I'm so glad so many of you enjoyed the last chapter, and thank you for all your kind words, both about the chapter and the little one. We have officially concluded all the flashback scenes, so from here on out it's present tense. Bring on the drama and the mummies!
Hope you're all staying safe and healthy. Enjoy the chapter!
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to The Mummy, only the OC's.
The Road to Hamunaptra
The Nile River. 1926.
Rose was still soaking wet and fuming mad as she made her way in the general direction she believed her comrades to be. She pulled her bag up higher over her shoulder, grunting at how much heavier it felt now that it was waterlogged, and roughly shoved at any foliage that dared to intrude on her path. She did not know where Ardeth had gone, nor did she care. All she wanted was to get away from him and get back to her friends, and then hopefully she would never have to see him again.
It took a few minutes of walking, but finally she was able to hear familiar voices. Between the darkness of the night and the foliage obscuring her view, she could not actually see the people that were talking. But once she had made her way a little closer, it was a relief to realize that the voices were ones she recognized.
"Why has she not yet made it ashore?" Evelyn was asking, her tone verging on frantic. "She should be here by now! Something must have happened to her!"
"She seemed just fine, last I saw," O'Connell shot back at her, and there was a distinct note of distain in his voice that let Rose immediately know that he had not forgotten running into her and Ardeth on the ship. "Even had a friend with her," he added with sarcasm. Nope – he definitely hadn't forgotten.
"What's that supposed to mean?" a new voice asked. That voice belonged to Jonathan, who sounded confused.
"Don't tell me you don't know," O'Connell snorted. "Aren't you supposed to be her best friend or somethin'?"
"Well, obviously I am – " Jonathan started to retort.
"This is not the time for discussion!" Evelyn interrupted sharply. "I do not know what you are on about, O'Connell, but Rose is still out there somewhere! And if none of you useless men are going to do something about trying to find her, then I will!"
Rose finally broke through the foliage just in time to see Evelyn, clad only in a sopping wet nightgown, marching back toward the river with determination. Jonathan and O'Connell both began protesting and hurried after her, while Gad Hassan watched on with what seemed like annoyance at the whole situation. The four had their backs to Rose and had not yet noticed her reappearance.
"What's all the panic about, then?" she asked loudly to announce her presence.
Four heads whipped around to look at her. Evelyn and Jonathan immediately looked relieved and came hurrying toward her, while Gad and O'Connell hung back. Gad looked neither pleased nor displeased at her return, but O'Connell immediately crossed his arms over his muscled chest, his expression turning to one of anger and suspicion.
"Oh, Rose!" Evelyn said, before hugging her tightly as soon as she was within reach. "We were so worried!" Evelyn released her, but kept a hold of her shoulders and began looking her up and down, as if searching for injury. "What happened? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Evie," Rose reassured, mustering up a smile for her.
Evelyn was soon pushed aside by Jonathan, who swept Rose up in a bone crushing hug. "You gave us a right scare, Rosie love!" he said, squeezing her tighter for good measure before finally letting her go. "We thought we had lost you!"
Rose patted him on the shoulder. "I'm not quite that easy to get rid of," she said.
"And thank God for that," Jonathan replied with a grin.
Rose finally dared a look over at O'Connell, who had taken to searching their surroundings. His eyes swept the area, and Rose had a feeling she knew what – or rather, who – he was looking for. When nobody else made an appearance, he looked back to Rose and frowned deeply at her.
"Where's your pal?" he grunted.
Rose did not like his tone, nor did she particularly like the way he was looking at her. "Gone," she answered shortly.
O'Connell quirked a brow. "Gone where?"
"I do not know, and I do not care," Rose replied swiftly. "Now, what is the plan?" she asked Evelyn and Jonathan, hoping the change in subject would make O'Connell stop asking questions that she didn't want to answer.
No such luck.
"How do you know him, Grisham?" O'Connell asked, cutting over the Carnahan's before either of them had the chance to respond.
"What does it matter?" Rose countered.
O'Connell glared at her now. "It matters," he said through gritted teeth.
Before she could say anything else, Jonathan raised a hand into the air, which made them both look at him. "Pardon, but what the devil are you going on about?" he asked O'Connell with complete confusion. Evelyn and Gad both seemed equally perplexed.
"Ask her," O'Connell said, jutting a chin in her direction.
All eyes turned to her, which made her immediately feel hot around the ears and the neck. "Rose?" Evelyn asked gently. "What's going on?"
Rose glanced around at the four people looking back at her, trying hard to figure out if there was a way to get around having to reveal the truth. When O'Connell just raised his brows and gave her a look that clearly said he wasn't going to let her skirt around the issue, she finally heaved with defeat and threw a hand up.
"Fine. There was a man on the boat that I knew," she reluctantly said.
"What man?" Gad asked, stepping closer so that he stood next to O'Connell.
Rose hesitated again. "He…he was with the men that attacked the boat," she revealed. "He was in charge of them, actually," she added with a frown.
Everyone but O'Connell looked shocked. "What?" Evelyn asked. "How do you know him?"
Rose looked at Evelyn, her expression hopeless now. "Evie…it was Ardeth."
Evelyn, of course, knew exactly who Ardeth was. The revelation made the younger woman gasp, one hand flying to her mouth in surprise as her eyes widened. "Oh dear."
Jonathan looked between the two of them, his expression even more befuddled. "Who the bloody hell is Ardeth?" he demanded to know.
Rose sighed, her shoulders sagging a bit. She had certainly not planned to reveal her past relationship with Ardeth to anyone, especially not to Rick O'Connell and Gad Hassan. Then again, she also hadn't expected Ardeth himself to come barging back into her life, nor for their boat to be attacked by him and his men. It seemed any and all of her plans had gone right out the proverbial window that night.
"He is the Chieftain of a tribe that resides in the desert. He and I have…history," she admitted, thankful it was dark so nobody could see how badly her face was burning as she revealed her most closely guarded secret.
Now O'Connell did look shocked. He stepped forward and pointed a finger in her direction. "Are you telling me that asshole is your boyfriend?" he demanded, sounding even more angry.
Rose glared at him. "Not anymore, he isn't," she said. "Not that it is any of your business, but we have not been together for quite some time now."
O'Connell huffed. "You two still looked pretty chummy to me," he accused.
Rose felt her temper flare. She took a step toward O'Connell, letting her bag drop to the ground. "You seem to be conveniently leaving out the fact that you know him, too," she snapped, which made him close his lips tightly. "I saw the way you two looked at one another. Ardeth recognized you, and you recognized him."
"So?" O'Connell asked.
"So how do you know him?" Rose demanded.
O'Connell glowered at her. "I don't know him. But I know his people. They were at Hamunaptra when my platoon was killed," he said.
Rose blinked, her anger stopping short at those words. She could remember O'Connell mentioning seeing 'strange desert men' at Hamunaptra, but it had never registered as a possibility that those men might be Ardeth's tribe. "What?" she asked dumbly.
"They were there, watching while my comrades were butchered like animals," O'Connell said bitterly. "When I finally escaped, they made no move to help me get out of that damned desert. They left me for dead."
Rose was having a difficult time processing that information. Why would Ardeth have been at Hamunaptra? Try as she might, she could not recall ever hearing him speak about it, save for the time he had read her father's letter and realized that Monty and Tariq had gone searching for it. And now that she was really thinking about it, his reaction to Hamunaptra had been odd. He had seemed disturbed by the revelation that her father and uncle had gone there, and then abruptly left to return home. At the time, he had told her he was merely going to tend to some problems within his tribe, and because she had trusted him, she had accepted that reasoning without question.
Now she was starting to think Ardeth had had other reasons for leaving when he had. Clearly he knew a lot more about Hamunaptra than he had let on, if the events of the night and O'Connell's retelling were anything to go off of. But it still did not explain why Ardeth had been so adamant about her not going to Hamunaptra, nor did it explain how he was connected to it.
Rose shook her head to try to clear her muddled thoughts. "I do not understand this," she said, rubbing her forehead with frustration. "I have no explanation for anything he has done."
O'Connell glared at her. "Yeah? Well, how about you try explaining how he knew we were gonna be on that ship, Grisham," he said accusingly.
Rose dropped her hand from her face to narrow her eyes at him. "Are you implying something, O'Connell?"
