I admit it! I took a break from "Never Spellbound" to work on this. A number of issues related to that story decided to jumble themselves up and create this one. They are not, however, mutually exclusive reading, so feel free to enjoy this without jumping into the never-ending cliffhanger that is my first attempt at chapter-fic. Conversely, however, if you like this, you really should try some of my others. ;)
Yet another inbetweener, a bit of a different style this time, originally inspired by a song by Live called "The Distance". Parts of the song really resonate with the film, for me at least. I would hesitate to call this a "songfic", though. A few of the more apropos lines merely caught my attention while I was writing. I highly recommend the album, which is called The Distance to Here.
Unfortunately, I've never been to Egypt myself: all the information on food, terrain, climate, etc. etc. etc., comes from www.touregypt.net. The hardtack comes from http://www.kenanderson.net/hardtack/index.html, but also from my own experience as a historical interpreter. (I don't recommend the stuff, it's vile.) And all the principal characters come from Stephen Sommers and Universal Studios. The writing alone is mine, but I think I can be proud enough of that not to worry about the rest. :)
The desert had been done before
but I didn't even care
I got sand in both my shoes
and scorpions in my hair...
They were so close, and yet... so far.
An unlikely group of travellers if there ever was one: the warden, the prisoner, the scholar, and the dilettante. They made camp near the bank of the Nile, not far from where they'd come ashore so unceremoniously. What else could they do? It was too dark to travel to the nearest Bedouin trading post, and none of them were in the mood for a long overnight walk anyway.
Everyone was disheartened: they had suddenly found themselves without food, tools or shelter. Man has been known to kill for such things. In 1846, for example, the Donner party took to eating one another when all other sources of food had been exhausted. Man now purported to be civilized, of course. After all, he had cars and telephones. And guns. And waterproof cigarette cases, which is how it came to be that the laziest member of the little group was the one who provided the means to get a fire going.
Rick O'Connell was meticulously checking every firearm, every shell. The machines could be oiled, of course, but wet ammunition was dead weight and had to be discarded. The same went for wet explosives. He'd stripped off his sopping boots, socks, and shirt, and laid them out by the fire, to dry as best they could. Then he'd retreated from the clearing, to do what he had to by moonlight, alone.
The night air off the river was chilly, but he'd had worse, and he was gifted with the soldier's skill to block out sensations that might distract him from his task. Still, he was irritated that he had to keep his damp, cold trousers on for the sake of decency. O'Connell was not a modest man by any stretch of the imagination; all of his clothes could have been drying out by the fire, if not for the girl...
The damn girl.
O'Connell had never lacked for female companionship, when he wanted it. He'd mastered the fine art of talking about himself without saying very much, and of looking like he was paying attention whenever they started twittering about their boring lives. He had plenty of experience with the fairer sex, and was not the type of man who got nervous around girls. Not ordinary girls, anyhow.
They were quite a pair, the Carnahans. O'Connell couldn't quite figure out what their deal was. Polar opposites in almost every respect: she was prim, while he was decidedly improper; she had an excess of pride, whereas he seemed to have none whatsoever. One would have thought that, being adults and no longer required to spend time in each other's company, they would be the type of siblings who'd want nothing to do with one another. But they were surprisingly close, in spite of the fact that the lazy jerk expected his sister to carry all the luggage on her own.
At first, he'd assumed the brother was behind this crazy trip. But Jonathan Carnahan was only interested in gold; there was more than enough of that in the world, if only people would stop killing one another over it. Jonathan knew a bit about the ancient Egyptians, but he seemed to know a bit about a lot of things; O'Connell got the sense that Jonathan could have just as easily been happy treasure-hunting anywhere else on earth, as long as he didn't have to work too hard. His sister, however, was engaged in a much more dangerous pursuit: she was searching for knowledge. The look on her face when she talked about the city was the same look he'd seen on the men in his garrison. Most of them were still wearing it when they died. Cupidity and wonder.
O'Connell was not a man with a death wish, which was precisely why he was going along with the Carnahans' insane quest for the city of the dead. The whole thing was ironic on a number of levels, but O'Connell was not a man who gave much consideration to irony. He had no idea that someone had named the phenomenon; he only knew that it was funnier when it happened to someone else, especially if you benefitted from it. Having some frumpy, bookish librarian save your life so that you could go off into the desert and be struck down, dying while her brother lifted your wallet from your defenseless body--that was not funny.
It was barely a word--more of an inarticulate cry, shaped by lips opened wide in surprise--but it was enough to make O'Connell rise in an instant, a pistol in each hand.
The slender, ghost-white form ducked behind a spindly palm tree. "Please don't shoot me, Mister O'Connell," Evelyn quavered. She did not doubt that he was more than capable of firing several rounds at a defenseless woman before bothering to inquire who was there.
"Oh. You." He dropped back to his knees and continued his work without acknowledging her further.
After a moment, she emerged, stepping barefoot over the soft ground with unconscious, feminine grace. Evelyn Carnahan had unknowingly inherited her mother's walk; however, only since she'd met Rick O'Connell had she actually begun using it advantageously.
Seeing that he had decided to ignore her, she determined to pay him the same courtesy. After all, who would want to look at such a man? He showed too many of his teeth when he smiled. And his hair was too long. And he had too many muscles. And he went about kissing people for no reason. What was he doing, skulking in the dark and scaring people half to death, anyhow? Not that Evelyn wanted to know, of course. She could not have cared less.
Never before had two people ignored each other with such dedication and focus.
She had borrowed her brother's suit jacket, presumably to hide the treasures her wet nightgown had merely advertised. O'Connell approved of this decision. Not that she had anything to fear from him, of course; Rick O'Connell may have been guilty of many offenses, but harming a woman would never be one of them. The warden, however, had very busy hands. Evelyn had handled him competently thus far, but that was in a well-lighted dining area, with a dozen men ready to spring to the aid of a pretty girl.
Pretty. He supposed she was that, divested of the layers of loose, almost masculine clothing she usually wore. More than once, he'd thought of asking if she and her brother shopped at the same stores. After all, they dressed almost identically, except for the fact that she wore skirts.
O'Connell couldn't have known--for it certainly wouldn't have occurred to him to ask--how difficult it was to be a woman in the 1920s. Especially in Egypt, where girls as young as twelve were still being forced into marriage and women were expected to keep to their place. Elsewhere, strides were being made for feminism and equality. There was this thing called the "New Woman", by all accounts a very disagreeable creature indeed. Women's suffrage activists in America were marching, getting the vote, going to jail.
Evelyn Carnahan, cloistered with her dusty books and her long-dead Egyptian nobility, had no interest whatsoever in voting or in going to jail. Her brother shouldered both of those responsibilities on behalf of the family, and that suited her perfectly.
