Behnam Karawa stood behind his office desk, looking down upon the scrawny man whose outstretched arms presented the long-awaited scroll case.
The head of the merchant family was well-known for his taste in minimal opulence. The robe he wore had no decoration, yet the depth of the fabric’s blue colouring entranced those who looked upon it. A deep black leather rope circled his waist, which showed the beginnings of a fattening belly. All the woodwork in the room lacked ornate detail, but every item was made of cypress, the seeds born of the Zoroastrian Sarv in Abarkuh.
As the messenger raised his head, he saw where the Lady Zia had received her penetrating eyes. Facing this man in a negotiation would have been a fearful thing, with Behnam’s gaze seeking to bore into one’s mind and soul. The stories of the gruesome ends of those who had tried to cheat him in a deal added to his fearsome reputation, and ensured he always had the upper hand in any transactions.
“Master Karawa, I present to you a scroll from Master Babafemi.”
Behnam reached across the immaculately polished desk to accept the scroll case. He turned to face the window overlooking the compound, meticulously assessing the tube’s condition in the sunlight streaming in. Turning back, he pointed the tube at the messenger, his eyes narrowed and his deep voice ominous.
“You out-do yourself in making it look like you haven’t opened this.”
The messenger bowed again. “I can assure you I have done no such thing. Master Babafemi is renowned in Alexandria for his treatment of untrustworthy couriers, as you would no doubt be aware.”
The master of the household smirked. “I heard he once flayed a messenger’s arm daily for a week, and ensured that it was soaked in vinegar in between.”
“Indeed he did. The screams caused me nightmares for weeks afterwards.”
Behnam shrugged his broad shoulders as he lowered his arm. “The trustworthiness of one’s messengers is an important thing in our line of work. There is always someone immoral enough to manipulate you if you are soft.” He turned the tube in his hands. “How was your trip here? Did the Sand Pirates make an appearance?”
The messenger shook his head. “They have not been attacking the caravans recently. You would think that their not attacking was a good thing, but it is only making people more nervous.”
Behnam nodded. “They do not go quiet unless there is a reason behind it.” He looked at the scroll case. “Are there rumours about the contents of this?”
“There are always many rumours, Master. Some say he has discovered a new product that will make his already unfathomable wealth larger still, others say he is seeking an alliance to overthrow the Roman boy Emperor, and others still say he seeks the true answer to nature of the Lord Jesus.”
“All of that would certainly keep him busy.” He gestured to the large stone doors the messenger had entered through. “I will read Yafeu’s correspondence, and provide you with my reply in due course. Until then, feel free to relax in our compound. My wife or daughter will see to your accommodations.”
“Thank you, Master.” The messenger bowed again, and exited through the large wooden doors that led back to the upper balcony of the house. One of the guards standing at Behnam’s door accompanied the departing courier.
Behnam carefully removed the seal of the scroll case, finding himself short of breath from anticipation. The messenger had been close to the mark with one of his rumours. If it proved true, the future of the Karawa family would be assured. Removing the scroll from the case, he delicately unrolled it. As his eyes ran across the writing, his eyes lit up and a broad smile crossed his face. He fell back into his chair, leaning back for a moment before leaning forward and banging his fists on the desk.
The remaining guard looked in. “Is all well, Master Karawa?”
The smile he received in return was dazzling. “It is, Koosha. Hormazd has answered my prayers. The future is brighter than I could have hoped for.”
The guard returned the smile before turning back to scan the activities outside the doors. Behnam carefully rolled the scroll and placed it back in the case. He rose and walked towards a large set of shelves with doors adorning the office’s walls. Turning to ensure no-one watched once he had opened the middle doors, he reached in behind the contents and pushed. A secret compartment slid open, filled with varying items. He placed the scroll in amongst them, and then quickly closed both the nook and the doors.
Straightening his robe, he strode to the large doors. In the time he had taken to store the scroll, the other guard had returned from his escorting the messenger and has resumed his place.
“Did you happen to see my wife or daughter on your travels, Navid?”
The guard nodded. “Lady Shadi and Zia walking in the gardens near the kitchen. I saw them as I walked Master Babafemi’s messenger to the guest quarters.”
“It is fortunate that they are together. The news I have will be of great interest to them both.”
“What is it, Master?”
Behnam shook his head. “They must hear of it first. If they wish to share the news, you shall find out soon enough.”
“Be sure to close my doors. It is such a fine day, and the time with my family shall do my heart good.”
As the pair moved to close the doors, their master walked towards the staircase leading downstairs.
– X –