O'Connell took another step forward. "It seems a little suspicious, doesn't it?" he asked. "They were looking for our map. They knew where we were going," he said heatedly. "Did you tell them?" he demanded.
Rose frowned deeply. "Why the bloody hell would I tell them anything?"
O'Connell smile sarcastically. "Gee, I don't know. Maybe because you wanna take all that Hamunaptra treasure for yourself?" he asked. "Maybe you wanted to get rid of the competition, so you got your boyfriend to do the dirty work for you?"
The accusation made anger flood her veins. "How dare you accuse me of betrayal!" she growled, surging forward. The only reason she didn't deck O'Connell directly in the face was because Jonathan placed an arm in front of her to hold her back. "I told you my reason for going and it damn well has nothing to do with treasure. I had no idea they were coming tonight! I would never put my friends in danger!" she yelled indignantly.
"Evelyn almost died tonight! We all almost died tonight!" O'Connell shouted back.
"And I'm just as furious about that as you!" Rose insisted.
O'Connell started to say something back, but Evelyn finally stepped between them. "Enough of this!" she interjected. "We will accomplish nothing by standing here shouting at one another." She paused to look at them both, and once she was satisfied they were not going to keep arguing, she continued. "Look," Evelyn said, looking to O'Connell. "I trust Rose with my life. She did not tell Ardeth of our mission, I can promise you that."
"I haven't even bloody seen him in four years!" Rose added with a scowl.
O'Connell looked from Rose to Evelyn, then back to Rose. "Well, somebody told them," he insisted.
Rose only had to think about it for a second before the answer struck her like lightening. "Dr. Bey," she said, looking to Evelyn with a frown. "He has known Ardeth for ages, and he knew we were going to Hamunaptra. It had to be him."
"I think you are right," Evelyn said, nodding in agreement. "But why would he tell him?"
"To stop us from getting to Hamunaptra of course," Jonathan chimed in huffily. "He couldn't talk us out of it himself, so he called in the cavalry."
Gad chose that moment to finally contribute to the conversation. "I do not know who this Dr. Bey is, and I do not care to know," he said. "What I want to know is will we meet these desert men again, and do they intend to stand in the way of our treasure?"
Everyone looked to Rose, as if she would know what Ardeth's plan was. She felt like she had made it more than clear to Ardeth that she did not want to see him, but something in her gut told her that tonight would not be the last time their paths would cross. "They have shown how far they are willing to go to stop us from going to Hamunaptra," she said, motioning to the boat still ablaze on the river. "I think it would be naïve of us to believe they will not try to interfere again."
Nobody looked particularly happy to hear that. Evelyn wrung her hands worriedly, while Jonathan heaved loudly with frustration. Gad looked furious at the thought that anyone would dare get between him and his promised treasure – O'Connell just looked downright annoyed.
"So what do we do then?" Evelyn asked, glancing back and forth between Rose and O'Connell questioningly.
Rose looked at O'Connell, who stared back unblinkingly. She was still angry at him for his accusations, and he still seemed very much angry at her for knowing Ardeth Bay. But that didn't change the fact that they still had a mission to see through, and Rose was not going to give up on Hamunaptra just because a giant wrench had been thrown into their plans.
"We go to Hamunaptra, as planned," Rose said with authority.
"And how exactly are we supposed to accomplish that?" Jonathan asked. "Our transportation is about to be at the bottom of the Nile, along with most of our supplies," he pointed out, gesturing to the burning ship. As if on cue, there was a loud explosion and the flames engulfing the vessel grew even fiercer.
O'Connell answered before Rose could. "We walk," he said gruffly, already moving to collect his bag of supplies, which he had been able to salvage before jumping ship.
"But…it will take days to make it to the village we were supposed to make port at if we go by foot," Evelyn said, wrapping her arms around herself. It seemed the chilliness of the night was finally starting to get to her, which wasn't much of a surprise since she was the least dressed person there. Jonathan noticed how cold she was and moved to give her his jacket, which she accepted gratefully.
"I know another place we can go to. We can be there within a day if we move fast enough," O'Connell said. "We can stop there, restock our supplies, then continue on to Hamunaptra."
"You still plan to lead us there, then? Even after what happened tonight?" Rose asked with a quirked brow. With how angry he had been, she had half expected him to quit and go back to Cairo.
O'Connell gave her a flat look. "I gave you my word."
He fixed her with a long look after that, before finally hiking his bag up onto his shoulder and turning to leave without another word. Gad hurriedly followed him, looking eager to move on, and then Jonathan followed, too, looking none-too-pleased about the fact that they were likely about to spend most of the night walking. Evelyn, however, lingered behind, and once it was just the two of them, the younger woman moved closer to reach for Rose's hand.
"Are you alright, Rose?" she asked with concern.
Rose sighed and nodded. "I'm fine. Had a close call on the boat," she said, remembering the man from Ardeth's tribe that had held a knife to her throat. "But…I'm alright. You?"
"I'm fine, thanks to O'Connell," she said, before giving her a look. "And it wasn't the attack on the boat I was asking about," she added pointedly.
Rose pressed her lips together as she realized that her friend was asking about Ardeth.
When it came to her former love, she didn't really know how she felt. She was angry at him for so many reasons, confused about the things he had done, frustrated by the fact that he had come back into her life at the worst moment possible…but there was no denying the small, traitorous part of her that had missed him, that almost wanted to see him again, even though she knew it would be bad if she did. It was maddening, the many different emotions swirling through her. So she decided that it would be best to try to forget about him for the time being – there were more important things to worry about than Ardeth Bay.
Of course, that was probably going to be much easier said than actually done.
"Now is not the time to discuss it, Evie," Rose said with a small sigh. "Let's just focus on getting to Hamunaptra, alright?"
Evelyn pressed her lips together, as if in an attempt to stop any further questions from tumbling out, and nodded in acceptance. "Of course."
Rose smiled, grateful that her friend was so understanding.
"Would you two hurry up?" Jonathan suddenly called from up ahead, sounding annoyed that they were lagging behind. "Hamunaptra isn't going to find itself!"
Rose and Evelyn just shared a look, then, after Rose retrieved her bag and slipped it onto her shoulder, they left the river behind and hurried to catch up with the men.
They walked practically all through the night, stopping only for a few hours to rest before O'Connell was getting them all back to their feet to continue on. By daybreak they had covered a fair amount of ground, but they were all tired, thirsty, and hungry, and it was safe to say that they were all in a positively foul mood. There was barely any conversation as they trudged through the unfamiliar land, following O'Connell blindly and having no choice but to trust that he knew where he was going.
A little past noon they caught their first break. They were walking along what seemed to be the only dirt road for miles around when a man with a horse drawn wagon came up behind them. The wagon was full of produce but big enough to fit the five of them, and with a little bit of bartering and a good deal of charming, they convinced the man to let them hitch a ride to the village that O'Connell had been leading them to. It was a relief to get off their feet, and everyone but O'Connell dozed off nearly the moment they sat down.
They arrived in the village a few hours before sundown, and the fact that they had finally reached their destination raised their spirits significantly. They decided to stay in the village for the night, having reasoned that they had a bit of a leg up on their American competition and that they had earned a night of rest. The Americans still had to find a way across the Nile, which they were allegedly on the wrong side of, and though they had horses and a guide – a squirrely man named Beni that O'Connell allegedly had a bad history with – they would still realistically need to stop for supplies somewhere before going into the desert. Rose and her companions would take the night to rest and gather their wits, then leave for Hamunaptra in the morning and pray that the Americans were as far behind as they hoped.
The village was a small one, with practically no options for places to stay. Their only choice was to pay a slightly absurd amount of money to rent out a few canopy tents for the night, which were set up behind the one and only eatery in the vicinity, serving as a bed and breakfast of sorts. Rose and Evelyn took one tent to themselves, and though neither Jonathan, nor O'Connell, looked very happy about it, they agreed to share the other tent with Gad.
They settled into their tents, and Rose, who was lucky to still have her belongings, took her clothes out of her travelling pack and hung them out to dry under the sun so that she and Evelyn would have something to change into, since they were still wearing the same clothes that they had gone into the river in. Evelyn refused to leave the tent so scantily dressed, so they left it to the men to go to the small market to replace some of the things they'd lost in the sinking. By dinnertime, the clothes were dry enough for Rose and Evelyn to change, and though Rose's clothes were a little too big for Evelyn, the librarian was grateful to be out of her nightgown nonetheless.
