Epilogue – Homeward Bound
"We will expect you, then, in three months time?" Ardeth asked, confirming the O'Connell's arrival in Cairo for the third time since leaving the manse.
Rick smiled. "Yeah, three months. Unless there are any unforeseen problems on our end."
"But there won't be," Evy assured the dark Med-jai, taking his arm in a tight hug. "The doctor says I'm fit as a fiddle and everything is going well."
Ardeth pulled the small Englishwoman into his arms. "As I am well relieved to hear. I should be despaired to hear of any problems with the little one or her mother."
"Her?" The parents to be asked in unison, but the Med-jai only smiled and shrugged.
"And our plans," he continued. "We will stay with them, should events progress as foreseen." This time it wasn't a question. The tone was more like that of the king of the Med-jai reminding his subjects of a commitment.
Both O'Connell's nodded. "We will," Evy assured him.
"But we sincerely hope it doesn't come to it," Rick added.
Ardeth put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "As do I, ahi. As do I."
"Well," Evy said casually, extricating herself from the two men, "I'm going to go find Khay and Jonathan and the children. The ice cream shop is just there, so we'll be along shortly." She didn't wait for their acknowledgement, but left them alone, knowing they needed time to say their own goodbyes before the whole group headed for the gangway.
As she walked away, Rick sighed deeply and looked around. He didn't want to meet Ardeth's eyes, not yet. It seemed like only yesterday that his brother had arrived in England, and now he was leaving.
"Rick." Ardeth's voice was soft, barely audible above the noise of the crowded docks. Rick looked up into the dark eyes of this foreign man who had come to mean so much to him in what seemed like a very short time. There he saw good-bye, and regret, and gratitude, and a myriad of other emotions that flickered too quickly to read.
"It's too soon, Ardeth. You can't leave. Not yet."
The Med-jai smiled sadly. "I must go. You know this. I have been away long enough. And there are things that must be done if what Halim has predicted comes to pass." He looked out over the masses of boats to the ocean beyond. "I must return. My people … our people need me."
"Yeah, well," Rick admitted, "I don't have to like it, that's for damn sure."
"No," Ardeth chuckled, "you do not."
Again the men fell into silence, a silence not broken until the clamor of their children's' voices broke the reverie.
"That was bloody amazing! Did you see it, Mum?" Evy's reminder of "Language, Alex" was lost as he continued to talk excitedly. "You should have seen it, Dads, Uncle Ardeth! There was this man on the sidewalk and he was swallowing swords! It was brilliant!"
"Indeed!" Ardeth made himself sound impressed for his heir's sake. "There is a man in the City who can perform similar miracles. Perhaps someday he will show you."
"Wow! Really? Ziz says it's only a trick but I don't see how it could be. It looks too real!"
Azizah snorted but Ardeth paid her no mind. "Well, one never knows," he continued. "Amazing things happen every day."
"Babu…" the young princess began.
"Azizah, I'm afraid we have to say goodbye now." Khay's words managed to put a damper on the groups' mood. She turned to the O'Connell's and embraced them each. "I will miss you so much!" she admitted tearfully. "I don't know what I would have done without you."
Evy beamed at her former secretary and now dear friend. "You would have managed beautifully. You are a tremendously brave and resourceful woman and I will miss you, too."
Ardeth, too, embraced Evy and said his goodbye. Then he knelt down and hugged Alex, whispering a few words into his ear. Lastly, he embraced Rick and the two held each other very tightly for a moment. Azizah's strident demands to be picked up interrupted them and it was several more moments before the farewells were well and truly said.
"We will cable you when we arrive in Cairo," Ardeth promised as the Bey's walked toward the gangway.
"And we'll let you know the exact date we're arriving as soon as make the arrangements!" Rick yelled back. The O'Connell's waved until the new family was out of sight within the ship. Then they waited and waved more as the Bey's stood at the railing, the ship wending its way out of the quay. For a long time after the ship was out of sight, Rick stood, watching the horizon. His thoughts followed the huge vessel as it took his brother eastward, away from him, again. And he wondered about the prophet Ardeth spoke of who foresaw terrible times looming in the not so distant future. How would he be able to protect his family from a burgeoning war? He thought of the child Evy carried. How would he keep his wife and baby safe should that war come to England? And Ardeth. How would Ardeth and his small group of Med-jai warriors be able to defend an entire country from the armies of destruction that Halim foretold?
Rick heard the word as clearly as if Ardeth was standing next to him.
We do it together, my brother. For we are no longer two halves searching, but one whole. And we have the strength of the Med-jai in our veins and arms, and fighting beside us. We will overcome the struggles ahead. Do not lose heart, ahi, but stay strong.
Rick smiled into the breeze that brushed his face with Ardeth's words.
Together, he affirmed. God speed, my brother. And Allah be with you, until we meet again.
Then he turned his face to his family, and, taking his wife and son by the hands, he turned his back on the sea, and headed home, knowing that he would see his brother again, and that their lives would forever be entwined. He was Med-jai. And that meant he was never alone.