Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or ideas from The Mummy or Mummy Returns, but all other characters and ideas are my own.
Summary: Mercy is anything but what her name implies. Widow to one of Cairo's highest ranking officials, she has power that is unsurpassed by any within the city. What will happen when she meets a man with nothing to hide but everything to protect?
AN: This is another Ardeth story, but Jonathan will play a role in up coming chapters. Tell me what you think of the story, I love to hear feedback. Please R&R.
Chapter I: The Face in the Mirror
She stood before the full length gilded mirror. Behind the etching appeared the image of one foreign to this land. Her tall lithe body was exhibited to perfection beneath her sheer nightdress as she brushed out her short silken red curls. Her once pale skin now glowed sun kissed gold from years of exposure to the glorious desert sun. Her slender fingers worked their way through the mass of perfectly pinned up curls to release them, so that her fashionably short hair could fall to its normal above the shoulder length.
How many times had she gone through this same ritual? Over a thousand suns had set to this very scene as she stood before her husband's wedding gift to her. Salim had given it to her on their wedding night telling her that with it she could see the same beauty that he saw in her.
But he had been blind to who she really was. No mirror could show the monster she had become. But perhaps, the mirror did show what he had seen, for he had never believed how black her heart truly was. Now he rested in his grave, and she stood here in the opulence he left for her. The monster within her laughed at his naivety, but the woman she had once been wished for the innocence he had.
As she finished brushing her hair, she paused to truly look at herself. She was not so vain as to deem self inspection a daily necessity, but she was often truly amazed at how well her skin hid the wretchedness that was bone deep. As she stood there looking herself in the eye, she felt the air in the room shift almost imperceptibly. She didn't move immediately as she waited for the intruder to show himself, but when he didn't she spoke out.
"It is impolite break into a woman's private chambers in order to skulk in the shadows spying on her. It makes a far better impression if you come out into the open and at least let her return the favor of scrutinizing you as well," she said with a melodious lilt to her accented voice. "Are you going to come out of the shadows, or shall I simply blow out the lamp and go to bed, so you can watch me sleep as well?" she asked sarcastically as she finally turned to the sheer curtains that billowed in the gentle breeze coming in from the balcony.
A dark figure came out from behind them to stand in the archway that led onto the balcony. His dark robes hid most of him from sight, but one could still discern that a powerful body lay beneath the heavy midnight blue fabric. His head and face were covered in lengths of cloth that served as protection from the harsh desert sun, but looked out of place within the confines of such an opulent room. Before he could remove his facial covering, she spoke up. "Ardeth Bay, it truly is a surprise that one such as yourself would visit my humble dwelling," she said with a small bow, though it was a mocking action if anything.
"Mercedes al Hafeez," he said in a quiet yet cold greeting. Ardeth was still unsure of why he had come, but he was certain it was a mistake when he saw that she was wearing little more than a shift. He immediately diverted his eyes from her feminine form to look her only directly in the eye.
"I never imagined that the leader of the Medjai would be caught sneaking into a woman's rooms at dusk, especially those of a married woman," she said calmly as she walked to her bed of overstuffed pillows and laid upon it as one would see a goddess in a classic painting.
"I would not be forced to enter your chambers unannounced if you had seen me the previous seven times I have asked for your audience," he defended himself as his eyes tried not to follow her every move as she stretched languidly upon the bed of pillows.
"Did it ever cross your mind that I did not wish to see you, Chieftain Bay?" she asked with a condescending smile.
"Many times, but I do not have the luxury that you do of not facing things that I do not wish to," he said with cold detachment.
"I see. So, do you break into every woman's chambers that ignores you, or am I special?" she batted her eyelids as though she were a young girl begging for attention.
"I simply come…" Ardeth was cut of with a dismissive flick of her wrist.
"I know what you are here for, Chieftain Bay. I was not raised a fool, like my late husband was. You are here to see that the caravan of artifacts and treasure that is to arrive in Cairo in three days time does not. Am I correct?" she said as she suddenly stood, no longer looking like the goddess she would have people believe she was. Instead, she spoke as a cold businessman would, and the sensuality that she oozed just moments before seemed to dry and wither under her cold stare.