"I am going to sleep very well tonight," Evelyn said as she sat on her cot and tried to detangle her brunette hair. "I do worry about the Americans beating us to Hamunaptra, though," she admitted with a sigh.
Rose, who sat on the cot opposite of her, looked up from the clothes she had been refolding. "There's nothing to really be done about it, so you might as well stop stressing yourself," she said with a shrug. "Regardless of where they are, we need to rest tonight. We'll need all the energy we can get once we're out in that desert."
"True," Evelyn agreed. "O'Connell seems to think they are a long way off, even with that Beni fellow leading them," she added, nodding to herself. "We shall just have to trust that he is correct."
Rose huffed at the mention of O'Connell.
There had been an obvious tension lingering between them. They hadn't spoken more than two words to one another since they left the boat wreckage, and it didn't look as though that was going to be changing anytime soon. That was fine by her – if all he was going to do was insult her with his wild accusations, she didn't want to speak to him.
"Well, O'Connell knows everything…or so he seems to believe," she said bitterly, turning her eyes back down to her bag as she roughly shoved a shirt back inside.
Evelyn sighed and stopped working on her hair. "He was out of line last night," she said. "He should not have accused you of betraying us to Ardeth and his men."
Rose's spine went rigid, though whether that was due to the reminder of O'Connell's accusations or because of the mention of Ardeth, she couldn't say for sure. "No, he shouldn't have," she agreed. "So much for camaraderie," she added with a huff.
Evelyn sighed again. "Surely he will realize he was in the wrong and apologize."
Rose gave her a skeptical look. "Something tells me O'Connell doesn't know how to apologize."
"Well, then he had better learn," Evelyn countered.
"I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you," Rose suggested, feeling weary of the situation already.
A brief silence passed between them, where Evelyn began to fiddle with the hairbrush Rose had leant her, and where Rose resumed packing her now dried out belongings. It was a heavy silence, though, one that left Rose with the sense that something was on her friend's mind. And if she was half as smart as she liked to think she was, she had a good idea what that something was.
"Do you want to talk about Ardeth?" Evelyn asked quietly.
Rose stiffened again, even though she had been expecting the question, then calmly zipped her bag shut again. She set it on the ground and looked at Evelyn, crossing her arms tightly over her chest. "What is there to talk about?" she asked evasively, not entirely convinced she did want to talk about Ardeth, even if it was with someone she trusted as much as she did Evelyn.
Evelyn frowned and leaned forward to give Rose a penetrating look. "Well…what exactly happened on the ship?" she asked curiously.
Rose, who had a feeling Evelyn wouldn't drop the subject until she knew, decided to just tell her. She recounted everything that had happened, from Ardeth surprising her on the boat and asking – or rather, demanding – that she hand over the map and key, to how they had argued and she had hit him, to Ardeth insisting that he stay with her when she refused to leave the ship with him. She also told of their brief run in with O'Connell, before concluding the tale by revealing that Ardeth had eventually tossed her overboard, before jumping ship himself to see her safely back to shore.
Evelyn listened intently, then made a thoughtful noise as she processed the information she had been given. "He came for you, then?" she finally said.
Rose scoffed. "He came for the map and key," she corrected bitterly. "He probably only came to me because he thought he would be able to manipulate them from me."
Evelyn frowned. "I think we both know that is not true," she said, which made Rose press her lips into a hard line. "If he had only wanted the map and key, he could have easily left the task to his men," Evelyn stated matter-of-factly. "But Ardeth made sure to get on that ship and made sure to find you, so that he could warn and protect you. He was there last night for you, Rose."
Rose mulled that one over, her brows pinching together.
Evelyn made a good point. As the Chieftain, someone who was undeniably very important, it would have made more sense for him to send others to carry out what had ended up being a rather dangerous mission in his place. But he had come to the ship, and he had seemed more interested in looking after her than actually trying to obtain the map and key. Perhaps Evelyn was right. Maybe he had come for her.
Even if that was the case, she was still convinced that this all boiled down to Hamunaptra. He had insisted, over and over again, that they shouldn't go, that they would be in danger if they continued on. Assuming he had come for her, it had not been to explain why he had left her or try to fix what he had broken. It had simply been to try to stop her from going through with their current mission.
"Even so, his main cause for being there was to stop us from going to Hamunaptra," Rose said with a shake of her head.
"You don't know that," Evelyn said.
"I do, actually," Rose countered. "He said so himself. Several times."
Evelyn sighed. "Perhaps trying to dissuade us from going to Hamunaptra was part of his reason, yes…but you cannot tell me that you truly believe that was his only reason."
Rose frowned, because she didn't particularly like where this conversation was going. She did not want to start delving into the potential reasons for Ardeth suddenly swooping back into her life after all these years, because that would only bring about more questions she didn't have answers to, and make an already frustrating situation even more complicated than it already was. What did it even matter what his reasons had been? They were over. They had been over for a long time now. Ardeth had made his choice when he had walked out of her home that very last time, and there was nothing he could do or say now to change the fact that he had chosen to leave her.
"I do not care what he was trying to accomplish last night, Evelyn," Rose said tightly. "He is no concern of mine anymore."
She stood and went to the one mirror in their tent to start fussing with her wild, red curls, hoping the conversation would be over. Evelyn, however, wasn't quite finished.
"I understand why you are angry with him. But I can tell you are hurting, too," she said gently, which made Rose freeze again. "He broke your heart, and him turning up the way he did must have you feeling very confused." Wasn't that the understatement of the year. "I think if Ardeth does show at Hamunaptra, you should talk to him."
Rose turn to look at her friend with a frown. "Why?"
"This entire journey was born out of the desire to find answers," Evelyn reminded as she stood from her cot and stepped closer. "Maybe if you finally get the truth from him, you will find the closure you need to finally put him out of your mind for good."
Rose thought about that for a moment, then sighed heavily. She could not deny that there was a part of her that did still want answers as to why things between them had come to such an unceremonious end. But Rose was also still furious with Ardeth, and she could not guarantee that she wouldn't end up shouting at – or hitting – him again if she wound up in his presence yet again. She did not know if civilized conversation was even a possibility for them at this point in time.
The notion of finally getting some closure did sound appealing, however…though she doubted she would ever be able to put Ardeth out of her mind for good. She had been trying to do that for the past four years and had yet to succeed. She doubted learning the truth would make her magically forget about him.
"Just think about it," Evelyn said, as if sensing Rose's indecision. "When the time comes, you will know what to do," she added with an encouraging smile.
Rose was saved from having to respond when the flap to their tent opened and Jonathan walked in without waiting to be invited. "It is going to be quite the torturous night holing up in these musty, moth eaten circus tents with a barbarian on one side of me and a smelly prison leech on the other," he complained, completely oblivious, as always, to the fact that he was interrupting. Which was probably for the best, considering the conversation they had been having.
Rose gave Evelyn a look that said not to mention what they had been discussing prior to the elder Carnahan's arrival. Evelyn, thankfully, seemed to receive the message loud and clear. "Something tells me you'll miss these circus tents once we're sleeping in the desert again," Rose remarked, keeping her tone perfectly normal.
"Not if I'm sleeping on a mound of gold at Hamunaptra, I won't," Jonathan countered, rubbing his hands together with a greedy smile.
Rose just shook her head, while Evelyn crossed her arms. "Is that all you think about? Gold and money?"
Jonathan pretended to think about it. "Well, yes. And booze. And women," he added, counting off on his fingers. "And food, which is why I've come actually. I'm starved. Let's go and get some dinner," he insisted.
"Is O'Connell coming?" Rose asked moodily, already having half a mind to skip if he was.
Jonathan waved a dismissive hand. "Doubtful. He's currently tinkering around with the small arsenal he brought along to make sure none of his weapons took on damage. Dinner's the last thing on his mind right now."
Rose, relieved to hear it, shared another look with Evelyn, before they both nodded in agreement. As they followed Jonathan out of the tent and headed toward the nearby eatery, Rose did her best to push Ardeth out of her mind for now. She didn't really want to think about him anymore, and she sincerely hoped that she would not be forced to talk about him anymore that night. She had talked about him quite enough already, in her opinion.
