Zia always enjoyed this portion of the day, feeling the heat of the day seep out of the city as the world above changed it through so many dazzling colours.
The sun had begun to set across Susa. The sky began its transformation from the azure of day, moving towards the fathomless black of night. Sitting on her balcony of her rooms, she used the last natural light of the day to read through her favourite books. The thin pages were made of the finest quarry stone the Zagros Mountains had to offer, and into each had been carved the stories of the wider world Zia longed to see.
The book was bound together by a bar of lazurite, with its cover the scene of a sailor fending off fantastical sea creatures attacking his ship. Many of the stories contained within were passed down from the ancient seafarers of the Young Romans, the Phoenicians and the First Persian Empire. The exotic countries visited, the horrific yet fascinating people and creatures, the brash courage of the sailors. All of these had combined to instil a love of reading and travel in her.
She closed the book, sighing as she thought of her future. Despite her longing, the books were as close as she had ever come to seeing what lay beyond Susa. The only child of Behnam and Shadi, they were irrationally protective of her. The times that the Karawa guards had overturned every tavern in the city searching for her had been the city’s own adventure story throughout her teenage years. No matter how far away from the Karawa house, or how secret the location, or how rough its inhabitants, the guards had all but dragged her in order to return the errant daughter to her disappointed parents.
Of her parents, her mother had always been the most understanding. The love of her only child made her glow with pride, and let Zia know that the discipline and control that was exerted on her was never malicious. One of those rebellious nights, Zia had evaded the house guards almost to the break of dawn, but had been returned as always. The tears she had seen fall from her mother’s eyes, and the lines of grief on her face, had diffused her rebellious nature.
Her father had always been hard on her. The years had robbed him of the chance to have a son, and he had attempted to compensate as much as possible. He had spent years trying to bring her into the family business, attempting to instil his love of commerce and running a merchant house in her. Behnam’s sorrow-stricken face, the night he finally realised that she was never going to love his craft as much as he did, haunted her now. If she had become what he wanted, she could have left Susa on her terms, whenever she desired.
Her future was now tied to the distant Yafeu Babafemi. The pair were of an age, and their families had been friends for at least four generations. Where she had repulsed the family trade, he had embraced it as a mountain lion embraced its prey. Though he was not yet into his third decade, his reputation as a brilliant but vengeful merchant had spread far and wide. She remembered back to the handful of times he had visited Susa, a wide-eyed child joining the caravan from Alexandria with his grandfather or father. Even then, she knew he was someone who was only happy when he got what he wanted. He had always negotiated, but the tantrums had been the talk of the house upon his departure.
On his last visit, Yafeu had almost reached his eighteenth year. The spoilt child had grown to become an undeniably handsome man, but she had always been unsettled by his eyes. It was like he gazed longingly at everything, wanting it all to be his. This had been particularly so with her, doing and saying everything he could to impress the little girl who had turned into the most beautiful lady in the city. The tantrums had long receded, replaced by an artfully manipulative negotiator whose revenge was renowned.
The sun finally settling beneath the western horizon, Zia moved into her rooms. As expected of a wealthy family, her room wanted for nothing. A magnificent four post bed sat in the middle of the room, thin silk sheets hanging to provide a measure of privacy. One of the long walls was completely hidden by bookshelves, which were filled with scrolls and other stone books. Each item had a type of coloured gemstone to define its genre. As her book used lazulite to define its seaborne tales, the red stones told of the many war stories throughout the history of Persia and the wider world. Pink gemstones divulged the epic romance stories of the ages. Such a story, and one of her favourites, had been the story of a prince from Asia Minor. So besotted was he with a married Greek princess, he had stolen her from her husband. The tale fed directly into one of the war stories.
Placing her book back in its place on the shelf, she sighed again as she looked upon them. Tales of her life were unlikely to be written. A beautiful lady, whose arranged marriage was likely her father’s way of getting the son he never had, carried to a far-off land. It had the beginnings of a fine tale, but she was unsure of her future husband. All she could hope for was that their decade apart would change him for the better.
Lighting some candles to provide light to her rooms, she moved into her wardrobe to select an appropriate gown to wear to dinner. Many of the dresses were lavishly expensive, which made her feel uncomfortable. Such items were bought with money earned by her father’s mastery of commerce. That she had rejected his trade made her feel ungrateful.
– X –