However, Evelyn was a feminist, even if she didn't yet realize it. She wanted nothing more than to gain credibility as a scholar--not merely a woman student, not an Oxford "graduette", but a great mind in her own right. She didn't want her femininity to be an impediment. She'd been told often enough (by her brother and his rascally chums) that she'd be an attractive girl if she took some pains with her appearance and dress. But what good did being attractive do if it made the men around you less inclined to take your work seriously? The last thing she needed to be at this point in her career was conspicuous. And she was already that, by virtue of her gender alone.
Well, as Dorothy Parker would have put it, men seldom made passes at girls who wore glasses. They also rarely looked twice at girls who dressed comfortably and practically. So Evelyn chose her armour with care, and she wore it proudly and faithfully every day of her campaign against the old-school prejudices of the elderly Bembridge scholars. These men only really knew her on paper, and had no way of knowing if she were as homely as a mule or not. But hopefully, word of her unprepossessing appearance would eventually reach them.
Evelyn was congratulating herself on ignoring O'Connell with such astounding success when she smacked into a palm tree. Head-first. Ultra-white stars blitzed across her field of vision. She fell over backwards with a thump and a shout, the ground no longer seeming quite so soft. She was too winded to protest as O'Connell picked her up and set her on her feet. By the time she had recovered her powers of speech, she found that words failed her completely.
"Oops," she said finally. She felt a twinge of pain at the bridge of her nose, and squeezed her eyes shut, fervently willing it not to bleed.
O'Connell didn't hold onto her a second longer than he absolutely had to. The last thing he needed was for this to get more complicated than a business arrangement. The easiest way to dodge that bullet was not to look at her or touch her more than was necessary.
"Hurts, huh?" he asked, with surprising solicitude. Cautiously, Evelyn opened her eyes to find O'Connell peering into her face. "You okay?"
She nodded, sucking in air through her teeth.
"Sure got your bells rung there." Having ascertained that she was all right, he took a step back. "Hey, you should see the other guy, right?" he quipped.
Evelyn stared up at him blankly. Her dazed brain took a moment to process the information it was receiving. She had been startled enough to see O'Connell by the river, so far from where they'd set up camp; she was even more alarmed now to be seeing so much of him, especially up close. "You're practically naked!" she blurted.
He muttered something unintelligible, then added, "You should go back to the fire and dry off."
Indignation flared in her dark eyes. His suggestion had the distinct tone of an order, and Evelyn Carnahan did not take well to orders. "I will when I choose," she informed him icily. "I need to find a place to..." Evelyn was too tired to think of an acceptable euphemism. O'Connell merely stared blankly, not choosing to make it known whether he understood what she meant or not. "I have to go to the lavatory," she elaborated.
He shrugged. "Good luck with that."
"Ooooh..." She narrowed her eyes at him and walked off in a direction selected at random.
About five minutes later, having accomplished her mission, she found herself back in the same place. She couldn't have wandered in a circle, of course--so, in all likelihood, the ground had somehow shifted around her while her mind was elsewhere.
O'Connell was still there, packing up his gear. She watched as he picked up his bag and slowly straightened; she found herself intrigued by the broad bands of muscle stretched taut across his shoulders and back. She had seen dozens of men naked, of course, but none of them had been a day less than two thousand years old. Or living. Or quite as well-developed. He was like a Greek statue, smooth skin rendered colourless in the bright moonlight. Perhaps, she amended mentally, he didn't have too many muscles, after all....
Without turning around, he asked, "Something I can do for you?"
Evelyn was quite shocked at the first response to this question that occurred to her. Although it would probably have been less embarrassing than what she actually replied: "I think I've lost my way."
He glanced at her over his bare shoulder, grinning. A perfect picture of brash young America. Perhaps he was travelling with the wrong party.
"It's dark," she added defensively. "And I don't know the area. Everything looks the same."
"No problem. I'm heading back anyway."
She would have expected him, at the very least, to offer her his arm. Even her brother, who was by no means the most well-mannered individual, afforded her this simple courtesy. O'Connell didn't even wait to walk beside her, but instead simply strode off into the brush. Infuriating man. Muscles or no, he had all the charm of a pack of rabid dogs.
They arrived in the clearing to find Jonathan gone, presumably off on the same errand that had drawn Evelyn away from the relative comfort and safety of the little fire. The warden had collapsed on his back under a nearby tree, sound asleep and snoring wetly. O'Connell was irked that no one had bothered to watch the fire; was he to be the only person in this group with an ounce of horse sense? God help them all if that were the case. He crouched down and poked the fire with a nearby stick, then checked on the status of his boots and shirt. The shirt was dry, but the boots had a long way to go.
Evelyn knelt by the fire on the opposite side, warming her hands. O'Connell, determined though he was not to notice anything at all about her, couldn't help but observe that she was shivering. He turned the shirt over in his hands thoughtfully. It was nearly new; Jonathan had furnished him with money to buy supplies for the trip. It had been a long time since he'd had new clothes, and they never stayed new for very long.
"If you want something dry to wear," he heard himself say, "take this."
Evelyn looked a bit alarmed at the suggestion. "Thank you, no."
O'Connell walked around the fire to her and stubbornly proffered the shirt. "Go on, take it. I don't need it." Every other woman he'd ever had dealings with would have accepted the offer with a grateful simper. He'd been so long in the company of men that he was obviously losing his touch. She was probably lonely, and scared; he was willing to bet she wasn't used to being this far from her parents. "You're cold," he added, not unkindly.
She averted her eyes. "I d-don't want it." Her teeth were chattering now. It was obvious that she'd freeze before she would condescend to accept any help from him.
"Fine. Get sick." He resisted the urge to add, See if I care. He dropped the shirt on the ground beside her and walked away to do a quick tour of the surrounding area. He didn't expect to find anything, but old habits die hard. He needed to be sure the perimeter was secure if he had any hope of getting to sleep.
Jonathan Carnahan, meanwhile, had found a tree in a secluded area near the river and made it his own. He was on his way back to the little clearing, feeling rather woodsy and sportsmanlike, when he bumped into O'Connell--literally. The man came crashing through the surrounding brush at an alarming rate, and only narrowly avoided ploughing Jonathan down and trampling him into the mud.
"I say, there--steady on, my good son." Jonathan placed a hand on the other man's arm, then quickly removed it as a low growling sound seemed to issue from everywhere at once.
"She's stubborn as hell," O'Connell informed him brusquely.
"Evie?" As though there were any other stubborn-as-hell females travelling with their little gang of adventurers.
Jonathan was not about to argue with the man, especially since he was right. He clucked sympathetically. "I'm afraid there's not much to be done about that. Best just to humour her, you know."
"Yeah, well, if she gets a fever, you and Sleeping Beauty back there can look after her." With that, he closed his mouth with an audible snap and brushed forcibly past Jonathan, disappearing into the night.