Of course, she would not get her wish in the end. The three of them entered the eatery, which was only big enough to comfortably seat maybe twenty or thirty people and was only about half full, and claimed a table in the corner. As soon as they had ordered their food and settled in, Jonathan turned to Rose and wagged his eyebrows.
"So…tell me about this Ardeth fellow," he implored.
Rose sighed and gave him a look. "I really don't want to talk about it, Jonathan," she said with a tone of finality.
Jonathan frowned. "Come now, Rosie dear. It's me. You can talk to me," he insisted. "I won't judge you for your choice in romantic partners…not like I have much room to judge anyway, considering my own dating record," he added with a snort.
Rose, however, shook her head. "There isn't much to tell," she said. "We met, we were together for a time, and then we weren't. That's all there is to it," she said. That was, of course, a very abridged version of her relationship with Ardeth Bay, but that was all she felt Jonathan needed to know at the moment.
Jonathan scoffed. "It must have been much more than just that. You've been properly riled up over this fellow since we left the Nile. He must have been someone important," he said.
Rose frowned at his choice of words. Ardeth had been important. She had loved him with her whole heart, and if she had had it her way, she would have been with him for the rest of her life. But the time they had spent together, those precious moments where she had arguably been the happiest she had ever been, were long over now.
"He was important," Rose said quietly. "But not anymore." When Jonathan opened his mouth to say more, she gave him a sharp look. "I do not want to discuss it any further, Jonathan," she interrupted firmly. "All I care about is finding the Lost City and finding out what happened to my family, not reliving my past with the man who broke my heart. Please, please stop asking me about it. Alright?"
Jonathan finally seemed to understand that the subject was a very touchy one. He cleared his throat, his expression turning a little somber, and gave a single nod. "Alright, Rosie. We won't talk about it anymore."
Rose's shoulders relaxed with relief. "Thank you."
Jonathan just squeezed her arm supportively in response.
Their dinner arrived soon, and though O'Connell had not made any appearances yet, Gad Hassan showed up shortly after they tucked into their food. He joined them at their table, and though he wasn't necessarily the best company to keep, they did not make any fuss about it since he was currently their comrade. The four of them talked quietly amongst themselves as they ate, keeping talk of Hamunaptra to a minimum so that none of the people around them could eavesdrop – they had enough competition already in the form of Dr. Chamberlain and the Americans, the last thing they needed was anyone else getting ideas about trying to follow them into the desert.
They had nearly finished eating when the door opened and O'Connell finally stepped inside. Rose spotted him first, and as soon as she saw his tall frame filling the doorway, her spine went stiff with dislike. His gaze swept the room, quickly locating their little group, and his eyes almost immediately connected with hers. She could not tell what his expression meant, but she knew that she was certainly not going to stick around if he had any plans of joining them.
"Well, that does it for me," she said, pushing away her plate, even though it was not yet completely empty. "I'm off to bed. See you when you get back?" she said to Evelyn, already standing from her seat.
Evelyn had barely nodded in agreement when Rose quickly headed off, leaving her three companions to sit in surprise at her abrupt departure. O'Connell had stepped further into the room and was, unfortunately, somewhat in her path. Rose merely brushed past him, completely ignoring him even though she could feel him watching her, and headed back outside, closing the door loudly behind her.
She muttered angrily to herself as she started back toward her tent. She knew she couldn't avoid O'Connell forever, of course – they would be going to Hamunaptra together, which meant they would be spending the foreseeable future in close contact. But she certainly didn't have to be around him tonight, which was probably the best for everyone. Her temper wasn't pretty when someone crossed the line with her, and Rick O'Connell had, without a doubt, crossed the line. Better to keep her distance for now, so she didn't end up doing something she might regret later on.
"Grisham," a familiar voice called behind her, making her freeze on the spot.
She'd been so busy cursing O'Connell in her head that she hadn't realized the man at the source of her anger had followed her. She took a breath to calm herself and turned around, her eyes landing on O'Connell as he slowly made his way closer, approaching with the same wariness that someone might approach a wild, dangerous animal.
He stopped a safe distance away, his shoulders squared as if prepared for a fight, but his expression quite neutral. Rose crossed her arms over her chest and jutted her chin up, her own eyes narrowing with disdain. "Come to hurl more accusations at me?" she bit out before she could stop herself.
O'Connell blinked calmly and shook his head. "No."
"Then what do you want?" Rose demanded.
O'Connell was quiet for a beat, then sighed heavily through his nose. "I came to apologize," he said, which made her brows shoot up to her hairline. "Look," O'Connell started, taking another step closer. "I don't trust easy. I've been screwed over by almost every person I've ever met, so by now I suppose I just…automatically assume that people are going to let me down," he explained. "But I do trust you, in spite of all that," he admitted. "I like you, Grisham. I think you're smart and that you're a straight shooter, which is a hell of a lot more than what I can say for most people."
Rose blinked in surprise at the revelation. She and O'Connell had had their little heart to heart on the boat, but she hadn't thought she'd really made that much of an impression. "Really?" she asked, her tone a little dumbfounded.
O'Connell nodded. "I think that's why I flew off the handle when I saw you with that guy on the boat. I'd put my trust in you, then thought you'd gone behind my back like everyone else," he said. "But just because you have…history…with that Ardeth guy, that doesn't mean you knew what was gonna happen," he continued with a nod. "I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. I should have talked things out first. I was wrong about the situation, and…I'm sorry."
Rose was stunned. She hadn't honestly expected an apology from O'Connell, let alone one that sounded so sincere. As angry as she had been with him before, that anger had begun to rapidly fade away. O'Connell knew he had been in the wrong and he had taken the initiative to come to her and make things right. An apology wouldn't make her magically forget what he had said on the banks of the Nile, but seeing as they were going to be spending quite a lot of time together, and that they may very well find themselves depending heavily on each other if things got dicey at Hamunaptra, was there any use in continuing to hold a grudge?
She didn't think so.
Rose sighed, then nodded as her defensive posture relaxed. "Apology appreciated and accepted."
O'Connell looked relieved. "Good."
Rose, however, pointed a stern finger before he could relax too much. "Accuse me of something like that again, however, and I will make you regret it," she promised. "My friends are the most important people in the world to me, and I would never, never betray them. That is not the sort of woman I am."
O'Connell smirked a bit and held up his hands in surrender. "I know. It won't be happening again. You have my word."
Rose gave a nod of satisfaction. "Good." They stared at one another in silence for a moment, the tension between them gone, but both of them still unsure what to do or say next. Finally, Rose nodded in the direction of the tents. "Well, I'm off to bed. We've got a long way to go tomorrow and an early start to boot. Better to rest up."
O'Connell nodded. "Good idea. I'll just go grab a bite to eat and do the same. And I'll make sure Jonathan and Gad don't get their hands on any alcohol," he added with a wry smirk.
Rose snorted and gave him a look. Jonathan was an expert at sniffing out alcohol, and keeping him away from it was about as easy as walking on water. "Good luck with that."
She started to turn to leave, but paused when he called out to her again. "And Grisham?" When she looked at him curiously, his expression had turned very serious. "I don't know what happened between you and that Ardeth guy, but I'm pretty sure we haven't seen the last of him. If he's a danger to you, I can make sure he leaves you alone. All you have to do is just say the word," he told her.
Rose blinked in astonishment once more. First O'Connell had apologized, now he was offering to protect her from Ardeth if need be? She didn't know much about Rick O'Connell, but she certainly knew this – he was full of surprises.
"Thank you, but I can handle Ardeth myself," she replied.
O'Connell nodded. "Alright." He then inclined his head. "Good night, Miss Grisham."
Rose inclined her head as well. "Good night, Mr. O'Connell."
They parted ways after that, O'Connell heading back into the eatery to get some dinner while Rose continued on to the tents. Once she was back in her and Evelyn's temporary quarters, she kicked off her shoes and flopped down onto the cot, her brows creasing as she stared up at the fabric ceiling, which rustled and swayed with the wind outside.
She was glad things had been settled with O'Connell. As good as she was at holding a grudge when she felt wronged, she hadn't been looking forward to things being awkward between them as they carried out their business in Hamunaptra. At least things would be normal now, and at least she could rest easy knowing that O'Connell not only trusted her, but that he would also have her back if trouble came along, regardless of what form that trouble might come in.
