The Arabian Desert
The wild desert winds had caused the caravanserai owner to lock the doors. The past days had seen many a sandstorm spin its random trail of destruction, with many camels and their loads thrown out of view before they could reach refuge.
The atmosphere inside was thick from the days of being closed to the elements. The smell of frightened people mixed with that of distressed pack animals, expressing their discontent through loose bowels and frequent growling. The travellers used their headgear to cover faces in a vain attempt to keep the pungent smell from reaching their nostrils, but it would be to no avail while the sandstorms continued.
The owner, a well-fed man wearing loose robes, grumbled to himself as he tried to clear the tables of the eating hall. The people sat there despondently, having nowhere else to go while the spinning vortices trapped them inside. The stopping point on the trips between the rich merchant cities of Egypt and Persia was not designed to handle the one hundred people now trapped within its walls. A regular arrival received a sufficient meal for the travellers and a watering for the camels, and then continued on their paths to Alexandria or Susa.
“These Ahriman-sent storms are trying to destroy my business.” The storm currently circling the abode caused the solid wooden doors to bend against its bolt and hinges. The owner raised his voice. “Why do the gods torment us like this? We are humble folk providing sustenance to weary travellers or delivering goods to our wealthy betters. Do they disapprove?”
As he moved to a table closest to the main door, the owner heard a rapid banging against the door. He glared at the straining wood, and shook his head, believing the sound a trick of his stressed mind.
“Let me in!”
The sound of a woman’s yelling shocked him, and he struggled to remaster control of the plates he was carrying. He rushed back to the table to place the items, and then raced to the door.
“Who goes there? What do you want?”
The banging grew louder and more rapid. “For the love of Hormazd, let me in!”
The owner gestured to a pair of solid men sitting at a nearby table. “Make yourselves useful! Help me shut this door after we let this lady in!”
The two men braced against the wooden doors as the owner pulled the bolt free. As it released, the push of wind pressure from outside almost pushed the pair off their feet. Sand blew in through the narrow opening, until a robed figure added the strength of their shoulder to the howling winds. They fell to the floor amongst a mound of sand, while the three men struggled to close the door and re-engage the lock.
Those around the tables looked apathetically at the figure lying amongst the sand. Some had anger flash across their faces, likely seeing this new person as a new drain of food and water during a storm showing little sign of calming.
The door closed, the owner turned to the figure on her hands and knees. A fit of coughing raised her back in a sporadic and violent fashion.
“Anyone! Go bring some water from the spring!” No one moved. “NOW!”
Someone out of his view moved towards the closest the side door, which lead further underground to the building’s spring. Their quickly fading footsteps indicated they had followed his barked order. He placed his hand on the middle of the lady’s back, and giving a gentle rub between the shoulder blades.
“My dear, what possessed you to be out in this storm? Was Osiris calling you to his necropolis?”
The lady turned towards him, the robe’s hood hiding her face. “I was heading to the local medicine lady, and the first thralls of this storm made me lose my location. I could not see the stars to guide me, and my camel succumbed to the storm. I kept moving until stumbling into your door.”
The sound of footsteps showed the person returning with the water. The owner picked a loose cup from the nearest table and rubbed its inside clean with the tail of his robe, before dunking it into the bucket of water.
“Here, drink this. All that flying sand must have scoured your mouth.”
The lady threw back the hood to reveal black hair slightly below shoulder length. She took the cup and gulped the water down greedily. She downed two more cups, the liquid running down her narrow chin.
“Can you rise?”
The lady shook her head, placing the cup next to herself on the floor. A low groan escaped her lips.
“Here, let me help you.” The owner knelt down and placed his hands on her left arm. She shifted her weight to the right, and the man placed her arm over his shoulder. Wrapping his other arm around her waist, he grunted as he pulled her up from the floor.
Those watching gasped as the lady straightened to her full height. The storm was not the only thing that had exhausted her.
She was heavily pregnant.
– X –