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The TOC Files 22: Bridge of Time (1/2)

Title: Bridge of Time
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 7814
Summary The TOC meet a mysterious new race before going to Persia near the time of 1001 Arabian Nights



XXII. Bridge of Time
Why meet we on the bridge of Time to
'change one greeting and to part?
Sir Richard Francis Burton "The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yazdi"


Alan watched from the corner as Shannon and her family toasted and cheered the happy couple. He had never seen her this happy before. She toasted her younger sister Bridget and her new husband. Ryan was in deep conversation with her brothers--Lord only knew what the topic was. He took a swig of his Harps. He had never realized how much she had given up by staying in the future.

Later that night after the bride and groom--and most of the guests--had left, the celebrations died down. The drink had begun to take effect and Alan wasn't immune himself. He decided to take a walk in the fields surrounding the village to clear his head. He breathed deep. There was nothing like clean, fresh air. He looked up at the full moon. He still found it a beautiful sight despite the fact that, in his time, it held no secrets. It cast its pale glow over the landscape and seemed to light a path to the ancient stone circle. It was smaller than Stonehenge, but the locals were proud of it. There were stories of people who had gone to the circle on moonlit nights never to be seen again. He could believe it. There seemed to be an aura about it, a mystique that drew him to it.

He sat on the dry ground and leaned back on one of the standing stones. He felt a strange tingling which soon passed. He thought back on all the old stories his mother had told him. Stories of brave warriors, witches, leprechauns, and the sidhe. To him, they were just stories, mythological figures, but even now, in this time, there were people who believed in the Old Ways and the Old Folk. It was somewhat sad that with all the advances in science and technology, tradition got left by the wayside.

He sat there for some time, contemplating science vs. mysticism among other things; the moon and the circle pitting his heritage against his way of life. When he stood, the ground seemed to spin and he braced himself against a stone. "I'm gonna have to learn to hold my drink." He turned towards the village, but it wasn't there! Thinking he was facing the wrong direction, he turned in a complete circle. There was no sign of the village. Perhaps if he walked in the direction where it should be, he might meet up with someone.

After walking close to thirty minutes, there was still no sign of the village, but he did find a cart path. He began to feel dizzy. "Man, drink has never affected me this way before." He tried to go on, but passed out at the side of the road.

* * * *

A cart trundled along the road and one of the two men shone a light onto the side of the road. "Whoa," said the driver, pulling on the reins.

"Yep, there he is, just like she said." He jumped down onto the road. "Can you help me?"

The two lifted Alan into the back of the cart and wrapped him in a blanket. They then turned the cart around and headed back the way they came.

* * * *

Alan woke slowly and stretched. He had never had such a good night's sleep. He did have the strangest dream, however. He opened his eyes, expecting to be in the room he and Ryan were sharing with Shannon's younger brother. It wasn't. The room looked like something out of a period drama--Georgian possibly. He quickly checked his machine which was still strapped to his wrist. It was reading the right year. Maybe someone had found him passed out on the side of the road and brought him to one of the nearby manor houses. He sat up and discovered that he was naked under the sheets. He tucked the bedclothes close around him then saw a robe lying at the foot of the bed. He grabbed it and quickly put it on in case someone should enter the room.

He stood and walked about the room admiring all the furniture and decorations. He strolled over to the window and looked out, hoping to see Shannon's village. All he could see were some fields and a shimmering lake. He took a deep breath and felt revitalized. There was something about this air. He went back to looking about the room and found the attached bath. A shower, he decided, was needed. He showered, washed his hair, and shaved. There, that feels better. He wrapped the robe tighter about him and walked back into the bedroom. The bed had been made and there was a change of clothes laid out for him. The shirt was white with long sleeves and the black pants were of very soft cotton. They fit perfectly and he wondered how they knew his size. The ensemble was completed with black leather boots. He found a full-length mirror and grinned at the reflection. I look like a pirate! Is that what these people think of me?

There was a polite knock on the door. "Come in."

The door opened and a young woman entered. She had straight black hair that reached almost to her waist and flawless pale skin. She was dressed in simple clothes of earth tones. "Col. Kelly, I trust everything met with your satisfaction?"

"Yes, fine. How do you know my name? Where am I?"

"If you will follow me, the Elders will answer your questions."

Alan followed the woman through corridors and past rooms that supported his theory of a Georgian manor house. It was when they stepped outside that he questioned his sanity. There were buildings from practically every period and civilization of Earth's history. The woman stopped in front of a hut that put Alan in mind of Celtic Britain. She pushed aside the hanging material that acted as a door and motioned for him to enter.