But his parting words about Ardeth were making her think of her former love again, which only made her frown with unease.
She completely agreed with O'Connell when he said that he didn't think they had seen the last of Ardeth Bay. There was no way that Ardeth would have stormed a boat to not only find her, but also to find the map and the key, only to disappear into the night and never show his face again. He would be making an appearance again, she would bet everything she owned on it. And when he did, well…there was really no telling what might happen.
Rose sighed and turned onto her side to get comfortable. Now wasn't the time to worry about Ardeth, she told herself. They had a long road ahead of them, and only God knew what might be waiting for them in Hamunaptra once they arrived. Now was the time to focus on the task at hand and mentally prepare herself for the journey to come. She would worry about Ardeth if – and when – he decided to show his irritatingly handsome face again.
The sun had only just started to rise when Rose and Evelyn exited their canopy tent the next morning. Neither of them had gotten a very good sleep the night before, which was due mostly to the fact that they had been too anxious to sleep, but also partly because Gad Hassan was possibly the loudest snorer to ever walk the earth. Even though he hadn't been in the tent with them, even though he had been sleeping at least fifteen feet away, he had spent the night snoring loud enough to wake the dead. If it had been bad enough that they had been kept up by the noise, Rose could only imagine how much worse it must have been for Jonathan and O'Connell.
Rose and Evelyn made their way back to the eatery to get one last, hot breakfast in their bellies before they departed. Other than the man in charge, the place was empty, but they were able to get in two orders of porridge and went to claim a seat by the window. It wasn't long before O'Connell showed up, looking a little tired but no less worse for wear than usual.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked, indicating the seat next to Rose. After Rose motioned for him to sit, he dropped his travelling pack on the floor next to Rose's and plopped his tall body down. After waving down the owner to put in an order for breakfast for himself, he looked at the two of them. "You two sleep alright?" he asked conversationally.
"As well as we could," Evelyn answered with a sigh. "How did you and Jonathan stand the racket Mr. Hassan was making?" she then asked.
O'Connell snorted. "That was nothing. I've slept through much worse."
"I can only imagine," Rose said dryly.
Their breakfast had only just arrived when Jonathan came stumbling in, looking exhausted and annoyed and sporting some noticeable bags underneath his eyes. "Bloody hell," he grumbled as he dropped into the chair next to Evelyn. "You ladies should count your blessings that you weren't in that tent with us," he said, shaking his head.
"Oh, we still heard the snoring," Rose quipped, taking a sip of the hot tea that had arrived moments before. "I think everyone within a mile radius heard it, actually."
Jonathan shook his head with a heave. "If Hassan continues to snore like that for the rest of the trip, I'm smothering him in his sleep," he threatened.
O'Connell lifted a brow at the man. "Resorting to murder already? I didn't think you had it in you, Carnahan."
Rose snorted into her tea and gave O'Connell a look. "He doesn't," she said with an amused smirk. "Dear Jonathan wouldn't even hurt a fly."
O'Connell smirked. "Should'a known," he said with a click of his tongue.
While Evelyn seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were teasing her brother, Jonathan looked to be in no mood for it. "Well, as happy as I am that you two are chummy again, I'll thank you not to make me the butt of your jokes, thank you very much," he said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to see a man about some food," he announced, before getting up to find the owner, completely ignoring the way the three of them chuckled as he left the table.
Since they were the only people around, they felt brave enough to discuss their upcoming travel while they ate their breakfast. The plan was that they would buy some camels to ride to Hamunaptra, since walking the entire way there was both ludicrous and suicidal, and then they would ride nonstop until they reached the City of the Dead, which O'Connell assured them he would have no trouble locating, despite the fact that they were not setting off from where they had originally planned. If they rode day and night and took minimal breaks, he was confident they could be there within two days' time.
"And what about our competition?" Evelyn asked unsurely. "Do you think we'll be able to get there before they do?"
O'Connell shrugged. "Not sure," he said honestly. "Knowing Beni, I'm sure he'd love nothing more than to beat me there and spend the rest of the time rubbing it in my face. He'll try to get them there as fast as possible, you can be sure of that," he said with a nod.
"Well, we'll just have to ride fast," Jonathan chipped in. "I don't fancy losing my share of the treasure to a bunch of rowdy cowboys," he said with a firm shake of his head.
"The treasure isn't what's most important, Jonathan," Evelyn chastised.
"It's rather important to me, actually," Jonathan retorted.
The two siblings quickly descended into an all too familiar back and forth, where Evelyn preached the more important priorities of life and where Jonathan did everything he could to thwart her lecture. Rose, who was used to the way the Carnahan's bickered, ignored them and turned an uncertain look on O'Connell.
"Is this Beni fellow going to be a problem?" Rose asked with a frown. "From everything I've heard about him, he sounds like trouble." And considering how complicated this entire trip already was, the last thing they needed was some grudge between Beni and O'Connell making matters even worse.
O'Connell huffed. "He's trouble alright. But he's a weasel and a coward, and he's more concerned about saving his own skin than anything else. I wouldn't worry about him," he said, shaking his head. "If he tries to pull anything, I'll put him in his place," he then promised.
Rose nodded, feeling reassured.
By the time they finished breakfast, the sun had fully risen. They paid for the meals and headed out into the market, which was already bustling with activity as people flooded the various vendor stands and began to haggle over goods they wanted to purchase. They decided to split up – Jonathan and O'Connell were going to find camels to purchase, while Rose and Evelyn grabbed some extra supply bags and decided to round the market one more time to make sure the men hadn't forgotten any valuable supplies they might need.
Rose and Evelyn hit a few food stands first, buying extra fruit, bread, cheese, oats, and dried meat for the journey. After that they went over to a vendor selling blankets and bought a few for Evelyn and Jonathan to use whenever they would make camp next, since they would not have access to any tents or hotels once they were on their way.
"Oh, look," Evelyn said, nudging Rose with her elbow as they passed by a tent filled with lots of colorful fabric. It was all women's clothing, which had made Evelyn's eyes light with interest. "I think I'm going to go purchase something to wear," she said with a nod.
Rose gave her a questioning look. "You don't have to. You can just wear my clothes," she said, indicating the outfit the younger woman was already wearing.
Evelyn smiled and patted her shoulder. "No offence, but these are a little ill-fitting on me," she said, referring to the fact that the pants were definitely way too long and the shirt definitely a little too baggy. "Besides, these are yours. You should have them back."
Rose just shrugged. "It makes no difference to me, honestly."
"Well, it makes a difference to me," Evelyn insisted. "You go on and keep shopping. I'll meet with you when I'm done."
Rose nodded, then watched as Evelyn wandered off. Now alone, she continued perusing the market place, ignoring the men trying to get her to buy jewelry or pretty trinkets and searching for things that were actually necessary. She finally stopped again when she spotted a man selling water canteens, thinking it would be a very good idea to have a few extras on hand. She bought five in total and then was directed to a place where she could fill them all to the brim. As daunting as it was to be venturing into a desert to go looking for a place that countless people had died trying to find, it did make her feel somewhat better to at least know that they would be going into it well prepared.
Rose had just finished filling the last canteen when a screech overhead drew her attention upward. There was something flying overhead, and when she shielded her eyes from the sun to see it better, she saw that it was a falcon. It circled in the sky for a moment, then took off into the distance, flying toward the rolling, sandy landscape beyond the village. Rose watched it fly, but didn't think much of it and eventually looked away to resume her trek around the market.
She was walking past a man selling colorful beads, her eyes inspecting his merchandise with mild interest, when something else caught her attention. There was a small building behind the vendor, neighbored by what looked to be a blacksmith space. A small alleyway separated the two, and as she narrowed her eyes and kept looking that way, she could have sworn that she had just glimpsed someone in that alleyway.
And that someone had been watching her.
Rose frowned and moved around the vendor to get a better look. It was empty, though, and when she reached the end of the alleyway and was able to see behind the two buildings, there was nobody there, either. Rose glanced around a moment longer, then shook her head and went back to the heart of the market. There were dozens of people loitering around the area at the moment – even if someone had been there, that didn't mean they were up to something, nor that they had been specifically spying on her. She was letting her paranoia get the better of her.