"You know my intentions well. All I ask is that you will listen to my argument instead of dismissing me," he said as he placed a hand on the scimitar at his side for lack of things to do with his restless hands. He couldn't remember the last time he had had to ask another for help, especially one such as this woman. If Ardeth had never had to meet the infamous Mercedes Al Hafeez, he would have died a happy man, but now he found himself within her chambers preparing to beg for her help.
"There is little I can do for you, Chieftain Bay. It is not my caravan to stop, and even if it was, there is little you could say to me that would convince me to forfeit such a profit," she said coolly as she moved past him onto the balcony to watch the last wisps of sunlight fade into the sapphire of night. Before Ardeth could reply, she stopped him with another flick of her wrist. "However, since you went through such trouble to see me, I will hear what you have to say. Though do make it quick, I fear I cannot take much of your dreary sense of duty at a time," she said as she motioned to the space beside her for him to join her.
Ardeth stayed where he was and nearly growled at her total disregard for his person. "I came to you because you have audience with many officials due of your late husband's position among them," he began through clenched teeth, but took a deep breath to calm himself. It seemed to work until she interrupted him.
"You need not tell me who I have an audience with, Chieftain Bay. I have servants that do that already. Now, speak your mind, or I will have to ask you to leave," Mercedes said as she wound a brushed out curl about her finger.
Ardeth took another calming breath before speaking gravely. "It is for the well being of those who are a part of the caravan that I ask that it be halted. For I have a duty to uphold and if the caravan is not stopped, I will be forced to stop it myself. I have little problem killing everyone within it, but I would prefer that I did not have to shed blood that could have easily been saved," Ardeth spoke with cold detachment, but Mercedes could see the pleading glint in his eye. He didn't want to kill anyone if it could be avoided, but as he had said, it was his duty to ensure certain things remained hidden from the world.
"What is so important within this caravan that the Chieftain of the Medjai would risk honor and pride to come and beg for this to be stopped? After all, caravans bring back artifacts all the time. You have never visited me before," Mercedes spoke with a calmness that only served to rub Ardeth the wrong way.
"Certain cargo within the caravan belongs to the Medjai," Ardeth said vaguely as he slowly approached the rail of the balcony.
"You would do good to learn that I do not like to be lied to, Chieftain Bay. You shall either tell me exactly what it is that you do not want outside eyes seeing, or I shall order an entire army to protect that caravan so that I can see for myself when it arrives," she bit out angrily.
"I cannot tell you," Ardeth returned stubbornly. "But know this; even an army will not stop my men. That caravan will not reach Cairo, whether anyone is harmed in the process is your decision," Ardeth growled, though he knew he was being irrational. He knew he had condemned his mission as he spoke those words, but his duty was to protect both the secrets and the people of the desert. If he told them to a woman like Mercedes Al Hafeez, it would surely be his people's downfall.
"Get out," she said simply as she turned and disappeared through the diaphanous curtains covering the entrance to her chambers. "You have wasted enough of my time, Medjai," she called out from within her room, but Ardeth had already jumped down from the balcony into the lush garden below. Several moments later, Mercedes moved to the curtains and peered out at her estate and watched as Ardeth proudly marched away. She shook her head tiredly as she turned and sat upon the copious pillows that littered her bed. "Have I become so wretched that not even the most honest and honorable of pleas can melt the ice around my stone heart?" she asked the empty room as she lay down upon the bed and waited for sleep to claim her.
Fuad knew that Ardeth was incensed as soon as he saw him ride into camp. He sighed deeply as he moved toward his brother's tent hoping that he could talk some of the anger out of him before he died of a heart attack at the ripe old age of thirty one. "Ardeth, there is a meal waiting for you by the fire if you are hungry," Fuad began as he approached his elder brother.
"I lost my appetite," Ardeth growled as he thrust his way into his tent. Fuad rolled his eyes as he followed his brother into the large tent. "I don't know what possessed me to go to that woman and humble myself enough to ask for her assistance. Her heart is as desolate as the Sahara, and her bite is as poisonous as an asp's. Vain and selfish creature that she is; I have never seen hair so scandalously short. And her total lack of shame for standing before me in little more than sheer sheet," Ardeth growled more to himself than anyone as he threw his outer robe upon the group in disgust. That article was followed by the rest of his garments as he stalked over to the water basin Fuad had place in his room earlier. Fuad simply listened to the grumblings of his over stressed brother as he collected the discarded garments and folded them slowly. "She treated me as if I were no better than the dirt beneath her sandals, as though even looking at me was unpleasant," Ardeth said in frustration.
