* * *
The gatekeeper, Latif was his name and indeed he was gentle, spoke at the door of the Village Master, "Honorable Mundhir, they are ready to depart." Abdul stood beyond the gate, outside. Belle and Shafiq were mounted upon Maysa' and Numair. Latif walked into view and proceeded toward them with Mundhir following behind him. Latif spoke to Shafiq, "Good Prince, Master Mundhir has prepared the packs on your horses, sparing no expense. Our hearts go with you. I will send word to Kadeen so that Queen Sawsan knows of your progress." Looking to Mundhir he said, "Master, they are ready before you," with a flourish toward Shafiq and Belle. Mundhir stepped forward and addressed them, "Honored Prince Shafiq and Princess Belle, we have taken precautions to see that the roads are clear as far as we have control. Your packs are full. Along the way, any house of the kingdom should be able to get word to us for whatever you need. We salute you, your highnesses," Mundhir said bowing and saluting with his hand, "and pray God's blessing, mercy and grace be on your Quest." Numair and Maysa' turned with one mind and began to follow Abdul on the road for their tour of the land.
* * *
Ra'idah marched in the fore, with Rashida on her flank turning and checking the order of the warriors at times. The Phalanx of the Warriors of Astarte wheeled in perfect unison wherever Ra'idah led them. Rashida checked her lieutenants and had them appoint the lookouts at camp and the scouts during march. Rashida, herself, was a falconer. Her falcon was upon her forearm. She spoke to her and said, "Falak, soar, see from the highest what there is and come back to me." The bird's flight was immediate and swift and precise. Gone for a space of half an hour, Falak returned to Rashida's arm, silent and sure and as if appearing out of nothing. Rashida, who could understand Falak, put her ear close to the bird and listened. Rashida went to Ra'idah and reported what Falak had seen, "The way appears clear and the land is quiet. Our march should be unimpeded and simple." Rashida, nevertheless said, "keep a watch. Much is in motion and we cannot be blind." They continued their march to the West and the Village of Sippar.
* * *
Queen Sawsan was in her garden tending her roses. Word from and to Sippar and the Daughters of Astarte and Belle's castle in Mari was maintained regularly. Kadeen walked to her and stopped and bowed, then said, "Your highness, they have begun the tour, all are in good spirits. The land is quiet and the Daughters of Astarte march to Sippar." "Thank you Kadeen," the queen said, "keep me informed." "Yes, your highness," replied Kadeen as he turned and left.
Night was falling.