A humble captain leads the Pharoah of Ayubia on a perilous mission
|Qaza Matli was my name. It was a duty to serve the passengers of the Ayubian Empire to the abandoned deserted city of Tokura. I was but a humble boat captain long forgotten, for no one knew my identity nor what my ethnicity was. I waited as the new passengers stood in the docks. Seagulls squawked above me. Fishermen carrying boxes of alive octopuses and crabs walked the pier. Merchants shouted in their sing-song voices for customers. Usually, mothers and fathers look to feed their children the best fish the sea could provide. Tokura was a large, magnificent booming city when I had been a child. My dhow had been parked at the harbour and I would watch as the city declined from greatness to an abandoned nightmare from the years I had lived in this port.
Years of endless war had ravaged the landscape surrounding Tokura. It was always there, in front of me. As a child I had ventured into the forgotten ruins, from my dhow, it was not a long journey. Barely ten minutes. I leaned on the bench, staring at the sunlight coming down from the single mast. I closed my eyes, thinking of my family that had long perished from this world. A shuffling of boots woke me from my slumber after an hour. Grumbling and tired, I turned to see who it was. My eyes widened at seeing the Pharaoh of Ayubia standing there decked with red rubies on his fingers and golden armour on his chest. I bowed.
Then Pharaoh spoke. ‘So, this is the boat captain that will lead us? His dhow can’t fit twenty of my men. Amenhotep. We’ll have to sacrifice for space on the boat now won’t we?’
I turned to see the armed guards flanking the Pharoah. A mage stood in front of me, wearing robes of pure purple and gold. His face was painted red and gold. It was hard to distinguish whether he was a human not. The mage held his glowing staff of the cruel snake, Apis. ‘Sire, I had warned you that we would not able to fit twenty men. You had insisted that you wanted to see Tokura, but you have ignored my advice when I mentioned we need less than ten men. I am worthy enough to confront the horrifying monsters that plague- ‘
The Pharaoh chuckled. He was not impressed. ‘I lost my brother in these very ruins nine years ago. Many of our people have ventured into that forsaken city and never returned, Amenhotep. I know you outrank ten of the finest men that our empire can provide. Long have my people perished in that nightmare. I must visit it to see it firsthand. Once we are done, I will order the destruction of Tokura. And I trust you will do this job to the best of your ability.’
Amenhotep bowed once more, holding tightly to his staff. That staff was a murky labyrinth of darkness that I wanted nowhere near my dhow. But there was nothing I could do but say nothing. The matters of royalty were above my station. ‘Your highnesses, a thousand apologies from me. The journey to Tokura will take less than ten minutes. I can only have ten people on my dhow. This dhow has seen better days when it could have more than twenty people on it.’
I instantly shut my mouth. Any longer and I would be clubbed to death as I didn’t want to risk that. The glares of both the Pharaoh and Amenhotep stared down upon me. I kept my head down, wishing to Raba, the creator of this wretched universe to help me. The Pharoah tutted in annoyance. ‘Very well. You don’t need to worry, Captain.’ He raised his hand. A boarding ramp was set up, and I saw the armed guards entering my dhow. It felt strange like an invasion of sorts.
The armed guards set to work on my ship. The shrouds were unhitched, and the sail flies were sent forward, to be hauled back on the opposite side. The sails were raised. Our ship began to slowly move. The wind would pick up soon. There was something else that wasn’t being explained here.
Amenhotep explained. ‘We’d need men who were capable of sailing your dhow. You’re the only one in this harbour that’s been back and forth to Tokura. No one else is willing to go there. These men are sea-worthy.’
That was good to know for now.
Amenhotep and the Pharaoh quickly boarded the ship and sat. Their bottoms aching, I could see the sweat glistening from their robes. They proceeded to scratch their backs. It is a surreal experience to see the royals that are venerated beyond belief to act like ordinary men. The boarding ramp was taken off, and the wind blew. We made our way to the city of Tokura as I had done a hundred times.
Seeing the Pharoah and Amenhotep vomit from the sides of my dhow’s deck as we had disembarked after a journey of thirty minutes made me smile. What had delayed us was the constant traffic of large dhows that were taking passengers to many islands. Then there were the naval military ships who behaved as if they were the owners of this port. Then there were the fishermen who were constantly ranting against all ships coming to their waters. So, in a day’s work, when it wasn’t busy, we’d have arrived much sooner.
I walked down the boarding ramp and into the sand, I moved to touch the oak of the dhow before I would lead them into the accursed city. I had built this dhow with my father as a child. It was his gift to me when he could not afford anything else. None of the other children was interested in playing with me. When I had invited some children to come with me to celebrate my birthday, one of their parents approached my father. They explained that their son did not want to come. This world is a lonely experience sometimes. My father was outraged, angrier than he had ever been. He decided that instead, he would build a boat for me. Teach me to become a man.
And I was grateful for it every day of my life. A very nasty voice broke my thoughts. ‘Hurry along Captain! You’re to take us to the city of Tokura.’ Amenhotep screeched.
Strange of course, that when I arched my head, the tall structures of this city and its abandoned pylons were vast. I grabbed a brazier from one of the guards and led them into the city. Darkness would soon ascend in a couple of hours. We passed broken gigantic statures of the gods. Their colors were worn off due to the sand that had buried itself in the city. Never underestimate sand. It is a life force of its own.
I stopped as the behemoth stature of Pharaoh Salus and bowed. Amenhotep’s voice growled. ‘Why have we stopped?’
I rose. ‘You gave me no clear instructions. Pharaoh Salus saved- ‘
Amenhotep dismissed me. ‘I’m not in the mood for your heroics. There is a tomb here. A tomb of a forgotten Pharaoh. Don’t think you presume to know more than me for you are nothing more than a humble boat captain. I am the Grand Mage of this Empire.’ His voice boomed and echoed.
I smiled. ‘Salus is one of the forgotten. I know the tomb.’ I opened my arms. ‘Here.’
Within an instant, the sand moved and shifted. Treasures of gold, black marble statues of the gods coated in molten gold brimmed with life. Huge hoards of golden coins revealed themselves. The Pharaoh gasped. I didn’t. The altar of Salus’s tomb rose from the sands. The altar held a holy book. A golden one. I opened it and began to read.
Amenhotep screeched. ‘What trickery is this? You must be a long-forgotten mage seeking revenge or a demon. I will deal with you later. Sire, we must leave now!’
I turned towards Amenhotep. ‘When the son of a bastard was thrown out of the palace, how do you think he would feel years later if he saw his brother become the Pharaoh of this Empire?’
Then Pharaoh said one word. ‘Qaza?’
I smirked. Qaza. The son of a concubine whose mother died in childbirth and his father incriminated for treachery against his Pharaoh.
‘Enjoy your last moments, brother.’
Amenhotep shouted. ‘I will not let you-’
Transforming myself into a beast of unimaginable power, with talons and fangs stretching from my serpentine body. I laughed.
‘My dear mage, power corrupts the best of us. I am merely a conduit of a new age.’
The screeches of the men who had oppressed me all my lifetime echoed like sweet music into my ears. I would start a new empire. And they would all bow to me.
Qaza Matli. The Pharoah of the Aybuia Empire.
Word count: 1,497 words