on sarcasm.  “Forgive me, Marcus.  My words are ill-considered.  Every empire faces challenges in law and order when they reach out across such vast tracts of land.  Your Emperor and his consuls provide an admirable service in stopping it collapsing in a pile of chaotic rubble.”

Sicilius rolled his eyes.  “I’ll pretend you meant that.  Now, where do you intend to travel?”

“As your Emperor’s reinforcements will report any news of import from the north, I will take these men east.  The nomadic tribes head towards the regions where the water is plentiful this time of year, with the peak of the heat not far away.”

The centurion nodded as he returned to front and centre of the line of men.  “Listen well.  I am delegating my authority to Yafeu Babafemi.  You are to follow him east into the desert, and follow his orders as if they were my own.  I expect you to maintain the discipline and dignity that the Legion X Fretensis are renowned for, and to bring honour to the Emperor Arcadius.”

The square bellowed in unison.  “For the Emperor!”

Marcus turned back to the Egyptian.  “I take a risk in handing command of these men to you.  The honour of my legion now lies in your hands as well as mine.  Do not let your anger get the better of you.”

A flash of indignation went across Yafeu’s eyes.  “As long as I get my revenge at some point in the near future, all will be well.  The fools who kidnapped Zia will know punishment in excess of what Setesh would deem necessary.”

“Yes, that.  Keep it in check.”

The Egyptian turned to the legionnaires.  “Marcus Sicilius is most gracious in allowing me the honour of commanding you in the forthcoming days.  I will not pretend that the desert will be forgiving, as we head into the hottest days of the year.  Every convenience or favour I can call upon will be used to minimise the trials, as long as I know that I can rely on your loyalty.”

The unified voices rang out again.  “Yes sir.”

“Thank you.  Let us collect our supplies, and then we shall begin our recovery mission.”

– ∏ –

 

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2 responses

  1. Babafemi’s a jerk, and I’m hoping he’ll get his comeuppance, sooner rather than later, or slowly and surely, whichever it’s to be. This is a good intermission piece, and I’m waiting for the rest to come along.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Doc =)

      Yes, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Yafeu…

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