Alan walked in and stood just inside the doorway, unsure of where to go. A hole in the center of the roof allowed the sun to filter in, but it was still hard to see everything. There was a raised platform upon which sat three men and 2 women, all with grey or white hair: the Elders. As his eyes adjusted, he could see other people filling the room. It must be a village meeting or something. The clothing was as eclectic as the buildings.

"You are Col. Alan Kelly?" asked the Elder in the middle.

"Yes, sir," said Alan, guessing him to be the Chief Elder.

"It is very rare for people from the Outside to come here. Have you any explanation of how this was accomplished?"

"As I have no idea where I am, I will do my best to explain." Alan relayed the events he could recall.

When he was done, the Elders talked quietly amongst themselves. Then the Chief Elder spoke. "You are to stay here until it is determined how and why you were brought here."

"But--"

"We are aware of your responsibilities and we can arrange for you to be returned as close as possible to the time you left. However, until we can determine who brought you here and for what purpose, it is safer for all concerned that you remain here."

"That won't be necessary," said a female voice. Alan turned his head to see a woman near his own age. She walked forward and a path was cleared for her.

"Daughter, explain yourself," said the Chief Elder.

"I arranged his passage here. I believe he can help us, Father." She stood beside him and Alan stared, she looked so familiar though he was sure they had never met.

"That was most irregular," said another Elder. "You should have consulted with us before making such a decision."

"I know you would have said 'no'," she stated.

"We shall talk on this later," said the Chief Elder. "For the time being, he shall be in your custody."

"Thank you." She bowed and Alan copied her movements before following her out of the hut. "At a loss for words, Colonel? That's quite unusual for you. You're staring. Is something wrong?" she asked with a smile.

"So many questions with too few answers. You also look familiar, but I'm sure we've never met."

"I'll answer your questions when the others arrive. It will save me from repeating myself."

"What others?" he asked as he followed her through the streets.

"We are to meet them on the Green."

His mind reeling with questions, Alan followed his rescuer to an open area in the middle of the town--the Green. Under a large, spreading chestnut tree he saw four figures waiting. It wasn't until he got closer that he recognized two of them. Shannon turned and saw him. "Alan, you're all right!" She came running up and hugged him.

Ryan came over and shook his hand. "Nice duds. We were a little worried when you didn't come back, so we went looking."

"Let me guess. You were drawn to the stone circle, felt disoriented, then found yourselves here."

"We were met by two men with a cart and brought here. They never said a word," added Shannon. "We are we, anyway? Do you know what's going on?"

"Not a clue. I can tell I'm not a welcome visitor." He told them about the Elders. "She said she'd give me answers when we met up with you."

"So, do you know who she is?" asked Ryan as they watched her speak with the other two men.

"Nothing past the fact that she's the daughter of the Chief Elder. I feel like I've seen her before, almost as if I know her." A wind came up and blew her long hair away from her face. Then he knew why she looked so familiar. "Can't be," he murmured.

The two men walked away and she returned to them. "You are finding your own answers, Colonel."

"But that can't be. How could you appear to me? Why did you appear to me?"

"What are you talking about?" questioned Shannon.

"Remember our trip to Arcadia and I received that shock that knocked me out? She appeared to me in a dream, a vision, and told me the enemy was one I had already faced." He looked back at her. "But why me? Why us?"

She walked towards some wooden benches and motioned for them to sit. "I know you all. I even know Gil, Eric, and Evan. Of course, I looked very different during the time I was with you."

"This is ridiculous," declared Ryan. "At least tell us your name instead of these riddles."

"Your brother knows my name, as does Miss Flynn, I think. I also think they are more than ready to believe it. You must be open to such possibilities before we continue." She smiled and looked at Alan. "Do you remember now?"

"Morgan?" He found it hard to believe that this woman had been the animal he had treated like a pet for a year.

"I can see by your face now is the time to explain. As you can see, my people have abilities beyond those of humanity. We have great psychic powers, can shape-shift, and age at a dramatically slower rate. We used to live on Earth, but, as things changed, we knew there was no place for us, so we created our own. From here, we can travel to almost any time in a planet's history."

"That still doesn't explain why we're here," said Ryan.

"Tir Na Nog," said Shannon. "You are Tuatha dé Danaan."

Morgan smiled. "We've been called many things. At certain times in our lives, we must spend a year 'outside'. I chose the form of a fey and that's when I met you. Some don't come back because they've fallen in love with a human or in love with the power their gifts brought them. Some have come back on their own, ready to admit their mistakes while others have to be hunted down. That's why I brought you here; to help bring someone back."

