Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters from The Mummy or Mummy Returns. Everyone belongs to their respective owners, I just happen to be borrowing them.
Visitor in the Night
The air did battle with itself as steam and fog rose over the narrow streets and rain pelted down on the cold paved roads. Big Ben chimed midnight's arrival along with many other bells all over the city. The streets were quiet and the docks abandon, all except for a single boat that pulled into harbor under the weeping clouds.
A darkly cloaked figure stepped out of the shadow of the deck carrying only the clothes upon his back and a small package held deep beneath his robes. The steady rain immediately embraced him as he made his way to where the boat met the dock. A second figure emerged behind him calling softly, "We must leave before the sun."
"Aiwa," was all the first man said before finding his way onto the docks and gliding like a specter into the shadows of the city. It was not out of fear of being seen that he traveled by shadow, nor even the hopes of finding shelter from the storm. It was simply habit that carried the black clad figure down the darkest alleys and through the narrowest streets. All the shops sat with shutters closed with the promise of welcome as the sun rose. Pubs sat an hour past last call with weary boys wiping up the dregs of the evenings brew and sweeping away the discarded shells of lonely nuts.
As he hurried himself past the shadowed awning over an alleyway, two rouged women stepped before him. "Ken we 'elp ye Mister," one said with an unmistakable cockney accent. The second woman reached out and took him by the arm as to pull him into the alley.
"Tis dark and cold out there. Come in and we keep ye nice and warm," the second said as she gave his arm a pull, but he shook her off and bowed his head politely.
"Forgive me, but I must be going. I am expected elsewhere," he said with a light accent of his own as he turned to cross to the other side of the road.
"Don't go. We won't keep ye too long," the first said as she placed skilled hand upon his chest letting in slide down seductively, beckoning him to stay.
If it were not for the shadows in which they all stood, the women would have seen his cheeks burn scarlet with his embarrassment for getting caught in such a situation. Give him mummies, immortal priests, and the apocalypse and he would be fine but two women of the night and he couldn't think of a way to escape without damaging either his pride or their feelings. "I'm am sorry, but I am late as it is," he tried again.
"Then what difference is a few more minutes. We'll make it worth yer while," the second one purred seductively as she stepped behind him propelling him further into the alley. For a moment it seemed as he was going to obey their pleading and allow them to have their way with him. However, suddenly with the swiftness of a cat he was out of their arms and standing behind them.
"I have neither the coin nor the desire to be your company on this night," was all he said before disappearing into the shadows across the lane. He could hear their angry calls at his back, but he had no time to waste acquainting himself with whores. It was a pass time he had never taken part in, and hoped never to adopt.
He knew he was getting closer, but he hoped that it wasn't as far as he believed it to be. The rains had soaked all the way through his robes and he could feel the chill embedding itself in his skin. It was moments like these that he knew why he had been born in the midst of the ever sunny desert. His teeth clattered by their own volition as he came to an open square.
Several policemen wandered the square even in the unending down pour, and he had no desire to be questioned about his presence upon the streets at so late an hour on such a night. Instead, he darted back down a different alley and made his way through the maze that was the city toward his destination. What seemed to be hours later, he came upon a familiar lane leading to a familiarly imposing manor.
Wearily pulling himself over the wrought iron fence surrounding the estate, he landed in a heap under a small patch of trees. Resting only long enough to ensure that the package he carried was unharmed, he started out toward the large house. Noting that the window he had used for entrance the last time he was here was now locked against the storm, he made his way around the back of the mansion. Slipping a small pick out of one of the deep pockets in his robes, he slid it into the lock on the back door. After several moments, the door was being pushed open on silent hinges.
He slipped into the house being careful to ring out some of the water from his robes before entering. The warmth of the house embraced his wet and weary body like an old lover, knowing exactly where to touch in order to give comfort. Sighing softly, he removed his outer robe leaving it hanging beside the back door, as well as his muddy boots. Slowly he made his way through the maze of rooms leading toward the living room containing the evening's dying fire. For a moment he paused before it relishing in the heat it provided for him. Like the feel of the sun upon his face, the dying embers caressed his clammy cheeks.
