Bahati smiled for Lockhart, the former policeman. He was like a dog with a bone, unwilling to let go until he chewed down to the marrow. “Ubar got destroyed by a gravitron bomb,” she said. “With pieces smuggled in from the future by the Masters.”
“I knew it,” Elder Stow said. “Dual-concussive.”
Bahati nodded. “About a five-hundred-mile radius. Really destructive.”
“But you said the rains stopped coming about three hundred years ago,” Tony said. “I would have thought their fortunes would have dried up with the rain.”
“Three-hundred and eighty-something years ago,” Lincoln corrected him.
“Yes, but Ubar had one of the last lakes of any consequence. It was underground, where they had big caverns under the city. On the surface, fed by that water, they grew the plants and trees to produce spices and incense like frankincense and myrrh. They dug in those caverns for minerals, and frankly, they would have been a rich city even if they did not act as the hub for all the trade between India and the western empires.
“The Masters?” Decker heard the word and needed it clarified.
“Ubar would have had the strength and resources to prevent the rapid-fire expansion of Islam. The Masters wanted it removed”
“The Masters support Islam?” Katie asked.
“Not necessarily. But they hoped Islam would tear down civilization, which to some extent it does. Many people in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia are still living medieval-like lives, even in the twenty-first century. But here is the thing. Whatever you may believe about Islam and its bloodthirsty ways, it breathed new life into otherwise tired and dying people, especially in the Near East, Mesopotamia, and Iran. It made Europe become Christendom, and forced the age of exploration, discovery, and eventually the industrial revolution that changed the world. I don’t believe things worked out the way the Masters wanted.”
“You mean they didn’t get slavery, eunuchs, women without rights, with a desperate population squished under the thumb of tyrannical religious rulers. A world where liberty and self-determination are swear-words…” Nanette surprised everyone with the strength of her words.
“Don’t go there,” Bahati interrupted. “Seriously. Don’t go there.”
Nanette looked down to examine her own black hands. “Sorry. I just spent seven years watching a working Roman republic slide straight into the tyranny of empire.”
People sat quietly for a moment before Sukki spoke up. “What is that sound?”
They raced to the door of the tent and saw armed refugees invading the army camp. Everyone grabbed their weapons while Semka named the people. “The ones who wanted to move into the Hejaz and would not take no for an answer.”
Semka ran off to get his soldiers organized to make a defense. Bahati kept the travelers around the big tents. She said the rebels would be there soon enough. They waited. Some came. Some tried them, three times, but they were easily driven off with gunfire. The third time they came on their camels and horses, but that just made camel and horsemeat available for the general population.
In the end, the rebels were driven off. They took their people and left the camps. Djin showed up when it was all over, and Bahati shook a finger at him. Djin grinned at having watched the humans fight and destroy each other. He seemed sorry the fighting ended. But Bahati got his attention with her words.
“Tell the leaders of the ones running off that we are going up into the Hejaz, so they better not try anything. If I find any of their people other than merchants passing through, their lives will be forfeit. Tell them I have no problem killing whole families down to the last child, so it will be like that person never existed. Keep the agreement, and you may live well for many generations.”
Djin put on a straight face, bowed once, “As you command,” and he vanished.
“Wait,” Katie said. “I thought you were trying to keep people from overrunning the Hejaz.”
“We will be enough. The Hawazan will populate the south coast. Some have cousins in Taif, the city you went by. The Kilab may populate the mountains. Any Ghatafan we find will have to pledge to stay north of Yathrib, which is Madinah. Semka and I will take the three hundred volunteers, or however many remain, to Makkah. Though we are Christians, we will be enough to hold the fort, so to speak, until the day of the Prophet. Some may move on to Madinah to keep the peace there, but most will stay with us.”
“I thought you were married to someone else?” Nanette asked, not meaning to sound like she was accusing her.
“Mehedys is old and senile, and if he is not gone, he soon will be. His son Ouazebas has ruled for a few years. He came on this expedition to Ubar. He has taken most of the army south, to Himyar and Sheba as a show of force in the lands that are presumably tributary to Aksum. Honestly, it is mostly lip service. Anyway, he gave Semka and me his blessing. Now, I am going to have a baby.”
“What? Congratulations. Shouldn’t you get out of this sun?”
Bahati looked up and said, “Come. It is late enough in the day to begin thinking about supper.” They all trooped back into the big tent. “I am eating for two,” she said, and people nodded but stayed quiet, so Bahati spoke again. “I am fat enough to look like two, even if I was not pregnant.” Tony laughed softly. Nanette grinned. Sukki looked embarrassed and Elder Stow stayed stoic. The rest of the group, being from a more politically sensitive age, kept their mouths shut tight.
“I do have one more question,” Lincoln said. “Looking at the map, Ubar had to be a long way from Aksum. Why bring a whole army that far in this environment?”
Bahati thought a moment before she answered. “In the old days—I mean before Christ—there were two centers for trade in this part of the world. Ubar controlled all the trade that came from India and the end of the Silk Road, and Arabian spices, too. Meroe, the capital of Kush, controlled all the trade that came from Africa, like spices, minerals, ivory, gold and silver, exotic animals, and so on. Those two cities became very wealthy. Then, around the time of Christ, when the monsoons and sudden terrible storms stopped coming up the Arabian Sea, the ships improved to make more shipping possible. Ships began to enter the narrow space between Africa and Arabia and sailed up the Red Sea where thy could trade directly with Rome and avoid Ubar and Meroe, both.”
“That must have hurt,” Boston said.
Bahati nodded. “But Aksum woke up, being situated in Africa right by that place. They began to exact a price from the ships for safe passage into and out of the Red Sea. They eventually overran Sheba, on the Arabian side of the narrow place, and Aksum got rich, while Ubar and Meroe suffered. Aksum began to spread out control in Ethiopia, to support its enterprises with better food supplies. It eventually conquered Kush and overran Meroe, taking from the sea and from the land, a cut of all the trade that went north to Egypt and Rome. Ubar was the last piece in the puzzle. If Aksum could conquer Ubar, it could control all the trade between the east and Rome.”
“But now, Ubar sank into the sand,” Katie said.
“Yes. The lake is gone. The caverns filled in with city, and the sand blown over top. A grave for sure.”
Three days later, the travelers dropped the Kindah people off on the border between what would one day be Yemen and the Empty Quarter. Katie shared a thought with Lockhart.
“The Kindah people will not be happy here as the land slowly dies. In about forty years, the Himyar will convince them to head for Central Arabia and establish a kingdom where they can be the new center for trade. I am sure they enticed them with the idea of being the new Ubar.”
“How does that work out?”
“Well, it works more or less for about a hundred years. Then the Kindah kingdom breaks up into about four parts, and Aksum gets tired of being had by Himyar and invades. This time, they aren’t looking for tribute, but rule over Sheba and Himyar like they already rule over Meroe.”
“Then, the Muslims overrun them all,” Lockhart said, with a nod to say he understood.
“Well, Himyar and Sheba at least,” Katie responded.
“Something to look forward to,” Lockhart said
An old friend for readers of this blog. The travelers find Festuscato, the last Senator of Rome as he sometimes calls himself, right when the Vandals are preparing to vandalize the city. Until then, Happy Reading.