As I was terrible last week, and did not post a Sayeh and Zia entry, there will be TWO posted today/tonight.
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Heydar and Kadir had carefully ridden their camels north for the last four days. Opting to avoid the mountainous path north, they had left Petra in the dead of night to cross to the east of the King’s Highway, where the terrain was much smoother. To ensure they were not spotted on the horizon, a safe distance was kept from the road, while also steering clear of any wandering tribes that might take more than a passing interest in their travels. Opting for light packages, they each had a pouch of gemstones and other valuable minerals. The money they would receive would be sizeable.
Heydar grumbled to Kadir, the early morning rise not agreeing with him. “Making these treks without Lady Sayeh is a pain. How she gets on so well with all the nomads and their chieftains, I have no idea.”
Kadir kept his eyes on the distant north horizon. “Some people just have the gift. Your gift is putting your foot in your mouth at the first possible opportunity.”
Heydar took a lazy swing at his companion’s shoulder, missing by a finger’s length. He narrowed his eyes at the laughter of his intended target, before fixing his gaze on the path ahead. Their marker to change direction, a modest ridge of hills, was coming into view.
“Once we reach the foot of those hills, Kadir, we’ll start heading north-west. We should reach the souk in Philadelphia just before the afternoon trade begins.”
Kadir sighed. “I will be thankful for a fresh piece of fruit. It does not take more than a few days to tire of dried meat. How did we ever survive the trip from Samawah to Sakakah?”
“Because of Babafemi. Say what you will about his methods of discipline, he always ensured the food was the best possible. Looking after you for this trip was bad enough, let alone bringing a sheep or goat so we had fresh meat.” Heydar rolled his shoulders, feeling the pull of repairing skin across his back.
The pair corrected their course, and arrived at the outer edge of Philadelphia at the sun reached its peak. The city bustled with activity, as expected of a Roman city. Their leader being knowledgeable in Nabataean history, Sayeh had told them of how the trading towns along the King’s Highway had come under Roman control over time. This city had once been in the realm of the Nabataeans, but was conquered some three hundred years ago, becoming part of the Decapolis, a group of ten prominent cities in the area. The righteous Romans had taken their claim to rule seriously, having the audacity to rename the King’s Highway to Via Traiana Nova once a former ruler made repairs. Sayeh had made it a small point of protest to always consider the road by its ancient name.
Kadir looked to Heydar as they stored their camels in the city’s nominated area. “Which gemstone and minerals traders are we still on good terms with?”
Heydar thought as he tied the animal’s bridle through the hole in the stone wall. “I think we annoyed Gaius Lepidus was displeased with the last deal we cut, as was Lucius Vespillo. There are plenty of other merchants throughout the souk, and the Judaean ones are usually better to deal with. They lack the arrogant attitudes of the Romans, who are always trying to sell you short.”
Kadir smirked as he nodded. Once the animals were settled and the caretaker was paid, they began their trek into the merchant area of the souk. The pair always felt a degree of unease in the long laneways of the city, being so used to the open areas of Petra and the wide expanses of the deserts when Lady Sayeh took them out on a caravan raid. The prevalence of Roman troops walking through the narrow corridors added to the tension, their oversight ensuring that no fights broke out between merchants and a customer who felt they were sold short.
Heydar seemed to shrink into his clothes. “I am not sure why, but it feels like we are being watched.”
Kadir smiled at his friend’s claim. “You say that every time we come here. Were your deals with Gaius and Lucius that one-sided, you fear they want retribution?”
“You are right; it is the confines of the roads getting to me.”
Despite his words, the sense of being observed did not leave him. The pair did their deals with the merchants, earning a sizeable pouch of coinage for their goods.
Kadir eyed his companion suspiciously. “You weren’t driving your deals as hard as you usually do.”
“I don’t want to draw any unwanted attention.”
“Are you going on about that? I have been watching the crowds, and there has been nothing unusual.”
They continued on, collecting the various array of seeds and other items that had been requested by the others who had remained in Petra. Once done, they perused the souk for themselves. Kadir was placated with several pieces of fruit, while Heydar had taken him to a kitchen he claimed made the best kebabs. Having had their fill, and buying some better food for their own trip back to Petra, they made their way back towards their camels.
When they reached the area, their camels had gone. Heydar called for the caretaker, who arrived at a swift run.
“What is the meaning of this? Where have our camels gone?”
The caretaker bowed low. “My most humble apologies. One of my underlings must have made a mistake. I will check my records.”
Heydar nudged Kadir’s shoulder, tilting his head slightly as he began to edge towards the nearest path back into the city. As they turned to run, they ran into the breastplates of a ten-man deep Roman patrol. Turning back, they saw the caretaker returning, two pieces of paper held to a man’s face. The man snatched the papers from his hand.
The pair wilted under the scorching gaze of Yafeu Babafemi.
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