Part Two/Chapter One - Leaving


Audrey stood on the steps outside of her home, trying to adjust her eyes to the scorching midday Cairo sun. No use. If anyone could avoid squinting while in Egypt, it certainly wasn't a British native. Maybe Ardeth, Audrey concluded. He seemed the type who could defy the rules of nature without much thought given to the matter. He most definitely was not bound by the rules of time. Audrey checked her timepiece - a chunky, clunky watch fob that had once been Saeed's - 1:26. In exactly four minutes, Ardeth would be half an hour late. Officially.

Somehow, Audrey doubted his tardiness would concern him over much. Whatever the reason behind his belated arrival, surely it would far outweigh Audrey's planned excursion in importance. Knowing that did little to placate her annoyance. For a fifteen year old female, life often moved excruciatingly slowly; other people's wills and whims were very often considered before and beyond Audrey's. She was used to waiting. But she had never learned to like it.

At 1:28, just as Audrey pulled her watch out of her pocket one last time, the clatter of horse hooves sounded outside the walls surrounding the El-Fadir house. Ardeth and his men. The purposeful, powerful canter gave them away far before Audrey actually saw them. She kept her watch fob in her hand, her head angled down to gaze at it until the riders were well within eyesight. It was a slight rebuke but clearly a rebuke all the same.

"Miss El-Fadir," Ardeth acknowledged her presence smoothly as he swung to the ground from his mount.

"Mr. Bay," Audrey returned equally smoothly, wondering distantly if his tone was as forced as her own. "Are we to leave immediately or would you rather I meet you here later?" Sweet and gracious. At least her years of training in the gentler arts were coming to great use in Cairo.

"If you are ready, we can leave now."

"I'm ready." As she had suspected, Ardeth made no mention of the time or the circumstances that had made him late. Oh well. It was becoming her new philosophy - oh well. Ardeth was a half hour late for the trip she'd been planning for over a month: oh well. Her father had taken himself off to somewhere without a word to the family as to where he'd gone or when he'd be back: oh well. Ardeth Bay had become the de facto leader of the El-Fadir household, his word the law: oh well. For some reason, Ardeth seemed to expect more from Audrey than any of her sisters and frequently he turned a disapproving eye on the youngest El-Fadir daughter, more often prohibiting her activities than not: oh well. There were prices one paid for the type of protection the El-Fadir's were receiving. Even if they didn't know why they were being protected. Oh well.

"We'll take your father's car."

"He's not using it." Seeing Ardeth's raised eyebrow, Audrey quickly resumed in a conversational tone. "Will you want me in the back seat?"

Ardeth nodded. "With me. Hussam will drive."

"Just the three of us?" Until now all expeditions outside the compound had been huge affairs with at least five Med-jai present at all times.

"We will be conspicuous enough."

Because I'm white, Audrey supplied silently. It was true enough but it irked her all the same. "Well, then..." She approached the car only to be waylaid by Ardeth who, predictably, held the door open for her. Charming in a heavy-handed sort of way. "Thank you, Mr. Bay. You're so kind." Sarcasm aside, he was, most likely, a kind man, in his own way. Audrey was simply tired of the clashing of their attitudes.

When Ardeth had joined her in the back seat, Hussam climbed into the front and started the car. Both men sat erect and alert as the car creeped through the gates of the compound. Audrey concentrated on not letting their extreme caution make her nervous. For almost ten minutes they drove along in silence, Audrey watching out the window and checking her watch frequently. She avoided looking at either of her companions, especially Ardeth, for as long as she could. It was a game she played with herself. How long could she possibly go without so much as a glance at Ardeth? She could feel the weight of him in the seat so close to herself, his long legs stretched uncomfortable close to her own. When the car hit a particularly large bump or pot hole, she had to use the entire force of her physical being to keep from bouncing into him. *That* she was certain, would upset him into aiming another disarming glare at her. But if she didn't look at him, she couldn't see his displeasure.

