Chapter Three - Conversations


The foreign nation population in Cairo was small enough that it was no surprise when Evelyn and Rick O'Connell became aquatinted with the El-Fadirs. Evy and the El-Fadir daughters were close enough in age that they came to spend a considerable amount of time together. For his part, Rick seemed heartened to find Ardeth so often in Cairo and in such close proximity to the El-Fadirs. Alex, for all the opinions of a six year old child mattered, became immediately and completely smitten with Audrey. Through their son, the O'Connell's, too, began to take an active interest in the girl. Evelyn, in particular, developed an attachment to the girl, even taking time out of her own schedule to tutor Audrey in Egyptian customs, social mores, and the like.

As a result of Evy's influence, Audrey's confidence and interest in her new home grew in leaps and bounds. She came to respect the land and the people who inhabited it. Soon, her self-assurance reached a level where she was no longer wary of her Med-jai guards. Four months after their introduction, Audrey initiated her first conversation with Ardeth Bay.

In the corridor outsider her room, one floor below where he slept while in Cairo, Audrey smiled at Ardeth. There was nothing particularly unusual in that as she, and all other occupants of the house, were always more than polite to Ardeth and his men. He started to walk on, forgoing an acknowledgment of her kindness, when he heard her voice call out behind him. "Mr. Bay?" He turned. "It's nice to see you have returned."

"Thank you, Miss El-Fadir."

Her smile widened. A nice smile, he supposed, if one stopped to consider it. "You are the only person who has ever called me that."

"Would you prefer another name?" It was conceivable that Audrey had not taken her step-father's name when Saeed had married her mother. Ardeth had simply never given it much thought.

"Yes. Call me Audrey, please. I'm fifteen. No one expects you to call me 'Miss.'" She clasped her hands behind her back and shifted from one foot to the other. The restless energy of youth.

It was Ardeth's turn to smile - a measured smile. If she were a Med-jai woman, she would be considered an adult by now, with all the benefits and obligations of the title included. But her European society still treated her as a child. It was an intriguing contrast within her. Ardeth, himself, could not say which aspect he found to be most dominant in her. He knew too little of her. "Miss Audrey. Will that suffice?"

"I suppose." Again he made move to return to his room and, again, her voice stopped him. "Where have you been?"

"With my people. Seeing to some matters." Had he wanted to explain bandits and raiders to the girl, she would not have understood.

"In the desert?"

"Yes."

"How far from Cairo?"

"Three days hard ride."

Her eyes widened. "It must be difficult to be so far from home."

"I have obligations here in Cairo."

"Us," Audrey said quietly. "You must miss your family."

"I am accustomed to being away from them." It was his duty and his privilege.

"Do you have children?"

"No."

"A wife?"

Ardeth forced his face to remain neutral. Her questions contained more than casual interest. How much more her could not say. "I am not yet married."

"Well, I suppose that's fortuitous." For the first time since she'd cornered him, Audrey's gaze wavered. "I should take myself off to bed."

Although the conversation had not actually been an annoyance, Ardeth was glad to see it come to an end. "Good night, Miss...Audrey."

"Sweet dreams, Mr. Bay."


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Audrey El-Fadir fell into her narrow bed feeling her cheeks ignite with a hot flame. She oughtn't have even tried to speak to Ardeth. He was not the sort of man who appreciated the attentions or opinions of a girl such as herself. Audrey's great mistake had been in assuming that Ardeth's similarities to her father extended beyond the obvious. They were both men of remarkable loyalty, honour and patience. They were both Med-jai.

Nonetheless, Saeed's interminable fondness for and tolerance of his youngest daughter were not traits that Ardeth shared. He could not. Ardeth Bay had not the luxury of such frivolous emotion towards someone he come into contact with for the sole purpose of protecting. Ardeth Bay probably did not dislike Audrey in any especial way. He merely wanted to do his job and return to his people.

She could hardly blame him.

"Audrey?" The knock at the door was vaguely unexpected but not terrifically surprising.

"Come in, Father," she called.

Saeed popped his head into the room to find Audrey, still fully clothed, sitting in the middle of her bed, hugging her knees. "I thought you'd gone to sleep."

"Not yet."

Saeed resisted a smile. She was often that way - so conservative with words that she'd be utterly inscrutable if she weren't so easy to read. Her face was as open and honest as her heart. It was a quality that Saeed knew she loathed in herself. Nearly as much as he loved it. And her.

"I came to check on you."

"I'm well, Father. Yourself?"

"Fine, fine." He took a seat at the foot of her bed. "Audrey, I have an important question to ask you and you must be honest with me." I will know if you're not, he added silently.

"Sounds grim," she quipped with a lopsided grin.

"No, just important." Saeed paused and drew in a deep breath. "Are you happy here in Cairo?"

For a long moment, Audrey's face registered a thoughtful concentration. "Actually, yes, I do."

"You do?"

She nodded. "Yes. I find it odd from time to time and I don't suppose I'll ever completely understand Egypt or the people in it but I do have a lifetime to try." "I would hate to think that I'd brought you to a place where you could not find happiness. I realize this is all very foreign to you but your mother and I truly thought it was a wise decision."

"Because you think we can find suitable husband here, right?"

Saeed grimaced. He could wish that she weren't so asute an observer. "Yes, Audrey, that is part of the reason. It would be difficult for you girls in England. Not impossible, though."

