Authors: T. Davis Bunn
Â© 1994 by T. Davis Bunn
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâelectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwiseâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher and copyright owners. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This story is entirely a creation of the author's imagination. No parallel between any persons, living or dead, is intended.
Cover illustration by Joe Nordstrom
This book is dedicated to
A man wise in the ways
of both desert and city
A friend who hears the music
of the heavens.
Sultan Musad al Rasuli's dungeon passage was foul with odors and centuries of agony. The jailer led the little group down the stairs, wheezing through lungs tainted by years of breathing the imprisoned air.
Behind him puffed the sultan's assistant, Hareesh Yohari, trying futilely to mask his nervousness by adopting an even more officious manner than usual. He cast a furtive eye back at the two Tuareg. The desert warriors followed close at his heels. Tall and hawk-nosed and cruel of gaze, they had been sent across the mountains from Marrakesh by Ibn Rashid, the undisputed master of Marrakesh's old city. Their orders were to make a final payment to the sultan, witness the demise of the prisoner called Patrique Servais, and return with the unfortunate's head.
At the passage's end the jailer stopped by a stout iron door. He rammed back the great iron bolt, shoved the door upon its complaining hinges, and motioned the other men through.
Hareesh Yohari stopped by the portal and announced, “The honored guests are to follow the sultan's jailer. I shall await you here.”
“The sultan ordered you to be his official witness,” hissed one of the men.
“Is not necessary, not in the least,” Hareesh Yohari replied, drawing himself up to his full diminutive height. “The jailer will make a perfectly good witness to all that transpires.”
The second man, darker and taller and far crueler looking than his minion, leaned down until his great beak of a nose was within an inch of Yohari's face. His voice was as quiet and dry and deadly as a desert wind. “The sultan said
Hareesh Yohari swallowed with great difficulty. “Of course, if the honored guests wish for me to accompany them, who am I to refuse?”
Beyond the door stretched a great chamber, its alcoves and arched roof hidden in shadows cast by the smoky torches. The chamber was filled with hanging cages and vats and instruments of torture. This slowed down their progress considerably, as the two Tuareg showed great interest in all the implements, and the jailer responded to their queries with professional pride. Hareesh Yohari hovered just beyond the trio, almost dancing in his nervous desire to get the task over with and be gone from this foul and fetid pit.
Scarcely had they made their way through half the chamber before a great noise boomed, and the solid rock floor beneath their feet shuddered. The jailer started and dropped the red-hot branding iron he had been demonstrating. With a sizzle, it made contact with his sandaled foot. While he shouted and leapt about, the others searched and craned to discover the source of the noise.
A second noise, louder than the first, drowned the jailer's anguished cries. The Tuareg drew their daggers, the only weapons permitted them in the sultan's palace, and bounded toward the far wall, from beyond which the noise had come. They pulled futilely at the second great door. Then with an oath the taller of the pair raced back, plucked up the wailing jailer by his leather apron, and dragged him over. Hareesh Yohari scuttled fearfully along behind them.
As the jailer moaned and jangled his keys, a third booming explosion shook the chamber, this one followed by a great crashing and rending. Shouts resounded through the palace overhead.
The Tuareg buffeted the jailer with a pair of great blows before he managed to fit in the proper key and unlock the door. Together the Tuareg lifted the man and carried him down to where a final door stood between them and the sound of chains being plucked from stone and dragged across the floor. The jailer's hands were trembling so hard it took several further blows about his head before the proper key
was found. The door was flung back, and with a great cry the Tuareg bounded in.
The chamber was empty. A ragged-edged hole gaped high overhead where before had been only a narrow, barred slit.
The taller Tuareg lifted the jailer with one mighty hand, placed his curved dagger across the man's neck, and hissed, “This was the cell of the one called Patrique, the one sought by Ibn Rashid?”
The jailer managed a terror-stricken nod. “I know nothing, masters, please, Iâ”
“Listen,” hissed the other Tuareg.
In the sudden silence they heard voices speaking foreign words, then a roaring noise, followed by scraping, rending sounds. “A motor car,” said the Tuareg.
“It can't be!” shouted a wide-eyed Hareesh Yohari.
“And ferengi are driving,” the other said.
“Impossible!” Terror drove Yohari's voice up a full two octaves.
The taller Tuareg tossed the jailer aside and raced through the cell door. “To the ramparts, swiftly! We must signal to close the outer gates.”