She was able to fully forget about the weird moment when she went back to the market and immediately heard a bunch of yelling and cursing in Arabic. As she looked to see what the source of the commotion was, she rolled her eyes upon realizing that Gad Hassan was not only awake, but apparently getting up to some shenanigans. At least five angry women had just shooed him of the same tent that Rose was fairly sure Evelyn had disappeared into, all of whom were chastising him and trying their best to smack him. He finally yelled something back once he was safely out of their reach, then straightened his jacket and turned to leave with a huff. That was when he spotted her standing nearby, watching the whole interaction with a quirked brow.
"What?" he asked defensively as she came to join him.
"I see you are making friends," Rose quipped with sarcasm. She glanced into the tent, thought she saw a flash of curly, brunette hair that looked like Evelyn's, and then looked at Gad again. "Were you trying to spy on Evie?" she asked.
"No," Gad immediately denied. "I was sent by O'Connell and Carnahan to locate the two of you so that we may get our trip underway. I did not know I was going to be attacked for merely trying to give the lady a message," he said with a huff.
Rose wasn't sure if she believed him or not, but decided not to question him on it. "I will go and get Evie," she said. "Tell Jonathan and O'Connell we'll be along shortly."
Gad nodded, and with one last sour look toward the women who had tried to beat him up, he left.
Rose went to the tent Evelyn was in, and after assuring the women she was friends with Evelyn – and praising them for putting Gad in his place – they took her into the tent and let her have access to the space behind a large curtain. Evelyn was there, fully dressed in a black dress with a sheer looking black robe over it, complete with a silver sash and matching black boots. Evelyn's hair had been tamed, and when she turned to face Rose, she saw that the lower half of her face had been covered with a sheer, embellished veil and that she was now sporting dark liner around her eyes. She wasn't sure if it was the best choice for trekking through a hot desert, but it was a nice ensemble nonetheless.
Rose whistled, then smirked. "You look positively lovely. Are you trying to impress someone?" she asked, wagging her eyebrows.
Even the veil covering her face couldn't hide Evelyn's blush. "Whatever gave you that silly idea?" she asked evasively.
Rose, who vividly remembered the way Evelyn had looked at O'Connell before they had left Cairo, gave her a knowing look. "Call it a hunch," she said.
"Well, your hunch is mistaken," Evelyn said matter-of-factly, before turning to grab the clothes she had borrowed from Rose and handing the neatly folded garments back to her. "These are yours," she said to change the subject. "Thank you for letting me borrow them."
"You're welcome," Rose said, opening her supply bag, which hung from her shoulder, to shove them inside.
"Now, why was Mr. Hassan trying to barge his way in here?" Evelyn asked once Rose had zipped her bag closed again.
"Jonathan and O'Connell were summoning us. I'm guessing they've purchased camels and want to leave," Rose said with a shrug.
Evelyn nodded, looking excited at the prospect of getting the journey underway. "Good! We should go then."
After thanking the women profusely for helping Evelyn with her clothes, the two of them set off to find the men. They eventually located Jonathan, O'Connell, and Gad on the outskirts of the village, now accompanied by five large camels as they waited for Rose and Evelyn to arrive. As they approached, Rose found her eyes drawn to O'Connell, who all but stopped in his tracks when he saw Evelyn and stared at her as if he'd never seen a woman before in his entire life. Clearly, he rather liked the way Evelyn looked, and he seemed too stunned to even hide it, which had Evelyn smiling bashfully when she saw the way the man was looking at her. Rose glanced between the two, who suddenly looked like lovestruck teenagers, and did her best to fight back a knowing grin.
"There you two are!" Jonathan exclaimed, which effectively ruined the moment. "You'll never believe how much that scoundrel charged for these smelly beasts!" he said with annoyance, casting a distasteful look toward the man they'd just bought the camels off of.
"Whatever the price was, I'm sure you can afford it," Rose said calmly, smiling up at one of the camels as it bent lower and bumped her shoulder with its nose. "Well, aren't you just adorable?" she cooed, scratching the camel's neck.
"Adorable? You think these ruddy things are adorable?" Jonathan asked with disbelief.
"Shush!" Rose said, giving him a disapproving look. "They can hear you." Then she turned to the camel and gave it an apologetic smile. "Sorry about him, darling. He knows not what he says," she reassured. The camel just groaned and tossed its head, as if brushing off Jonathan's unfriendly words.
"Did you two find anything else we needed?" O'Connell asked.
Rose nodded. "Just more food, more water, and a few other basic necessities. As long as we do not end up wandering aimlessly in the desert for weeks on end, I think it safe to say we should be just fine," she said.
"Good," O'Connell said with approval. "We should get going then. We're wasting daylight."
With that being said, they led the camels out of the village and quickly loaded them down with their bags and belongings. Once everything had been stowed and packed away, the five of them climbed atop the camels and then everyone looked to O'Connell expectantly, waiting for him to take the lead. He looked around at all of them for a moment, took one last look at the village, then nodded and turned his camel and started off. One by one the rest of them followed, and soon they disappeared into the large, ever stretching desert.
The ride through the desert was about as uneventful as Rose had expected it would be. With nothing but sand and sun for miles upon miles around, they rode all through the day and well into the night, passing the time by talking or singing, and only stopping to let the camels rest every so often or when one of them desperately needed to relieve their bladder. Trying to figure out where to go to the bathroom in a place that provided little privacy prove to be the only interesting thing to happen, and by the time it was all said and done, it was safe to say the five of them had been forced to reach a new level of comfort with one another, whether they had wanted to or not.
By the time they settled down to get a few hours of rest, Rose was tired, her rear end was numb, and she had sand in some very interesting places. But these were all things she had known to expect, and as she flopped down next to the fire O'Connell had built, she was just happy to be able to stretch out and get a break from being on the camel. Judging by how readily her companions all but collapsed around her, she would guess they were happy for the break, too.
"Good lord," Evelyn sighed as she laid down next to Rose. "I never thought I'd be so happy to lay down."
Rose smiled and reached over to blindly give her shoulder an encouraging pat. "Enjoy it while you can. We still have another day of travel ahead of us." Evelyn's answering groan made Rose chuckle. "You were the one who wanted to delve into the world of archaeology, Evie. A sore bum and sand infested crevices comes with the territory, I'm afraid."
"Lovely. Absolutely lovely," Evelyn replied blandly.
Rose smirked in amusement and then sat up, brushing some sand off her face before reaching for her canteen to take a small sip of water. Jonathan had his hat over his face and appeared to be asleep already, while Gad's snoring symphony was already beginning from his place across the fire. The only one who wasn't settling down to catch a few hours of sleep was O'Connell, who was poking the fire with a stick and munching on a strip of dried meat.
"Not tired?" Rose asked to catch his attention.
O'Connell glanced at her, then looked around at their barren surroundings. "Someone has to keep watch and make sure we don't oversleep," he said, setting aside the stick he'd been using as a firepoker.
Rose nodded in understanding, then tossed her water canteen to him. He caught it easily, inclined his head, and took a drink. After he tossed the canteen back, she took one more sip and then tightened the lid. As she went to stretch out next to Evelyn again, however, a familiar screech overhead caught her attention and made her look up to the dark, star-filled sky.
It was hard to tell what sort of bird was flying overhead in the darkness of the night, but the screech it had let out sounded eerily familiar to the falcon she had seen in the village before they had left. Rose frowned and tracked the bird with her eyes, watching as it disappeared into the distance, before looking at O'Connell to see if he had noticed the bird, too. He had, only he didn't seem to think anything of it.
Rose glanced in the direction the bird had gone one last time, then told herself not to worry about it. Even if that had been a falcon that had just flown overhead, she doubted it was the same one from earlier. It was all just a coincidence, she told herself, before settling back down to get some rest.
But when a falcon made yet another appearance the next afternoon, she could no longer ignore the suspicions that had begun to linger in the back of her mind. Judging by the sound the bird made as it soared above them, she knew it had indeed been a falcon that she had heard the night before, which meant she had now seen it three times. Once in the market, once while they'd been resting, and again now as they trotted along on their camels. She had certainly seen falcons in the desert before, she had even known a few workers on past excavations that kept them as pets, so it wasn't too strange that one would be flying about now. But it did seem odd that this one kept reappearing and seemed to be following their exact path.