Concerning topics not directly related to his sister, Jonathan was an entirely equivocal man. He wasn't necessarily immoral, but he was amoral in many respects. This was both a blessing and a curse: it made him more likely to go along with any shady scheme proposed to him, but it also made him less likely to stick with said scheme if things got even the slightest bit sticky. In short, he was fickle, but dependably so. He was, for all his sticky-fingered shortcomings, remarkably good at reading people, and telling them what they wanted most to hear. This was a skill that served him admirably when seated at a card table, and just as admirably when he went in search of female companionship. Unfortunately, he played the role of the drunken buffoon so often and so well that it became difficult to tell when he was only acting. Even for Jonathan himself.
Jonathan had no need to pick pockets. There was money enough in the estate to support him--or would have been, if he hadn't been trying to indulge champagne tastes on a budget that barely allowed for the occasional glass of port. He picked pockets mostly for sport, for the sheer thrill of it. And, for a son of well-meaning and morally upstanding parents, he was surprisingly proficient. He saw himself as a dashing rogue, an orphaned robber-baron type. His sister, who was only slightly more objective on the subject, saw him as a loveable but rather inept rascal. She might have considered things differently if she'd known how quick he was to lift a fiver from her purse when the need arose.
Jonathan was understandably concerned when he arrived back at camp to find his sister's nightgown spread out on the ground before the fire. His fears were mitigated only slightly when he caught sight of Evelyn, sitting on the jacket he'd given her, wearing only what appeared to be a rather large man's shirt. O'Connell's shirt, no doubt--unless there were any other half-dressed giants wandering about with grievances against his little sister. Knowing Evelyn, Jonathan wouldn't have been a bit surprised. Still, she didn't seem upset; if anything, she was looking rather self-satisfied. And this was what worried Jonathan most of all.
His sister looked and acted as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but she had a way of needling a fellow when she wanted to. Jonathan paid her no mind; he was an affable person in general, and he gave as good as he got as far as Evelyn's little barbs were concerned. O'Connell, however, didn't seem the type that would put up with a great deal of needling. He had a noticeably short fuse, and was, Jonathan suspected, very nearly defenseless when it came to a battle of wits. Evelyn would have made short work of the poor man before he knew quite where he was.
She'd obviously done the best she could with the borrowed shirt, buttoning it to the collar and tucking her legs up underneath, so that only her little bare feet peeped out at the hem. The too-long sleeves had been neatly cuffed at her slender wrists. She held a large stick in her hand, presumably to work the fire, although she didn't seem particularly interested in doing that. Jonathan was reminded of when Evelyn was little, and used to sneak into their parents' room to play dress-up. All she needed was a few strings of costume jewellery and one of their father's giant pith helmets to complete the ensemble. "There you are," she greeted, smiling angelically.
Jonathan dropped down beside her. "Here I am indeed, old mum." He reached over and tweaked her knee. She squealed and elbowed him sharply in the ribs. When he poked her in the shoulder, she moved as if to hit him with the stick. He grabbed her hand. "All right, all right, we'll call it pax, shall we?" He took the stick from her and poked at the lacklustre fire. "Now, are you making trouble with this O'Connell chap?"
She said nothing, merely shot him a look. After all, she had been the injured party, not O'Connell: with no provocation whatsoever from Evelyn, he'd as good as told her he didn't care if she got sick and died! She felt no need to defend herself.
"Because we need him, now more than ever," Jonathan reminded her. "He's the only one who knows the way to Hamunaptra."
Evelyn scowled. "I know that."
Jonathan took the puzzle box from his pocket and began idly toying with it. "I know he's not the most pleasant person in the world, but we've all got to get on together. For now, at least. After this is all over, we need never set eyes on the blighter again." He fiddled with the little curiosity, turning it one way, then the other, trying to repeat the movements Evelyn had used to open it a dozen times already.
"He's dead common," Evelyn declared. Absently, she reached over and gave the box a neat half-twist, springing it open.
"Thanks, sis--oh, absolutely. Common as dirt."
"And he's all sweaty. He smells like a barn."
Jonathan refrained from pointing out that Evelyn's hair had absorbed a great deal of the river's characteristic odour. "Mm, yes, too right."
"And he curses too much."
"True, very true."
"And he thinks that just because he kissed me--"
Well, now, this was news to Jonathan. "Hang on a tick," he interrupted. "When did he manage that?" Jonathan Carnahan, like many older brothers, assumed the worst of every man between the age of eighteen and eighty--especially any that said more than five words, consecutive or otherwise, to his darling little sister. He'd watched Evelyn just about every second of the journey, with the possible exception of his poker game with the Americans--at which point, he realized in retrospect, he'd simply been keeping an eye on the Americans, for a change of pace. He'd seen her chatting with O'Connell, briefly, but he wouldn't have guessed they were getting on well together. Certainly not well enough to be exchanging more than the occasional pleasantry.
"At the prison. You were on the ground, it was after he'd hit you."
"Ah, yes." Jonathan rubbed his jaw, which still ached slightly. Nothing like a good paste in the eye to make a man that much more inclined to take a midday nap. And Jonathan needed very little encouragement to do that in any case.
"It wasn't much of a kiss, at that." Evelyn sounded as though she were trying to convince herself of this. "And he only did it because he was about to be hanged."
"Yes, of course. Because a strapping young man in full command of his faculties would have absolutely no other motivation for kissing my very pretty, very sweet, very clever, very available baby sister."
"Oh, be quiet." She bumped him affectionately with her shoulder. Thoughtfully, she added, "Strapping young men don't like clever girls."
And there lay the heart of the matter. Not the fact that O'Connell had dared to kiss her, but the fact that he hadn't so much as tried to repeat the offense.
Jonathan cursed himself for not having seen this coming sooner: Evelyn had definitely been impressed by O'Connell's transformation from unkempt ruffian to dashing gunman when he'd met them at Giza Port. When Jonathan had ribbed her about it, she hadn't even responded in kind; she'd merely tripped along after O'Connell and the bags, calling out directions to her cabin. Jonathan had thought nothing of it at the time, assuming it was just Evelyn's way of asserting her demanding nature with the newest member of their party.
There couldn't have been more than a few years' difference in their ages; Evelyn hadn't much experience with men her own age, preferring to spend her time in the company of those hundreds of years her senior--or, worse still, those of fictional extraction. The only man she'd ever been particularly close with was her charming wastrel of a brother, and her interaction with him usually involved teasing or squabbling. Neither technique seemed particularly likely to increase her appeal to a man like O'Connell.
O'Connell was rough, bold, self-confident, bluntly honest, and supremely oblivious to the opinions of others. Everything Evelyn was not. Opposites attract may have been a truism, but it wouldn't have been if it also wasn't, to some degree, a partial truth.
Jonathan placed his arm around his sister's slim shoulders and gave her a brief, reassuring squeeze. "Buck up, Evie," he told her. "O'Connell's a prat, that's all. I wouldn't give him another--"
She cried out. Jonathan thought that was a bit melodramatic, but soon realized that she wasn't lamenting her sudden and somewhat misguided infatuation. "My locket, Jon, I've lost it!" She patted her chest, then got up and began searching the ground around her on all fours.
