After a full year, the saga reaches its end. Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback and encouragement over the course of the novella, as every piece has been considered in trying to improve the reading experience. I hope the conclusion proves satisfying =)
Without further ado…
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EPILOGUE: Alexandria, Egypt
The Egyptian merchant community gathered for the occasion in the opulent Temple of Bes, residing in the heart of Alexandria’s commerce district. Dignitaries from as far as Persia had travelled a great distance to attend, and lined the hall for the sombre ceremony.
A lady in a robe of blackest velvet and lace stood at the altar. The grand location was one of the few that had not been torn down by Christian dissidents in the past five years, with the pagan beliefs coming into conflict with the rapidly increasing acceptance of Christianity. The conflict had come to a head when Hypatia, the then-head of the city’s Platonist school of thought, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by zealous Christians. The gruesome manner of her death had shocked those from both sides of the faith divide, and since then an uneasy peace had been observed. The temple’s protected location in the centre of the city’s merchant district had saved it from destruction, as had the plentiful recruitment of mercenaries to protect it.
Despite the city’s discord and upheaval in the past two decades, the man many considered the greatest merchant in the city’s history had gone on to amass further wealth and power. The legend of the Babafemi family had continued to grow, and it was such respect that had drawn so many people to Yafeu’s funeral.
The crowd hushed as the temple priests made their way down the centre of the hall, their robes in keeping with the glittering wealth of the location. As they reached the altar, the head priest approached the lady to offer an embrace and words of comfort. Once the priests reached their allotted seating behind the altar, the head priest gestured for the lady to begin. The imposing hall reverberated with her words, the high pillars and rounded roofs carrying her voice for all to hear.
“I would like to thank everyone here for attending. I am certain Yafeu could not have imagined that so many people, from such vast distances,” she paused to briefly bow to Behnam and Shadi Karawa in the front row, “would make their way here to honour his memory. His death came as a shock to everyone who knew him, with his fiftieth birthday approaching. In a way it was a mercy, though he was taken from us too early, that he did not live into the years where his health failed him. His work ethic and pride would never have allowed him to not be able to fulfil the role of master merchant. He had worked hard in the years he oversaw the Babafemi merchant house, growing it through deft dealings with customers and rivals, and forging strategic alliances through events such as my marriage to him.
“In closing, my request to you all is that you not be sad for his death. To mourn someone who had lived such a full life does is not proper, and we should all remember the wonderful memories we shared with him. The wondrous goods he secured from as far as the Chin and Hind lands in the East, those from all the war-torn regions of the Roman Empires, and his unsurpassed negotiating skills. May Bes welcome you to his merchant hall, Yafeu, and send you on many a voyage through the realms of Heaven.”
The crowd applauded respectfully as Zia stepped down from the altar. As the priest intoned the funerary rites, she sat with her parents, who had travelled together to Alexandria for the first time ever for the occasion, and with her son Ari and daughter Ziba. Eighteen-year-old Ari was much like his father in regards to insatiable desire, but she thanked the gods he did not inherit the violent temper and cruel streak, instead being a seeker of knowledge so he could one day continue Yafeu’s lofty reputation. Fifteen-year-old Ziba was the bane of the Babafemi guards, who were regularly sent out to patrol Alexandria when she had snuck out of the compound in the night. Behnam and Shadi had wept tears of joy upon meeting the children many years ago, when Yafeu and she had made the long trip back to Susa for a particularly important trade with the Gupta Empire of Hind. The children’s’ resemblance to their mother was undeniable.
Upon completion of the ceremony, Yafeu’s ornate gold marble coffin was borne through the streets of the merchant district to the Babafemi residence. The immense size of the residence spoke volumes to the man’s wealth; it could hold up to two hundred guests at any one time, was built with only the finest marble from around Europe and Egypt, and lavish displays of artwork from all across the known world.
Throughout the afternoon, the honoured guests were attended to by the Babafemi servants, their work overseen by the family matriarch when she had a moment to spare between interacting with the imposing amount of merchants. Thankfully, the guests were able to discuss matters between themselves, making the time she spent in the kitchen less prominent than it could have. Behnam Karawa was one of the busiest guests, with most of the sellers and dealers in the imposingly ornate room speaking with him.
As evening descended upon the city, the overseer of the function wearily sought her parents. The servants knew what food and drink to continue serving to the guests. Behnam and Shadi were seated at a table near the courtyard doors, where the air flow eased the room’s congestion for the elderly couple. As well as Ari and Ziba sitting with them, a trio of men were in lively conversation with the Karawa patriarch.