"But, with your powers, why do you need us?" asked Alan.

"I won't be able to get near to him without him sensing my presence. You three, however. . ."

"And you chose us because. . ?" Ryan prompted.

"Because I know you. Your sense of justice won't allow what he's doing to continue. Plus, you have experience blending into other cultures. I know the circumstances are strange, but I really could use your help."

"I don't see a problem with it," said Alan. "Could prove exciting. Where are we going anyway?"

"Persia," answered Morgan. "Like the Gaels, they readily accepted magic--both good and evil--into their culture."

Shannon looked at Morgan and Alan. "Oh, why not? Maybe I'll get to ride a flying carpet."

"Ryan?"

"Of course I'm coming. Do you think I'd let you guys have all the fun?"

"Wait a second," said Shannon. "What about your father and the other Elders? From what Alan's said, they don't even want us here, so why would they allow us to help?"

"I think I know of a way past that. You see, Father is of the Old School and believes no good can come from associating with humans. My aunt, his youngest sister, stayed behind because she had fallen in love with a young man in Ireland. He never forgave her and blamed the man and all humans."

"I still don't see--"

"There is a wise woman who can look into a being's soul and see what lies there. She's never been wrong. If she can sense what I suspect about you, we will win my father over. This way to her cottage."

Intrigued, they followed Morgan to a quaint cottage at the edge of the town. Morgan knocked on the door and a voice bade them enter. Expecting to see an old crone, they were surprised to see a woman who looked to be somewhere in her forties. Her long black hair had been woven into a single braid and she wore a simple dress of forest green. She smiled. "Ah, Morganna, I was wondering if you would bring your guests for a visit."

"I felt I ought to give them explanations before going any further. Brianna, may I present Alan and Ryan Kelly and Shannon Flynn."

Brianna shook them each by the hand. "A pleasure to meet you. Morganna has spoken of you all since her return. She knows I will give her my full attention." She smiled. "And you are all from a land that believes."

"I was the only one born in Ireland," said Shannon. "But Ryan and Alan's grandparents were."

Brianna looked at Morgan. "They are the perfect people to accompany you. They are honorable, just, and true friends."

"I was also sensing something else when I was with them, something I couldn't put a name to."

"Excuse me," said Alan, "but would you mind not talking about us as if we weren't here? This whole experience is strange enough as it is."

"Sorry," Morgan apologized. "It's just that normally it's just the two of us conversing."

"So what is this 'something' Morgan sensed about us?" asked Shannon.

"I'm not sure. Come closer." Brianna took Shannon's hands then closed her eyes. "Oh, yes. I can sense it more clearly." She opened her eyes. "You are of the Blood. Faint, but there nonetheless."

"But how? I don't understand." Shannon slowly withdrew her hands.

"Probably from one who stayed behind and lived with humans," explained Brianna. She motioned for Alan.

"What you're saying is that Shannon's descended from one of your race. Does that mean she may have some of your abilities as well?"

"Hm, never thought of that," said Morgan.

"Alan's the one who had the prophetic dream," said Shannon.

"No wonder. He has the Blood too. Weaker than Shannon's, but that is easily explained by the centuries between your births. Your twin would be of it as well. Now, tell me of this dream."

"We had just come back from a trip to 12th century England when I started having the nightmare. I suffered through the sleepless nights because I didn't want anyone to think I was having a breakdown. My brother Evan got me to describe it to him one night. I was tied to a chair in a dark room, the only light was around me. Then I saw hands reaching into the light; sometimes they held a weapon, sometimes they were just reaching out to strangle me. My brother arranged for me to go on leave, thinking I needed to get away from it all. It was there that the dream came true."

"I remember that," said Morgan. "That was on Sylvan, wasn't it?"

"Who was trying to kill you?" asked Brianna, intrigued by his story.

"That would have been me," said Ryan.

Brianna turned to him. "You have had a dark and confused past. But you have overcome that without denying it."

"So you think Father will allow them to go?"

"Oh, he'll put up a fuss, but knows he can't deny someone of the Blood. And you three must not deny your bloodlines. Trust your feelings, your instincts, your 'sixth' sense, and the mission will succeed." She crossed the room and rummaged through a cabinet. "Here is a small talisman for each of you for good luck." She gave them each a pendant on a gold chain. "All that is left is for me to wish you safe journey."

"Good-bye, Brianna. Thank you," said Shannon.

"Why do I feel like I've dived into some epic tale?" asked Alan. "Going on a quest, receiving a blessing from a wise woman, and being involved with 'magic'."

