Home of Sword and Soul
The French airship Chant De La Vie hovered over the simmering sand, its blades stirring a small dust devil below its landing pad. Zeke and Famara hid their faces with fabric from their turbans as they hurried to the terminal. Zeke glanced about at his surroundings in wonder. He'd always imagined Africa as steaming jungle and half-naked folks, but what he witnessed was a stark contrast. Mali was an arid land of pastels accented by brightly dressed dignified people who looked at him just as curiously as he looked at them. Another robed man waited for them, holding the reins of two magnificent horses.
"After so many years among the Ihaggaren I prefer camels," Famara said. "But I figures horses would be best for you."
"You figured right," Zeke answered. He inspected the horse before mounting.
"This is a good horse," Zeke commented. "Damn good.
"The Sokoto breed the best horses,' Famara replied.
"In the world," Famara answered with a wink.
They galloped away from the terminal and through the stone gates of Timbuktu. The city's wide avenues were clean yet dusty, bustling with brown skin folks going about their business. They rode to the center of the city to a nondescript building with an elaborately carved door. They hitched their horses then walked to the door. Famara's hand went absently to the satchel holding book before knocking on the door. The door eased open, revealing a young man with wisps of hair on his chin.
"Famara!" the boy exclaimed. "It is good to see you again."
"Hello, Amadou. It is good to be seen.
Amadou glanced at the satchel and his face became serious.
"Come. The Elders are waiting."
The boy led them into the cool home through an narrow hallway then into a round center room. Eight elderly men and women sat in a circle on silk cushions. Young men and women served them tea and pastries. They looked in unison at the two men, acknowledging their presence with curt nods. Zeke followed Famara into the center of the circle as the servers exited the room.
"Honored Elders,' he said. "I have returned with the last book."
He opened the satchel and extracted the book. A thin woman with short grey hair and penetrating eyes gestured him to her. He went to her, knelt, then opened the book. She studied it, turning the pages gingerly.
"It is as he says,' she announced. "It is the last book."
"Who is this Freedonian?" one of the elders asked.
Famara returned the book to the satchel and returned to the center of the circle.
"He is Zeke Culpepper, a hired man. I paid him to assist me in reclaiming the book."
The elder looked at Zeke. "Do you understand the importance of this book?"
Zeke shook his head. "I can't say that I do."
"The world is changing rapidly," the elder said. "This book and the others can make sure that this change is meaningful...and peaceful. Your country of Freedonia will play an important part in this change, but now without our help."
"Excuse me, elders, but I'm probably the wrong person to talk to. Like Famara said I'm a hired man. I helped him for pay, and I came here for more pay. I'm not one you want to share greater meanings with."
"Perhaps if you saw for yourself you would change your mind," the elder said. He turned his attention to Famara.
"Return the book to its rightful place and take Zeke with you. Maybe he will change his mind once he has seen Wagadu."
Zeke's eyes widened. "I though you said I'd get paid."
Famara smiled. "You will, my friend. I ask that you come with me on one last journey. You have helped deliver the book this far. You might as well see it all the way home."
"If you do not wish to,' the elder said. "We will pay you now and you can be on your way."
A servant entered the room with a satchel the size of the one holding the book. He came to Zeke then opened it. It was filled with gold.
"We have another after you return," the elder said.
'I guess I can stick around for a few days more," Zeke decided.
Famara patted his back. "Very good! We will eat and rest. Tomorrow we go to Wagadu!"
The next day they set our for Wagadu. To Zeke's dismay they rode camels, which smelled as terrible as they behaved. Despite that they covered the open desert quickly, travelling for two days through scrub brush and sand. On the third day they crested a small hill then found themselves looking down onto a valley of dunes.
"We are here," Famara announced.
"This is Wagadu?" Zeke asked. "A bunch of sand hills?"
Their camels knelt and both men walked to the edge of the hill. Famara reached into his robes, extracting a pair of green tinted goggle.
"Put these on," he said.
Zeke put on the goggles.
"Lord have mercy!" he exclaimed.
The dunes became transparent, revealing majestic stone structures beneath them.
"It's a buried city!"
"And so it shall remain until it is time," Famara said. "The sheets of the books are blueprints, designs that operate thousands of machines in Wagadu. The Prussians sought to use the sheets themselves because they don't have the knowledge to duplicate them and make them smaller."
"But they would eventually figure it out," Zeke surmised.
"Yes, which is why we had to destroy everything in Dolph's castle."
"So what does Freedonia have to do with all this?"
"Freedonian scientists are closer to discovering what we possess on their own. Dr. Carver's work is brilliant. There will come a time when we can combine our knowledge for the good of the world."
"Seems to me you should be talking to Annette and Ms. Tubman's folks," Zeke said.
"Annette and Vice President Tubman are loyal to Freedonia. We need someone in Freedonia loyal to us."
Zeke rubbed his chin. "Not much loyalty in a hired man."
"You're more than that," Famara replied. "You could have walked away at any point but you didn't. You risked your life for me and the book. You are a good, loyal man."
"That's what I would like to believe," Zeke said. "So what do I have to do?"
"Work for us when we ask," Famara said. "Of course you will be compensated. We don't want you chasing a bounty when we need your services."
"And you'll pay off my farm?"
Famara shook his head. "Yes Zeke, we'll pay off your farm."
Zeke extended his hand. "Looks like I'm your man."
Famara took his hand and they shook.
"It's seems so. Now let's get back to Timbuktu. You have an airship to catch."
"Wait a minute. You mean I don't get to get a closer look?"
"Not now," Famara replied. "Maybe later, once you've proven yourself."
"Well I guess we need to get moving then."
Famara went to his camel. Zeke lingered for a few moment longer, rubbing his cross as he gazed at the dunes.
"Lord, you've taken me to a lot of places, but this has got to be the most special," he said. "Give me the strength to hold up my end of the bargain. I sure don't want to let these good folks down. Amen."
He shifted his hat then walked back to his camel. Together they began the journey back to Timbuktu.