Title: Avatar Of The Gods: Arcanum
Author: The Duchess Of The Dark
Teaser: Post 'The Mummy Returns'. Imhotep is safely consigned to the underworld, carefully watched by the Med-Jai. But the disgraced priest of the pharaoh is not the only supernatural being to tread the sands. The Gods of ancient times sometimes choose to make themselves known.
Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Universal Pictures. Isis, Queen among Goddesses, belongs to herself.
Genre: Action/adventure and hints of more to come. For more fiction (not fanfic) visit my page at Illona's Place Vampires www.bloodlust-uk.com/helenmurphyfiction.htm
Archive: Yes, but ask me first, please.
Notes: I'm not very well versed in Bedouin culture or the Arabic language, so bear with me! But I have done some research! I've researched Egyptian mythology & taken the elements that appeal, so no mailing me with "But that isn't right!" I thought I'd do a little story starring the scrumptious Ardeth Bey – a character that seems to be somewhat overlooked in fanfic in favour of Evelyn & Rick O'Connell. Text in italics indicates thought. Italic text in apostrophes 'italic' indicates telepathic communication. Apologies if I make mistakes with definitions of traditional garments. If anyone spots a mistake, let me know! *The definitions list will grow, so check back often!*
Afreet: a demon in Arabian mythology.
Badawi: Bedouin – literally 'dwellers in the desert'.
Burnous: an Arab or Moorish hooded cloak
Djellaba: a loose hooded woollen cloak worn or as worn by Arab men.
Djinn: (in Muslim mythology) an intelligent being lower than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms, and having power over people.
Dybuk: (Hebrew) a demon or literally, a possession by a demon.
Effendi: a man of education or standing in eastern Mediterranean or Arab countries. Or a former title of respect or courtesy in Turkey.
Gali Gali men: Egyptian street magicians whose most famous trick is the 3 balls & cups illusion.
Hijab: woman's veil covering the head and lower face.
Isis Knot: an amulet, usually wooden, used for protection.
Jilbab: a long coat worn by Muslim men.
Khaliji: long woman's dress/over garment.
Kuffiyeh: head gear.
Mawlá (Arabic variation of Turkish 'mullah'): a Muslim learned in Islamic theology and sacred law.
Mawlana: our master.
Rosetta Stone: a key to previously unattainable understanding. A stone found near Rosetta in Egypt, with a trilingual inscription of the 2nd century BC in hieroglyphic and demotic Egyptian, and Greek, important in the deciphering of hieroglyphs.
Salaam: the salutation 'Peace'. An obeisance, with or without the salutation, often consisting of a low bow of the head and body with the right palm on the forehead.
Sayadi: leader, chieftan. Title of respect and courtesy.
Sekhet-Hetepet: According to the Osiris cults the Fields of Peace was the desired location of the deceased. They would join with their god, Osiris and become a khu, drink, plow, reap, fight, make love, never be in a state of servitude and always be in a position of authority.
Shalwar kameez: long overgarment, often with wide trousers (can be loose or fitted, male or female in style).
Simsimiyya: 5 stringed Bedouin lyre.
Súk: market or bazaar.
Thobe: long, loose woman's robe, usually embroidered.
Tiraz: highly valued textiles made with linen or silk, very decorative, usually given as gifts in the form of robes of honour or wall hangings. Tiraz is the name of the workshop and the textile itself.
Anubis: god of the dead/embalming.
Bast: lion or protective goddess.
Beby: 'the devourer'. A monster who ate the souls not judged worthy to enter the afterlife.
Isetnofret: Isis is beautiful.
Horus: god of the sky and protector of Egypt. Son of Isis and Osiris.
Isis: 'the powerful one'. Goddess of magic (& LOTS of other things) Most important goddess in Egyptian pantheon.
Khepri: morning sun.
Layla: born at night.
Osiris: god of the underworld and fertility/rebirth. Brother-husband of Isis.
Ra: god of the sun. Great grandfather to Isis, Osiris and Set.
Set (or Seth): god of chaos. Brother of Isis and Osiris.
Sebak: companion of Set.
"Fresh! Fresh today! Plump and juicy, ready for the pot!" A wrinkled nut-brown hand cupped to his mouth, the chicken seller bellowed his sales pitch, battered red fez bouncing atop his balding crown as he poked the nervous birds cooped in a wooden cage at his feet.
