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
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
“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
“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.
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
“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
“You married me off to The Plague of Egypt to get even. Admit
“No.” It was a statement, not a denial,
more like a denial to admit denial.
Alec’s eyes narrowed as he considered
“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 . . .
“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
. . . 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
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
“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
“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.”