The Prince of Urarty (by Theresa)

Synopsis:  A what happened next story for the episode, “The Mummy”.

Category:  Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Genre:  Sci-Fi
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  21,995


 

Author’s Note:  Many thanks to Kate for her patience, her motivation, her knowledge, and her friendship. Also, she’s a heckuva writer and beta.  This one’s for Linda! Get well soon, my friend!

 

The afternoon had gone very suddenly oppressive. A heavy static electricity hung in the air, making his normally smooth hair a damp cap of long unruly ringlets. He licked his palm, smoothed a cluster of wayward coal-black curls from his brow, and scowled upward.

At first glance, the cloud-dotted sky gave no outward indication of what was to come, yet the young man’s olfactory sense spoke volumes. Late summer heat and unusually high humidity at mid-day almost always resulted in an uncomfortable, very wet evening. Argishti’s eyebrows conjoined into a deep frown of concentration. First, pursuit by enemy soldiers, intent on their immediate demise, had caused them to separate, and now an imminent thunderstorm threatened to keep them apart. He could care for himself … was, in fact, already seeking shelter from the forthcoming inclement weather, but Ervand was unskilled, both as a prince and as a warrior. He could only hope that if they weren’t reunited before the storm broke, his younger brother would also instinctively find safe haven.

Sighing, Argishti lowered his gaze from the heavens to the surrounding terrain, letting his keen vision take in the lush trees and foliage through which they had just barreled. Beyond the greenery were hills, sparsely covered with drying vegetation. And past the hills, now invisible to his searching eyes, were the fortified walls of a great city – Tushpah. He struggled to quash unbidden memories of his years among the people of Tushpah: stimulating discussions with the greatest teachers and philosophers of the day; leisurely swims with Ervand in the cool, clear waters of the Lake of Van; the prayer pilgrimage to Ararat, sacred mountains of Khaldis. And then there was Niari. The very thought of her brought a crushing ache to his heart. Even now he could feel the velvet smoothness of her skin, the moist wine of her lips, and the heady perfume of her silken hair, bathed daily in petal-scented water. He struggled to remember the name of the flower. Cra … Crane … Cranesbill? Abruptly melancholy, he shook his head, biting back the nagging grief and worry. The name of the plant was meaningless now. Niari had leapt to her death rather than be captured and enslaved by the barbaric Assyrians. He had followed, determined to save his intended bride. His efforts resulted in an injured leg, but Niari had not survived. She was forever gone, and he and his brother had barely managed to escape with their own lives.

Argishti inspected the landscape once more, ensuring there was still no sign of pursuit by the brutal savages, then he turned and limped back toward the site where he and Ervand had separated.

*****

“Lee?”

Admiral Nelson’s voice seemed to come from incredibly far away. Abruptly dizzy, Lee steadied himself against the ancient wooden sarcophagus, then, just as quickly, pushed his wobbly body upright. He looked at his superior whose face mirrored his own –a mixture of irritation, concern, and confusion.

His response was automatic. “I’m fine,” he said trying, with trembling hands, to tighten the hemp rope used to stabilize their heavy cargo.

Nelson shook his head. “No, you’re not. Go sit down and strap in. I’ve got this.”

He knew better than to refuse. When the admiral used his command voice, there was no arguing with the man. Besides, his head was still swimming, and FS1’s interior blinking lights painfully skewered his eyes, making everything blurry and out of focus.

 

Reluctantly, he moved to the cockpit, eased into the copilot’s chair. Pulling the seatbelt snugly across his shoulder and lap, he fastened it and then relaxed into the comfort of the softly padded leather. A moment later, Admiral Nelson took his place in the adjacent seat. Although he was outwardly all business-like, seemingly immersed in FS1’s preflight checklist, Lee could sense the worry in several clandestine glances. He turned to reassure his superior that all was well when another voice, from somewhere beyond, turned his blood to ice.

*****

“Argishti!”

