Journey to the land of the pharaohs, in the year 1863, where the search for treasure digs up more than a little danger.
Alec and Samuel have already ventured across the sea to Egypt, finding a more trouble than they bargained for. In this scene Samuel has bartered for their freedom, using Alec as one of the assets, and has arranged his marriage in trade for their freedom.
Here comes the Bride
No sooner had the group of villagers stopped cheering than three camels appeared, laden with supplies. Their rifles were mounted, and the trunk, which had been delivered to the tent, was retrieved and loaded onto the back of the largest beast.
Alec watched, somewhat surprised at all the commotion. It was almost as if they were afraid he’d change his mind, and they couldn’t act quickly enough to get them to leave. Not only was that strange, but the whisperings he’d overheard definitely put him on edge.
Infuriated, Alec glared over at Samuel. “What happened with paying tribute?”
“With what, our good looks? Well,” he amended, “your good looks.”
Alec narrowed his eyes. “You actually find this amusing, don’t you?”
“C’mon, you know the captain took nearly half of what I had, and the guide took the rest, along with the water he stole. What was I to do, offer them a note?”
“Yes, damn it!”
“Do you really think any of these people would be familiar with an English bank note?” Samuel’s gaze raked the crowd. “Look around, they’re practically living in the Stone Age. I don’t believe these people are aware of anything other than sheep, sand, and swords.”
The only thing Alec could see was the elderly man who’d come for “the man of tongues” earlier, beckoning him. “What now?” he groaned, looking briefly over at Samuel. Man of tongues, indeed, he’d like to cut the damn thing out!
“I believe he wants you to stand over there for the ceremony.”
Alec seriously doubted a walk to the guillotine could be worse. He had to fight a strong impulse to run the other way as he crossed the short distance and stood before the old man. Samuel followed closely behind and stood at his shoulder.
The elder of the tribe opened his arms to the heavens and spoke several phrases that Samuel translated.
“He’s asking Allah to bless your union.”
Alec barely heard him through the rushing of blood in his ears as he too offered a silent prayer up to the heavens, but apparently God wasn’t listening, for everyone remained as they were, and the earth did not open up and swallow anyone, least of all him.
A disturbance at the other end of the crowd, however, did catch his attention. A wide path was cleared for a figure covered from head to toe in black. The men especially shrunk back, giving the ominous apparition a wide berth.
Was this some kind of ceremonial dress? Alec wondered as she approached. The other women had brightly covered skirts and scarves. The whispering again came to mind. Perhaps she had some kind of ailment . . . leprosy?
“Ah. . . . Here comes the bride.” Samuel spoke cheerfully at his side.
Alec fixed him with a cold stare and mouthed, “I’m going to kill you!”
“You’re the one who wanted to be king, remember?”
“What the hell does that have to do with this?”
“Well, they certainly weren’t going to marry her to your servant.” Samuel innocently pointed to himself.
Alec rolled his eyes with a groan. He’d known when he said it, that it would come back to haunt him, but not quite like this. “I’m still going to kill you,” he hissed through clenched teeth. He received a glare from the elder, who put his hand up for silence, as the woman came to stand before him.
Alec could actually feel her next to him; his skin crawled with the awareness of her. His hands went unconsciously to his side, feeling for pistols that were no longer there. With booted feet rooted into the ground, he looked more like he was prepared for a gun battle. He’d certainly prefer one to this.
Far removed from any wedding ceremony he’d ever imagined, this one matched his mood. The atmosphere was somber, reminding him more of a funeral than anything else, especially with the bride completely swathed in layers of black.
The elder produced a scarf, which he looped over each of their wrists. Alec was just grateful he didn’t actually have to touch her and risk contamination. A few words were spoken, and the scarf was removed. It was fairly painless, considering he’d just been shackled.
The crowd remained strangely silent, almost afraid, as if they were waiting for the heavens to roll back and for God to smite them. And now that he considered it . . . why not? It’s not every day you marry off the Plague of Egypt. No wonder they were waiting for lightning to strike.
It was no longer difficult for him to sort out the words that Samuel had elected not to translate. Alec threw another disgusted look at the man. Marrying him off to no less than the Plague of Egypt had to top just about everything else he’d ever done to him. Despite the provocations, this little stunt went beyond the pale.
“There you are,” Samuel pronounced as a woman bearing a plate laden with an assortment of meats and fruits came towards them. “Your wedding feast has arrived.”
“You mean last supper?” Alec’s voice was flat as he waved it away. “You actually think I could eat after this?”
Samuel shrugged his shoulders as he grabbed a handful of dates before she turned away. They both watched as the bride went to stand before an old woman. They spoke quietly, then embraced.