After enjoying the hearth for as long as he would let himself, he turned toward the winding staircase that led to his final destination. Silently, he crept up the imposing staircase. As he walked, he still clutched his parcel to his chest. Coming to the top of the stairs, he turned slowly down a long hallway toward a small room. Reaching it, he turned the knob silently and slipped into the chamber as a specter once again. Lying in the small bed in the far corner of the room was a fair-haired boy of fourteen years this very day. Beside the bed upon a small table sat a musty old text with more pieces of paper marking pages sticking out of it than one could count.
Slowly, the cloaked figure knelt beside the boy's bed and rested his cold hand upon the warm comforter which cloaked the boy as he dreamed of the day to come. Sure as the desert sun, the boy's minded wandered to past adventures and ones to come, dreams of old fears and new desires. With great care, the man smoothed the boy's hair away from his young face.
"May Allah smile upon you on this day, Alex, and may he protect you until we meet again," he whispered before rising and removing the small parcel from his chest. Reverently unwinding the oilskin that had protected it from the rains, he revealed a musty volume much like the one beside Alex's bed. With great care he opened the first page to make certain that the note he had spent hours penning was still cradled in the pages, he slowly lowered it to the table beside its brother.
With a final glance at the young boy, he turned and fled the room. He silently came to another door and peeked inside to see his old friend clutching his wife to his chest in sleep. An image that tore at his own lonely heart, but a beautiful on just the same. Closing the door once again, he made his way back to down the winding stairs. At the bottom, he paused for a moment determining which route to take. Whether to leave immediately or to spend a moment warming himself by the fire.
The decision was made for him when a voice broke the silence of the house. "Leaving so soon, old boy?" came an unmistakable voice. Suddenly, Jonathan was standing in the large archway of the living room looking a bit soggy himself. "Seems silly to come all this way to leave before seeing those you came for," he said with a slight slur.
"It is easier if I leave before they know I am here," he said as he came out of the shadows to join Jonathan beside the fire.
"Easier for whom, Ardeth?" Jonathan asked as he collapsed into a cushioned chair beside the fire he had rekindled. "Last time you did this, Evy was upset for a week, and Rick was furious for just as long. It hurts them that you slip in and out of their home without even speaking to them," he explained as he produced a flask which he took a hearty sip from.
"If I were to stay till morning, I would never wish to leave. My duty is elsewhere, as you know. My people require my departure by the rise of the morning sun," Ardeth said solemnly as he knelt before the fire to ease the chill in his weary bones. Nearly a week of travel had dampened Ardeth's spirit almost as much as the thought of leaving so soon.
"For once in your life, damn your duty. Is one day going to hurt anyone? It's Alex's birthday tomorrow. Evy's been planning it for weeks, and nothing would make any of them happier than you being there. Is that too much to ask?" Jonathan said as he took another nip of his whiskey.
"It is not that easy, my friend," Ardeth said with a sigh as his fingers finally ceased shaking and his teeth stopped chattering. "I had to beg the elders for weeks just to be able to make the journey, if I do not keep to my word, I shall be forbidden the next time I ask."
"Alex will be hurt that you think a book can replace your being there for his birthday," Jonathan tried one last time.
"That is a risk I am willing to take. One day he will understand, just as you will," Ardeth said as he rose, turning his back to the fire.
"I'm beyond trying to understand you, old boy. I'll leave that to someone who has his whole life to waste attempting," Jonathan spoke as he too rose. "Stay a while, enjoy the fire. It's certainly not any nicer outside, and you have a good distance to the docks. I'm going to bed, but I hope I'll see you in the morning even if it's just long enough to bid you goodbye," Jonathan said with a yawn as he turned to find his bed.
"Jonathan…" Jonathan turned to look Ardeth in the eye. Ardeth let out a soft sigh and said, "May Allah bless your dreams."
Jonathan made a small gesture and returned, "And you," before retreating up the stairs. Ardeth collapsed on the plush sofa before the fire, and let his thoughts wander. His heart wished that he would stay, but duty beckoned him home. He could hear the rain still beating heavily against the window panes, but he was safe and warm in the home of his dearest friends.
