Author's Notes: The Rub' al Khali and Iram of the Pillars are real, as is the Frankincense
Trail (though I took a bit of creative license with the timeline). The Treasure of Sheba,
however, is a figment of my imagination. Written for Fandom Trumps Hate on AO3 –
the winning bidder requested the return of Raquel LaRoque.
Rub' al Khali
The Empty Quarter
Overhead, the velvety blackness of the midnight sky stretched on and on, touching the horizon on all sides, unobstructed. Millions of tiny dots of light sparkled, more stars than most people could even imagine seeing at one time. But with no artificial city lights to obstruct the view, the far-away suns – some burned out eons ago – sent their fiery radiance out into the galaxy.
The men gathered near Shisr, in the Dhofar Governorate of Oman, didn't take time to appreciate the celestial view. Instead, they moved over the drifting sand silently, their desert vehicles left a safe distance away. There was little sound here except the slight swish of sand as the breeze moved it steadily across the plain. An occasional bleat signaled the nearby presence of camels, but the men were downwind so their scent shouldn't carry to alarm the animals, and thus alert the few villagers who farmed the oasis area.
It wouldn't end well for anyone who discovered them this night.
The man in the lead used a state of the art compass to guide their way unerringly to the target spot near the greater excavation site. To the naked eye the needle pointing their direction would have been barely visible in just the starlight, but with the night vision gear they all wore – the best Saudi oil money could buy – the pointer was as clear as a neon sign.
They'd made this secretive trek several times before, stealing away with riches that belonged to the Omani people. And if their informant amongst the archaeological crew was correct, their reward for the furtive visit tonight would be even greater.
Leaving the main dig site slightly to their east, the group of six men made their way over a small rise of sand to where several small red flags had been placed. The flags signaled that the site was of no interest for the scientists – an area that had been explored but not excavated. It lay just underneath the old fortress – hundreds of years old, but not the ancient site the archaeologists were seeking.
It also marked the spot where the informant put the treasures that would never show up on any official documentation of the dig. The workers were searched each day upon leaving the site, but so far no one had noticed a nondescript worker who sometimes liked to take his lunch and mid-day break away from the group. He'd bury his finds in the loose sand, and notify the leader of the retrieval crew.
Reaching the chosen location, the men paused for a long moment, listening for any sign that their presence had been detected. But the silence of the surrounding desert assured them they were alone.
They quickly dropped their desert robes, worn only in case they had been spotted on the way to Shisr. Underneath, they wore more practical one-piece work wear, suitable for digging. Each man kept his Ghutrah on, the scarf-like apparel pulled over his face to keep from inhaling sand as they worked.
High winds during the day had piled loose sand high against the old fortress wall, but a brief scan with the enhanced ground penetrating radar unit one of the men had carried under his robes pinpointed their target.
It had taken over four hours, which was longer than planned, to remove enough sand to find their prize – the heavy winds the previous day had mounded more of the sediment than usual. The storm had also delayed their recovery expedition by a day. Now they had to hurry a bit to clear the area before the villagers arose to start their day.
As the ancient chest was lifted carefully out of the hole, the men gathered around. The old wood looked rickety in places, but the sturdy tanned leather straps held it together, preserved by the dry desert conditions.
There was no need to speak to determine who among them would open the chest. The man who had brought them together, commanded them with his mere presence, would do the honors.
Despite the innate greed that brought all of them together, no one would cross his family.
The other men settled in the sand, slipping off their scarves and drinking from the water they'd brought. It would replenish them for the trek back across the desert, now with a heavier load.
The prince removed his own scarf, though not to drink; he wanted nothing to interfere with his vision. He settled his long frame in front of the chest, running his hands along the wood almost lovingly. And why not – this prize had long eluded him.
Tugging the leather ties gently, he took his time. After all, while he was most interested in the contents, the actual chest could also prove valuable. The crest engraved on the top matched the description of what they had been seeking, and after a brief struggle with the ties, they came loose, and he lifted off the lid…
The softly spoken question caught all of them off-guard, their heads snapping up to find a young boy, barely a teen, watching them, asking what they were doing.
From previous surveillance of the tiny farming community, they knew the boy was called Najib, and he tended the camels during the day. And they had seen him reverently care for the small community's prayer rugs.
Najib, noble, hero – a lofty name for a young boy.
One he would now, regrettably, never grow into; he had seen their faces.
Even as the men rose silently to their feet, the prince did acknowledge that regret to himself; it was never easy to kill innocents, especially devout Muslims as he knew this boy to be.
But greed had overtaken religion in importance in his life.
With a barely perceptible flick of his hand, he signaled to Zaki, the largest of the men. In a flash, there was a wicked looking curved knife in the man's hand.
"Kuna mae allah," the prince whispered, as blood leached into the sand. Go with god…