The plague’s dark fingers curl around Bordeaux. René must return home to save those he loves. But first he has to escape a Moroccan sultan’s clutches. In Bordeaux, an enemy waits, filled with a hatred three thousand years old. Only René can defeat this dark power, and only if he reclaims his own ancient past. In this arena, death is but the least of failure’s penalties.
The medina of Casablanca was a warren of narrow winding streets filled with stalls of all shapes and sizes. René followed Akeefa and Abdul-Karim as they entered through a constricted archway and left behind the blinding sunlight. René stopped to take it all in. A thousand sights and sounds assaulted him at once. An intense level of energy and human striving filled the air. The sounds and smells were strident, immediate. A cacophony reverberated from the walls as metalworkers hammered on copper and brass and iron. Jewelers, leather workers, and weaponsmiths all contributed to the din of men and animals pursuing their desires. The enticing smells of food and coffee pervaded the space. Booth after booth of delicacies was on display along with the occasional goat carcass that hung from the canopy poles waiting for the butcher’s cleaver.
“This is overwhelming.” René sucked in a deep breath. “Something smells good. Perhaps we might sit and have a coffee while I try to make sense of this incredible place.”
“That is an excellent idea.” Abdul-Karim grinned. “I know just the place and ’tis not far from here.”
“More food,” Akeefa said with some exasperation. “You promised I would be able to shop and you know I cannot go off on my own. Some stupid man would say or do something and after I had killed him, we would spend the morning yelling or fighting or both. With you two, I will at least have some measure of freedom.”
René gazed sideways at Akeefa. He knew her well enough not to doubt the possibility of her statement, but he hoped she spoke in jest.
Abdul-Karim grimaced like he had bitten into a lemon. He turned to René. “You must trust my experience in this. Given the amount of walking and waiting we face, you will definitely need nourishment.”
René laughed. “Perhaps we might feed Abdul-Karim so we may better attack this shopping from a position of strength.”
“Oh, all right.” Akeefa rolled her eyes. “My master taught me when to make a strategic retreat and this is clearly one of those times. I will want, however, to see that stamina later. Understood?” She glared at Abdul-Karim.
Her effort was wasted on her older brother. Abdul-Karim’s demeanor changed to one of joyful expectation. “I know just the place. Best pastries in Morocco. This way.”
René glanced around. Even over the din and chaotic movement of the medina, he had the sensation they were being watched. The fact that he was a Frenchman was immaterial. There were many different nationalities present within the medina. Non, he, René Gilbert, was being observed.
“Do you believe they will attack again so soon?” asked René.
“The Hashashin that attacked us on the quay in Larache were paid by the sultan’s younger brother Ismail. I do not sense that level of organization. There are many bands of robbers and slavers within Morocco. It can be a difficult place to live,” said Abdul-Karim. “And there are those in Rabat who will not allow our victory over their brethren go unrevenged, regardless of the sultan’s orders.”
Both men loosened their blades while Akeefa huffed at the conventions that prevented her from carrying a sword. Still, an attacker would find her armed.
“Let us sit at that tavern.” Abdul-Karim pointed across the lane. “It has good sight lines and there are avenues of escape if necessary.”
Once seated, Abdul-Karim ordered coffee and an assortment of cakes.
Akeefa pursed her lips.
“What? We might as well eat something while we wait.”
The square had grown quieter as people found their business called them elsewhere. Men collected in small groups. So far, the numbers of their enemies were not overwhelming and René was content to wait. He glanced at Abdul-Karim. The smile on his face evidenced a gleeful anticipation at the prospect of combat. His friend genuinely liked to fight.
“It appears someone is willing to invest a great deal of money in our removal. As much as I would like to engage in this contest—” Abdul-Karim glanced over at his sister. “And we have them outmanned, father would advise us to retreat and gather reinforcements.”
Abdul-Karim inclined his head. They stood as groups of men moved to block the exits.
“We may not be offered that opportunity.” Akeefa slipped her hand beneath her burka.
“Let us make our way toward the medina’s entrance. If we reach the confines of the arch, we gain a slight advantage in the number of our enemy able to come against us.” René’s rapier was in his hand.
The scimitar Abdul-Karim pulled from his sash reflected sunlight along its razor sharp edge. A wicked looking dagger appeared in Akeefa’s hand. René eased left of Akeefa leaving a sword length between them as Abdul-Karim stepped to her right.
The square was now empty except for the growing number of armed men drawing their swords. René studied the upper stories of the souk. No musket barrels protruded from those windows.
René counted thirty men circling them and moving closer. “Akeefa, move to the front and make first contact. A moment’s confusion having you walk before us will be useful. It is not that unusual for a woman to carry a dagger. Perhaps you might hold it a little less respectfully.”
“I will do my clumsy best.” Akeefa managed to move to the front, intentionally tripping on her burka.
The number of men waiting before the medina’s arch had increased to ten. Smug smiles played on their faces. Apparently they found humor in two men so cowardly as to hope a woman would protect them. One eager young mercenary swaggered out to meet Akeefa.
“Throw down your weapons and your deaths will be easier,” said the man as he waved his scimitar toward Akeefa. He ignored the dagger that shook in her trembling hand.
“D…do you intend to kill us all?” Akeefa stuttered in a high-pitched voice.
The fool preened, sticking his chest out. “Drop your weapons.”
In the briefest space of time, Akeefa moved to within striking distance and slit his throat, relieving him of his weapon before his body crumpled into the dust. The others froze at the speed and skill with which she had dispatched one of their own. In that timeless moment of inaction, René and Abdul-Karim each killed two men of the nine left standing before the arch.
René looked up. More armed men ran toward the arch. He paused and settled within, allowing his training to govern his actions. He sensed more than saw Akeefa adjust her clothing.
She ripped the scarf from her face and stood in as wide a stance as the burka allowed. She reversed the scimitar and jammed it between her legs, slicing the thin material to the ground. Thus unencumbered, she returned to the fight.
René nodded and on cue they formed a circle, defending each other as well as dispatching those who came against them. They narrowed the access lanes which caused their attackers to fight each other to get at them.
“Move toward the arch,” said René.
There were too many swords slashing at them. Their progress was slow. These men were not the highly trained Hashashin, but they were experienced enough that their numbers would eventually prevail.
Although René had no desire to kill, this fight did not grant him that moral luxury. He picked up a second sword and wielded both with withering accuracy. The attackers who faced Akeefa died with an expression of bewilderment.
Still, too many swords. Every moment reduced their chances.
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A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his beautiful wife Sally Ann.
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