The hours passed, and it seemed that his heart had won out over his sense of duty, but to his mind came the image of those who depended on him. The cherubic faces of his nieces and nephews, as well as the faces of all those who dwelled in his village. His tribe would be moving again soon and he should be there helping them prepare. Wearily, Ardeth ventured over to the window and pried it open to look out upon the graying darkness. Dawn was approaching, whether the clouds tried to disguise it or not. His men awaited him on the boat which waited silently beside the dock.
His outer robes were still soaked as he pulled them over his now dry body, but dawn was fast approaching. As silently as he entered, Ardeth slipped out of the house following his tracks back the way he came. As he scaled fence he looked back to the manor allowing his heart a moment to beg him to stay. Then he hit the ground and found the shadows once again, making his way to the docks.
England would never change. It seemed to always bid him farewell with tears just as the desert would greet him with the heated embrace of the sun upon his return. And just like England, Ardeth would never change as much as he wished he could. His duty would keep him bound to the endless sands of his birth, only to be released for a single night with which to visit friends of old.
As dawn crept upon the city, Ardeth slipped back aboard the boat that brought him there. Several shadows moved as he stepped aboard. His men, as if suddenly woken from a deep sleep, slipped from the shadows to their positions. Within minutes the small boat was floating back down the Thames on its journey home.
Alex woke early as usual. With a grand stretch, he opened his eyes and glanced over toward the book he had been reading the night before. It had been a gift for his previous birthday, and he had read it more times than he could count, but it fascinated him greatly. However, when he looked, he saw it was joined by another volume. In a flash, he had grabbed the new book and pulled in to him upon the bed. Opening the first page with relish, a slip of paper fell out from between the pages. Alex lifted it close to his face in order to read it in the dim light of morning.
For the completion of a Med-jai's fourteenth year, he is given his first true weapon. He is considered a man, and can begin his warrior train. However, not all boys are given a sword. Some are given herbs for healing, some are given a hawk for raising, and others are given books. It is this last group that may very well be more important than all the others. For it is those who are given volumes that guard our history and in doing so, they ensure our future. I give this book to you because now you are a man, Alex. You may choose what you wish to do with your life, but you will always have a place among my people as a barer of the past.
By the time you read this, I shall be faring the tides back to my homeland. I am sorry that I am unable to stay and celebrate this day with you, but I have a duty of my own as the one I have given to you. I know that it is hard to understand why I come in the dead of night and leave long before dawn, but I do so in order to honor my duty. If I were to stay even until the first rays of sun hit the windowpanes, I would not leave and I would fail in my duty to my people. One day you will understand why I must do this for your own strength will be tested. Within the volume is passage to Egypt. When you are ready to face you destiny and not a moment sooner, I invite you to visit once again. Until then, may Allah bless you with good fortune.
Finishing the note, Alex placed in upon the bedspread beside him and read the title of the text. The History of The Med-jai: Volume I, it read. Alex opened to the first page and began reading immediately, knowing it was too late to catch Ardeth before leaving, but also knowing that he would see the chieftain soon.
Jonathan walked down the stairs around noon in search of coffee. He could hear Evy and Rick arguing as usual, but he immediately felt the absence of one who had been there the night before. He walked through the kitchen in a disappointed daze before finding his way to his favorite chair beside the fireplace. However, when he sat down, his eye was drawn to a piece of parchment upon the mantle. Slowly, he rose and retrieved it. The small note read:
I am sorry to disappoint you with my absence this morning, but it is for the best. Fate shall bring us all together again, but now is not the time. Now, my people need me for we are still trying to rebuild even after five years. It is best that neither Rick nor Evy know of my visit, and if they ask where Alex received the new text, I would be forever in your debt if you said that it came in the post. And if you would be so kind as to give Evy the scroll beneath your chair, I would thank you. I will see you sooner than you might think my friend, but until then it is best if my visit remains a secret.
Jonathan put down the note and quickly bent over to retrieve the scroll that was indeed beneath his chair. Unwinding it slightly to see what it contained, Jonathan realized that it was a map. He smiled to himself before winding it up again. "You come in the night and leave without saying so much as a word, but you leave them an invitation they won't be able to deny," Jonathan smiled as he rose to deliver the scroll to his sister. No some things would never change. Ardeth knew that Rick and Evy couldn't resist adventure any more than he could resist duty or Jonathan could resist treasure.