"Don't forget the all-important moral of 'Believe in yourself'," added Ryan.

"Putting it that way, it does have the makings of some mythical tale," said Morgan. "Just keep in mind that this is real."

"You think with this news of us being 'of the Blood' will convince your father to let us help?" asked Shannon.

"He can't deny anyone of the Blood. Plus, there is the possibility that your ancestor may have been his sister."

"Is that where we're going now?" asked Ryan.

"No, not yet. You, Shannon, and I need a change of wardrobe."

"Our machines can handle that."

"I forgot about that. Okay, well, then I guess we will go see Father."

Morgan led them to the Georgian manor house where Alan had woken that morning. "This is your house?" He was amazed.

"You weren't aware of that, were you? I'm sorry for the oversight. I just thought that since you were here because of me, this is where you should stay."

She stopped in front of a set of double doors and knocked. "Come in, Morganna."

She opened the door and entered the study. The three TOC members stayed in the doorway. "Hello, Father. I trust the rest of the meeting went well?"

"Yes, after everyone had calmed down from your announcement to use a human to help."

"Humans, Father. There are three of them."

He looked to the doorway and saw them standing there. "I see you are still determined to take them?" His daughter nodded. "How do you know you can trust them?"

"I spent my year with them. I know them. They come from a culture with a belief in the stories."

"Do you know how they will react when confronted with the temptation of wealth and greed and choose to stay behind?"

"You never listened to my stories of them. They travel back in time specifically to observe." Her father still was not convinced. "I took them to Brianna. She sensed that they are of the Blood."

Morgan's father looked at her then at the three humans standing in the doorway. Could they actually be of the Blood? No, it is impossible. "Brianna could be wrong. . ."

"You know she never is," said Morgan. "Please, give them a chance. You shouldn't hold them responsible for the choice your sister made."

If they were of the Blood, there was a chance they could be descended from his sister. Their names put them in the right country. Besides, being an Elder, he could not refuse anyone of the Blood, no matter how thin it ran through their veins. "You know I cannot refuse them. I only hope you made the right decision."

"Thank you, Father." She hugged him.

Alan stepped forward. "Thank you, sir, for letting us help your daughter. I hope we can do justice to the trust you put in us." They left.

They went back into the village and Alan could feel eyes on him, yet the inhabitants acted as if they were ignoring them. Oh, you're curious about the Outsiders, all right, but you can't lower your standards to express it.

Morgan took them to a store that looked straight out of the Arabian Nights. Inside was displayed every imaginable item from the time; clothes, trinkets, and weapons. Morgan chose a pair of loose-fitting trousers, a baggy white shirt, and a blue vest. Completing the ensemble was a burnoose that covered her hair. "Do I look nomadic enough?"

Alan smiled. "All you're missing is a camel."

Shannon was fingering some silks and other fine fabrics. "Would you like something?" Morgan asked her. "You can, you know."

"Really? They are quite lovely."

"Why do you need something like that?" asked Ryan.

'There's a difference between needing and wanting, Ryan. I would like to have a pretty piece of clothing that will stay the way nature intended once we return home." She found a veil of sheer lavender material.

Alan naturally gravitated to the weapons. The blades were beautifully crafted and he didn't dare test the sharpness of them. He reached out to touch one, to try it, by hesitated. Morgan nodded. Alan lifted the blade and moved to an open area where he could wield it properly.

Morgan marveled at the sight. "It truly is amazing that he can pick up a weapon he's never before touched and use it like it's been part of his whole life."

"It still never fails to amaze me," agreed Shannon.

Ryan eyed the shorter blades and throwing knives. They were displayed in a sheath that could be worn diagonally across the chest like a sash. He then spotted a target set up in a different area of the store and went to test his aim.

"With their affinity for weapons, I think I've come up with a better cover for us, or at least a second for when we get close to our prey."

"Oh? What might that be?" asked Alan as he returned, sword in a sheath belted around his waist.

"I could be an exotic princess, Shannon can be my handmaiden, and you and Ryan can be my bodyguards."

"But won't that bring attention to yourself?"

"Oh, he'll know I'm there. We can sense others of our kind when away from home. But that means he won't pay any attention to you, thinking you just slaves of no importance."

"And while he's keeping an eye on you, we nail him," said Ryan, joining the conversation."

Morgan looked through the selection of clothes for something that would be appropriate for a princess. She then spoke to the clerk behind the counter who jotted down the items they had chosen. Morgan then led them to the back of the store. "Prepare yourselves. We're about to go through the portal. You may feel a little dizzy." She went through the door first, followed by Ryan, Shannon, and Alan.