"No. I understand." And she, most likely, did. She had lived through the years of ridicule and segregation in school, at parties and anyplace that people gathered, really, for many years. It had been scandalous enough when Roslyn married so soon after her first husband's demise but who she married...It might have been acceptable for commoners but Roslyn's family money made her anything but common. That her children carried her foreign husband's name was frightful to her 'genteel' society.

If the girls were to find husbands of any wealth or reputation, the best bet was to look within the foreign national population of Cairo. Men who chose to be in Egypt, be they scholars, adventurers, or simple businessmen, had already proven to be more open-minded than the typical British dandy. That fact combined with the family wealth and the abundant charms of the El-Fadir women boded well for the future.

"Do you know what I find most odd?" Audrey inquired.

"What?"

"When Connor O'Reilly was alive, we would have had no difficulty procuring more than a sufficient number of suitors. Connor was a bounder of the highest calibre, more likely to rob you than look you in the eye. But by obtaining a father of unlimited integrity, no one will marry us." Cocking her head to one side, Audrey continued, "I don't suppose any of us would wish to marry a man who would base his life on such a unreasonable kind of logic."

Saeed smiled again. She was wiser than, perhaps, she ought to be. Intelligence was not always prized in women. More than anything, Saeed hoped being in Cairo would allow Audrey to meet a man who would appreciate all of her gifts. Leaning forward, he kissed his daughter's forehead. "Thank you, my sweet."

"May I, now, ask you a question?"

"Certainly."

A moment passed as she considered the exact wording of her inquiry. Saeed waited patiently. Better, he thought, to gauge your words than speak thoughtlessly and end up sounding the fool. "It is obvious, to me at least, that Mr. Bay does not wish to be here. Why does he remain?"

"The Med-jai are an ancient people, Audrey. And in all the time that they have inhabited Egypt, they have served a great purpose. It is a heavy responsibility but also an enormous privilege. And some, such as Ardeth, shoulder both the burden and its rewards with remarkable strength of both body and character." It was not the answer she sought but it was all that Saeed had to offer her. It had been decided that his family would be better served by not knowing the exact purpose of the Med-jai in their home. Someday, perhaps...but not now.

"Couldn't he send someone else?"

"No one who could lead with such expertise." Saeed smiled though he felt an odd discomfort. "Besides, I don't believe Ardeth is as truly distressed as you seem to think."

"I talked to him tonight, Father. He is not a happy man."

As much as Saeed respected and loved Ardeth, he would rather the man kept a wide berth of Audrey. The girl was too easily impressed and Ardeth was nothing if not impressing. Saeed had known for awhile that Audrey harboured a school-girl's crush on the Med-jai leader. However, he had counted on Ardeth's aloof nature to counter the futile affection. "Audrey, Ardeth has never been what we would term a 'happy' man. He is his duty. There is no room for life outside that. Please, keep your interactions with him to a minimum, daughter." He did not wish to sound harsh but he would hate to see Audrey's heart broken and that was the only logical conclusion if her affections were to settle on Ardeth Bay.

"Of course, Father."


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Audrey's promise to her father, good intentioned as it was, lasted a little over twenty-four hours. To her credit, she did not go out in search of Ardeth. The problem was that he had to cross the threshold to her bedroom door in order to get to his own room. This placed him in her direct line of sight the next evening at approximately 10:45. After the previous evening's conversation, Audrey felt it would be rude to ignore him entirely. She smiled and inclined her head, intending to do no more than acknowledge his presence.

Ardeth waylaid her plans. "Miss El-Fadir?"

She decided not to quibble about what he called her. "Yes?"

"Your father mentioned that you wish to visit the artist's bazarre."

"Yes. I realize that some of your men will have to go w-"

"I will have to accompany you, Miss El-Fadir. The bazarre is a very busy place and I would feel much safer if I, personally, saw to your safety. That said, I am leaving Cairo tomorrow for at least a week. You will have to postpone your visit." He was so used to giving orders that, even when he tried to sound more diplomatic, he came off authoritarian.

Audrey shrugged off the implied lack of concern for her feelings and decided to be agreeable. "If you think it's necessary."

"I do." He replied curtly.

"I'm being very amiable, Mr. Bay. You could, at least, attempt the same. Yours, afterall, is not the only life being disrupted. You have the added incentive of knowing why you are here. I must merely trust the wisdom of my father and yourself." Her tone was soft and genuinely without anger. She did not wish him to think her unappreciative but, as it seemed they were stuck with one another for quite some time, Audrey could not have him treating her like milquetoast.

"I did not mean to offend."

Not exactly an apology but it would have to do. "You didn't offend me. It's just a bit...disconcerting to have no say whatsoever in the running of your own life."

"I would imagine so." His word were not cold but they were far from warm. Audrey wondered ideally if he ever showed any kind of real emotion. Duty, honor, and authority were all fine things but certainly not the sum of a man. Not a great man. And Audrey was inclined to believe that Ardeth had it in him to be a great man.

"You could not. Imagine such a life. No one would ever consider taking such liberties with you, Mr. Bay. Not even for the sake of your own safety, which is, I know, your motivation for assuming control of my decision making powers."

For the first time, Ardeth seemed to truly contemplate something Audrey had said. "You are correct. I would not yield authority to anyone. But I do often take to heart the well-intentioned advice of those older a wiser than myself."

"You'll excuse me," Audrey said in a tone just this side of sarcastic, "if I find that hard to imagine."

"I wish to keep you from harm. Is that not enough?"

Audrey shrugged. "You wouldn't even ask that question if I were a man."

"You are not."

"No, I'm not."

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