Friday, October 29, 2010

A Pricey Pearl, part 1


Sabattaras, the Macedonian merchant, threw his outer garment over his left arm and surveyed the coast where nearly a hundred expert Nabataean sailors prepared their dhows for the Red Sea waters.  Sabattaras had left his home in Pella two months previous, where he had sold his prosperous fur business and left his family to pursue a rumor.  Traveling south to Athens he embarked a Greek merchant vessel across the Mediterranean Sea to Alexandria.  There, within this prosperous merchant capital, he sold the remainder of his elegant furs and left, by camel, to pass through Gaza, Avdat and the Nabataean capital of Petra.  He followed the bitumen trading routes unto Madain Salih in the late June heat and by early July had reached the Nabataean oil fishery at the port of Leuke Kome where he now stood in silence.  The rumor he chased?  A pearl of great worth.  
This Red Sea pearl was said to be remarkable indeed, unlike any other… .and it was also said to be a mere tale, a falsehood, a made-up story.  However, at thirty-eight years of age, a man deserted by his young bride and with no children, Sabattaras was in the market for far-fetched, far-away dreams.  He would obtain this magnificent pearl and return home to boast that a beautiful reality does exist in this bleak world... .there truly was something priceless to lay hold of….
The Red Sea journey was pricey in itself; Sabattaras paid dearly out of pocket and could pay dearly with his life.  The inlets and reeds would undoubtedly be lurking with pirates.  The Nabataeans themselves were among the most ruthless tribes that pirated these waters.  Would they recognize one of their own trading vessels?  Would they care?  These particular vessels were to transport Sabattaras and a handful of other merchants to the Greek merchant port city of Berenice.  There, Sabattaras had been told, existed the remarkable Red Sea pearl.
Sabattaras wiped the sweat from his brow and squinted at the sailors.  How long? He wondered.  He was anxious to face the dangerous waters and know his fate.  Sabattaras stood tall, broad shouldered and of paler complexion.  He attempted to hide his skin color under a large flowing turban and a fresh layer of dirt.  Although the territory currently resided under Roman authority, best not, in this environment, to stand out so obviously different.  He stepped forward as he perceived a line of similarly dressed merchants approaching the Nabataean ship.  He dealt out his fare to the receiver at the embarkment and boarded, claiming a low profile position at the ships quarter-deck and he waited.
The Red Sea was populated at this time of year with several Arab merchant ships headed towards India and Asia to conduct trade.  Roman vessels sailed among them, conducting themselves with both pride and care.  Berenice served as a vibrant port, exchanging a number of highly valuable commodities, carried by ships headed both into and out of the Red Sea.  Sabattaras reached Berenice safely by the late eve of the day and sought shelter.  Tomorrow he would systematically and persistently chase the rumor….
To be continued...

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