* * * *

They arrived at the crowded souk, or marketplace, of a bustling seaport. Their sudden appearance raised no eyebrows as people were constantly coming and going. Alan looked around in amazement. The trip made him feel like a novice again. It was like something out of a fantasy novel; stepping through a doorway into another time. He saw a look of astonishment on Shannon's face and wondered if it reflected his own.. Both she and Ryan were wearing outfits similar to his own and Morgan wore her nomadic costume.

"So, what do we do now?" asked Ryan. "Can you tell where he is?"

Morgan stood still for a moment and closed her eyes. "I can feel his presence. Not strong, so he isn't in this town." She raised her right hand and pointed straight ahead. "That's the way we have to go."

They walked in the direction Morgan had pointed which led them to the docks. "I hope you brought money so we can get a lift to where we're supposed to go," said Ryan.

"If it's necessary," replied Morgan. "But we might do a little bartering. I'm sure they wouldn't say no to the offer of some extra hands."

Ryan was about to retort when they heard swords. "Music to my ears," said Alan before the two brothers ran off. Shannon and Morgan looked at each other then quickly followed.

A group of five men, sailors by the look of them, were fighting off a large group of men dressed all in black. Instinctively, they helped the sailors. Ryan and Alan joined the fight with the relish of true soldiers while Shannon and Morgan waited until someone drew them into the fight. Both women had short, straight blades but used them only when necessary. Shannon made use of her karate and Morgan used some moves of her own. The uniformed men ran off, taking their wounded with them. The leader of the sailors, a man near their own age, thanked them for the help. "Your skill with a blade is fantastic," he said. "I am Ali, captain of the Gypsy. We'd best make haste before they return with more men."

As they walked to his ship, Ali introduced the men with him. "I'm sorry that you have to leave the city and you have made an enemy of the prince. Why did you join our fight, anyway?"

"You looked like you needed the help," said Ryan. "Besides, my brother could never pass up a good fight."

"By your looks, I would say you are from the west. Britain?"

"Yes," said Morgan. She made the introductions. "Shannon is from Ireland."

"You are a long way from home," said Ali.

"That's an understatement," remarked Shannon under her breath.

"Where are you headed?"

"We don't exactly know," replied Shannon. "We're just heading that way for now," she said, pointing east.

"Wanderers, eh? I admire that. When we don't have any cargo, I like to go where the wind takes me."

"We do have a purpose," put in Ryan. "We're looking for someone." Alan glared at him.

This didn't go unnoticed by Ali. "Do you know what this person looks like?"

"Morgan is the only one who's seen him," said Alan.

"But that was many years ago," she added.

"Then how do you know where to go?"

Morgan felt that she could trust this man. "I can sense his presence."

"Are you a sorceress, then?" he asked with a touch of awe.

"I've been called worse."

"This one you're looking for, is he also a wielder of magic?" She nodded. "The only sorcerer of note in that direction is Galen. A ruthless and powerful man. If he is the one, I will gladly give you what help I can."

"Thank you, Ali. I didn't mention the name for fear you would turn away," said Morgan.

"I love excitement and something tells me things are never dull around you."

Alan laughed. "That's us."

The travelers were accepted as part of the crew for the trip to Baghdad. They traded moves with swords as well as unarmed combat. The crew was a little wary of Morgan when they first learned she was a sorceress who was going up against Galen. She soon won them over with her personality. The whole experience on board reminded the others of their adventures in the Caribbean with pirates, albeit on opposites sides. This trip was much more carefree and enjoyable.

The day before they were to make port, Alan told Ali of their plan to arrive in style. "Morgan will be the Princess Kalila and the three of us will be her slaves. We need you to help build up her past. Her father is rich and indulges his daughter in whatever she wants. That sort of thing."

"How will this help with Galen?"

"You said he is a very greedy man who has a weakness for a pretty face. When he hears of the 'princess', he'll seek her out."

"But if she can sense him, can he not sense her as well? Why would you need to pretend?"

"He won't realize the two are one and the same. We'll have that advantage. Being a princess will also make him think she is willing to leave her old life behind and join him."

Ali grinned. "I'm sure we can spread some stories. People are usually eager to hear about new arrivals. We'll be plied with drinks until we give them their fill on the mysterious Princess Kalila."

"Great. Thanks a bunch."

He found the others at the bow of the ship. Morgan had her eyes closed. Shannon had hers closed as well as if she could sense Galen along with Morgan. Who knows? Maybe she can. Ryan looked at him and shrugged.