"When did you last have it?" Jonathan asked, making a sweeping motion over the soft earth with his hand.
"When I was--it must have--when I walked into the--" Talking to herself rather incoherently, Evelyn sprang up and dashed off into the woods, ignoring Jonathan as he called after her.
Abruptly, Rick O'Connell found himself smacking into a Carnahan for the second time that night. Only this time, it was the other one. "Where are you going?" he demanded.
Evelyn straightened her attire in dignified silence, and O'Connell noticed with a surge of pride that she'd decided to wear the shirt after all. The hem hovered precariously around mid-thigh; this first glimpse of anything more than the occasional flash of ankle was, he was forced to concede, very promising indeed.
"I lost something," she informed him, "when I missed my footing earlier."
He grinned. "When you smacked into the tree, you mean."
"Look, we can quibble over this all night, or you can help me look." She didn't wait for his reply, merely continued on her way, assuming that he would follow.
O'Connell knew when he'd been enlisted. "Do you even know where you're going?" he asked.
She turned and glared at him. "Just because I am a woman, Mister O'Connell, does not mean I was born without a sense of direction!" she snapped.
He said nothing, merely pointed back the way she'd come. Chagrined, she brushed past him and continued to march in the direction he had indicated, muttering under her breath.
"Why is this thing so important, anyway?" O'Connell inquired, about ten minutes later. He felt he had a right to know why he was down on his hands and knees in the scrub, although at the time he hadn't even questioned, merely followed orders like any good soldier would. Not that he'd always been a good soldier; desertion was probably not likely to earn him a commendation in the near future. Still, he knew how to take orders as well as to give them--when it suited him. "It's just gold. Lots of that where we're going."
"My mother gave it to me," Evelyn replied.
O'Connell rocked back on the balls of his feet and gave her a disgusted look. "That's it?" He sighed. "You gotta be kidding me. Jeez." He had the impression that spoiled little Evelyn was the recipient of plenty of fancy jewellery from Mommy and Daddy. When she shot him a look, he added, "Aw, come on, don't pout. I'm sure she'll forgive you. She'll probably even buy you another one if you ask nicely."
The change that came over her face was incredible. It was as though he'd reared back and punched her in the stomach as hard as he could. For a moment, she didn't seem capable of speech. Then, very softly, each word an effort, she elucidated, "Both my parents are dead, Mister O'Connell. They passed on when I was a child."
"I assumed my brother would have told you. He... likes to talk."
"Yeah, he sure does... but, no, he didn't mention it. I--I'm sorry, I--"
"We haven't got much, Jonathan and I; just a small yearly allowance," she continued, determined to dispel all of O'Connell's illusions about her in one shot. "Most of our combined savings have gone into financing this little expedition of his." She didn't add that Jonathan's contribution had been approximately one-tenth of hers; he wouldn't have been able to manage that much, but for a brief but profitable encounter with a friendly card table. "Our parents... they'd never really altered the provisions of the estate that were set out when they were first married, so most of their money went to the museum and to support various archaeological foundations. They were still so young, you see... they couldn't possibly have known..."
O'Connell bent his head to the search, and ardently wished she would just stop talking. He felt like a complete and utter heel, and every sentence just made it worse. He knew what it was like, having your parents leave you when you needed them most. Evelyn would have been the last person in the world he'd have expected to understand. To O'Connell, who had never had much, she and Jonathan seemed to be looking down at him from the lap of luxury.
Evelyn had apparently found confession to be good for the soul. "After they passed on, Jonathan looked after me, or tried to. He hasn't much of an idea of what a genteel lady should be; he finds them rather boring, you see." She smiled, as if this fact had only just occurred to her, then reflectively added, "So do I, for that matter."
"I was adopted," O'Connell blurted--in part, to stop her from making him feel any lower than he already did.
Evelyn looked up, a bit startled, as if she'd forgotten he was there. Perhaps she had. "Were you?" she asked, unsure of how else one was supposed to respond to such an admission.
"Yeah. Nice people, but... you know. Not really family. My folks... whoever they were... left me in an orphanage in Cairo when I was just a kid." He kept his voice steady, trying to give the impression that it didn't bother him to talk about it.
"Did you ever find...?"
"Nope. Don't think they wanted to be found."
"Do you still keep contact with your adopted parents?"
"Nah." As soon as he'd been old enough, he'd slipped away in the night, worked off his passage from America to Europe, and from there back to Egypt--the only place he'd ever really felt at home. "I'm not really the family type. Knock around too much for that, I guess. Never know where I'm gonna be from one week to the next." He glanced up, and was surprised to find Evelyn leaning in very close, listening with rapt attention, her eyes large and luminous in the dim light.
"How sad that must be," she murmured. "Not to have a home."
There was a long moment where they simply gazed at each other, and O'Connell completely forgot to breathe. He wondered how she'd managed to get so much out of him in such a short time: one minute, he was kicking himself for making her feel bad, and the next, he was practically crying on her shoulder. This girl was definitely trouble.
He shrugged, sloughing off the cares of childhood in a single, fluid motion, becoming once more the confident young soldier. "I don't think we're gonna find your necklace," he remarked. Then, because he felt he ought to say something consolatory: "Uh, sorry about that."
She sat in the dirt for a moment, hugging her knees to her chest and looking forlorn. Perhaps it was the large shirt on her small frame, or the position she sat in, but she'd never looked so tiny and so helpless before. O'Connell wondered what he'd do if she cried. Women tended to cry about things like this, didn't they? He supposed he'd have to put his arms around her. This worried him; there was a very good chance that he might enjoy holding her a little too much.
However, Evelyn simply got up and began walking back to camp, without crying, or waiting for his arm to be offered. She was beginning to learn not to expect any courtesies from Rick O'Connell: the sooner she was able to rid herself of whatever silly romantic notions she'd conceived about him because of that one small kiss, the better off she would be.
They were within shouting distance of the clearing when O'Connell's keen eyes spotted a glint of gold. It was, in fact, nowhere near the tree where Evelyn had fallen; the locket must have come off when she'd retreated to change out of her nightgown.
He plucked it from the ground and held it up, eliciting a squeal of delight from Evelyn. Impulsively, she threw both arms around the surprised young soldier, clinging to him for a single, precarious moment. Her body, pressing against his through the thin cotton, strained his self-control almost to the breaking point. His heart hammered, making him feel as though he were being kicked by a jackrabbit from the inside. Nevertheless, he wasn't quite sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed when she came to her senses, taking a step back and accepting the locket from him with a dignified, "Thank you."
"You're, uh, you're welcome," he replied, shaking his head to clear it.
