The Ruins of Petra, Nabataea
The sound of the camel’s hooves bounced between the massive cliffs. Regularly placed candles along the ground guided the cloaked rider, who was expertly guiding the galloping animal through the narrow passage. Carved through the rock by innumerable years of water flow, the gap between the cliffs was now bone dry. Loose sand flew up behind the camel’s hooves.
The snaking path, illuminated by shallow yellow flames, finally opened onto the imposing structure that had mesmerised so many people. The cloaked rider pulled back on the camel’s reins, drawing it to a halt. The moonlight bathing the area allowed a unique view of the building. A large area of stone had been removed from the cliff face, and unknown artists had crafted a magnificent building into the space behind it. The building had six large pillars supporting the highly decorated lintel, though the left-side pillar closest to the door was showing signs of decay. The representations of gods and mythical beings were carved into the structures above the lintel, but they had been defaced by both people and the natural elements.
The rider sat for several minutes, admiring the efforts of past masons and artists in creating such an unfathomable wonder. Remembering their purpose, the camel was angled to the right, and a pair of swift kicks to its belly encouraged a fast trot. The widening path showed more carvings in the walls, facades on the left and tombs on the right. The path continued to expand until it opened onto a vast plain, which was littered with many buildings in various states of decay. Yet more tombs were to the right of the rider as the camel was slowly guided down the steep descent.
Once on the plain itself, the rider picked up the speed significantly. The many tombs carved into the walls of the plain were nerve-wracking, tricking one into thinking that the spirits of the dead might awaken at any moment. Riding away from the four tombs closest to the plain’s entry point, several buildings and an elevated temple site guided one towards the edge of a city wall. The mountains rose to provide a path to the left or to the right. The rider chose the path to the right.
The ground rose to a steep ascent, with steps in some places along the path aiding the wearied camel’s footing. Following the winding trail, the narrowed path opened to reveal another incomprehensibly large building carved into a rock face. It shared many similarities with its sibling building the rider had observed earlier, especially in its second storey. The first storey mimicked the pillars of the first building, but its entrance did not sit further into the rock. The carved figures were replaced with rectangular window-like insets. This building had been chosen as the hide-out because of its location at the most remote and elevated portion of the deserted city.
Lowering the camel to the ground in front of the building, the rider dismounted and headed for the entrance. Inside was a square room, the ripples of rock deposits decorating its walls. An elevated arch was cut into the farthest wall, with two small sets of stairs either side rising to meet the arch, inside of which was a roaring fire. A group of twenty men sat around or upon the base of the steps, eating meat that they had likely cooked within the fire.
Those sitting on the stairs saw the figure approach, and they rose with joy written across their faces. They stepped forward to meet the new arrival, bowing from the waist in greeting.
“Lady Sayeh, we are glad to see you. We were beginning to fear for your welfare.”
The cloaked figure raised her head so the bottom half of her face was visible. A smile that was perilously close to a sneer greeted the welcome.
“Fear for my welfare, Heydar? You know I can manage that perfectly well myself.”
Heydar, a solidly built man of average height with an unkempt chest-length beard, stepped back warily from the figure standing a foot below him. “My apologies. I did not mean to cause offence.”
Sayeh sighed. “You didn’t. The caravan was headed for Karak, so I had to sneak away when it stopped at Mitspe Ramon. A full afternoon in the saddle of a galloping camel in this heat has been tiring to say the least.
The other man spoke up. “I will fetch you some meat and drink, my lady.”
She nodded slightly. “My thanks, Kadir.”
As the man moved off to collect some food, the cloaked lady made her way to the others sitting around the stairs. The men were comparing stories of the largest caravan robberies they had been a part of in their times before and after joining the mysterious Lady Sayeh’s crew. They all had been career criminals, living in remote desert villages with little or no prospects to increase one’s station. Against her offer of adventure and riches beyond their imaginations, they was never a chance that they would refuse.
A pair argued animatedly about the largest heist they had performed in their time with the crew.
“Don’t you remember that train of camels coming west from Ectabana? The quantity of gold and fine materials we relieved them of was so large even their evil god Ahriman would have applauded our efforts.”
“The Egyptians still have the finest quality gold. That mine they have outside of Luxor is never likely to run dry. Couple that with the clothes, carpets and foods coming across the desert from Alexandria, and the value they provide to Persia is huge. We should never miss a chance to attack those caravans. ”
The first man noticed Sayeh sitting, listening to them as she ate her food. “Do you not agree, my lady? The goods coming west are of greater value.”
She nodded, her face hidden in the shadows of the cloak’s hood. “They will be soon. I have it on good authority there is the marriage dowry worthy of the ancient pharaohs soon to make its way from Susa to Alexandria. When we attack that, we’ll never need to be Sand Pirates again.”
– X –