The messenger ducked and weaved his way through the crowded marketplace, jealously guarding the scroll case attached to his belt. His slight frame and quick reflexes ensured that he could swiftly avoid those stepping in front of him. The crowd moved like a sandstorm, with people moving using their weight to push past those blocking their way, or moving into any place on the thoroughfare that afforded a semblance of personal space.
Having ducked and weaved his way through the mass of humanity, he moved into the inner portions of the bustling city. The Shah of Susa’s palace stood at the centre of the city, and rose self-importantly in its attempt to reach the skies above. The large blocks of housing between the Susashah’s palace and the marketplace were occupied by a vast array of important Persian nobility, such as the Spahbod of the West and the military ranks that served him, as well as the most important merchants of the city.
The messenger, enjoying the space that was not afforded those in the marketplace, continued to run. Finally seeing the House of Karawa, he quickened his pace. Reaching the large gates guarding the compound, he was confronted by a pair of formidable guards. Wearing only leather pants and knee-high boots, the guard’s finely chiselled muscles were complemented by thick and ornately decorated spears. A sword handle was visible over each of their shoulders.
“What is your business here?”
“I come to deliver correspondence from my master, Yafeu Babafemi of Alexandria.”
The pair looked down on the slight man, before looking out of the corners of their eyes to each other.
“Show me the seal of your message.”
The messenger removed the scroll case from his belt, and handed it to the guard on the left. He looked at the lid of the tube, while the other guard looked from a small piece of parchment. They compared their items, and nodded to each other.
“Please enter. Our master has been expecting you.”
The guards returned the case, and then turned to push the heavy gate inwards. The messenger saw that the sword handles belonged to scimitars of extra length and width. He pitied anyone who was foolish enough to pick a fight with these men. If they guarded the compound of Behnam Karawa, any opponent who thought to challenge them did not value their life.
Moving through the gates, the messenger stood in awe of the external gardens. The grass was immaculately kept, as evidenced by a pair of elderly men on their hands and knees, crawling along and assessing the length of each blade. Other attendants moved amongst the date trees, looking up and making sure the fruits were developing as expected. The smell of the area was enticing, with neatly ordered rows of flowers offering their fragrance to those wandering nearby.
As he reached the main doors in House of Karawa proper, the messenger saw an elegant lady awaiting him. Her robe was richly coloured, and decorated with vinework and geometrics worthy of any artist. A headscarf loosely wrapped her head, offering a glimpse of her black hair. Her eyebrows were immaculately arched, perched above dark brown eyes that seemed to see into one’s soul. With her tanned skin and full lips, her beauty would cause envy amongst the ladies of the city.
She smiled as the messenger approached, bowing in greeting.
“Welcome to our household. I am Zia, Behnam’s daughter.”
The messenger returned the bow, feeling nervous in her presence. “It is an honour to meet you in person, my lady. I can assure you that my master, Yafeu Babafemi, sings many a song describing your awe-inspiring beauty.”
Zia blushed slightly, looking appropriately embarrassed at the idea of being renowned as far away as the Egyptian capital. “It is kind of you to say so, and your master to think of me.”
“I bring message from Yafeu himself, which he requested I deliver to your father personally.”
“My goodness. You have crossed the Arabian Desert to deliver the message?” She turned and gestured towards the seating area just inside the house’s doors. “Please come in a rest your feet. I shall arrange for the kitchen to bring you some food, as you must be very hungry.”
The messenger smiled in gratitude as he walked with Zia into the house. “To be honest, my lady, I enjoy the wide open space that the desert provides. As long as one can avoid sandstorms and the Sand Pirates, it is a relaxing exercise. Making my way through the Susa marketplace provided a tougher challenge.”
She laughed at his jest, the notes lyrical as she did so. “That is the truth. It can become difficult to traverse on busy days. The people are prepared to fight to get the best foods provided by the merchants.” She gestured to a chair set near a finely polished wood table. “Please make yourself comfortable. While the cooks are preparing your meal, I will go and see if my father will be available soon.”
The messenger sat down, watching Zia move off into the house. He thought back to the songs his master had sung during nights of merriment, thinking it impossible a lady of such beauty could possibly exist. He was amazed that Yafeu had not embellished a single detail.
He sank back into the chair, enjoying the softness of the pillows. Keeping the case protectively in his hands, he dozed as he awaited his food. If the food is as enjoyable as these pillows, he thought to himself, I am not sure I could ever go back to the normal meals available in the city’s accommodations.
– X –