“Yes, of course, of course,” the diminutive official agreed, but for some reason appeared in no hurry to follow them. “You must hurry, of course. And I must alert the guard. And the sultan, of courseâhe must know all.”
But as the Tuareg raced through the outer dungeon, Yohari stopped, turned, and scampered to a small, hidden side door. He pushed the secret handle, slipped through, and quietly closed the door behind him.
It was the desert way.
Lieutenant Colonel Jake Burnes had heard that phrase so often from his tribal hosts that it had begun to echo in his mind.
For a week and a day he had walked through reaches so empty they had ached with their burden of void. And yet it was in this arid emptiness that his heart had begun to fill with appreciation for the men and women and children who allowed him to travel in their midst.
The Al-Masoud tribe were a people who defined who they were not by what they owned, not by their houses or jobs or ambitions, but by tradition. Theirs was an extended family of some eighty souls, bound to one another and to the past by centuries of tribal lore.
The desert way.
The phrase wafted through his thoughts as he stood on a rise above the camp, watching a heated discussion between the tribal elders and their leader, Omar. Even at this distance, their voices floated clearly through the desert air. Jake had by then begun to recognize Omar's style of leadership. Every major decision was first given over to open debate. But once the judgment was set, any further argument was met with savage fury. That, too, was the desert way, and for the moment it seemed more real than all that lay behind him and all that lay before.
So much seemed so distant here in this parched land of sand and scrub and stone. The States, which had birthed him and raised him and then sent him off to fight against Hitler's forces. Europe, where he had fought a war and fallen in love and forged the friendship with Pierre Servais that had brought him to this vast desert. Even the mountain fastness of Telouet, not so many days behind them, where he and Pierre
had breached a sultan's dungeon and narrowly escaped with the prisoner and their lives. And faraway Gibraltar, the source of their telegraphed orders to cross the desert at all possible speed with their recovered comrade and his important secrets.
All these places and events haunted his memory and directed his plans. Yet somehow they seemed infinitely removed from his present reality.
A strange dark cloud hung low on the horizon, hiding the sinking sun and staining the landscape the color of dried blood. Down in the camp, Jake saw a brown arm extend from a sweeping robe to point toward the cloud, then another gesture toward the pristine blue sky that still arched overhead. More voices. More discussion. Nods of concern and knowledge and understanding. The desert way.
Now he saw Jasmyn Coltrane detach herself from a cluster of women and walk over to where he stood.
Jasmyn. He had first heard that name as part of a bitter tale of treacheryâthe mysterious half-French, half-Moroccan woman who was said to have betrayed his friend Pierre for a Nazi officer. Then he had learned that her true story was one of love and loyalty and sacrifice.
It had been Jasmyn who helped them find Pierre's twin brother Patrique in the sultan's palace, who had arranged with her tribal kinsman to help them escape. And it was for her sake that Omar had taken them in and offered to guide them from the mountains outside Telouet to the Mediterranean port city of Melilla.
“There is a storm,” Jasmyn told him, dark green eyes showing worry under her blue headkerchief. “A khamsin, it is called. A desert wind.”
“So I see.”
“It is tracking parallel to our course, but Omar thinks the night currents will turn it toward us. This is a risk we must prepare ourselves to meet, especially with the new lambs.”
Jake had been up much of the night before, along with many of the others, watching the miracle of birth. Six lambs
had appeared in the space of twelve hours. Within minutes of taking their first shuddering breath, the tiny animals had risen upon trembling legs and made for the udder. Their approach was greeted by a deep chuckling sound from their mothers. Little tails fluttered with the thrill of eating. Jake had stood with the others in the cramped paddock, watching and pointing and laughing with unbounded hilarity at their antics. And feeling lonelier than he had felt since beginning his desert journey.
Jasmyn touched his arm. “Jake?”
He looked down at her and confessed, “I was thinking of Sally.”
“You miss her.” It was not a question.
“Very much.” It was a ridiculously inadequate answer. “It seems like everywhere I turn, I discover something new I wish I could share with her. Like the lambs.”
“From everything you have said, I feel I know this woman Sally.” Jasmyn inspected his face. “I have started a letter to her. I would very much like her to know how grateful I am for all you have done. If you give me an address, I shall be mailing it as soon as we pass a village with a postal system.”
“I don't even know where she is myself,” he replied sadly. “I have to send my letters in care of the U.S. Embassy in Paris. She's traveling around with some high-powered Allied generals. They forward mail by diplomatic pouch. But thank you.”