A thought struck Rose. Back in the village, she had thought someone had been watching her. She had brushed it off as paranoia at the time, but now she was starting to think differently. It seemed very coincidental that a falcon had turned up in a place where someone might have been watching her, and then now that same falcon kept showing up. Perhaps the falcon belonged to someone, and perhaps that someone was the same person that had been watching her in the village. Maybe that person knew what they were up to, and had decided to follow them.
They had been careful about making sure nobody in the village had known where they were going, which left only two possibilities as to who might be keeping tabs on them - the Americans, or Ardeth. And since she couldn't imagine the Americans having a pet falcon, that really left only one plausible option.
Rose, who had been riding next to Jonathan and listening to him ramble on about something or another when the falcon passed overhead, excused herself from the conversation and urged her camel along so that she could ride alongside O'Connell. He glanced at her curiously as she appeared by his side.
"Do you see that falcon?" she asked, nodding toward the bird flying above them.
O'Connell looked upward and nodded, though he didn't seem to think its appearance was anything out of the ordinary. "What about it?"
"This is the third time I've seen it," she said, which made O'Connell look at her sharply. "I saw it in the village before we left, then last night, and now it is here again." She looked over at O'Connell with serious eyes. "I'm thinking it belongs to somebody. And I'm thinking that somebody might be following us," she admitted, keeping her voice down so as to not alert the others. She didn't want to cause a panic just yet, especially when she didn't really know for sure what was going on.
O'Connell glanced back behind them, as if he expected to see someone trailing them. When there was nobody to be seen, he looked at her again. "You think it's Ardeth?"
Rose shrugged. "I cannot imagine it would be anybody else."
O'Connell nodded, then turned untrusting eyes out on the landscape again, looking much more alert now. "Nothing we can do about it if someone is tracking us. We'll just have to keep an eye out," he said.
Rose immediately nodded in agreement.
As night fell again, they decided not to stop and rest as they had the night before. They were getting close to Hamunaptra according to O'Connell, and if they kept going through the night, they'd be there before daybreak. Sleeping on a moving camel was difficult for Rose, however, and she only managed to get a couple of hours before she gave up completely and decided to stay awake. While Evelyn, Jonathan, and Gad slumbered away in their saddles, she and O'Connell took charge of keeping watch and making sure they all kept going in the same direction.
"I've been wondering," O'Connell said quietly so as not to disturb the others. "Whaddya think that key goes to?"
The question made Rose look over at him thoughtfully. Considering she hadn't realized the trinket that had been found in Seti's tomb had even been a key to begin with, she had been wondering that same thing herself. There was really no way of knowing, though. Not until they got to Hamunaptra, anyway. "Could be anything, I suppose," she answered with a shrug. "Maybe a chest. Maybe a door. Only time will tell."
O'Connell nodded and started to say something else, but his attention was diverted elsewhere as Evelyn's camel suddenly wandered closer to his. Evelyn, asleep an unaware of what she was doing, leaned her head on O'Connell's shoulder and looked as though she would have been quite content to stay there. O'Connell, however, gently moved her so that she was no longer leaning against him, making sure to steady her in her saddle so that she wouldn't topple over. When his camel let out a groan, he quickly shushed the animal, before checking to make sure the noise hadn't woken Evelyn. Not that the camel making noise was really all that awful, seeing as Gad was once again snoring thunderously loud behind them.
Rose watched what O'Connell did with a small smile on her face. She had noticed the way the man had been sneaking looks at Evelyn whenever he thought nobody was paying attention. It was very obvious to her that O'Connell was attracted to Evelyn, and if she knew Evelyn as well as she liked to believe, she was fairly sure the attraction was mutual.
O'Connell suddenly looked at her and frowned, his expression turning defensive in a heartbeat. "What?" he hissed. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Rose smiled wider and gave him a knowing look. "You are not very subtle, you know."
O'Connell frowned even deeper. "Subtle?"
She looked pointedly at Evelyn. "You like her," she said bluntly.
It was hard to tell in the dark, but it seemed like O'Connell actually blushed. "I…she's…I mean, she's alright," he spluttered out. "It's not as though I like her like her," he vehemently denied.
Rose quirked a disbelieving brow. "Try to convince yourself of that all you want, but I'm not blind, and I'm certainly not dumb," she said. "Just watch yourself around her, O'Connell," she added before he could protest her observations any further, giving him a more serious look. "Evie is like family to me. I'm not above castration if your intentions are anything but honorable."
O'Connell paled a little at the threat, but still gave her a serious look. "Well, I don't have any dishonorable intentions, so don't start sharpening knives."
Rose smirked. "Good to hear." She looked at the sleeping Evelyn for a moment, then shifted her gaze back to O'Connell. "Between me and you? I think she likes you, too," she said with a nod.
O'Connell seemed surprised, then allowed a tiny smile for just a second before quickly forcing his expression back to neutral.
"Oh for the love of God."
The new voice had Rose and O'Connell both looking back to see that Jonathan had actually woken up, and for a second Rose thought that maybe his exasperation was over the conversation he might have just eavesdropped on. That wasn't the case, though. He had actually been woken up by Gad's incessant snoring. He glared at the man, before rearing back and hitting him with his riding whip. As Gad startled awake, Jonathan quickly pretended to be asleep again, which made the warden look around in confusion. When he looked at them for an explanation, Rose and O'Connell both just shrugged. Finally, Gad muttered something under his breath and then closed his eyes as he went back to sleep, his snores soon filling the air once more.
Rose and O'Connell looked at each other again, then both of them shook their heads in amusement.
They rode in silence for a little while longer, their caravan moving slowly through the open desert. Rose rubbed her eyes tiredly and shifted in her saddle, willing herself to ignore how achy she felt after riding for so long. She wasn't normally one to complain, especially so considering she was so used to being out in the middle of nowhere with few luxuries at her disposal, but good lord – she really missed her bed. Normally she gave herself plenty of downtime to recover between excavations, and the quick turn around from her last one to this one was definitely taking a toll on her.
"Grisham," O'Connell suddenly hissed.
She looked over at O'Connell, who frowned and promptly nodded his head toward something up ahead. A large cliffside had come into view on their left, and as Rose squinted to see what was so interesting about it, she made a sound of surprise upon realizing that there were several men on horseback there, their darkened figures illuminated by the bright moon overhead.
It was Ardeth's men. It had to be.
Her heart jumped into her throat at the sight of them as she looked back to O'Connell. "Seems you were right. They've definitely been tracking us," he said, his brows furrowed with displeasure. "Think they'll try anything?"
Rose shrugged unsurely, then felt uneasiness in her stomach as O'Connell casually put a hand over the pistol hanging at his hip. She did not want another fight to break out, nor did she want to think about who might end up getting hurt if it came down to another gun battle. But, to her relief, nothing happened. Ardeth's men merely sat atop their horses, still as statues, and watched as Rose and her companions slowly passed by.
Once they were far enough away to feel secure again, O'Connell moved his hand away from his pistol. "Guess we can expect some company at Hamunaptra, then," he commented, sounding displeased.
Rose nodded in agreement. "Guess so."
She allowed herself to glance back one more time and saw that almost all of the men that had been watching them were gone, save for one. A lone rider was at the top of the cliff now, and though he was much too far away to see, Rose was certain it was Ardeth himself.
She turned forward again when he finally left, trying to ignore the way her heart was pounding in her ribs. The feeling of being watched made her glance at O'Connell, who was eyeing her with an expression she couldn't quite read. If he had a mind to say anything about Ardeth, however, he kept it to himself. He merely turned his gaze ahead again, and Rose was happy to do the same.
"Are we there yet?"
Rose closed her eyes and prayed for patience. It was nearly sun up, and ever since the others had woken up, Jonathan had been complaining – about his numb bum, how hungry he was, how dirty he was, how much Gad had snored, and, of course, how sick he was of being on his camel. It had been a long, difficult journey for them all, and between her own tiredness and her own aches and pains, Rose was simply not in the mood to listen to Jonathan's complaints.
Neither was O'Connell, if the dirty look he shot at the elder Carnahan was anything to judge by. "We'll get there when we get there," O'Connell said through gritted teeth, looking as though it was taking all of his willpower not to deck Jonathan in the face for the second time.
Jonathan started to say something back, but a sharp look from Evelyn made him wisely shut his mouth again.