At his brother’s approach, Argishti looked up, his broad face shiny with perspiration and relief. “Thank Khaldis,” he said as he caught Ervand in a tight embrace.

“I can’t believe I found you alive,” the sixteen-year-old gushed, an undisguised tremor of relief in his voice.

Concerned, Argishti squeezed Ervand’s shoulder, keeping his hand there until the boy regained his composure. “You look exhausted. We’ll stop and rest awhile. I don’t believe the barbarians know where we are and …” Before he could finish, the swollen storm clouds above flashed with embedded lightning. Several clashes of thunder followed immediately.

“The gods are angry that we escaped,” Ervand moaned.

“Khaldis is the one deity! Only barbarians believe in multiple gods,” Argishti admonished sternly. At Ervand’s reaction — a subservient lowering of his head — he continued with a hint of a smile to soothe the harshness of his words. “Besides, that wasn’t much. Perhaps it’s a sign from Khaldis … to remind us of who we are, what we’ve left behind, and where we’re going.”

“I don’t want to be reminded,” Ervand shuddered with the memory. “When Niari jumped from the terrace, and you followed, I … I thought … well, you know what I thought.”

The two were uncharacteristically silent for several moments as each pondered his own memories of the day’s horror-filled events.

Finally, Argishti spoke up. “You will learn, my brother, that we both have a destiny to fulfill. For the past ten years, we’ve lived in virtual obscurity, with only a very few knowing our true identities. Our parents sent us to Tushpah to be safe, to be educated and to be trained to one day take on the responsibilities of reclaiming and rebuilding our land. And freeing our people from tyranny. Today is the beginning of a new life, for both of us. You are Ervand, younger son of King Menua and his wife, Tirza, prince and co-heir to the throne of Urarty.”

“Not co-heir, my brother,” Ervand said, his amber-emerald eyes sparking. “I do not wish to rule beside you. I am second in line, and I hope to never to wear the crown.”

Argishti touched his younger brother’s shoulder lightly. “We’ll deal with it when the time comes. Right now, we need shelter from the coming storm.”

“And you need to rest your leg. Time to move on. If the barbarians find us they’ll mount our heads on their spears.” He reached out a hand, and Argishti took it, allowing Ervand to guide his steps, and the two brothers continued on.

*****

“Lee! Lee!” Hurriedly, Harry unbuckled his seatbelt and rushed to retrieve the onboard first aid kit. Opening it, he fumbled for the box of ammonia pills, grasped one, and hurried back to his unconscious captain. Crushing the capsule, he waited a moment until he felt his own nostrils tingle, then shoved it under Crane’s nose.

Lee’s reaction was immediate and violent. He wrenched his head away from the foul stench, batting blindly at the source of his distress – a vile chemical stinging his nasal passages and stealing his breath away.

Reasonably sure the younger man had regained his awareness, Harry yanked the pill away. “Easy, lad,” he said, both stunned and concerned by the incident. “What happened?”

Groggy and still fighting to remove the acrid ammonia from his lungs and nose, Lee managed an answer. “I don’t know. Suddenly I got dizzy. I passed out.” Puzzled, he shook his head, trying to clear away the last of the cobwebs, and shrugged his shoulders.

Harry swallowed his anxiety. There was a long flight ahead of them and a diplomatic mission wherein success hinged on perfection in timing and location, yet his commander was suddenly almost incapacitated by some mystery ailment. Reluctantly focusing on the assignment, the older man returned to the pilot seat, strapped in, and gave his captain another once-over. Lee’s skin was pasty white, and he could see perspiration clumping the tips of his bangs together. His eyes, normally a vibrant mix of topaz and celadon, were lackluster and heavy lidded.

Still concerned, he reached up, locked the ignition switches into position, and the Flying Sub purred to life. Grasping the cyclic control sticks, he turned once more to check out his co-pilot’s condition. Lee acknowledged the assessment with a slight shake of his head.

“We’ll let Doc look at you when we get back,” Nelson said, steeling himself for the usual grousing and protestation.

