Avalon 8.7 Escaping, part 2 of 6

In the morning, Alexis and Sukki both mentioned their stomachs did not feel well.  Sukki wondered if it was the figs, but Alexis said they were getting whatever got the men.  They held it together well enough to get the men up and moving.  The men all put on a brave face, but no one doubted they were hurting.

When they got close to the town, Katie reminded the women to put up their veils. “And we will have to keep them up as long as we are around people,” she underlined.  All but Boston already had theirs up against the dust and kicked-up sand of the road.

El Alamein proved to be a large fishing village.  They had a dock, and a couple of ships in the dock beyond their fishing boats.  They looked like medieval belly boats, merchant transports of some kind, but had lateen sails to pick up the wind from almost any direction.  The village had a couple of inns by the docks, but they were full.  Fortunately, being on the coastal road, the village got plenty of visitors.  They had a large area set aside for tents and campfires.  They had a fountain of a sort, right near the cistern that collected water against the dry months.  And they had plenty of fodder for horses, mules, oxen, and camels, with separate areas and separate pens to keep the animals that did not always mix well.  Katie picked out a camp near the sea which she said would be easiest to defend or escape along the coast if necessary.  There were Berbers in the camp, and they appeared like more of the soldiers they met on the road.  Of course, the camp cost money as did the fodder for the horses.  There certainly was not much grass by the sea.

Boston, Nanette, and Katie went to the market to see what they could find that Nanette could cook.  Alexis, Sukki, and the men were not up for cooking, and maybe would not eat much either.  They got fish and some fresh fruit and vegetables but did not stick around for the people to ask too many questions.  Nanette, being black, fit right in, and the merchants talked to her like a native.  Katie and Boston, with their blonde and red hair stuck out in the crowd.

“The less questions the better,” Nanette understood.

After that day of rest, everyone actually got up for super, even if they did not eat much, as Katie guessed.  “Besides,” Lockhart said and stared at Boston.  “The fillet girl did not get out all the bones.”

Boston just returned his look with an elf-grin.

“Okay,” Lincoln thought to talk to everyone, and they settled down to listen.  Talking was Lincoln’s way to distract himself from the queasy feeling in his stomach.  “I read all day yesterday, which was stupid.  I should not read while I ride.  Makes me car sick.”

Alexis smiled at the allusion and snuggled into Lincoln’s arm.

“The Servant of God, the Wiseman in the Power of God.  That was her husband’s name.”  Lincoln coughed and tried the name.  “Abdallah al-Hakim bi-Quat Allah.”  He smiled at himself.  “Okay,” he put a hand up to forestall questions.  “Yasmina’s father was the Sharif of Mecca, though that was not an official title yet.  He smuggled her out, or she ran away, that is unclear.  The Qarmatians sacked the city in 930.  Yasmina was sixteen.  With her faithful retainer, Muhammad al-Rahim, that’s Muhammad the merciful, an old eunuch and military captain, she made her way to Egypt, and eventually to Libya and the newly established Fatimid court.

“The Fatimids eventually take Egypt,” Nanette remembered from all that time at the professor’s feet.

“Not yet,” Lincoln said.  “They tried twice around when Yasmina was a child but got beaten back.  So, Yasmina shows up in the Fatimid court.  The founder and Fatimid Caliph takes her as a godsend.  He wants to lay claim to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and takes the daughter of the Sharif as a gift.  He marries her to his grandson, al-Hakim.”

“A political pawn,” Boston said in her most sarcastic voice.

“But wait,” Lincoln said.  “Let’s back up a minute.  Al-Mahdi is the Caliph.  His son, al-Qa’im is the designated heir.  His grandson, al-Hakim, is slated to follow, but there is a twist—actually, two twists.  Al-Hakim is the second born.  He has an older brother by about six months.  Al-Mansur is the older brother, but he was born from a concubine whereas al-Hakim was born from al-Qa’im’s actual wife, young as she was.  The boys are actually Yasmina’s age of seventeen and are rivals in a way.”  Lincoln smiled.  “Yasmina is reported to be beautiful.  A true Arabian princess.  Imagine the teenage hormones.”

“What is the second twist?” Decker asked, as Nanette comforted him.  Decker seemed to be fighting some of his own hormones.