The five of them soldiered on, this time without conversation or complaints. As much as O'Connell claimed they were getting close, their barren, deserted surroundings were beginning to leave Rose with some doubts. There was nothing around – no weathered statues, no pieces of old buildings, not even the hint that anything of significance was close. Furthermore, there had been no sign of their American competitors, nor had there been any more appearances from Ardeth and his men. They were completely and utterly alone in the middle of nowhere, and Rose was starting to understand just why this expedition had claimed so many lives in the past. It felt like there was no end in sight, and if someone had told her to turn around and make her way back to civilization right then and there, she wasn't confident she would have been able to. As accustomed as she was to being out in the desert for excavations, this one felt different, and it was unnerving to know that they were so far away from civilization.
She wasn't going to question O'Connell, though. He had assured them that he knew exactly where he was going, and thus far, he had given her no reason to think that he wasn't a man of his word. They would just have to trust him to get them to Hamunaptra, and hope that they got there soon.
Perhaps ten minutes later, Rose finally heard a sound that she never thought she would be so happy to hear – a whinnying horse in the distance. Their little group rounded a small dune and were finally greeted with the sight of other living, breathing human beings. Dr. Chamberlain, the Americans, and the many workers they had hired for the mission had finally arrived, and as their two groups slowly made their way toward one another, she was actually relieved to see them. There was always safety in numbers, even if they weren't technically allies, and if the competition had shown up in the same area, then they must be finally closing in on Hamunaptra.
"Good morning, my friend," an unfamiliar voice called to O'Connell once they were within hearing distance of each other.
Rose had not seen the man before, but judging by the forced, insincere smile of acknowledgement that O'Connell gave him, she would guess he was the Beni fellow she'd heard so many bad things about. She eyed the man as she and her companions finally pulled their camels to a halt, watching as the rest of the competition slowed to a stop a little ways away. Maybe it was his smirk or the look in his eyes, but Beni certainly looked untrustworthy. Then again, her opinion might have been a little influenced by everything O'Connell had told her.
Rose shifted her eyes from Beni to Mr. Burns, who immediately straightened up when their gazes met. He smiled broadly and tipped his hat to her, which prompted her to smile back politely and nod in acknowledgement. As much as she wasn't thrilled about the fact that other people would be at Hamunaptra, she was glad that everyone appeared to be alright. Until she looked at Dr. Chamberlain, who was regarding her with a haughty expression that made her skin instantly crawl. He was one person she definitely could have done without.
When nobody made any moves to do anything and they all merely sat there, alternating between looking at each other and glancing at their surroundings unsurely, Rose began to hear some complaints from the Americans about the lack of anything happening. "What the hell are we doin'?" Mr. Daniels asked loudly, looking to Beni for an answer.
"Patience, my good barat'm, patience," Beni merely answered to placate him.
"What are we doing?" Rose asked O'Connell with a quirked brow. "Why are we not moving?"
O'Connell glanced at her from the corner of his eye. "You'll see soon enough," was all he said.
Rose frowned and turned her eyes forward again, only half listening as Mr. Henderson reminded O'Connell of their bet regarding Hamunaptra and as Beni teased O'Connell for his camel. What was she missing? Was there something out there she couldn't see? Or was the stress of the travel getting to O'Connell and messing with his head?
"Get ready for it," O'Connell suddenly said, looking calm and casual as his gaze remained fixed on something in the distance.
Rose and Evelyn shared a look, before they both looked at him with questioning expressions. "Get ready for what?" Evelyn asked unsurely.
"We're about to be shown the way," O'Connell answered cryptically.
Rose had no idea what the hell that even meant. She frowned with confusion and looked forward again, wondering what exactly O'Connell was on about. Finally, as the sun that had been slowly beginning to peek over the horizon raised up higher into the sky, something in the distance began to appear. It was as if an invisible veil was being pulled away the higher the sun rose, and as large, carved rock structures began to take shape, Rose's jaw dropped. A city had formed practically out of thin air, and as she spied the ancient architecture, her heart kicked into overdrive.
Could this be real? After all the stories she had heard, all the legends she had read, was Hamunaptra really right there in front of her? She almost couldn't even believe her eyes.
"Oh my God," she muttered, able to hear her amazement echoed by everyone else.
O'Connell seemed to be the only one not enthused about the thought of going back to the City of the Dead. "Here we go again," he muttered.
There was one more silent moment, where everyone just stared at the lost City in awe, then Beni finally moved into action. "Hyah!" he shouted to get his camel moving.
"HYAH!" O'Connell immediately shouted to chase after him. He might not have been excited about going to Hamunaptra, but he certainly didn't seem to want to lose the bet he'd made with the Americans.
The rest of them took off as the final race for Hamunaptra began. Rose snapped out of her own shock and urged her camel along, alternating between making encouraging sounds with her tongue and whipping the animal as gently as she could to make it run faster. O'Connell and Beni had already pulled ahead of everyone else, followed closely by Evelyn, while the rest of them brought up the rear in a large cluster. Rose spied Dr. Chamberlain and his black umbrella from the corner of her eye and saw that he wasn't too far away from her. The sneer he sent her way left her with the strong urge to whip him instead, but she merely sent him a glare before surging forward with determination, leaving him in her dust.
"Nice day for a race, ain't it?!" a voice shouted on her left, drawing her attention that way.
Rose glanced over to see that Mr. Burns had caught up with her. He held on to the reins of his horse with one hand, and made sure to keep his hat from flying off with the other. He didn't seem all that invested in the race, though, and was smiling at her charmingly instead.
"Maybe not so nice for you, seeing as you and your companions are about to lose!" Rose shouted back with a grin.
Mr. Burns feigned shock. "Why, Miss Grisham! How you wound me!" he said dramatically.
Rose just laughed, then urged her camel along even faster, quickly leaving Mr. Burns behind. The smile she spied on his face when she glanced back triumphantly, however, left her with the feeling that he might have let her take the lead.
She surpassed Gad, who had his eyes locked on Hamunaptra with more determination than she had thought him capable of, then caught up to Jonathan. Up ahead she could see that O'Connell and Beni were neck and neck, and when Beni suddenly started whipping O'Connell to try to distract him, she made a sound of indignation.
"That weasel!" she shouted to nobody in particular.
O'Connell wasn't going to stand for that behavior for very long, though. The two men began to struggle, and after a few seconds, O'Connell managed to knock the whip out of Beni's hand. He then grabbed a fistful of his former friend's shirt, before unceremoniously tossing him off of his camel. Rose made a sound of surprise as Beni landed hard on the ground, before slowly picking himself up. She had to carefully maneuver around him so as not to run him over.
"Bad form, man! Bad form!" she called as she and Jonathan raced past. If Beni had a retort, she didn't hear it.
Hamunaptra was getting closer now, and their competition was only falling further behind. Evelyn had caught up to O'Connell, but suddenly her camel found another burst of speed and she soon pulled far ahead of everyone else. It was clear now that Evelyn was going to be the first to reach Hamunaptra, which meant their group was going to win the race.
"Alright, Evie!" Rose called encouragingly, cupping a hand around her mouth to make herself louder.
"Go, Evie! Go!" Jonathan called next to her.
Evelyn reached Hamunaptra a few minutes later, trailed closely by O'Connell. Rose shared a grin with Jonathan as they both urged their camels along, before they, too, rode through the entrance to the City of the Dead. Rose, heart hammering and curls blown wild from the vigorous ride, brought her camel to a halt and immediately began to look around, her eyes trying to take in everything at once. There were old pillars with intricate designs carved into them, weathered statues of Egyptian Gods, and a large, half buried building just waiting to be explored.
It was in that moment that it sank in. This wasn't just a dream. This wasn't just her imagination kicking into overdrive. The City of the Dead was real.
Rose climbed down from her camel, her legs a little shaky, and went over to Evelyn, who was staring around in wonderment. When Rose reached her, they both laughed and hugged tightly, though it was hard to say if it was more out of excitement or relief. Because they had actually done it. After all their talking and planning, after all the uncertainty they had faced when embarking on their adventure, they had achieved what so many people before them had failed to do.
They had made it to Hamunaptra.
Kind of a filler chapter, I know, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless! Stay safe, stay healthy, and I'll see you soon!
Coming up in the next chapter – Rose goes looking for clues, a mummy is found, and Ardeth Bay starts to explain himself.