After examining it a moment, cooing happily, Evelyn proffered the locket to him. He put out his hand to accept it, bewildered and a bit frightened. Was she giving it to him? Why would she do that? Everything became clear as she turned away from him, lifting her unkempt hair to present the nape of her neck. He slipped the fine chain around her neck, then fumbled, his fingers suddenly clumsy at the clasp.
Evelyn started at his touch, feeling a frisson of something she couldn't quite identify. She gave it her best shot anyhow: "Your hands are cold, Mister O'Connell."
"Yeah," he replied, concentrating on his task. Her skin was incredibly soft--just touching it made him more aware of the calluses on his hardened hands. His fingertips seemed to have gone completely numb. He fiddled with the delicate clasp, not wanting to break it. He wondered what she would do if he just leaned down and kissed the smooth slope of her neck. Just the thought made him seize up. It was one thing when you were about to die, but to actually have to face the consequences of your actions... She'd probably slap him across the face and call him every name she could think of.
"Something wrong?" she asked, noticing the way his hands had slowly stilled.
"You better ask your brother to help you," he suggested. Large, awkward hands were definitely not one of Jonathan's shortcomings.
"All right." She clutched the locket close to her, and he let the chain slide through his fingers.
They walked on, side by side, O'Connell slowing his long steps to match her little ones. He was convinced that whatever was happening to him was bad news: every time she smiled up at him, every time she spoke, he felt a sick flurry of movement in the pit of his stomach. He told himself it was probably a bug, that he must have swallowed too much river water. The feeling intensified when she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow with practiced ease, as if they'd walked this way every night of their lives.
As if by an unspoken agreement, they separated when they reached the clearing, walking in opposite directions. He immediately noticed how cool the night air was: it gave him goosebumps all over. He hadn't even known he was cold, until he'd been deprived of the wonderful warmth she provided.
Jonathan sat up straight, blinking the sleep from his eyes. He'd been watching the fire and dozing; for a moment, he could have sworn that he'd seen Evelyn come walking up arm-in-arm with O'Connell. He rubbed his eyes and gave the pair a second look. They weren't even touching. He yawned and shook his head, wishing--not for the first time--for a good, stiff gin and tonic. Preferrably without the tonic.
It didn't take Evelyn long to drop off to sleep. The arduous swim, after a long day of travel, had exhausted her. Curled up under her brother's jacket, head pillowed on her arm, bare legs bathed in luxurious fireglow, she made a striking picture--when she was still, which was rare. Very few people are dignified sleepers, and Evelyn was no exception; not only was she likely to kick out at any given moment, but she talked. Her inane mutterings, when they were intelligible, usually concerned some section of the library catalogue that was in desperate need of reworking.
O'Connell and Jonathan had both been divested of items of clothing so that the woman who lay opposite them could be more comfortable. This, besides making it difficult for either of them to get much sleep, helped them to bond in a way neither man could have anticipated. Jonathan knew Evelyn well, and loved her well; O'Connell, despite his very best intentions, was beginning to do both. Jonathan could see it in the way he watched her sleeping form, and the way he strained to hear her garbled talk, all the while attempting to appear disinterested and to pay attention to Jonathan's conversation. He was far from convincing. Jonathan had not known O'Connell very long, but the younger man didn't strike him as the sort of fellow capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. Especially when the one thing happened to be a pretty young girl.
"Don't bother," he advised.
O'Connell's gaze flicked upward from Evelyn's face to Jonathan's. He grinned, guiltily, a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, then looked away. "Don't know what you're talking about."
Jonathan dismissed his profession of ignorance with a cavalier wave. "Bollocks. I can practically see the little wheels in your head turning, my good son."
O'Connell gritted his teeth, irritated that Jonathan insisted on calling him that. But he said nothing, reminding himself that he had been paid well for this relatively easy job.
"Don't even try to figure her out," Jonathan continued. "You won't. Believe me--greater men than you have tried, and failed."
"Like who?" demanded O'Connell, before he could stop himself.
Jonathan smiled. "Why, me, of course."
In spite of himself, O'Connell laughed. "Just you, huh?"
"Oh... well, no. But Evie's a very funny girl. Not funny--what I mean to say is, she gets peculiar notions sometimes. Doesn't have the time of day for a man who can't keep up with her--you know, mentally." He tapped his temple with his index finger. "Rules out most of the chaps I know."
"Yeah." O'Connell's face became even more sombre than usual as he realized that this edict undoubtedly applied to him.
Across from them, Evelyn was loudly and emphatically directing an invisible bibliographical revolution.
"Too smart for her own bloody good, sometimes. If you ask me." O'Connell hadn't, but Jonathan seemed determined to forge on in any case. "First in her class at Oxford, and what's it done for her? Not a damn thing."
O'Connell swallowed noisily. His only real frame of reference for Oxford was as an abstract concept: a place, somewhere in England, where very, very bright people went to argue about whether things existed and why. He could definitely picture Evelyn as one of those people. No doubt she could argue very convincingly that he didn't exist--at which point he'd probably simply disappear from the face of the earth.
"A librarian, for Christ's own sake," Jonathan was saying. "She could have stayed on, could have gotten a doctorate and taught history or linguistics or any damn thing you please, and been quite happy--but instead she comes back here to become a librarian! It's looking for that sodding book that's done it."
"The book of Amon Ra?"
Jonathan nodded. "So she's told you about it. Load of bloody nonsense."
"It might exist."
"Well, yes, it might exist. And it might be at Hamunaptra. And it might be made of gold, as they say. And it might have the power to make the dead come alive, rise up out of the sand, and do the bloody Charleston. But I sincerely doubt it, my boy."
"You never know," said O'Connell defensively. He watched Evelyn, whose dreams seemed to have calmed down momentarily. It seemed that the more time he spent looking at her, the more enchanting she became. He understood that finding this book was something that Evelyn longed for, something that made her entire face light up when she discussed it. He wanted it to be real, and he wanted her to be the one to find it. Better still, if only he could find it for her...
Jonathan shrugged, and didn't bother to pursue the matter further. "I say, don't go getting all addle-pated over my sister, will you?" He poked irritably at the dying embers of the fire.
"Never mind. Just let her alone."
"I never touched her!"
Jonathan let him get away with that little white lie for the moment. "I'm not saying you did, old man, just--just don't, all right? Don't do things by halves. Don't fall for her, lead her on, and then break her heart and leave me to pick up the pieces. I won't have it, I tell you."
"Good. Just as long as we understand one another. Now, don't get me wrong, O'Connell; I like you. I think you'd be a fine fellow to drink with once this whole bloody mess is finished. I'm sure you've a hell of a story to tell, and I know you'd be a good man to have on my side in a fight. But you and Evie... it just wouldn't work. She's not like other girls."
O'Connell nodded his agreement. The fact that he'd never known anyone quite like Evelyn was, more than anything, what drew him to her. But he didn't know how to word this in a way that Jonathan wouldn't deride or dismiss. "Gotcha," he said.
"Good man." Jonathan reached over and clapped him on the shoulder. "Now, let's try to get some sleep, for what it's worth, eh?"