“Okay.  So, Yasmina is married, and confined to the palace for a bit less than three years.  No children, but apparently no complaints.  But then she finds out Hakim is working for the Masters.  He is making guns and gunpowder with which he plans to arm the soldiers of the Fatimids.  Yasmina kills her husband, several other servants of the Masters, and ends up killing al-Mahdi, or at least al-Mahdi dies, and she runs away again.”

“How does that work out?” Katie asked.

Lincoln nodded.  “The new Caliph, the son al-Qa’im never leaves the palace again.  It must have been something.  There is a revolution about fourteen years from now, and al-Qa’im dies before it is settled.  Al-Mansur, the eldest son who was al-Hakim’s rival takes over, puts down the rebellion, and rules from there.”

“No,” Boston said.  “How do things work out for Yasmina.”

Lincoln smiled for her.  “She escapes to Byzantium and eventually Italy where she fights off Muslim armies.  She marries a Christian knight, and I would like to say lives happily ever after, but you know the Kairos.”

“And you dare not tell her any of that when you meet her.”

Boston understood and pulled out her amulet.  “She is definitely headed toward us.  Maybe we could play like Norway and wait for her to get here.”

“No,” Lockhart said.  “But we will take tomorrow for another day of rest and head out early on the next day.”

“One more thing,” Lincoln spoke up and caused everyone to pause.  “Fatimid power is built on Berber soldiers, probably like some here and like the ones we saw on the road.”

“Keep your eyes open for any guns al-Hakim may have distributed before Yasmina ended his operation,” Katie said.  “We are still about three hundred or more years from guns being part of history, so they don’t belong here.”

Lockhart nodded, and Decker spoke.  “So, keep your eyes open and be careful what you say in close quarters.”

That evening, Decker woke up, maybe thinking about his hormones.  Either by magic or by some sixth sense, Nanette woke up as well and sat with him.

“You know,” he said.  “I never really loved my first wife.  It was all just sex—lust.  We married because we were in the corps and in the two-thousands they still frowned on people shacking up.”  He looked at Nanette and confessed.  “I got that lust thing down really good.”

She stared right back at him.  “I’m looking forward to it,” she said, before she turned red and turned her head.

“I won’t ever just lust with you,” he said.  “We will get properly married, and then we can have fun.”  He swallowed.  “But you know how I feel about you.”

She turned a bit redder but put one hand out to take his hand.  “I had Lincoln look up where we are going,” she said.

“Me too,” Decker said.  “We got Germany, Normandy, Japan, England, and China.  Sorry.  No telling when we might get back to Africa.”

“I don’t need to be married in Africa,” Nanette said.  “Especially by Mohmmedans.  As long as it is a Christian wedding, I don’t mind.”

Decker wondered.  “Why especially Mohammedans?”

“Nothing against them,” she said.  “But I’m not a Mohammedan.”

Decker understood.  “So, you are not Islamophobic.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

Decker looked down.  “I now understand what Lockhart was talking about with Katie.  You know he is sixty something, maybe seventy, even if he is thirty something right now.  Katie is a natural thirty, so their experiences are separated by forty years.”  He smiled for Nanette, and he did not look like a shark, a crocodile, or anything bad.  It looked like a nice smile.  “We are separated by a hundred years, but that just means we have some generational issues to work on. And they are Muslims, not Mohammedans.  And the religion is Islam.”

“Oh,” she said and turned her face down, but a smile also came to her lips because he smiled at her.

Decker heard something.  He grabbed a touch of cold ash swept earlier from the fire.  He quickly smudged his cheeks, forehead, and hands and told Nanette, “Wait here.”  He moved out of the light and saw four Berbers outside Elder Stow’s screens.  They were trying to get in, and they were armed with spears, swords and who knew how many knives.  Decker understood.  They were soldiers, not necessarily thieves.

“What is it?” Nanette came right up to his shoulder and asked.

Decker quickly turned, smudged her face and hands while she turned up her nose and lip until he explained.  “To take away the shine so you won’t be seen.”

“Oh,” she said.  “It is good to be black.”

Decker shook his head.  “We shine more.  White people blend in more.  Squint and don’t shine your teeth.”  He took her hand, to walk the perimeter.  Nanette let out a big smile, but she turned her head down as they walked so her teeth would not give her away.