Morgan opened her eyes and looked right at him. "He's there. I can feel him."

"Are you sure this plan is going to work?" asked Shannon.

"As a lure, I'm perfect. He'll come out of curiosity, and, once he sees me. . ."

"You two know each other well?" asked Ryan.

"Very. We grew up together."

"I'm surprised then, that your father is letting you get him. Sometimes emotional ties can be detrimental for such assignments."

"They can be helpful, too. It just depends."

* * * *

They arrived in Baghdad and Ali had some of his crew help Alan and Ryan find a litter in which they could carry Morgan to maintain the charade. "A true princess would not walk, especially when she might be seen by commoners," commented Morgan.

They returned with a litter that could be carried by just the two of them. Since Shannon would be following on foot, her costume had to be modified slightly so she could appear in public.

"But where are we going to stay?" asked Shannon. "We can't go to the palace 'cos we're waiting for Galen to come to us, and, well, I don't think the tavern will do."

"You can stay at my home," said Ali.

"We appreciate the offer, but. . ." started Alan.

Ali laughed. "I assure you, I wouldn't have offered unless I knew it would meet your requirements. Work pays well when you have people--even sultans--willing to give you anything for their precious cargo to reach its destination."

"I didn't mean--"

"I understand. I don't dress the part of a wealthy man and you just thought of me as a vagabond adventurer."

"Now that's the way to make money. Outside doing something you love with a little swordplay thrown in," commented Ryan.

"How did you make yours?" asked Ali. "No, don't tell me. I don't think I want to know."

"I don't think so either," Ryan grinned.

With their destination settled, Morgan took her place in the litter. "I expect a smooth ride," she warned. "No jostling."

"Yezzum," said Alan. He looked at Ryan. "Front or back?"

"Back. I've kinda gotten used to following you."

"Why doesn't that surprise me? Okay." He and Ryan took their places between the yokes. "One. . .two. . . three!" They lifted evenly and headed along the quayside into town.

Ali stood with Shannon behind the others. "Would you like me to walk with you? I can easily direct Alan from here."

"Wouldn't that be considered scandalous, your walking with a slave girl?"

"Nothing near as scandalous as what I've done in the past." He smiled at her.

"I'd like that very much," she replied. "Perhaps you could point out some of the sites and tell me of the customs we should know."

"A marvelous idea."

Ryan found that carrying the litter wasn't as bad as he thought. Granted, it was awkward and a strain on the arms until he found the right way to hold it. He tried to keep his face impassive and look straight ahead, but he kept trying to see what Ali was pointing out to Shannon. Going by the sound of her voice, she seemed enthralled by him. Good thing he no longer pursued her. He had just put that behind him, plus, he thought she had a crush on his brother. Maybe I should ask Alan how he feels towards her.

"It's up here on the left," called Ali. Alan nodded and stopped in front of a well- appointed house. "Nothing like coming home." He went ahead and opened the door while Alan and Ryan set down the litter and Shannon moved to help Morgan get out. Once she had stepped out, Alan and Ryan took it around to the back of the house.

Ali met them at the rear door. "I think we went into the wrong line of work," commented Alan as he looked about the house's interior. "You must provide a rare service."

"An honest sea captain is hard to find these days." They joined the women in the front room.

Morgan reclined on a sofa and said, "We must continue to act out this charade, at least until Galen shows himself. Once that has been done, we need only do so in public."

"Is there anything you can tell us? Something about him so we can have an idea of what to expect?" asked Alan.

"I think what Ali said covered most of it. He does have charms that he uses to win over people. He believes that because he is 'different', he goes by different rules: his own. You must be wary. I'm used to his ways and should be able to fight them." She paused. "He's here."

There was a knock on the door. "I guess this means our arrival was noticed," commented Ryan as he went to the door.

"Wait," said Ali. "The women must cover their faces."

Once this had been accomplished, Ryan opened the door and ushered in a messenger. He walked forward into the room and bowed before Morgan. "Welcome, Princess Kalila, to our fair city. My master, the sorcerer Galen, wishes an audience with you."

"Of course, How could I deny such a wondrous sorcerer. Please, bid him enter."

The messenger backed out of the room, and, shortly afterwards, a tall man dressed in the finery of court entered. He exuded an aura of power that made Alan very ill at ease. He started to question his decision to help Morgan. Ali must have felt the same way for he slowly retreated out of the room.

"Good day, Your Highness," Galen said with a slight bow.

"Galen. How kind of you to welcome me. I'm sure your day must be a busy one." Her eyes stared at him from over the veil that covered the lower half of her face.