Second prayers for the day had not long finished and the súk was rapidly filling with busy merchants and shoppers. Men brushed the dust of their worship from their jibba or djellaba that protected them from the fierce heat of the early afternoon sun. Women, their faces modestly covered, carried baskets made from Nile rushes on their heads. The constant multilingual babble of the marketplace ebbed and flowed like the great river; Arabic, French, an undercurrent of German and the odd trickle of English. Behind a bread stall, partially obscured by untidily arranged flat wheaten loaves, a young boy plucked experimentally at his father's simsimiyya.
Ardeth Bey stepped out from the cool, fragrant interior of a spice shop, narrowing his inky black eyes against the sudden white glare of the sun. At once, the singular odour of the marketplace assaulted him, dusty dry crumbling brick, gathered hide and excrement of cattle, a drifting tang of blood from a nearby butchers and the musk of hot, working people. Pressing the small, brown paper-wrapped parcel of cardamom to his nose, he inhaled the scent before moving out into the throngs. As he passed, the street vendors touted their wares.
"Salaam! Sir, your boots seem worn! Mine are the finest tooled leather!"
"Effendi! A silk shawl for your wife! Your sister?! Your mother?!"
Ignoring the enthusiastic shouts without compunction, knowing that the slightest hint of passing interest would cause them to swoop like hungry vultures, Ardeth made his way across the marketplace to where his horse was tethered. Patting the animal's warm flank in greeting, he packed his few purchases into the well-used saddlebag. As he did so, his black djellaba moved, revealing a naked scimitar secured at his waist through a tightly bound sash. Two heavy, serviceable handguns lay in holsters attached to a leather harness bandoleer criss-crossing his torso. The stallion whickered happily, recognising his master.
"Mawlá!" a young voice hissed. "May the peace of God be upon you!"
Ardeth looked around to see an earnest youth of about seventeen, swathed in the desert-dusty black of the Med-Jai. His facial tattoos were so fresh, they still had a thin crusty scab across them. He executed a swift salaam, touching hand to brow, lips and heart.
"And to you, my friend," the Med-Jai leader returned, seeing a gleam of sweat on the young man's forehead. "What has you running like an Englishman in the afternoon heat?"
A brief, gleaming smile flickered across the lad's swarthy features, teeth startlingly white against his face. Like most Bedouin, he found foreigners' insistence on wandering around during the hottest part of the day highly amusing.
"There is a woman, Mawlana…," he began. "I have never seen one like her before."
"Ah," Ardeth suppressed the smile that threatened to form. "Perhaps you should speak to your father."
The young man reddened somewhat and shook his head vehemently, mopping his brow on his sleeve before continuing to speak.
"No, it is not like that. She is foreign – white, she is alone, but dresses as we do. I have seen her."
Dark eyes shining excitedly, he pointed across the bustling súk towards a side road containing antique stores, bazaars and bookshops that catered for visiting academics and local scribes alike.
"Rich Americans are fond of playing the native, it amuses them," Ardeth shrugged. "But it is unwise for women to wander alone here – find her and guide her back to her hotel."
Shaking his head again, the lad coloured even more, embarrassed at once again having to elaborate further.
"My English is not good enough," he admitted. "But she isn't American – she speaks Arabic… and the ancient Coptic tongue. She is searching for something – I saw her go into Azim Fahrer's shop. She ignored all the 'relics' set out for tourists and went straight to the back where he keeps the real pieces. I swear, the fat old swindler turned the colour of curdled milk!"
Seeing a curious mixture of bemusement and awe animating the young man's sun-browned features, Ardeth Bey stroked his horse's neck reflectively. The only white woman he knew who spoke the ancient tongue was Evelyn O'Connell, and she had more sense than to walk Cairo's unpredictable streets alone. Evelyn was highly unlikely to travel without her former legionnaire husband, Rick, and his arrival would have been immediately noted and reported by observant Med-Jai eyes. Where the O'Connells went, trouble was seldom far behind. Smiling faintly as he recalled Rick's wisecracking American machismo and Evie's polite English charm that masked a sharp, intelligent mind, Ardeth found his interest was piqued.
"Curdled milk?" he echoed with a slight quirk of an eyebrow. "Well, let us see what has Azim so worried."
"Maybe she could see his 'artefacts' are worthless chunks of stone carved last week by one-eyed masons," the junior Med-Jai joked, trotting after his master as he set off at a brisk walk.
Pausing to allow a huffing train of three camels bearing loads of brocade silk and earthenware past, the two black-clad Bedouin slipped into the side street. The loud hawking of wares, the tones unmistakable whatever the language, decreased to a muted background hum as they trod the warm sandy paving. Blocked by the rise of rough yellowish walls, many of which had stood for centuries, edges worn by wind-lashed sands from the desert, the sky was a motionless azure fudge. Mischievous laughter suddenly rang out and a group of three or more small boys stampeded past, white jilbab flapping around their ankles as they chased each other.
