The visitors had arrived just as the Bedouin tribe was preparing to assemble camp. Sayeh had quickly joined in the building of the tents, urging Zia to do the same with whoever would accept it. The Persian walked amongst the almost manic activity, everyone seeking some respite from the relentless sun and glare from the sand. After a time, she had found a group of elderly tribesfolk, who had eagerly accepted her offer of help.
Within an hour, the tent city had been assembled. The men moved off to the edges of the camp, looking amongst their herds to decide which animals would be eaten, while the ladies remained in under the shade. Zia gave any help she could provide, remembering all the tricks of food preparation that her mother had taught her. The elderly ladies were each preparing a bowl of rice, using their unique blends of spices, olives, chickpeas, and other food items. They provided her with a bowl, generously sharing any ingredient she was able to gesture for, and not making a point of Zia’s inability to speak the language. The process brought a tear to her eye. To her surprise, she realised that it was her first feeling of homesickness since being abducted.
As the sun began to set, the heat of the day finally began to lose its edge. The men had returned with the unlucky camels and sheep, their leader and other nominated men beginning the carving. Those not cutting were tasked with assembling a long rectangular campfire, ready to spit the animals.
When the sun fell below the distant rock formations, the camp congregated around the fires to share the wealth of meat. Aziz sat at the top of the long fire, enjoying a haunch of roasted camel. His wife had practically pushed the ladies to the seats of honour beside him, urging them to take their fill of food. The leader carved a large portion of his meat for each guest, who accepted the gesture gratefully. The tribe eagerly reached for the piles of meats, bread, rices and dates at the edges of the fire.
The Persian ate and smiled at those who looked her way. The ladies she had shared a tent with earlier in the day came up to share their meals, speaking excitedly to the perplexed lady. Sayeh, in an animated conversation with Aziz, looked over with a grin on her face. The tribe leader followed her eye, and listened to the old ladies’ words. As he spoke to them, they promptly grabbed a nearby rice dish and held it to him, nodding in Zia’s direction.
Zia looked to Sayeh. “They get this excited over food?”
The Sand Pirate gave her a bemused look. “We are in a desert; food is not exactly plentiful. Anything new or rare can get them excited.”
Aziz suddenly yelled out, nearly everyone around the fire looking to him in surprise. He began to speak excitedly in Zia’s direction, gesturing wildly and bowing his head. She watched him, unsure of his meaning or his words.
Sayeh grinned. “Aziz is saying that this is the best rice he has ever tasted. He is insisting you share the recipe with his wife before you leave.”
The Persian smiled, accepting his compliment as best she could. “It is my mother’s speciality. The whole Karawa household got excited when she prepared it for special occasions.”
Sayeh communicated her words to Aziz, whose eyes widened. He motioned to Zia, speaking in a more reserved tone.
“He has heard of you. The story of your betrothal and an Egyptian merchant crossing the desert to collect you even made it to the wandering tribes.”
She blushed at her unexpected celebrity. “Surely I am not that noteworthy. He flatters me.”
Aziz ate some more of Zia’s rice before passing it back to the elderly ladies, making a grand show of his enjoyment. She laughed and bowed at his compliment. As he looked at her, a confused look crossed his face as he looked back to Sayeh. He looked between them again before he spoke with the Sand Pirate.
“He says that he did not notice earlier, but we bear the most surprising resemblance. He did not know that I had a sister.”
She returned her attention to Aziz, Zia watching as they conversed for a time.
“I told him that I did not know, either. That is why we are headed to Sakakah to speak with Shamali, and to send word to my mother to request her presence.”
Zia nodded. “I just realised that I have not asked your mother’s name.”
“Her name is Hafthah.”
“How long do you think it will take for her to reach Sakakah?”
“Riding at a normal pace, a camel within the An Nafud can reach Shamali’s caravanserai in just under a week. Travelling alone, it should take two or three days depending on her mount.”
“That is not too long a wait. We can only hope Yafeu does not predict our route.”
The Sand Pirate laughed. “Even if he did, he would not be able to reach us so quickly. I would believe it more likely he would search along the King’s Highway, heading north to Damascus from Aqaba.”
“And your group in Petra is not in danger?”
“Of course not; Petra’s abandoned,” Sayeh said as she gave a knowing wink. “The only worry is Heydar and Kadir travelling the desert paths running alongside the path north. They are due to secure supplies, and if they are half as smart as they would have you believe, they will not find their way into Babafemi’s path.”
Aziz called out to those around the fire, Sayeh translating for Zia the leader’s toast to his honoured guests, wishing them all the best in divesting arrogant Egyptian merchants of their goods. The ladies accepted the gesture with gratitude, Sayeh giving her own speech to thank them for their hospitality. The tribe’s cheese reserves were brought out to complete the dinner.
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