Chapter 51 - Package
They landed in Cairo a week before the full moon, and this time Talmud took them to a different house. They suspected that their caution brought him to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be wise to take them to his home along with his knowledge of what they were.
It was late when his wife sneaked soundlessly into the warehouse, they tensed, and she froze, but still greeted them with a smile of welcome.
“Talmud sent,” she explained, and they greeted her in quiet tones.
“Thank you, Lenna, you did not have to come yourself,” Alena said with a gracious smile and Lenna shook her head.
“Come greet, Talmud sent,” she repeated, but she didn’t linger in their presence.
“Do you think Talmud knows?” Alena asked as she opened the wine gourd.
“She’s pregnant, why sent her into danger?” Rowan asked as she stole the gourd from Alena with a deft hand. Marcus shook his head when Alena downed Rowan with a playful tackle.
“Since you’re so keen on playing, let’s see what Ariana taught you?” He challenged, and they had the grace to look guilty.
Talmud returned just after midnight the next evening. He bowed with respect, and they mimicked the gesture, which made him smile.
“I organized passage for you, and your boat awaits in the harbor. You’ll find her moored next to the pier,” Talmud promised and extended his hand in greeting. Marcus took it with a great deal of respect. Talmud briefly hugged Alena and Rowan, something a man of his race would never do, and handed each a present.
“Lenna, sent both the hug and the presents,” Talmud admitted with a shrug and some embarrassment. They laughed.
“If ever you need another favor, Sahib,” Talmud said to Marcus as he escorted them to the door. Marcus slipped a package into his coin pouch with the adeptness of a pickpocket.
“Till we meet again, friend,” Marcus greeted with sincerity, and soon they disappeared into the night. There were two boats at anchor next to the pier, and Marcus frowned as they approached closer with some stealth.
They were almost past the second boat when Marcus stepped into the moonlight and revealed himself. A familiar figure stared down at the pier with concerned concentration.
“Master Marcus, a bit overdue are we?” Byron asked, and they all experienced relief when they saw his familiar face. His comment made them smile.
“A little,” Marcus answered.
The boat looked different. Byron took the liberty to repair, repaint, and rename it. He also replaced the sails, ropes, and railings. He looked well, where he stood alone on deck. He had gained a little weight back, his clothes fit well, and he seemed as different as the boat did.
“Crew?” Marcus asked as he boarded and Byron stood aside with pride.
“Full crew, no one left, and I recruited a few new sailors,” Byron reported, and Marcus almost asked if he thought that wise.
“Don’t worry master, for most of these men this is the last stop, but they’re not a bad lot,” Byron soothed, and without question, Marcus took him at his word. Byron more than earned his trust.
“She looks good,” Marcus complimented, and Byron nodded.
“A bit low in the water,” Alena noted and Marcus nodded.
“The crew that heavy?” Marcus enquired in a mild tone of voice; only the women sensed his caution.
“We sold off the cargo, made a killing with weapons down the coast, bought this and that,” he shrugged. “Made a good deal with a one-eyed son of a scoundrel,” Byron sounded so pleased with himself that it was ridiculous.
“What are we carrying?” Marcus inquired with amused tolerance and Byron shrugged again.
“Ivory, precious stones, trinkets, dried goods, animal skins, but it’s all in the manifest,” Byron’s manner became guarded as an Arabic man came running down the docks, he aimed straight for the ship and almost absently Byron reached for his sword. The man halted beside the boat.
“Sahib, I am Arra, this package is from your Arab friend,” the stranger explained in broken English, and Byron appeared cautious as he left to fetch it. His eyes scanned the darkness when he made his way up the gangplank.
“There is nothing there, Byron,” Marcus allied his fears and Byron frowned.
“May we leave master?” He asked with his eye still on the deserted pier and to humor him, Marcus nodded.
Byron didn’t go below, but a shrill whistle brought the crew to the deck. The tide was high, the wind stirred, and within minutes they were underway. Once they reached open water, Byron ordered the crew to return to their rest.
“Master if you please?” Byron asked, and Marcus let Alena take the wheel so he could follow Byron below deck. It took a long time for him to return without Byron, and their noticeable relief made him smile.
“He is quite some human,” Marcus marveled.
“He made us quite a little fortune. I gave him a ten percent cut in the profits he made and any future profits,” Marcus explained as he took the wheel and Alena stood aside.
“We don’t need the money,” Alena speculated with a frown, and he grinned.
“I offered him twenty percent,” Marcus laughed as he adjusted the course. The girls sensed his good humor and their spirits lifted.
“I told him to give the other ten percent to the crew in addition to their salaries, he decided five percent would keep them honest,” Marcus revealed, and he sounded proud of Byron.
“We’re unused to dealing with them, are we?” Alena asked, meaning humans, and no one answered.
“Where are we going?” Rowan asked instead, and Marcus seemed to come to some decision.
“Go to my cabin, the answer is there,” Marcus commanded without explanation, and they found their way to his cabin. The dark wrapping which covered the package from the harbor lay on his desk with the contents beside it.
“To my dark friends, from your loyal guardian,” Rowan read out loud from the handwritten note. “Signed Talmud,”
They sat down beside the table so they could both read and the fragmented transcripts of an ancient document brought dawning recognition.
“This must have taken him a long time,” Alena mused as she let her fingers run over the neat handwritten lines.
“Talmud knew the truth from the beginning, and he didn’t know whether to tell us,” Rowan marveled. Marcus had sorted everything into two neat stacks, and Alena lifted one stack.
“This we already knew,” she murmured after a cursory inspection and put the stack aside for later scrutiny.