RETURN TO ME.
A/N: I don't think that there are any fics following this line, I hope. If there are, at least I'm in good company. I wondered what would Ardeth do after Horus was shot in the desert, the guy's gotta have a bird, it's not like there's cell phones around y'know. What I know about birds wont fill a shot glass and my knowledge of the desert and its people is even less than that, so please forgive the glaring errors that are undoubtedly going to crop us in this piece of scribble.
The Cairo bazaar was filled with people milling around the stalls. Busy wives and mothers were trying to get the best prices while keeping an eye on the running children. Traders argued loudly about the quality and value of their wares and the shouts of sailors echoed off the docks as they unloaded various cargoes.
Ardeth Bay was trailing behind his American friends, dejectedly wondering if the hawk-master was going to be in his usual spot this time. He had been to the market place for months and still had not found a hawk to replace his beloved Horus. Since the bird had been shot, his heart had emptiness in it, one that seemed much greater than that of a bird. A group of laughing children raced around him and in passing knocked a small statue off a nearby table. Absently he bent down to pick it up and put it back on the table. Waving off the shopkeeper's thanks, he plodded along in his funk, sending a small plea up to the heavens:
May I find that which I am seeking this day.
He failed to notice that the statue he had put down was that of Isis. The figurine's eyes glowed briefly and then it was mere stone again.
Being in Egypt on vacation and not expedition was a novelty for the O'Connells and Evelyn was determined to make the most of it. It had been six months since their last debacle with the undead and they were looking forward to just relaxing. Ardeth had met them and promised to introduce them to his people this time around, something little Alex was particularly looking forward to. Having a new house to furnish, she had wasted no time in hitting the market place, much to the delight of Alex and the horror of her husband. Rick shifted Evie's latest acquisition into a more comfortable carrying hold and glanced backwards at the dark Med-Jai chieftain drifting behind them. He nudged his wife and she followed his line of vision and then looked up at her husband.
"I'm really starting to worry about that man." She said, shaking her head.
"It was a bird. How can a man with almost no emotions love a bird so much?" questioned Rick with a shrug.
"Ooh, you can be such an idiot at times." Snorted Evelyn. "He raised Horus from a hatchling remember. They were always together."
"You're right, every man should have a bird." Smirked Rick. "Even if it is just for carrying the mail."
Evy elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to grab wildly at the parcels he was toting. He knew better than to rile his tiny wife any further, unless he wanted the sofa that night. He was saved from making any more insensitive comments by the arrival of the blonde whirlwind that masqueraded as his son, Alex.
"Hi Mum, hi Dad." He said breathlessly as he ran past them, heading straight for Ardeth. He grabbed the voluminous sleeve of his robe and started dragging the startled Med-Jai down the lane.
"Come on, quick, you have to see, come on."
Ardeth grinned slightly as he allowed himself to be pulled past the boy's puzzled parents and then picked up the pace as Alex pulled him along with everything that he had. The boy dragged him to the end of the aisle and across two more before coming to an abrupt halt before a tent that he had never seen there before. It was large and airy and covered with birdcages, each containing a feathered occupant.
His heart jumped and then stood still as his heard the distinct call of the desert hawk. Alex had already darted inside and was impatiently calling to him. He ducked his head and stepped out of the blinding sun into the cool shade of the canvas shelter. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and then he saw Alex standing in a corner with an aged Arab woman. She inclined her head in a gentle nod and he came closer to see what they were looking at. Alex held up the cage excitedly and the words spilled from him.
"This is what you're looking for right. This kind of bird, except this is a girl and I don't know if you want a girl bird. But she's really pretty and I bet she flies really good."
Ardeth looked into the jostling cage and saw a hawk on the bottom, desperately trying to maintain balance while in the grip of an excited Alex. He smiled and took the cage from him, placing is on the carpeted floor of the tent. Sinking to his haunches besides the cage, he studied the bird intently. Once set down, it had immediately stilled and was looking up at him, opening and closing its beak repeatedly. It was the same age as Horus and had all the outward signs of good health. The plumage was a rather unusual colour, sandy beige and cream. The talons were sharp and her hooked beak bright and clean. He made a clicking sound and the bird hopped up onto the perch, coming closer to him. He could see that it was already wearing jesses, a sign that it was already trained. He could now see the eyes clearly and he was intrigued, a deep golden colour flecked with copper. Those eyes stared fearlessly back into his, capturing his interest. Without meaning to, he tuned out the surrounding noises and found himself in a staring match with the bird.
The impatient voice brought Ardeth back to reality and he looked up at Alex who was demanding an answer. He rose to his feet, smiled briefly at Alex and then paid full attention to the old trader. She smiled apologetically at him and said in a soft tone:
"My lord, I am most sorry to tell you, but this bird is not for sale. She is trained but wild and will not take a master. She bites all that try to tame her and will not return to them."
"Then how is that she came to be in your cage?"
"I found her with a broken wing. Her master must have abandoned her because her jesses were still on and her hood was next to her. The glove was lying a few steps away. I hoped to heal her and sell her, however, none will have her."
"Sounds more to me that she will have none." He said with a grin.
"Would my lord like to hold her?" she asked, turning to a wooden box and taking out a heavy leather glove.
"I thought you said that she was not for sale, why look at something that you cannot have?" asked Ardeth, not wanting to be baited.
"I did not say that you could not have her, just that she is not for sale. I will not sell that which will pick it's own master. If she comes to you, then you must take her."
Ardeth lifted a brow at the explanation and took the proffered gauntlet. He put it on and flexed his hand, getting the stiffness out of the leather. When he was comfortable, he turned to the cage where the hawk was still watching him. He hunkered down again and opened the cage door. Whispering to the bird in Arabic, he reached in with a leather cover hand. It turned its back on him, ignoring even the clicks that had intrigued it earlier.