"Never too busy to welcome one so beautiful. Had I but known of your imminent arrival, I might have prepared something."

"You were always one to think on your feet, Galen. You knew of my coming just as I knew you were here." She removed the veil.

"Morganna. What a surprise. I had no idea that you would be the one they sent."

"You seem to have it cozy here," she remarked. "I was thinking of joining you."

Galen laughed. "You want to join me in what our people deem a life of crime?" He smiled. "I never would have thought that of you."

"Coming back from a year away, I realized how extremely dull things are at home. After seeing all I had seen, I couldn't stay there any longer."

"But what made you decide to come here?" Galen was still suspicious. "Was it me?"

"Yes, but not in the way you mean. With you established here, I knew I would have no problems. You could vouch for me because no one would dare cross the great sorcerer Galen."

"I see you made friends with Baghdad's favorite son," he said with a nod towards the door through which Ali had disappeared.

"You mean the sailor? Yes, he bent over backwards to accommodate a 'princess' and her servants."

"You mean 'slaves', don't you?"

"Of course. I still find the word rather distasteful. I picked them up in Basrah. I think I did quite well considering I've never bought slaves before."

He cast an eye over the two men who stood in a position behind her. They weren't burly like most bodyguards, but he could see their well-toned muscles. They kept staring straight ahead, which unnerved him slightly. He was used to some sort of emotion displayed near him. He then looked at the slave girl who sat on a cushion on the floor at Morganna's feet. A thin, gauze veil covered her hair and the lower part of her face, but it was her eyes that caught his attention. Perhaps if he arranged for Morganna to stay at the palace, it might be easier to "come across" the green-eyed maiden in a dark corner. "Yes, a every good job." He looked back at Morgan lying on the couch. "Let me know when you wish to meet the caliph and I will arrange it."

"Sometime tomorrow, or perhaps the next day. It wouldn't do to be here that long and not make myself known to the 'head man' as they say."

"You always were one for etiquette. You know how to contact me." With a bow, Galen made his exit.

With a sigh of relief, Ryan collapsed onto one of the other couches. "Thank God he's gone. I don't think I could have kept that up for much longer."

"Ugh, but you didn't have him looking at you with a nasty glint in his eye. It made my skin crawl." Shannon shuddered.

"You know, he did remind me of someone, though, to a degree," remarked Alan.

"Really? Who?" asked Ryan.

"You."

"No way!"

"Cameron, actually."

"Now that you mention it," said Shannon. "The arrogance, the charm. . . You two would have been a dangerous combination."

"He uses that power to manipulate and frighten people," commented Morgan.

"Like I said, it's Cameron." Ryan shot his brother a very nasty look. "Hey, if your brother can't pick on you. . ."

Ali returned. "I'm sorry I left, but there is something about him that makes me very uneasy." He poured them all some drinks. "How did things go? Did he believe your story?"

"To a degree. He's going to arrange for me to meet the caliph. At that point, we'll probably move into the palace. We'll have to watch him, learn his weaknesses, and see if he has a routine. Once we learn that, we can plan accordingly."

* * * *

The following morning while having breakfast and making plans for the day, Morgan stopped, coffee cup halfway to her mouth, and stared straight ahead. Alan felt a weird sensation he could only describe as a tingling in his brain. He knew that she was being contacted by Galen. The feeling faded and he asked, "What did he have to say?"

Morgan looked at him. "You knew it was him?"

"You know how you get this prickling sensation on the back of your neck before something horrible happens? I felt something like that in my head just about the time you went into your little trance."

Morgan looked at Shannon and Ryan. "Did you feel it as well?" They each nodded. "The Blood is showing through. It's a good thing he didn't sense it in you. Perhaps because I'm here."

"What did he say?" asked Shannon.

"He has arranged a meeting with the caliph for today. He will send his private guard as escort."

"What about us?" questioned Ryan.

"Now you get to play the part of bodyguards. That will give you the chance to be there and hear everything that goes on. All you have to do is look menacing. Think you can do that?"

Shannon looked at the brothers. "Believe me, they can do menacing. They'll even throw in intimidating for free."

Morgan smiled. "I figured they might. Remember, as far as anyone is concerned, I bought you at the slave market in Basrah. You understand only the simplest commands in Arabic, though you are learning. A mistake concerning that around Galen could ruin everything."

"Before you go, you must choose a gift for the caliph. It is expected."

"I had forgotten about that. Thank you, Ali."

"But what can you give him?" questioned Alan. "We didn't bring anything."

"I think I might have something you can use," said Ali. "If you would care to look through my stores. . ."