Jonathan, who was even less used to strenuous exercise than his sister, was soon sound asleep in spite of the hard, cold ground and his damp clothes. O'Connell, who considered it to have been a pretty slow day in general, lay on his back, watching the stars and half-hoping Evelyn's incoherent ramblings would include his name.
One of the least pleasant sensations in the world is to be awakened by hunger. The four travellers woke with ravenous appetites, but none of the wildlife within reach seemed particularly appealing to any of them. The warden took to gnawing sullenly on his tie, his stomach growling so loudly that one might conceivably expect the earth to move.
Jonathan had spent worse nights on less accommodating couches; he woke feeling surprisingly rested, apart from being a mite peckish. The fresh morning air invigorated him, and it wasn't long before he had everyone up and about.
O'Connell had slept for about twenty minutes the whole night, and wasn't particularly inclined to be sociable. Jonathan made up for him by being positively gregarious.
Evelyn was not a morning person, although very few people are under such circumstances. She plodded sleepily about, stumbling into a bush to change and then dozing off with her back against a tree once she'd shimmied into her dew-damp nightgown. She told herself she was only resting her eyes for a second, then stayed there for almost half an hour before Jonathan and O'Connell, fed up with waiting, began to look for her.
It was another twenty minutes before O'Connell finally found her. For the first time since they'd met, he was able to look at her as closely as he liked without fear of reprisal, and so he indulged himself while he had the opportunity. He watched her for a long moment, mesmerized by the gentle rise and fall of her chest and the peaceful expression on her face. He didn't quite know why, yet, but something about this girl spoke to him on a deeper level. O'Connell wasn't a man who considered things on many levels to begin with; the discovery of an entirely new one left him both startled and perplexed.
"Eeeeeeeeevie...!" Jonathan was going to come crashing in on them any second. O'Connell plucked his shirt off the low branch where Evelyn had conscientiously hung it after taking it off. Then, rather than wake her, he bent down, gathered her up, and hefted her over his shoulder. She hardly weighed anything at all, really. He reasoned that he could probably carry her to the trading post without much trouble.
"I say, what's your game, O'Connell?" Jonathan demanded when he caught sight of them.
O'Connell put a finger to his lips, then gestured to the slumbering Evelyn.
"Well, you can't carry her the whole bloody way, can you?" Jonathan remarked, not bothering to lower his voice. "Just put her down and give her a shake. Or a good pinch--here, I'll do it."
Evelyn stirred and moaned, and O'Connell set her gently on her feet. The conveniently-timed awakening confirmed Jonathan's suspicions that she'd been feigning sleep while the well-intentioned young soldier carried her. It had been a favourite trick of hers since she was small; of course, O'Connell had no way of knowing that. Besides which, it would never even have occurred to him that being thrown over a man's brawny shoulder was likely to wake a person up, especially if she were not really sleeping, but only resting her eyes.
Evelyn yawned ostentatiously before announcing, "I'm famished."
"Aren't we all... we'd best be on our way, then, hadn't we?"
Evelyn groaned. The warden swore. O'Connell said nothing, merely looked stoic.
Jonathan, being the one with the most energy, soon took the lead, once they got onto the well-used trail. Evelyn, who came next, made quite a picture in her little white nightgown, her bare, pale arms attracting the interested stares of the few passers-by they encountered. More than once, she missed her footing and 'accidentally' stumbled against O'Connell, a fact that did not escape Jonathan's notice. O'Connell, however, seemed to have taken their little talk to heart: Jonathan was pleased to note that he seemed careful not to have any more contact with Evelyn than he could help.
Rather than being put off by this, Evelyn was seized by a renewed sense of determination. She felt that she'd made a real connection with the young soldier the night before, and his sudden standoffishness posed a challenge impossible for her to resist. But her stumbling wasn't entirely calculated; she'd hardly eaten the whole day before, out of sheer excitement. The walking, as well as the rising heat, made her feel a bit faint at times.
As soon as it became apparent that Jonathan had let his guard down, O'Connell took hold of Evelyn's wrist, and, without a word, pressed something into her hand. It appeared to be a small brown rock, about half the length of her thumb. She looked up at him questioningly, and he mouthed something that looked like "card rack". Evelyn shook her head, not quite sure what she was supposed to do. He motioned to his lips, then made a chewing motion; it was part of a biscuit, Evelyn realized, and popped it into her mouth.
She nearly broke a tooth when she tried to bite down on it, giving a squeal that caused Jonathan to look at her over his shoulder.
"Something the matter, Evie?"
"I 'ih 'y 'ip," she lied, one hand pressed to her mouth. O'Connell snickered. She glowered at him, wondering whether feeding her rocks was his idea of a joke.
"Come again?" prompted Jonathan.
"She bit her lip," O'Connell supplied with a shrug.
"Ih 'urh!" she whined.
Jonathan, puzzled, looked to O'Connell, who translated, "It hurts."
"Oh. Steady on, old mum," her brother cautioned.
O'Connell leaned down and whispered, "Hardtack. Rations. Don't chew it." He pulled another chunk of the stuff from his trouser pocket, stuck it in his mouth, and sucked on it until it softened enough to swallow. Once in a person's stomach, hardtack--which was mostly flour--continued to expand, giving the distinct sensation of having eaten a large meal. It wasn't the best breakfast in the world, but it was marginally better than nothing.
Evelyn soon felt her hunger pangs ease, but she couldn't help feeling guilty for having eaten when Jonathan and the warden were obviously still hungry. As if sensing the turn her thoughts had taken, O'Connell turned out his pockets, as if to show her that was all the food he'd had. She patted her midsection to let him know she felt quite full, then gave him one of her coy smiles. Those smiles were not easily won, which made him feel as though she were presenting him with a gift each time. He loved to watch as her face gradually illuminated, like a little sunrise.
As the morning went on, they fell to talking. O'Connell had never been much for conversation, but he listened with rapt attention to Evelyn's delineation of several Egyptian legends. This was quite remarkable: not only because he'd gotten very little sleep, and a conversation like this would normally have had him snoring, but because it was rare for Rick O'Connell to listen to anything for very long--let alone something that had the distinct air of a classroom lecture.
Evelyn, for her part, was more than happy to hold court as they walked; not only because she revelled in having an appreciative audience for once, but because talking helped to distract her from the growing ache in her bare feet. She walked alongside O'Connell, chattering animatedly, Jonathan having fallen to the rear to walk beside the warden. They had only been walking for a few hours by this time, but to Evelyn it seemed as though they'd been on the sandy trail since the very dawn of the world.
"Now, Set was jealous of Osiris," she was explaining when O'Connell first caught sight of the trading post on the horizon.
He squinted into the late morning sun, shading his eyes. "How come?" he asked.