Turning a corner into a modest square of shops, the doorways hung with multicoloured beaded curtains to allow in the air and keep out biting flies, the Med-Jai paused. The crowds here were noticeably thinner and of international stock. Elegantly rumpled from the unaccustomed heat, an English couple in khaki emerged from a coffee shop, the woman exclaiming with delight as the playing children ran rings around her. Scanning the sun-faded signs hung above the doorways, Ardeth spotted 'antiquities and curiosities' scrawled in spidery Arabic and motioned his young scout to follow him.
As the clatter of beads heralded their entrance, a short, rotund man wearing a crimson fez several sizes too large for him came barrelling out from the back room. Waving his podgy hands in front of him, Azim Fahrer's eyes bulged like skinned grapes.
"No, no! I am closed, closed for business!" he squealed, first in English, then in Arabic, flapping his hands in a shooing motion. "Come back tomorrow!"
The Med-Jai exchanged silent glances. Ardeth studied the older man's demeanour, noting his distracted hand wringing and nervously darting eyes. Fahrer wiped his hands on the front of his red-striped shalwar kameeze and scowled hotly as he realised the visitors were not leaving. Sandalled feet slapping at the tiled floor, he took three paces forward, grimacing as he belatedly identified them as Med-Jai.
"Please," he entreated, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. "Effendi, whatever it is – come back tomorrow. I have a customer waiting for me… an important customer."
Known as a rogue and violator of tombs, Azim Fahrer was happy to pillage for the sacred and valuable to line his pockets with foreign money. A tough, street-wise entrepreneur, he was happier still to sell fakes for vast profit to ignorant Europeans. He openly scoffed at the Med-Jai and their holy duty, though was circumspect enough not to do so to their faces. Undeterred by old legends of the afreet said to guard tombs, he had made several attempts to find Hamunaptra, and was always sent on his way by the vigilant Med-Jai who watched the hidden City of the Dead. Now, he was afraid, and visibly so. Intrigued, Ardeth spread his hands disarmingly.
"Salaam, Mr Fahrer… It seems you need the peace of Allah more than I."
"Don't mock me, Med-Jai!" the fat antiques dealer snapped, casting glances over his shoulder towards the back room as if mindful of listening ears. "I have neither time nor patience for your double-talk. Please leave – now."
Placing a restraining hand on his companion's shoulder as he bristled at the disrespect and reached for his sword, Ardeth looked past Fahrer to the heavy mahogany bead curtain partitioning off the back room. Untouched by natural light, all he could see through the doorway were dim shapes sketched in charcoal shadow. A sudden, slight movement suggested the room was occupied by more than stolen relics. For the briefest fraction of a moment, there came a flash of white gold, like two feline eyes caught in lamplight.
"Who is in the back room?" Ardeth asked softly, politely.
Azim paled to a sickly beige, but his chin came up defiantly. He thrust out his corpulent belly, arms crossed over his chest like a materialising djinn.
"My customer. She is waiting, so if you will excuse me," he turned to go, only to find Ardeth stepped into his path.
"She?" he repeated, jet eyes sharpening. "A white woman who speaks perfect Arabic and knows the old tongue?"
Fahrer began to tremble. It began in the lower regions of his vast abdomen, travelling steadily upwards until it reached the rounded plateau of his shoulders and jowled chin.
"Please, effendi, don't offend her… she will do things to me if I displease her!" he whispered pleadingly.
His unease was infectious. The scout shifted his weight back into a defensive position, firmly grasping his sword hilt. He would not act until ordered to, but saw no harm in a ready hand.
"What makes you think that?" Ardeth questioned, peering into the gloom once more. There was no repeat of the unearthly glow. "She has made threats?"
"No," Azim almost wailed. "But I know she can – she has power. She knows things… please, just go!"
Palpably fearful, sweat broke out on his brow and stood shaking like a water-filled goatskin. The back room was unnaturally still, the play of light and shadow through the bead curtain wiped away. A buried instinct telling him they had scant time to gain information, Ardeth turned to the antiques dealer.
"What does she want, Mr Fahrer?" he said, voice low and commanding. "You know what 'things' fall under the care of the Med-Jai, even if you disbelieve. And something tells me you have rediscovered your faith."