His instinctive worry-meter soared when the only audible response was the gentle hum and whir of FS1’s powerful engines.

*****

“Well?” The captain didn’t even try to hide his annoyance. Clad only in a bright yellow bathrobe, he perched on the edge of an exam table, every muscle taut and primed for imminent escape.

Inwardly, Doc Jamieson grinned at his patient’s impatience. //God, how he hates not being in control!// Outwardly, he adopted a casual tone. “You’ll live,” he said, handing Crane two pills and a cup of water. “Here, take these.”

“Uh … what is it?” Suspicion was rife in the commander’s words.

Jamie sighed. “It’s a mild sedative. Go on, take it. It’s not going to put you to sleep, just relax your nerves a bit.”

Frowning, Crane bristled at the suggestion. “There’s nothing wrong with my nerves!”

Undaunted, Jamie kept his reply no-nonsense and firm. “Go on! Take it!” he repeated.

The scowl deepened into a bona fide sulk, but Crane obeyed, downing the medication and water in one gulp. As an afterthought, he deliberately crushed the paper cup and tossed it aside.

“That’s better.” Jamieson ignored the minor tantrum, turning away to grab the hand mike. He keyed it. “Admiral, this is Sickbay.”

The answer was immediate, almost as if Nelson had been hovering over the communications device. “Yes, Doc. How is he?”

“I’ve examined every inch of him and, physically, he’s in excellent shape, but there is some indication of a nervous disorder … nothing serious … but rest is definitely indicated.”

“Hmmm… you’re sure about that? It’s nothing serious?”

“Yes, quite sure. But I do recommend that he go to bed at once and that tomorrow he be placed on light duty …” He didn’t get to complete the sentence before the mike was forcibly yanked from his grasp.

“Admiral!” Crane interrupted, his earlier pout forgotten. His voice was buoyant, his tone eager and raring to go. “I feel fine. I’m perfectly fit for duty!”

“Lee … listen to me. Doc is here to make exactly those decisions. Now, suppose we let him do his job.”

It was apparent in the captain’s sudden shoulder slump that Nelson’s reply wasn’t the one he’d expected to hear. But he covered his disappointment well.

“All right, sir,” he acquiesced. “I’ll go to my cabin and hit the sack right now.”

“All right. We’ll see how things look in the morning.”

Dismissal.

Jamie watched as his patient huffed a defeated sigh then, slowly and with emphasis, placed the offending mike back into his waiting palm. He replaced it in the wall holder, then swiveled back to view the younger man.

Crane’s frown was back, his eyes dark chocolate and honey. “There’s … nothing … wrong … with my nerves,” he repeated, stressing each word.

“Just doing my job, sir,” he said as he watched the commander gather up his belongings and head toward the exit. “We’ll see how things look in the morning,” was greeted with sound of Sickbay’s door slamming.

Jamieson grinned. “Good night, Captain. Sleep well.”

*****

Darkness slowly crept in, crowding the stubborn daylight to the very edge of the western sky. Squatting uncomfortably in the low-ceilinged cave opening, Argishti remained frozen in the same position as he had been for hours. His legs had long ago lost all feeling, a mixed blessing considering how much the injured right one had pained him before. He knew there were no broken bones; but, something inside, some muscle, some sinew, had ripped or torn. He had seen wounds like this before and suspected the damage was permanent. But being left with a limp for the rest of his life was the least of his worries. He knew if one of the barbarians should find them, both he and the sleeping Ervand would be completely defenseless. At this moment, he was physically incapable of running … standing … or even walking … away.

He had heard Assyrian voices several times during the interminable wait. At first, some warriors were so close he knew they could hear his heart racing but, they had fanned out, twice encircling the area where he and Ervand had taken shelter from the storm. Now, they had relocated somewhere far behind the stifling cave, and his ears could only discern the occasional sound of angry voices as they rose in unrestrained anger. As night continued to advance, the voices dissipated to whispers on the wind. Finally, they disappeared altogether.