She considered O'Connell's question seriously before answering--a courtesy people rarely afforded him. "Well, Osiris was the good brother. One of his names, Onnophris, literally means 'good one'. Osiris had everything," she continued. "Power, the love of the people, a beautiful wife whom he trusted to run the kingdom in his absence..."
"Yes!" Evelyn cried. "Good for you, Mister O'Connell."
"So Set decided to be rid of his brother, once and for all. He held a feast, and at the end of it he brought out a beautifully decorated coffin. He told all of his friends--"
"Wait--wait a second, a coffin?"
Very few things irritated Evelyn more than being interrupted while she was telling a story. "Yes, yes, a coffin!" she huffed impatiently.
"Isn't that kinda morbid?"
"It's a fairy tale," she reminded him through clenched teeth. "Set told all of his guests that whoever could fit into it most perfectly would receive it as a gift."
Evelyn nodded grimly. "One by one, the guests tried, and failed, to fit into the coffin. At last it was Osiris' turn. He, of course, fit into the thing perfectly, since it had been made to his measurements. And then Set and his cronies sealed it up with molten lead and threw it into the river."
"Gee, didn't see that coming. What kinda dope do you have to be..."
"Set was his brother," chided Evelyn gently. Casting a meaningful glance over her shoulder, she added, "Brothers are not supposed to sell you out behind your back."
"Show me where it says that in the handbook!" retorted Jonathan.
"At any rate, Isis retrieved the coffin, but Set found it and tore Osiris' body to pieces. He threw the pieces in the river, where they were carried far and wide. Isis had to journey all over the world, looking for the parts of her husband's body, until she'd gotten him all put back together again."
"Ugh." O'Connell shuddered.
"Except for his, er, manly bits," interrupted Jonathan. He clamped one hand on O'Connell's shoulder and the other on Evelyn's. "Those got eaten by a crab, unfortunately."
O'Connell made a face.
Evelyn sighed. "Jonathan, why is it that you only know the naughty details of all the stories?"
Jonathan tried his best to look innocent, and failed miserably.
O'Connell snickered. "Kinda too bad for Isis."
"Good lord, yes," Jonathan agreed. "No picnic for Osiris, either, I'd imagine."
"Oh, that didn't matter. They had a deeply spiritual love," Evelyn observed, face shining.
Jonathan rolled his eyes, and wedged himself firmly between his sister and O'Connell as they walked. He didn't particularly like the turn the conversation had taken. However, he didn't need to worry: Evelyn was not about to be distracted from the thread of her story.
"Even after Isis' magic revived him, Osiris couldn't stay in the world of the living because he had already passed on. He was the first mummy, you see. The ritual of mummification represents everything that Osiris had to go through before he could rise up to rule in the afterlife, replacing Anubis as the lord of the dead."
O'Connell still found it difficult to get around the fact that a girl--especially one like Evelyn, who seemed to turn her nose up at cursing and drinking and the pleasures of life in general--could get excited about such weird, gory tales. "This stuff doesn't give you nightmares or anything?" he queried, although he was fairly certain, after last night, that her dreams did not involve anyone named Osiris (or O'Connell).
"Only the part about Isis and Osiris being brother and sister," muttered Jonathan. Evelyn gave him no acknowledgement, aside from a hearty shove which knocked him off-stride long enough for her to slip closer to O'Connell.
"I find the Egyptian legends fascinating," she explained, talking softly, so that O'Connell had to lean close in order to hear her better. "I'm not interested in curses, of course, or any of that nonsense."
"You're not, huh?"
"Of course not. No sensible person would be," she informed him loftily. "The pharaohs wouldn't have wanted to harm anyone who came to visit their tombs. Especially people like us, who come in good faith to learn about them and to make their names heard throughout the land. The Egyptians believed that as long as a person's name continued to be spoken aloud, that person would prosper in the afterlife. The worst thing they could do to you after you were dead would be to scratch out your name from all the wall carvings."
"There are examples of it all over the place, at the city of Amarna and at--"
"So--back to the story," O'Connell interjected, before Evelyn could get a head start on an entirely new topic of conversation, "Isis went through all that for nothing?"
"I wouldn't say for nothing, Mister O'Connell."
"But she was living and he was dead. They could never be together."
"The important thing is that she saved his soul," Evelyn insisted. "She was willing to go to the ends of the earth to keep him safe. Because true love transcends time and place, and even mortality. Besides," she added with an impish grin, "if he didn't have any manly bits, their being separated didn't much matter, did it?"
O'Connell shrugged, forced to concede that she had a point.
"Wicked girl," Jonathan chided mockingly. "Now, why don't you tell the one about Horus and Set?"
"Ooooh, you men. All you want to hear about is sex and violence. You're worse than schoolboys." She stamped her foot, then immediately wished she hadn't as shards of pain shot up through her leg. "How much longer, do you think?"
"Haven't a clue, old mum." Seeing that she was hobbling a bit, Jonathan offered his arm. Evelyn accepted it gratefully. Her brother set a more leisurely pace, and they fell back a bit, leaving O'Connell to walk on alone.
"Shouldn't be long now. Half an hour," O'Connell estimated, shading his eyes with his hand and ignoring the sudden pang of envy he felt. The trading post was still only a quivering shadow on the horizon, the faintest suggestion of tents huddled together. He pointed it out, but no one was looking.
"If we haven't reached it by then, we'll stop and rest," added Jonathan, petting his sister's hand solicitously.
Behind them, the warden belched his approval.
"Brute," muttered Jonathan.
"Pig," replied the warden, in Arabic.
The conversation degenerated from that point, on both sides. It was Evelyn who finally put an end to it, with an Arabic curse word so vile that none of the three men would have expected her to know it, let alone use it in conversation. Even Jonathan wasn't entirely clear on its meaning, but he knew perfectly well that it wasn't anything that ought to be coming from his sister. The warden made a sour face and went back to chewing his tie; Jonathan dropped his hat in the sand and threatened to wash her filthy little mouth out with soap; O'Connell laughed, shook his head in disbelief, and admired her just a little bit more.
Evelyn had spent the first few years of her life in a household where English and Arabic were both spoken, and had an almost instinctive grasp of her mother's native tongue. However, although she could now passably hold her own in Old and Middle English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, ancient Egyptian, and even American, her conversational Arabic had long since dwindled to a few perfunctory phrases and the occasional word picked up in the suq. When speaking it, her tongue became like a hinge grown rusty through disuse. She felt clumsy and awkward, especially around O'Connell, who rattled off colloquial greetings to every merchant they encountered at the Bedouin market.
She tried her best to outline her needs, and usually managed to get her point across. And when she inadvertently propositioned a sweetmeats vendor, O'Connell was on hand to bail her out. He directed the man to Jonathan, explaining that the young lady's brother was the one to bargain with if her services were desired.
"Maybe you should let us do the talking," O'Connell suggested, as the vendor scuttled off to Jonathan to name his price. Seeing Evelyn's expression quickly clouding, he added hastily, "I mean, they might try to rip you off. 'Cause you're a woman."
