Sayeh and Zia rode for almost a week at a breakneck pace. The three day timeline dictated by Yafeu was a physical impossibility, yet still they pushed the camels for sixteen hours a day. They felt pity for the poor animals, yet the ladies could not bear the thought of Heydar and Kadir suffering further for their delays. Hafthah had demanded to come along, but both daughters had convinced her not to. They did not know how vengeful Yafeu would be, and there was the chance that her presence could bring Zia’s secret parentage to light, and cause untold trouble for her parents back in Susa. Further to that, it was agreed that a mask would have to be worn, to ensure the Egyptian could not track them down later on.
On their sixth day of travel, the ladies approached the site of the fateful kidnapping. A tent camp had been erected, and through the ripples of desert heat it did not seem rife with activity. The glint of one Roman sentry’s breastplate was visible, and his call into the site quickly drew out his fellows. Their commander was barely a second behind them, edging his way to the front of their group in order to observe the approach of his bride-to-be, and her impertinent abductor.
When the two figures were close enough for him to peruse them, his betrothed did not appear in any state of distress, despite her hands being bound to the reins of her animal. Looking at the other, he was disgusted to see that the abductor had retaken the dark-skinned guise of Amon. Murderous rage flashed in his eyes as he remembered the horrific gift he had awoken to after Zia’s disappearance. Pondering what evil magic could allow one to steal one’s appearance, he ordered three soldiers to remove the pair from their mounts.
Amon sat up in the saddle, a look of condescending indignance across his face. “Keep your men back, you sadistic dog. Obey me, or I will be forced to exact some revenge on your lady.” From within their sleeve, a blade sleekly slid into their hand. Reaching an arm over to his wife, they roughly pulled the bound lady to them, placing the blade at their throat.
The approaching legionnaires quickly halted, eyes kept on the pair as they awaited orders.
Yafeu returned the gaze, the anger evident in his icy blue eyes. “Do so, and you will not leave here alive. Let Lady Zia dismount and come to me, and you may yet live.”
The blade was pressed closer into the bound lady’s throat, her eyes wide with shock and fear. “May yet live? For a merchant, your negotiation skills leave something to be desired. I live, or she does not.”
The Egyptian raised his hands in submission, concern edging the anger from his eyes. “Very well. Drop your weapon, and I swear by Bes himself that I will honour my word. To attack an unarmed person is a great dishonour.”
Amon’s eyes narrowed, not leaving the Egyptian and his support. Once dismounted, they assisted the captive to do the same. Yafeu closely watched the blade that remained in the impostor’s hand, its honed edge approaching his bride.
“Do not be foolish. You cut her in any way, and your life will be forfeit.”
The abductor placed the knife under the rope binding the captive’s hands, slicing easily through the fibres. Freed from the binding, the terrified lady ran towards Yafeu and the legionnaires. The Egyptian strode forward and accepted her as she stepped into his embrace.
“My dear, I was so worried. Did they harm you at all?”
His betrothed shook her head. “No, they treated me well. They said that damaged goods would not return the ransom they sought.”
His eyes flashed with resentment. “Ransom? That was their plan?”
“Yes. The plan was to hijack a significant portion of the dowry, but instead they sought revenge for your whippings by kidnapping me. By doing so, they hoped that an even greater ransom could be sought.”
“How dare they!” He pointed the guards to the impostor. “Seize him!”
The three Romans quickly moved to subdue the target. Amon raised his hands in the air, dropping the blade to the ground as he did so.
“I am unarmed. Keep your word, or is your disgracing the God of Commerce of little concern?”
Yafeu sneered. “Removing one more thief from the world serves his purpose. I will see you thrown in the worst dungeon, where daylight will never fall upon your villainous features ever again.”
The Romans now surrounded him, two commandeering an arm while the other stood at their back as they guided the impostor towards Yafeu. Removing his arms from his bride, the Egyptian stepped forward and lashed out with a vicious backhand that caught the abductor across the cheek, before landing a solid blow to their stomach. The subdued prisoner tried to double over, but was held upright as they gasped for air.
“Yafeu! Stop it!”
He turned to consider his betrothed. “You seek mercy for them again? You ask too much.”
Zia looked at him with impassioned eyes. “They could have still demanded the ransom, or even brought their supporting forces. But, instead, a single person brought me, and no mention of recompense for my return was made. Your letter had their accomplices’ fingers; do they live?”
Yafeu looked to the soldiers behind her, flicking his forefinger towards the camp. Two legionnaires ran off, and returned several minutes later with two bound men. Both looked as if they had not been fed, and bruises indicated a significant amount of abuse. On their tied hands, their index and little fingers, as well as their thumbs, were all that remained.
The men looked up to see the one who looked like Amon. “My lord, forgive us.”
Amon looked to Yafeu. “Return them to me, and we will swear an oath to never operate as desert robbers ever again.”
The Egyptian gave a look of contempt. “You have no right of request or demand.”
His wife walked up to him, trying to hold his arms to his side. “Please, Yafeu. I have been returned unharmed, and you still have the dowry. They have nothing. Accept their promise to mend their ways, and let them leave. If they do not keep their word, the gods will punish them.”
Yafeu considered the words. “Legionnaires; search the animals and the captor for further weapons. Take all you find, as well as the blade on the ground. Once satisfied, see them on their way.”
As the three searched Amon, Yafeu and his bride turned and walked into the camp. Their tents were rapidly dismantled, and within the hour the Romans were ready to return to Aqaba. The trio took the weapons they had commandeered, stopping only to sever the ropes binding Heydar and Kadir.
The impostor Amon watched as Yafeu led the legionnaires back to their home garrison. He had left with his wife-to-be, and with the marriage dowry fully intact. Speaking the magical incantation, the mask fell into her hands, her dark skin returning to its original tan complexion as the mask returned to its wood-grain finish.
Kadir looked to her with his miserable, beaten face. “We are sorry, Lady Sayeh. We had the perfect bartering item for that dowry, and now we have nothing to show but these.” He held up his hands, four barely healed knobs where the fingers should have been. “I hope Lady Zia does not suffer at that monster’s hands; she was a wonderful lady, and deserves happiness.”
Their leader nodded in agreement. “Gentlemen, I believe this adventure has taught us a lesson. I do not wish to see more people suffer because of my actions. It is time to close the book on our lives as Sand Pirates.”
The two men looked at her in amazement. “What will we do then?”
The lady smiled. “Let’s return to Petra. We’ll discuss the issue with everyone.”
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