Worry gnawed at his insides, yet Argishti was still reluctant to move. If he were to be captured, then he would be unable to help his brother. He forced himself to wait another few minutes and, when the barbarians still didn’t return, he allowed his rump to settle onto the ground. The rustle that slight movement made paralyzed him again, and he remained still for a few moments more. Finally, when he was reasonably certain they were safe, he stretched out his numb legs. Rubbing and massaging both, life came screaming back into them, especially the injured right one. Wiggling his toes, he bit back a groan and forced his feet to wakefulness, then lurched to a wobbly stand. Once upright, he froze again and listened to the sounds around him.

The waning storm had caused the birds’ endless chirping to cease. Now crickets took up the melody, clicking their evening songs loudly and wantonly to prospective mates.

Argishti took a tentative step, felt vague surprise when his body and legs obeyed him. He took another, then another, until he was stiffly trampling in the direction where his brother rested.

“Ervand! Wake up. It’s time to go.”

His brother jerked awake. “Argishti?”

“It’s all right. I think the barbarians have moved on,” he said hopefully, easing down beside the boy.

Ervand’s taut body relaxed and he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Then why can’t we stay here for the night? I know you’re tired. Let me take the watch while you rest.”

“I’m all right, just a little stiff. It’s best that we travel now. It’s dark, and there’s no moon.”

“But without stars, how will we find our way back? It’s been more than ten years since we were home. You were just twelve when we left and …”

“I know the way home, brother. No matter how long I’ve been absent nor how many years have passed … I will never forget the way back to our land and our people.”

Ervand yawned, stretched tiredly and nodded. It was late, and fatigue was pressing down on both of them, but neither could afford to give in to his weakness. Glancing around the darkened cavern one final time, the brothers trod into the night.

*****

Fuming, Lee took the corridors from Sickbay to his cabin at a slower-than-usual pace. Still clothed in his canary yellow bathrobe, shower slippers, and little else, he clutched the hastily wadded ball of his expensive designer suit, white linen shirt, and silk tie beneath his right arm. His left hand occasionally reached out to the bulkhead to steady his progress.

Beneath the fury, he could feel Jamie’s sedative seeping into his muscles, turning them to the consistency of Jell-O. His, brain, on the other hand, was still crystal clear, with none of the usual dulled awareness brought on by the doctor’s tranquilizers. He could only assume that his current state of mind – irritation at the ship’s doctor, disappointment in his superior officer’s order and, worst of all, intense anger and concern at his own weakness and lack of control over the puzzling vertigo and fainting spell – was interfering with the drug’s effects.

Silently hoping he’d make it to his cabin before running into a crewmember, or worse, the Admiral, he rounded the last corner and came to an abrupt halt. Somehow, the passageway leading to his compartment had disappeared and in its stead was a grove of sweet-smelling fruit trees. Cool and fragrant, a soft breeze ruffled his damp hair, nuzzled his cheeks. Above, the dawn sky was bedecked in amethyst and ginger as the sun peeked over slender silver clouds.

“Ervand! Be careful. We only need enough to get us through tomorrow. Gather a few and then hurry back. We’ll eat and then rest. It’s not far now, but there are still dangers out there.”

The unfamiliar voice, speaking in a language he shouldn’t recognize, came from his right yet, inexplicably, he knew and understood all. Before him was a tall date palm tree, laden with fat, aromatic fruits. Without another thought, he began to climb.

*****

At sunrise, Argishti decided to set up camp beside a wide, fast-moving stream. With an almost impenetrable fort of dense forest, thick with late-summer undergrowth at their side and back, and a swiftly flowing body of water to their front, he felt reasonably safe and secure. But, even so, the displaced prince decided to forego a cooking fire.

He busied himself preparing dried moss and soft leaves as temporary bedding beneath the overhang of several large fern branches. Earlier, Ervand had set out in search of something edible. He had reported almost immediately the discovery of an orchard of wild fruit trees bordering an adjoining meadow.