"Oh. D'you really think so?"
"Yeah, definitely. Jerks."
Absurdly pleased that O'Connell should offer to assist her in such a gentlemanly manner, Evelyn favoured him with a sunny smile.
"I say, you cheeky little bugger!" Jonathan could be heard shouting from all the way across the camp. The vendor had wasted no time, it seemed. "You make that suggestion to me again and I'll belt you one, d'you hear me?!"
Jonathan apparently couldn't be bothered to speak Arabic at all, though he obviously comprehended what was being said. He seemed to think that he had only to raise the volume of his demands to make himself clear, which resulted in a lot of agitated yelling and gesturing at various shopkeepers. The warden was no help whatsoever: when he wasn't stuffing his face with pastries of questionable origin, or chasing after the local women, he would sit with the various merchants and make idle conversation while Jonathan and O'Connell tried to gather together the needed supplies.
Evelyn found the whole process of bartering immensely dull. She couldn't understand why Jonathan wouldn't just pay the requested amount--especially considering the fact that it wasn't his money. To make things worse, whenever she tried to participate, one of the two men cut her off before she had a chance to say anything. She lost the thread of the conversation completely after a volley of rapid-fire Arabic from O'Connell, but she gathered from Jonathan's agitated stamping and swearing that things were not going well.
She slipped away as unobtrusively as she could manage, wandered over to the nearest fruit stand, carefully pronounced the words, "Burtu'aan bedammoh," and coyly held up three fingers. The merchant nodded and smiled, displaying the four remaining teeth in his mouth to their best advantage. She paid for her purchase and thanked him gracefully.
O'Connell, who had felt his heart rate increase notably as soon as he realized she was out of earshot, relaxed as she came strolling back, bearing three pink oranges--and the correct change, to boot. She handed one orange to her brother, who accepted it without a word, and continued to pace. She dropped the second into O'Connell's hand, gratified by his look of surprise. Just because she was a little out of practice didn't make her completely useless, after all. The sooner these two got that through their heads, the better off they would all be.
She wandered away, peeling her own orange and relishing the warmth of the late-afternoon sun on her arms, legs, and tousled head. The rare, sweet orange, with its juicy red pulp, had been a favourite of hers since early childhood; there was, she felt, nothing else comparable.
Evelyn walked on, so very absorbed by the burtu'aan bedammoh that she somehow managed to bang into a poorly constructed fence. Caught off-guard, she stumbled, fell into the ramshackle fence, somehow got tangled up, and knocked it over completely, freeing assorted livestock in the process. The resulting scuffle of chickens, goats, several unwashed young men in loincloths, a whole gang of camels, and one elderly nag, disrupted the entire market for almost half an hour and very nearly resulted in their being ejected from the Bedouin camp entirely. And, on top of it all, she didn't even get to taste her orange.
O'Connell was the first to reach Evelyn in all the tumult. He found her unharmed, if slightly rattled by the sudden explosion of animals into the marketplace. There was a great cracking sound as he extracted her from the remains of the fence by the swiftest means possible, and assisted her in gaining her feet. He'd already drawn breath to curse her clumsiness when Jonathan came dashing up, hat askew. "What the devil happened?" he demanded. "Are you all right, Evie?"
It took Evelyn mere seconds to regain her composure. Flashing O'Connell a grin that made his insides feel as though they were melting, she remarked, "Oh, I'm fine... but you should see the other guy."
The trader was rather nettled by the damage to his property and the loss of one or two of his stock, but, as he told Jonathan via O'Connell, he was more than willing to accept Evelyn as compensation for his hardships. O'Connell's fist was already raised for action when Evelyn stepped neatly in between the two, completely unaware of the tenor of the conversation. She pressed the old man's withered hand between both her own, and, in fluid, faultless Arabic, informed him, "I am sorry for the mess I have made of your shop." The merchant, who had made his rather crass offer believing Evelyn did not understand or speak his language, was momentarily stunned into speechlessness, as were her brother and O'Connell. Considering the matter to be closed, Evelyn trotted off to find something in the way of a travelling garment. Jonathan and O'Connell let her go.
The women of the Bedouin camp spoke a smattering of English; more importantly, they were women, and able to understand another woman's needs. When Evelyn indicated what she wanted, and how she wanted it to fit, they smiled and nodded, and conducted her to a private place where she could try on everything they had to offer. They created a solid, unflappable human barrier whenever the warden tried to peep into the little tent.
After they had dressed her, like a funny, pale doll, they carefully arranged her hair and shared what little makeup they had. They treated her with the same tender care they would have shown a daughter of the tribe; because they did not understand her name, they called her Farida, or precious, because of her jewel-like eyes. While they worked, they chattered and sang songs that reminded Evelyn of childhood, of her mother's warm embrace. Many of the women were older, the age her mother would have been if she had lived. They had the same soft hands, the same smell, the same buzzy way of saying their Rs. The songs and the memories made her feel radiantly alive, and it showed. She was beautiful, her Bedouin mothers told her. Beautiful and sweet. Farida. She would soon find a husband.
O'Connell convinced Jonathan to pay what amounted to roughly a king's ransom for the camels. After all, the poor merchant deserved some sort of compensation--just not the type he would have preferred. As they led the animals away from the beaming merchant, Jonathan muttered under his breath, disheartened by the sudden and noticeable lightness of his wallet. He would have a few words to say to Evelyn, once they discovered where she'd gallivanted off to.
"We coulda got 'em for free," mused O'Connell. "All we had to do was give 'em your sister."
In another time and place, Jonathan would undoubtedly have sprang to Evelyn's defense, challenging the rapscallion who dared to cast such aspersions on the character of his darling little sister. Just now, though, he was smarting. He felt a certain sympathy for the man beside him; any man who cared for Evelyn, as Jonathan himself well knew, was in for a rough time of things all round. She was like the eye of a storm: although chaos surrounded her and cast its shadow over all who knew her, Evelyn herself always seemed to remain untouched by the havoc she wrought merely by existing.
"Yes," he conceded darkly, "awfully tempting, wasn't it?"
O'Connell was in complete agreement--until he happened to catch sight of Evelyn. The gaggle of anonymous robed women around her dispersed, leaving only the pale, shimmering vision in black. Her face, framed by the gauzy headdress, seemed to glow. The dress was tight. Low-cut. Sheer. Tight. O'Connell tried to swallow, and found he couldn't. His pulse raced, and he was suddenly aware of the midday sun, beating mercilessly down on his bare head.
"Awfully," he iterated softly, barely aware of what he was saying.
Evelyn, who had been rehearsing for this moment, smiled bewitchingly. Jonathan groaned. And Rick O'Connell lost his heart.
Whatever happened now, he was in it for the distance.
Oh, the distance is not do-able
in these bodies of clay, my brother
oh, the distance makes me uncomfortable
guess it's natural to feel this way