So, she stared obstinately out the window, ignoring the spicy, earthy, warm smell that could only be Ardeth. She ignored the way his robes flicked against her stockinged ankle with a regular rhythm. She even ignored the infrequent bursts of Arabic that Ardeth and Hussam exchanged as they rode. However, she could no longer ignore when she caught Ardeth's hand sneaking towards his ever-present scimitar out of the corner of her eye. She swung her head to face him, eyes widened. He offered no explanation but returned her stare with an intensity that curtailed any questions she might have asked.

Audrey turned back to the window. "Miss El-Fadir, how are you finding Cairo?" The inquiry came from Hussam and was met with a stern look from Ardeth.

"Intriguing. Confusing but certainly worth the challenge of trying to understand, Mr...Hussam, I have no idea what your surname is."

It was Hussam's turn to ignore Ardeth's pointed stare. "Call me Hussam."

"Only if you call me Audrey."

Hussam smiled. "I think that can be arranged."

Audrey returned his smile, glad to find kindness in this unexpected place. "Wonderful." Playfully, she inclined her head towards Ardeth, "I'm sorry to say that I can't bring Mr. Bay to call me by my Christian name."

"Audrey is a Christian name?"

Audrey furrowed her brow. "I have absolutely no idea. What I meant by that was first name."

"Of course." Hussam's eyes glittered mischievously. "Ardeth can be a bit...stiff."

Audrey stole a glance at the Med-jai leader. "*I* didn't say it."

"You wouldn't," Ardeth intoned evenly.

"That was either a threat or a compliment," Audrey ventured.

Ardeth did not supply an answer but Hussam did. "Compliment, I assure you. Ardeth would not threaten you."

Realizing she'd been misunderstood, Audrey started, "I didn't mean-"

"I know," Ardeth interrupted her gently. "As does Hussam. He is, I'm afraid, having fun at my expense."

"Oh." The thought of poking fun at Ardeth gave Audrey pause. Most of his men treated him not only as a military chieftain but almost as if he were a religious leader. Hussam's ease with him indicated that the two were very close. "You've known each other a long time."

Ardeth studied her face for a moment, making her regret her unthinking comment. "Yes, a very long time. Since we were boys."

Audrey nodded and decided to get out of the conversation while she was ahead. She turned back to the window and wondered, absently, if they were even close to the market.


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Ardeth watched the back of his young charge's head. She was really quite a good child. Sweet, considerate, intelligent. Her Western ways confounded him and her youthful enthusiasm unnerved him, but, on the whole, she meant well. And he was far too hard on her.

He was not a father. That was the long a short of it. He was not a father and Audrey needed a father. Now more than ever. But Saeed was far away in the desert and there he would stay for a good while. By the time he returned, Ardeth would have completed this dirty task and Saeed would have to live with the outcome. It was truly unpleasant task that now faced him. However, a warrior, even a very young warrior, faced much worse in battle. Ardeth was not a very young warrior any longer and his hesitation in performing his duty betrayed him. He was not supposed to become familiar or friendly with the El-Fadir family and, for the most part, he had not. But try as he might, he could not remain neutral towards Audrey. He...liked her. Which only make his current duty all the more distasteful.

But it had to be done. He had known the moment he'd gotten word from Saeed. The single piece of worn parchment had felt too heavy in his hands, even before he read the words printed there. Ardeth had watched the back of the messenger as he rode away with a sinking sense of dread.

It must be done.

Saeed's news had been worse than Ardeth had first assumed. The older Med-jai had set out into the desert to reach the Truthsayer Ardeth had gotten word had settled in the tenth tribe of the Med-jai. Truthsayers were more reliable than prophets, men who had shown gifts early in life and gone on to train the the ways of the ancient Truths. Of those who received the calling, only a very few ever reached a stage in their learning where they were ready to take the Test of Divine Knowledge. Fewer still passed. Ardeth, himself, had shown moderate aptitude in the ways of Truthsayers but his path had been that of the Med-jai leader.

The tenth tribe had taken in the Truthsayer directly after he'd passed the last of the Tests. He was the only known Truthsayer in all the Med-jai tribes. He was, perhaps, not the last of his kind, but no one knew for sure. Originally, Ardeth had planned to go to the tenth tribe himself but Saeed had suggested he stay in Cairo. The El-Fadir daughters were safer in Ardeth's care than even Saeed's.