Morgan looked at Alan. "Why don't you come with me to offer your opinion?"

"As you wish, Highness," Alan replied with a courtly bow.

After they had left, Ryan stretched out on the sofa and reached for some dates. "You seemed quite enamored of our host on the way here yesterday."

"So? Are you jealous?" Shannon countered.

"Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm over you now. I was just under the impression that your 'affections' were directed elsewhere."

Shannon tried hard not to blush. "He was being kind and considerate. I also learned a lot from him about the city that might help us. It was for the good of the mission."

"Right. Whatever you say." He ducked as she threw a pillow at his head.

Morgan and Alan followed Ali to a room in the cellars. Alan stared in awe when Ali opened the door. There were jewels, gold, and valuables everywhere. "It's a good thing Ryan didn't come with us," he murmured.

Morgan followed Ali further into the room, glancing at the different items, fingering a few lightly. "What would be the thing to give a man who has everything?" she mused. "It must be elegant and elaborate without being ostentatious." She found a sword with a jeweled hilt and scabbard. "What do you think?"

Alan walked over and reached out for it, hesitating before he took it. When Ali said it was okay, Alan grasped the hilt and pulled the sword from the scabbard. The workmanship of the blade was first-rate. Even though it looked like it was purely ceremonial while sheathed, he could see it was also a deadly weapon. "It's marvelous." He moved it through the air as if fighting a phantom opponent. "If the caliph is a man knowledgeable in the way of weapons, I'd say this is ideal."

"Good. Thank you, Ali. You have been most helpful."

"I'm only returning the favor. Besides, I never say no to a little excitement."

"Well, I've learned when you're around Alan and his friends there's no shortage of that," Morgan said with a smile.

They arrived back in the front room to find Ryan and Shannon engaged in a pillow fight. "Why is it I can't take you two anywhere?" admonished Alan.

"Yes, you can; you brought us here," said Shannon before she threw a pillow at him.

"Time to get serious. Galen's escort could be arriving any time now," said Morgan.

"You're right. Sorry," Ryan apologized as he straightened his clothes.

Ali was amazed that they could play and be so lighthearted, considering what they were about to face and said so. "It helps to relax, for the most part," explained Alan. "The fact that they're re-living their childhood doesn't hurt," he added with a smile.

Shannon peered out the window. "Galen's men are here." She replaced her veil and took her place near Morgan.

The others all fell into their respective roles as Ali answered the door. The envoy spoke. "We have been sent by the sorcerer Galen to escort the princess to the palace."

"I will see if she's ready." The man bowed and waited as Ali informed the others.

"Let's go then," said Ryan.

"Don't be in such a hurry. As a princess, it wouldn't look good to be so eager," said Morgan. She calmly checked her reflection in a mirror then put her veil in place. "Okay, now we're ready."

As they were carried along, Shannon became used to the gentle swaying motion. Morgan had removed her veil. "Well, what do you think?" she asked.

"It's certainly the way to make an entrance," Shannon replied. "Can I keep the outfit for Halloween?"

Morgan laughed. "They are rather comfortable, aren't they? A bit daring for you to wear on a Military Base, though."

"You do have a point there," Shannon agreed with a smile.

"You sensed earlier when Galen communicated with me. What did it feel like?"

"As Alan said, it was like a prickling sensation in my mind. It was weird."

"I want to try an experiment. Just close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice."

"You're not going to hypnotize me, are you?"

Morgan laughed. "I wouldn't dream of it. No, I just want you to relax. Listen to my voice. Then I want you to tell me the last thing you heard." When she was sure Shannon was relaxed, she sent her a telepathic message. "Okay, Shannon, what did you hear?"

"I felt the tingle, but didn't hear anything."

"Okay, we'll try again. This time I'll send an image. That's usually easier." She made sure Shannon was relaxed before she tried again. This time she sent the image of Shannon and Alan together as a couple, something she had sensed between them. When she was done, she waited to see Shannon's reaction.

"It was about me and Alan, wasn't it?" Morgan nodded. "Why?"

From all the time I spent with you before, I sensed there was something between you. Was I wrong?"

"Well, not entirely. When we first started traveling together, I kinda had a crush on him."

"And now?" Shannon blushed. "I think he does care for you. I think he's just afraid of letting it show in case something should happen to either of you."

"Maybe I should work on changing his mind," said Shannon. "Let him know that I'm not some china doll that needs protecting." The two women fell into planning how they would get Alan to reveal his feelings towards Shannon on the hopes that they were more than brotherly.

Part Two.

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