“Ervand! Be careful. We only need enough to get us through tomorrow. Gather a few and then hurry back. We’ll eat and then rest. It’s not far now, but there could still be dangers out there.”

*****

The cicadas’ furious clicking stilled as the slightly-built youth scaled the thick date palm trunk. He skillfully made his way higher and higher, past the barren fronds where forest animals had already picked their fill, to the very top where a number of plump, seasoned fruits swung from their lofty perches. Satisfied with his position, Ervand got a firm grip on a thick shoot, shifted his weight to the backs of his long slender legs, and shook the tree’s limbs. He was rewarded with the sounds of several large, ripe dates thunking on the ground below.

Scurrying down, he batted at the persistent flies buzzing at his face and ears, then hurriedly gathered the dates into a large makeshift leaf knapsack. Keeping one, he bit into it enthusiastically; the juice was sweet and syrupy, the pulp chewy. He had gone almost two entire days without food, and he savored the taste. Mopping his forehead with the back of his hand, he finger-combed several perspiration-soaked curls of raven-dark hair from his ears and forehead and sagged tiredly against the wide trunk. Rustling leaves and snapping twigs announced his brother’s arrival.

“Ervand,” Argishti said. “I believe I saw a fig tree just beyond that brush. On the way back, we’ll add a few to your stash of dates, and that should nourish us until we get home.”

The youth shook his head and threw the half-eaten date to the ground. The overripe fruit had soured almost immediately in his stomach. “You go ahead. I don’t think I feel very well right now.”

“I’m sorry, my brother. The last four days have not been easy for you. Why don’t you go back to the camp site and lie down? I’ve gathered leaves into a soft, cool bed. Rest! I’ll finish gathering food and join you.”

“You will be careful,” Ervand said. It was more command than question.

“Yes. Home is just over that mountain ridge,” Argishti said, pointing toward the now completely risen sun. “I don’t believe the barbarians will have the courage to follow us this far, but we still must be alert. Go back to the campsite, quench your thirst, and sleep. As soon as dusk arrives, we’ll start out again. By this time tomorrow, you’ll be back in the arms of our mother.”

Ervand looked uncomfortable. “I barely remember her, Argishti. Besides, I’m too old to be coddled.”

“One is never too old to accept love, Ervand. And, I can guarantee that she will not have forgotten you.” Argishti gave the boy a playful shove, watching as he shuffled toward the raucous stream, then turned and limped toward where he’d located the fig tree.

*****

Ervand swigged a long gulp of cold water from his hand, refilled it in the clear stream, slurped down another swallow, then continued pacing the length of the clearing. He had followed his brother’s orders, returning to the clearing and crawling into the cubby hole of brush. There, he had allowed his tired body to relax, and sleep had claimed him. He had awakened minutes ago with a throat dry as dust. It was only after he’d begun to quench his thirst at the stream that he realized the sun had passed its zenith hours ago, yet he was still alone.

Standing, he palmed a dribble of water from his chin and began to pace. Even as a small child, he had always paced when he was worried or anxious. It gave him something to do while his mind whirled vivid endless possibilities. He glanced upward, once more noting the sun’s position and calculating in his mind clock how long he had slept.

//Too long!// he chided. Where could his brother be? Why wasn’t he back from gathering a few figs?

“Argishti!” he whispered, fearful of making too much noise. When there was no response, he called again, louder this time. But there was still only silence.

Now frantic with worry, his heart slamming wildly in his chest, Ervand turned, focusing on the area where he had last seen his brother. There was distinctive movement in the brush. Cautious, Ervand drew back, hunkering down behind the thick trunk of one of the larger trees, and held his breath.

“Ervand!” A familiar voice rang out from the thicket.

Sighing with relief, the boy emerged from his hiding place and walked to the middle of the clearing to greet his brother. But as he moved forward, Argishti burst from the weeds, an expression of extreme urgency on his face. “Assyrians! Just behind me … run … run, Ervand! Don’t stop for anything and don’t look back!”