“Amon!” She ran over and embraced the first man, who was dressed in the finest silk robes one was able to buy. The remaining pair dressed in similar garb of slightly less expensive fabric, with the long arms of their clothing hiding their hands. Her embraces for the two were just as warm. “Heydar! Kadir! How I have hoped you were able to make it. The trips from Constantinople and Damascus have been perilous the past few years. You made sure to avoid any city where conflicts have been ongoing?”
Kadir smiled. “Of course, my lady. Our exploits from two decades ago were more than enough to ensure that we steered clear of trouble.”
Shadi looked to her daughter in puzzlement. “What trouble did you encounter on your way here from Susa?”
Her daughter waved it away. “Some desert bandits tried to steal some goods from the caravan, but it was nothing that Yafeu could not handle. His methods were more than enough to ensure the merchant paths were never troubled again.”
“I did notice that the desert routes seemed less occupied by those Sand Pirates folk,” Behnam said. “For them to disappear so quickly was a surprise. I wonder what happened to them.”
“Yafeu taught them the lesson that finally got through their thick skulls.” The Babafemi matriarch laughed, noticing out of the corner of her eye the subtle glares from the two subordinates. “If you will excuse me, I need to make sure I have spoken to all the guests. Please walk with me, you three. I ache to hear of your exploits.”
The three excused themselves from the Karawa’s and the children, speaking cheerfully of their travels as they accompanied the lady of the house upon her rounds of speaking with the guests. One satisfied that she had done so, she gestured for them to follow her for a breath of fresh air in the courtyard. They stealthily moved to a secluded part of the grassed area.
As Amon spoke the magical incantation, his face began to pale from a dark tone to the familiar wood-grain cover. The mask fell into its wearer’s hands, their face now the mirror image of the new leader of the Babafemi family. “I was fearful that the magic that maintained Amon’s likeness would be dulled after not being used for so many years.”
The family matriarch looked at the unmasked lady. “The witch I stole the masks from told me it would hold for near to three decades, provided you used it sparingly.” She turned her gaze upon Heydar and Kadir. “Well, has Lady Zia been a better leader than I?”
The pair laughed. “It has been wonderful,” Heydar gushed. “After the Sand Pirates agreed to disband, we have spent years travelling everywhere. The group travelled among the Chin and Hind lands, many settling there. We then headed for Damascus and the other cities in the Decapolis. Constantinople was a revelation; we wished we had seen it earlier. Then it was travelling all over Europe, as far as Spain. Lady Zia has an impeccable eye for goods, and we have made plenty of contacts along the way.”
Her gaze turned to her returned sister. “Have you seen Mother recently? I did not receive a response for the funeral invite.”
“Yes, on our way here as we travelled from Bukhara and Samarkand. She has become frail, but she is in good spirits. Unfortunately, she was not up to making the trip from Sakakah. Shamali has accommodated her in one of his houses standing sentinel over the memorial, so she is able to tend it without the long trips through the desert.
“How have the past two decades been with Yafeu?”
Sayeh shrugged. “He was serviceable. We had our arguments and disagreements, but there were only ever a handful of beatings over that time. Thankfully, he was quite happy to share his knowledge of the trade with me. It took some time for him to get used to my interest, as you supposedly never really cared for your father’s craft. But now, he’s given enough knowledge to me that I can run the Babafemi enterprise, until such time as Ari or even Ziba can be groomed into the role.”
“How did Yafeu die?”
A devilish grin crossed Sayeh’s face. “During a romantic dinner for two, he contracted an unfortunate case of food poisoning. The slow-acting poison took two weeks to take effect, to ensure it could not possibly be traced back to me. It was as I told you after he whipped me in Sakakah; fate would ensure he received his reckoning. It may have taken twenty years, and been in the form of his wife, but he finally did.
“Now that you have had your two decades to travel, are you ready to settle down? I could use a partner in this enterprise now that dear Yafeu has passed on, and I am sure the children would appreciate having their aunty in their lives.”
Zia looked over her shoulder at the ongoing festivities, considering the parents she had long fooled into believing that she had married Yafeu. “I was more concerned with what we are going to tell Mother.”
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Sayeh graduates from leading the Sand Pirates to leading the most powerful merchant family in Egypt, Zia gets her chance to travel and see the world, and Yafeu finally got what was coming to him. Hopefully that ties off the main threads nicely.
Now, what to do with the weekday allocated to writing ‘Sayeh and Zia’. Methinks a poll might be needed, to see what the public would like to read next. Keep an eye out for it next Monday. Thanks again for reading =)