"I take it that things did not go well, my brother," Fuad said, knowing he would regret bringing it up. Ardeth turned to send him a withering glare as he washed the dirt from his ride off of his weary face.
"No, Fuad, it did not go well. I don't understand what made you think that that she-devil would ever help us," Ardeth nearly barked as he nearly rubbed his cheeks raw while wiping the water off his face.
"Perhaps you just rub her that wrong way. She has always been pleasant to me when you send me on those silly diplomatic errands that result in sheer boredom for a night," Fuad said with a knowing smile at how both Ardeth and Mercedes could rub people the wrong way with their stubbornness and sense of pride.
"I didn't get close enough to rub her either way. I was too afraid I might lose a limb," Ardeth said as he stalked over to his younger brother who held out a clean robe for him to wear.
"I told you, I could have accompanied you if you were going to be gruff with her. She has an uncanny ability to tell when someone is less than honest with her, doesn't she?" Fuad asked as he turned to sit on his brother's pallet.
"I do not need your help in diplomatic matters, Fuad, and it would do you good to remember who is chieftain here," Ardeth growled, but then suddenly collapsed upon the bed beside his brother. "I am sorry, brother. My temper has gotten the best of me. You know I am grateful for any advice you can give me. It is just, that Mrs. Al Hafeez has grated my nerves immensely. I have never been angered so quickly by any individual in my entire existence. Even Jonathan couldn't get under my skin so fast," Ardeth sighed as he lay back upon the threadbare covers.
"Mercedes can be quite irritating if she has something to hold over your head," Fuad said calmly as he watched Ardeth roll his eyes. "But you aren't exactly easy to always get along with either," he finished as he playfully punched Ardeth in the ribs. Before he had even pulled his arm back, Ardeth had rolled him onto his stomach and held him in a headlock.
"It would serve you well not to insult those stronger and faster than you," Ardeth growled playfully as he mused his brother's hair before getting up and heading toward the entrance of the tent. "Thank you, Fuad. You always seem to know how to get my anger in check," Ardeth said calmly. "Are you going to join me for supper or have you already eaten?" Ardeth asked as he held open the tent flap.
"I'll join you, but I ate with the men," Fuad said as he stood quickly and scooted past his brother out of the tent. "Jamal cooked tonight, so the meal is less than edible, but you're probably used to it by now," he joked as they walked in synch toward the glowing campfire.
"City life has made you soft my brother," Ardeth said jovially. "You no longer appreciate the simple joy of being able to find anything to eat in the desert."
"Well, who was the one that sent me to Cairo to take over the running of the museum?" Fuad asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Do not give me that look. You went more than willingly," Ardeth retorted as he sat beside the campfire and reached for the small plate that Fuad had saved for him. Ardeth wasn't quite sure that he recognized anything on the plate as actual food, but Fuad was right, he had become used to such meals. "Tomorrow…" Ardeth paused as he took a bit out of what he assumed had once belonged to an animal. He nearly choked as he tried to swallow it, but he managed to hold back the urge to gag. "Jamal out did himself this time," he said with tearing eyes. Fuad laughed loudly at his brother's pained expression. As Ardeth regained his composure, he continued, "Tomorrow, I want you to pay another visit to Mrs. Al Hafeez. Perhaps she will be more willing to listen to you."
"Yes sir," Fuad said dutifully as he sat back staring up at the stars. He had a feeling that only Ardeth would be able to change Mercy's mind, but it would take something from Ardeth that he probably wasn't willing to give, and that was trust. Fuad happened to know that Mercedes Al Hafeez was only as poisonous as an asp because she dealt with men equally as dangerous. She adapted to survive, but in doing so she often lost touch with her humanity. However, Fuad had seen her heart before, and he knew that she would willingly help if approached correctly. He just hoped Ardeth wouldn't explode at her because she would only meet him with equal ferocity.