“Argishti … no … you can’t make it alone … not with your injured leg. Please! Let me help you …” Ervand worried aloud, but his brother pushed him forward.

*****

Ominous cracklings and guttural voices wafted from the center of the thicket, spurring the two into instantaneous movement. They sped toward the denser section of woods and crashed into its concealing shelter.

“Go! Now!” Argishti raced through the lush weeds and bushes, unmindful of sharp thorns that raked his unprotected legs and forearms. Ahead of him, Ervand sprinted along, seemingly unaware of the low-hanging limbs that entangled and yanked at his long, curly hair. He marveled at his younger brother’s swiftness. His own injured leg was on fire, but he couldn’t afford to stop. If he did, Ervand would surely come back for him, and they would both be captured and executed, or worse, enslaved. Ervand’s survival and freedom were his only concerns.

He turned his head, caught sight of what appeared to be a half-clad barbarian in pursuit behind him. At least two others followed distantly in his stead.

“Can you see them, Argishti?” Ervand gasped, glancing worriedly back at his brother.

“No,” Argishti lied. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Don’t slow down, don’t stop, don’t look back! No matter what! Do you hear me, Ervand?”

When the boy didn’t reply, Argishti deliberately slowed his pace. There was no way he could keep up, and there was no way he was going to allow Ervand to be captured. He called again. “Do you hear me, Ervand? As crown prince of Urarty, I order you to keep going! I order you to survive, to return home, and to rule as I would have ruled.”

The distance between them grew farther with each passing second, but Argishti could still hear the boy’s heartrending sobs.

“I hear… and obey, my prince.”

Argishti limped to a halt and stood gasping for breath. Far ahead, he could see Ervand disappear into a hedge of tangled brush. “Բեր ինձ տանից, Ervand! Ես , մինչև ես պառկում եմ հողին Urarty չեմ հենվելու!”

“Ես ՞ խոստանում եմ , Argishti! ես մեր բանակները բերել և քեզ փրկել”

Argishti knew it was the last time he would hear the sound of his younger brother’s voice. Swallowing his grief, self-preservation took over, and he started forward again, swerving around a tall oak tree just as a spear whizzed by his left ear. Another followed immediately, piercing the skin of his right bicep, splitting muscle and bone. Dropping to his knees, he looked one last time at the spot where he had last seen Ervand, but the boy had disappeared into the denseness of the brush and trees. His brother was safe. Allowing himself a grim smile of satisfaction, he turned as the Assyrian warrior approached and waited for the final blow to fall.

*****

“Bring me home, Ervand! I will not rest until I lie in Urarty soil.”

“I promise, Argishti! I will bring our army and rescue you,” Lee heard himself say as the weeds and thicket wavered, fading into the stark reality of Seaview’s corridor. Panting as if he’d run five miles, he took a tentative step and was forced to steady himself by leaning against the bulkhead wall. He rested a moment, gathering his strength, then haltingly took the few steps that brought him to his cabin door. The name tag, an out-of-focus blur, finally coalesced into “CAPTAIN CRANE.”

//‘Mild’ sedative, my ass!// he thought as he opened the door and staggered into the darkened compartment. The room was unusually chilly, with a damp, musty smell in the air. Lee made a mental note to get a can of freshener sent up from supply, then absently tossed his balled-up clothes onto the desk. The hated yellow bathrobe followed. Grabbing a pair of pajamas from the built-in chest-of-drawers, he shrugged into the shirt, buttoned it with quaking hands, and pulled on the loose-fitting pants. It took the last of his energy to crawl into his bunk and yank up the covers. Within moments, he was asleep.

*****

Ervand sighed tiredly and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He rolled over, flicked dirt and the corpse of a large insect from his forearm, and forced himself to sit up. In this particular situation, all previously instinctive movements had to be carefully thought out and planned before he could accomplish them. Moving from a sitting position to standing took several mental shoves, and he visualized himself rising and walking toward the distant mountain range. There was an uncharacteristic split-second delay in his body’s response, but at last he managed to stagger to his feet. Reluctantly, he lurched forward. Every fiber of his being screamed against returning to Urarty, but love and an inbred allegiance would allow neither disrespect nor disobedience of his brother’s final orders.