Azim paused and looked wildly between the back room and the two Med-Jai, wringing his hands like Pilate. He heaved a great, shuddering sigh.
"I can't tell you!" he said loudly, then hurried forward and lowered his voice to a sibilant whisper. "She wants to know if the tomb of Isetnofret has been plundered in the last twenty years, and she wants the Book of the Dead from the Hamunaptran Temple of Isis. All sorts of things she wants – all relics of the goddess."
Ardeth frowned, puzzled. Isetnofret had been a High Priestess of an unknown goddess some three thousand years ago. Her tomb had been carefully desecrated to remove all marks of the deity she worshipped, but nothing had been stolen. The only officially recognized Temple of Isis stood at Philae in upper Egypt, an island in the Nile. There was another in Hamunaptra, near to the central citadel, but had no great secrets that the Med-Jai had been able to discover. It had been plundered some thousand years ago during civil war, whatever arcane artefacts it held lost to time. As leader of the holy warriors, Ardeth Bey knew that the City of the Dead did not give up its mysteries easily. Nobody knew exactly what was contained within Hamunaptra's antediluvian boundaries, or what slept beneath the shifting sands waiting to be awakened.
"Mawlana!" the young scout cried out, eyes wide.
The bead curtain blew outwards, the oiled strings snapping, scattering glistening mahogany spheres that bounced and clattered on the hard tiled floor. Azim gave a stricken wail and prostrated himself, hands covering his head. A blurred, self-contained column of silvery wind streaked from the back room and through the musty shop, bowling the Med-Jai over like wooden dolls. Just outside the doorway, bleached by the afternoon sun, it coalesced into a slender figure in a billowing black khaliji and djellaba, the hood pulled up. In a whirl of raven black material and running feet, she was gone.
Leaving the crying, protesting Fahrer where he lay, Ardeth leapt to his feet and gave chase, closely followed by his scout. Bursting out into the sunlight, startling many people, Ardeth spotted the black-clad figure turning into an alleyway he knew was a dead end. Snatching his trusted Browning from his bandoleer, he cocked it as he ran. Skidding around the corner, raising clouds of ochre dust in their wake, the Med-Jai came to a halt at a reasonable distance. She stood with her back to them, feet braced apart at hip distance, shoulders relaxed, apparently waiting. Raising a cautionary finger to his companion, Ardeth took aim, finger poised at the trigger.
Abruptly, she turned around, lower face concealed. A polished ebony Isis Knot hung from a gold twisted cord at her throat, swinging gently as she breathed. Her skin tone was clearly white, almost translucently so, unblemished by the heat that brought most fair-skinned visitors out in unsightly red blotches. Framed by dark, delicately arched brows, her clear sea green eyes shone like polished agate as she brought up her hand. As she did so, her sleeve fell back to reveal a tattoo on the inside of her left wrist. Described in the same dense black as his own markings, Ardeth stared as he saw the stylised cow horns bearing the sun disk that symbolised the goddess Isis. The hieroglyphs were contained within an oval cartouche, something that usually represented the name and titles of a pharaoh, or deity.
Seeing the tattoo, the young scout touched a finger to his own fresh inking and swallowed, adam's apple bobbing. The anonymous woman did not speak, she merely splayed her fingers before her in warning. Gaze sliding right to focus on Ardeth, her cool green eyes tracked across the glyphs on his brow and cheeks with interest. Feeling the fine hair on the back on his neck prickle at the sensation of intense scrutiny, he held his breath, knowing they could not stretch out the confrontation indefinitely. Firmly quashing his relief as her attention moved to the youth at his side, he saw her eyes wink a shocking tawny gold in the rich umber shadow cast by the alley walls. Letting out an exclamation, the scout involuntarily pulled the trigger on his low-calibre pistol.
Her wrist turned, long fingers curling in an elegant flourish, and the atmosphere thickened to the consistency of treacle. The bullet slowed, blue traceries of disturbed air streaming in its wake, and soundlessly exploded into a swarm of jewel-winged moths that spiralled upwards and away into the blue. With another gesture, she bent their gun barrels, the metal emitting basso profundo groans as it crumpled like papyrus. She chuckled quietly, sounding pleased, as if an expectation had been fulfilled.
"Med-Jai," she said, tonal intonation flawless.
With a respectful dip of her head, her form blurred into shrieking wind and she disappeared, leaving a diminishing column of falling dust motes. Ardeth Bey looked at the twisted ruin of tortured metal that had been his gun and at his scout's pale face.
"Summon the Elders," he ordered. "We have much to discuss."