"If that's what happens to girls when you turn on the charm, no wonder you're not married yet." Snorted Rick, having caught up with the pair.
"Honestly Rick." Evelyn tried to jab him in the ribs again but he dodged with the ease of experience.
Ardeth wasn't paying attention to their verbal sparring. He was more interested in the reactions of the hawk. As soon as they had spoken, she had turned her attention to them, almost leaning closer. He spoke again, this time in English.
"Are you going to come to me golden eyes?"
The hawk's head snapped around and the rest of the body followed. She took a tentative step closer to the outstretched hand. Alex noticed this and exclaimed loudly.
Evelyn and Rick shared a glance and then burst into laughter. She reached out and stoked her son's head fondly.
"Honey, birds aren't multilingual. They don't speak different languages."
"Never the less, she seems to prefer English." Said Ardeth, rising to his feet, the hawk now balanced on his wrist.
Rick reached out to touch the bird and was rewarded by a sharp nip. He shrank back, mumbling swear words around the finger that he had jammed in his mouth.
"Serve you right you know." Chided Evelyn gently. "You should know never to touch another man's bird."
"At least not without permission." Added Alex.
Ardeth gently stroked the bird's chest and hummed a soothing tune. The hawk shifted and made a few small sounds, bending her beak to his finger but not biting. He stoked her head and spoke softly in Arabic, which quickly turned to loud cursing as she whipped her head up and latched onto his fingers.
He pulled sharply on the jesses, causing the bird to loose balance and let go of his fingers in order to regain her perch. Opening her wings for balance, she fought to lift up but he held firm. After several aborted takeoffs, she realized that there was nowhere to go and when she landed again, she folded her wings and sat quietly, until he brought his bare fingers up to her chest, where she tried to strike again. He had been anticipating this and grabbed the head and held firm, despite the wings flapping around his face. After a short battle of wills, she eventually quieted and sat still, accepting his firm strokes down her back.
"So," he whispered in English. "We have established who is master here."
Alex gave Rick a puzzled look and his father just shrugged, not understanding the bond that the Med-jai had with any animal. Evelyn was just watching with rapt attention.
He bent down and put the bird back in the cage and then handed the whole thing to the old woman, saying:
"There is no use keeping that which does not wish to stay with you."
She followed him to the outside of the tent where he bent to the bird and told her:
"Return to me."
He stepped into the rambling crowds where the old woman quickly lost sight of him. After waiting a few more moments, she opened up the cage and the bird exploded out in a flurry of wings and shrill cries. The hawk took the sky and was soon a speck against the vivid blue.
Ardeth was waiting in the shade of a balcony when the hawk flew up and landed on a barrel next to him. She peeped at him and he turned a stern gaze on it. Holding out his leather-covered wrist he spoke firmly.
"Return to me." Placing emphasis on the word, me.
She cocked her head at him and then hopped up onto his arm. He wrapped his fingers around the trailing jesses and began to walk back through the crowds towards the bird keepers tent. Upon his arrival the shopkeeper held the cage open, but the hawk spread it's wings and refused to go back to the tiny prison. Ardeth attempted to hold her wings down and was rewarded by another bite and a scratch on the cheek as she wrestled loose and perched on the edge of the tent. Looking down, the bird shrieked at him and flapped her wings in agitation.
Frowning, the warrior wiped the blood off his cheek and held out his wrist.
"Return to me." He commanded.
She ignored him and preened under her wing, smoothing the tiny feathers back into place. He spoke again.
"Return to me."
She turned her back on him and continued her preening. By this time, Rick couldn't keep his amusement silent any longer. This was the man who commanded thousands of men from the twelve tribes. Who had kept watch over the City of the Dead and the evil buried within it. Who had faced the evil when it had arisen, twice! Who had slaughtered hundreds of Anubis warriors and faced thousands more with a single blade. The man who couldn't get a bird to listen to him. He burst into loud chuckles and patted Ardeth on the shoulder.
"Guess you're not meant to make it with the ladies huh buddy?"
Ardeth shot his friend a grin and then looked back at the hawk that had turned back to them but had her beak buried in her chest with her eyes closed. Ardeth picked up the cage and crushed it in his powerful hands. The bird's eyes opened and watched with interest as he threw it away. He held out his wrist again and commanded:
"Return to me."
She stared at him for a long while and then suddenly took flight and circled once before alighting on his wrist, bending her head and allowing him to pet her. He chuckled and spoke to her:
"So little one, we have an agreement then."
He thanked the old shopkeeper and paid her for the cage that he had destroyed and then joined the O'Connells who were waiting for him. Evelyn looked at the bird and said:
"She's beautiful. What are you going to call her?"
"I will know her name when I hear it." He replied, enigmatic as always.
"Come on Mum." Called Alex, his youthful attention span captured by something else. She patted Ardeth's arm and hurried after her son before he could vanish from sight. Rick took her place and grinned at his friend.
"She's gonna bite you again."
"I have the same thought. It seems that I have managed to find myself a willful companion this time around."
"Look at this way, at least she's just a bird and not your wife."
The two men laughed at the remark and were soon swallowed by the milling crowds. Far behind them, in the bird seller's tent, the old woman heard the comments and smiled. Her features blurred in a golden glow and were soon replaced by youth and beauty. She looked after the dark chieftain and spoke softly:
"Be very careful what you ask for my lord, you might just be given it."
The narrow lane where the tent stood was suddenly engulfed in a brief cloud of sand swept in from the nearby desert and when it settled, the tent and the woman had vanished.