“Look on the bright side.” Samuel popped a few dates into his mouth. “If that old crone is her mother, she might be as old as the hills herself.”
“And exactly how is that the bright side?”
“Well, you won’t have to run very hard to get away from her,” Samuel mumbled around a mouth full.
Alec fixed him with an icy stare.
“I’ll just go see what’s taking so long.”
Left alone, the prickling sensation of being watched intensified as Alec scanned the crowd. It didn’t take long to find the source. The leader of the blackbirds was standing back from the crowd, and though there was no discernible reason for it, his rage was palpable, his face a mask of barely concealed malevolence.
It was curious that the man would be acting this way over a plague. The untimely arrival of an English king had definitely not been to the man’s liking. Alec found himself wondering if he’d disrupted a love match and would have to surrender his bride. . . . He could only hope so.
The only problem with that solution was that, with the way his luck had run lately, they’d have to kill him in order to free her from their nuptials. “Bloody hell!” Alec swore, expecting a challenge to ensue any moment. Great, just great! His jaw tightened with impatience as he waited.
“Time to go,” Samuel called.
“Finally,” Alec sighed with relief as he turned away. He climbed on top of the kneeling camel as Samuel tossed him a sack containing his weapons.
“Like taking a pebble from a beach. . . .”
“If you never said that again, it would be a good thing,” Alec warned through clenched teeth as he placed his guns in his belt and then searched the sack for more. “Where’s the ammunition?”
“Ah, I believe it has been loaded onto the camel with your bride. Something to do with keeping the peace, I believe.”
Alec snorted in response.
As they left, the tribe started jubilantly cheering once again. The trilling of the women blended with the whooping and hollering of the men. Alec made it a point to keep an eye on the leader of the blackbirds, especially when shots were fired into the air. The man fixed him with a black stare before he turned and stalked away.
It was a warning . . . or worse. The look had definitely held a promise of dire consequences, though what they might be he could only imagine. The only thing Alec knew for sure was that he’d had enough of these people.
Alec prodded his camel forward, glancing at the tent he’d been forced to stay in all morning. He could almost laugh at the irony. He, the “king,” had been left to swelter in the heat, while Samuel, his “servant”, had been received with the aplomb of a visiting dignitary. Not that he could have known at the time, baking as he’d been in the canvas oven with five guards to ensure he stayed there.
He felt some vindication that the damn thing had been leveled. The tent now looked as though it had been run over by a herd of elephants. It wasn’t nearly enough compensation for the indignity of having been held captive within it, or the debacle of what had transpired afterward, all of which he blamed one person for . . . Samuel.
Alec watched as the idiot waved goodbye to the cheers of the tribe who’d followed them out of the camp. Escorted them, was more like it.
. . . And later, when his new married status hits home, Alec decides to clarify a few things.
The Bearded Lady
Well, actually. . . . Alec’s eyes narrowed on his friend’s back as he rode before him. The turncoat had sold him into slavery, just of a different kind. Especially when one considered that the whole reason for coming to this god-forsaken country was to avoid getting married.
Alec made a promise to himself right then and there. If he should ever get out of this predicament, he would return to England, assume his responsibilities, and never again listen to that ill-begotten. . . . Seeking an adequate description, he glanced at the figure ahead of him swaying precariously on his mount. The traitorous bastard could barely stay seated on the camel he rode.
Alec sure as hell was never letting him handle it ever again. He glanced back again at his current “wife,” The Plague, and shuddered. She reminded him of a crow with her black garments flapping in the breeze. Hell, all the responsibilities he’d avoided thus far in his life were preferable to this.
Strains of a little ditty that Samuel was entertaining himself with drifted back on the wind. There was nothing Alec would like to do more than strangle the man right now. The fool had even let his hat fall back from his head, exposing his face and reddish-blonde hair to the bright sunlight.
The idiot would have sunstroke before long, and Alec wasn’t even a bit inclined to save him from it. A small part of him actually wished it on him. Hell! He was only amazed it hadn’t happened yet. It would have been among the highlights of this journey.
What a fool he’d been. He should have sold the piece of scrap to the old man at the card table for five quid, instead of traipsing out into the middle of the desert to avoid his fate.
He felt like a puppet being toyed with. First the pressure to marry, and now the burden of finding a way out of that state. Alec could just imagine the look on his mother’s face if he were to introduce The Plague to her as his wife. The thought actually lightened his mood, until he turned around again.
“Oh, God,” he groaned. He certainly had a better understanding of the saying: When choosing your demons, the known is better than the unknown.
