The Karawa Great Hall was filled to overflowing.
A large contingent of servants moved about the room, dodging between tables and moving guests. The walls were covered in the finest drapery and art that Behnam and Shadi owned; an uncommon sight to those who knew the man’s modest tastes. Bathed in the orange light provided by the many wall-mounted torches, the servants carried ceramic jugs of wine and platters of food for placement at the centre of the long wood tables. The noise made it almost impossible to hear, highlighted by people speaking into each other’s ears with barely a fingernail’s space between them.
The raised table was occupied by the Lady Zia and Yafeu, who spoke together amiably. Shadi and Behnam sat either side of them respectively, speaking with guests who had made their way to the dais to offer their congratulations and well-wishes. After shaking hands with the man he had been speaking to, Behman motioned for a servant to come and refill the glasses on the table. Once done, he spoke in their ear and gestured to the other servants moving throughout the room.
As the servant moved off to complete his orders, Behnam rose to his feet. His robe was a deep burgundy, and adorned only with a solid gold belt. He raised his glass in his left hand, and held up the palm of his right hand. The people below gradually turned to see his gesture, shushing others until a hush had fallen over the hall.
“On behalf of Shadi and I, we would like to thank you all for making the time and travel to attend this gathering.” His voice carried easily throughout the hall, commanding the attention of the audience. “As you will have heard, a dear friend of our family for many years has asked for our daughter’s hand in marriage.” He turned to Zia and Yafeu, with a look of fatherly pride on his face. “Zia has happily accepted the offer.”
Zia, blushing brightly, lowered her face as the crowd cheered. After several moments, Behnam raised his hands again to quiet them. Once the room was quiet again, he continued.
“My wife and I have known Yafeu and his family for many years, through the threads of fate that have been benevolently woven throughout my life. Yafeu’s father, Hormazd rest his soul, returned my beloved wife to me when she became lost in the Arabian Desert. Those days were torment for me, especially knowing how Shadi was late into her pregnancy at the time.”
He lowered his head for a moment, the rush of the memory bringing tears to his eyes and a crack to his voice. “News of the unprecedented sandstorm that had swept the Desert had left me certain of my beloved’s death, and also of the treasured child she and I had prayed so many years for.”
He turned to look at his wife and daughter, who eyes were also rimmed with tears. “In the depths of my despair, a messenger came to me one day to tell me that a merchant I must meet with had come to Susa. I met the merchant in this very Hall, who named himself Eoeri Babafemi. He stood at those doors, and gestured a cloaked figure to enter before him. The figure removed their hood, revealing my beloved wife, returned to me from the tainted grasps of Ahriman. As I ran to embrace her, something moved under her cloak. Moving the cloak aside, I saw Zia for the first time.”
He looked to Yafeu, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “The joy I felt at seeing the two most important people in my life safely returned to me, I thought it impossible that it could ever be equalled. However, when Yafeu sent me word of his intention to ask for Zia’s hand, the joy I felt was the closest I have ever come to that day.”
He gave his future stepson a beaming smile. “Our families have been tightly bound by fate through the years, and that Hormazd has seen fit to strengthen our bond further is the greatest gift I could receive.” Turning back to the crowd, he raised his glass. “Let us raise our glasses to Zia and Yafeu, and the many happy years they have ahead of them.”
A sea of glasses rose into the air, which rolled as they clinked with those around them. Yafeu rose to his feet, grasping forearms with Behnam before giving him a brief embrace. As Behnam seated himself, the Egyptian man awaited the calming of the crowd, his icy eyes taking in the view of the seated guests. His dress was much more opulent than his prospective father-in-law. His sleeveless robe kept the same alternating blue and yellow pattern of the silk vest worn earlier in the day, and his forearms were encircled by solid gold snakes whose heads ended at the back of his hands.
As he spoke, his voice commanded the attention of the crowd. “As Behnam has already said, I would also like to express my gratitude for your attendance tonight. It has proven my trek from Alexandria is indeed a fruitful one.” He turned to look upon Zia, who saw that unsettling gleam in the kohl-circled eyes. “The history between our families is a blessed one, with Hormazd favouring the Karawas and Bes protecting the Babafemis. With such gods watching over us in favour, our union cannot be anything but blessed.”
He returned his gaze to the crowd, and raised his own glass. “To the Karawa family, and the families of all our honoured guests. May the gods of both Persia and Egypt protect you, and bestow prosperity upon you all.”
The crowd cheered, and the clinking of glasses again filled the room. Yafeu sat down and turned to Zia, taking her hand in his. She gave the warmest smile she could, still feeling unsettled by that look in his eye. He returned the smile, holding her hand in a way that felt like he never wanted to let go.
“I look forward to our days travelling to Pasargadae. To be in your presence is like bathing in the light of the Gods.”
Zia cringed inwardly at his fawning ways and his insatiable eyes, but was comforted by the fact that his overwhelming attention was better than the alternative.
– X –