What Saeed had to report was chilling to Ardeth's bones. The old prophet, dead so long, had been right. The El-Fadir daughters were a danger. Or rather, they presented a danger. The Truthsayer's visions had been murky but one thing he had been able to see undoubtedly was that, when together, the young women were imminently perilous. And Audrey El-Fadir, unknowingly, was the key to their power. She was the source, the reason, the method. She was the end of mankind. If Ardeth allowed it.

He would not.

This thing must be done.

"Mr. Bay, we seem to be leaving Cairo. Am I mistaken?"

"No, Miss El-Fadir."

"Aren't we going to the market?"

Her face registered a dim confusion but complete trust. A trust of which he was undeserving. Ardeth would have closed his eyes to it if that had been an option. "No."

"Where are we going?" He did not answer. "Mr. Bay, where are we going?" Still her voice held only interest, maybe annoyance. Still, Ardeth did not answer. "Mr. Bay?"

"Yes."

"Where are we going?" A tendril of fear crept into her words and slashed at his heart.

"To the seaport."

"Oh." Again she was composed. "Why?"

This thing must be done.

He turned away from her. In the front seat, Hussam shifted uncomfortably. Ardeth had chosen his best friend to accompany him on this...errand because he knew it to be so distasteful. Hussam would not hesitate.

Saeed had told Ardeth, in the letter, to use his best judgment in dealing with the situation. A father, he had said, could not make such a decision. Not if he wanted to make the right one. But the Med-jai leader, an outsider with no affection for the girl, could. Would.

Yes, he would make the correct decision but, Allah help him, he would hate himself everyday for the rest of his life for it.

"Mr. Bay, you're frightening me. Please, why are we going to the seaport?"

"I've booked you on a ship to Spain. From there you will go to the Americas."

A deep, dark silence followed his announcement. Then one word. "No."

"Yes."

The eruption he had known would come. "I won't go. You must be insane. My father will kill you."

"Your father will respect my decision."

"He bloody-well will not."

"He has no say in the matter." As much as he would like to share the blame with Saeed, Ardeth could not take the girl's fondness for Saeed away from her. He was taking everything else.

"He's my *father*."

"You'll go."

"I won't. Is this a joke because it isn't funny." Tears filled her voice and her eyes now.

Ardeth forced himself to look at her, wishing he could will her tears not to fall. "It isn't a joke."

"But why?" Ardeth's will meant nothing to the tears flowing freely down Audrey's face. Pretty little face. This, he knew, would etch itself in his memory, wake him at night.

"I cannot tell you."

"You CANNOT tell me. My family is here. I don't know anyone in America. I- I-"

"I have arranged you lodging. You will be very comfortable."

"When am I coming back?" His silence sent her eyes wide and wild. "WHEN?"

"I do not know." It was the truth. Never, perhaps. But that he could not say. It was weak of him but....

"Do my parents know where I'm going?"

"No."

"Then, how will I contact them."

"You will not."

"Am I to be a captive?"

He looked away from her then. "I hope you will not feel so."

Audrey's breathing became erratic then. Fast and hard. She was panicking. "Please, Mr. Bay, don't do this. I'll do anything. I- I promise. Please." She made a sickening coughing sound as if she were suffocating. "Please. Oh God. I'm so sorry. What did I do? I'll be better. I promise. I promise." She grasped the front of his tunic, her hands trembling.

He took the opportunity to pull her close to him, cradling her in his arms. "You did nothing. It is I who is sorry."

"NO," she screamed, finally, hitting, kicking, biting. Trying to break free of him. "Won't go. Won't."

He held fast. Hussam pulled the car over and implemented their reserve plan. He handed Ardeth the cloth over the back of his seat. The cloth soaked in the liquid. Chloroform, not the weapon of a warrior. But then, attacking a woman was hardly the strategy of a warrior.

Ardeth held the cloth over Audrey's mouth and nose, until her eyes rolled back in her head and her body went slack. Again he pulled her close, as if he could undo so of this wrong with the true affection he felt for the girl.

"I wish you'd brought someone else along with you." Hussam took a steadying breath and pulled back onto the road.

Ardeth did not answer him, instead watching the flushed face of the young woman in his arms. "Find happiness, little one," he whispered, "Find peace."

It was done.