Alec blew out an exasperated breath as he faced the front again. The only thing left to him, it seemed, was to find out exactly what Samuel knew about the predicament he’d placed Alec in. If nothing else, he wanted to get a few things clarified.
He urged his mount forward, easily catching up with the drunken idiot. “Did you know they called her The Plague of Egypt?” he whispered loudly.
“Ho-ho, I’m impressed.” Samuel nodded. “Your understanding of their language is much improved since we started.”
“You’re not denying it,” Alec accused.
“Come now, Alec, you really believe that?” Samuel looked at him with all the surprise his reddened eyes could muster. He was teetering on the back of the camel, the effects of the strong drink still apparent.
Watching him, Alec wondered for a moment if he would lose his seat, then a thought occurred to him. “This is because of the dancing girl in Amsterdam, isn’t it?” he charged.
“What?” Disbelief registered on Samuel’s face. “Really, Alec, I’m appalled you’d even think so. I happen to like bearded ladies.”
“You married me off to The Plague of Egypt to get even. Admit it.”
“No.” It was a statement, not a denial, more like a denial to admit denial.
Alec’s eyes narrowed as he considered him.
“Besides, I told you not to think of it as a marriage.” Samuel waved his hand in the air as if mimicking nothing, a paltry nothingness at that. “For God’s sake, man, it’s merely an act of transport. Once in England, you can simply annul it, if that is even necessary.” He paused, as if contemplating the merit of this new idea, and then continued. “I’m not sure the heathen practices of this country are even acknowledged by the laws of our courts. Unless, of course . . . no.”
“Unless what?” Alec said, picking up the conversation where he’d left it. He was truly exasperated now.
“Just don’t, you know?”
“No, I don’t know.” Alec became increasingly concerned that he did, indeed, know what his friend was getting at.
“C’mon, man, you know!” Samuel leered at him. “Consummate it.” He chuckled as he urged his mount forward, putting space between them, his laughter drifting on the wind.
“Bloody hell!” The expletive was heartfelt. Alec glanced at the figure completely swathed in black that rode behind them and cringed. Oh, God! How can this be happening to me?
Urging his mount forward, he chanced yet another glance back at the woman riding behind him, his bride. His only recollection of her during the ceremony was that she was shoulder height, didn’t appear to be too heavy under all that covering, and that he’d been glad he hadn’t had to touch her and risk catching any diseases.
. . . And this scene is where Samuel does some clarifying. LOL!
Alec spent his time walking to the pool inventing ways to get her to take the damn black covering off her head. When he realized what his mind was preoccupied with, he was appalled. What was wrong with him? You’d think he’d never seen a girl before.
He had to stop this nonsense. He busied himself with filling the pot, still so distracted by thoughts of the woman that he was surprised when the mound, face down in the grass, spoke up.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to leave her alone with the cooking,” Samuel mumbled weakly.
“Why do you say that?”
“According to the sheik, she burned down the whole village one day when she was left to tend the cooking fires.” Samuel rolled over so that he was splayed, face up, across the ground.
“Really?” Alec noted that, since Samuel had started to confess, it was like a river undammed, other truths just kept rushing out.
Samuel pulled himself up on an elbow. “They say she’s like Medusa.”
“Medusa . . . the one with snakes for hair?”
“That’s the one. . . . Some say that if you look upon her, rather than turn to stone, the opposite will happen.”
“The opposite?” Alec’s brows rose.
“Yeah, the opposite,” Samuel whispered conspiratorially, deciding to spill it all, “a man’s pride will shrivel up.”
“You know . . . Pride.” Samuel glanced at him meaningfully.
“Oh, pride. . . .” Alec nodded his understanding. “And the sheik just offered up all this information while he was trying to marry the girl off.”
“Hell no, why do you think I’m so sick?” Exhausted, Samuel wilted back into the grass.
Alec waited, not answering, and not sure at all that he could endure any more of Samuel’s conscience clearing.
“I had to ply him with enough alcohol to loosen his tongue.” Samuel thought to explain after a time. “Clever wasn’t it?”
“Let me get this straight,” Alec fumed. “You, the guest,” he paused for effect, “plied the sheik, our questionable host,” he waited as Samuel nodded in agreement, “with liquor, so that you could find out that the potential bride was a snake-haired pyromaniac who can shrivel the male member of any potential mate that looks upon her, so that you could marry her to . . . me?”
Samuel, who had been nodding slightly, stopped and tilted his head toward Alec. “No, it wasn’t like that.”
“Yes! Right, how clever of you!”
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http://barbaraiviegreenhistoriesmysteries.blogspot.com/ or if you’d like there is a sneak peek on her upcoming release Treasure of the Emerald Isles