His mind played back Argishti’s last command: //”As crown prince of Urarty, I order you to keep going! I order you to survive, to return home, and to rule as I would have ruled.”

He would survive.

//Survive.//

But at what cost?

He would go home.

//Home.//

But whose home? Without Argishti, it no longer felt like home.

He would rule as Argishti would have.

//Rule.//

But it was his brother who had been raised to fulfill that duty, not he. He did not want to be the sovereign of Urarty. Once more, he heard his brother’s voice.

//”As crown prince of Urarty, I order you to keep going! I order you to survive, to live, and to rule as I would have ruled.”

Without Argishti, there was no reason to survive, no reason to go to a home he didn’t remember, no reason to rule in a land he knew nothing about. Without Argishti … there was no hope, no joy, no reason to even exist. An unexpected tear formed, rolled slowly down his grimy cheek. Incensed at his womanish reaction, he swiped at it with the back of his hand. The reigning prince of Urarty could not afford to cry.

Abruptly, he stopped. He had made promises …to survive, to return home, to rule as his brother would have ruled. Yet he had made another promise, one he now realized he could keep.

He was still alive, so the first command had been honored. And … he would return home … eventually … so that command would also be fulfilled.

However, Argishti’s last order was the key: “…rule as I would have ruled.”

Ervand allowed himself a mordant smile. If Argishti were dead, he was now the crown prince of Urarty, and he knew his brother well. Argishti would never have left him to die … had, in fact, sacrificed his own life, to save his. Nor would he have left him to rot or be dismembered by some vile beast.

He had promised to bring his army and rescue Argishti. The fact that he was an army of one didn’t matter. Slowly and deliberately, he reversed direction and made his way back toward the campsite.

*****

The night air was pungent with wood smoke and the delicious smell of cooked rabbit. Huddled in the bushes, hidden from the barbarians’ sight, Lee felt his stomach contract with hunger, followed by rumbling growls of protest. He couldn’t remember how long he’d been without food or water, but the lack thereof was the least of his worries. Panicked that the three men would hear the loud complaints, he scrunched further into the safety of the full brush, falling to his bare knees, and crabbing away from the campsite.

The new vantage still allowed a view of the camp inhabitants – two men dozed, side-by-side, in a leaf bed that somehow – instinctively — he knew had been made for him. But why would he need a leaf bed? Momentarily puzzling over the mystery, he finally shrugged it off. His head ached with a vengeance, his body was sore and bruised, and his memory was as holey as a hunk of Swiss cheese. Logic forced him to conclude that he had been captured or assaulted while on an undercover mission for ONI, suffered some kind of head injury … hence the throbbing pain in the back of his skull … and he was just now beginning to remember details.

Forcing himself to focus, he reached deeply into the recesses of his mind, searching for anything that would make sense of his location, his situation, or his state of dress … or undress considering the scratchy burlap breechcloth, tunic and sandals in which he was clothed. He closed his eyes, felt invisible fingers lightly feather-kiss his forehead and, suddenly, the mission was crystal clear. He was on an assignment to rescue a kidnapped prince and return him to Urarty … wherever the hell that was.

Abruptly, he focused on the third man in the camp, an Assyrian whom he somehow knew as Theron, the leader of this band of renegades. A tall, scantily-dressed individual with dirty matted hair and a beard to match, Theron hunched closely to the campfire, crudely tearing strips of bloody, half-cooked meat from the small animal carcass. The barbarian swallowed the last mouthful, swiped greasy remnants from his lips with the back of his hand and absently tossed the skeletal remains away. Lee saw it land scant inches from the head of what appeared to be the long thin body of a skinned animal. It hung, upside down, from a thick offshoot branch but, as the leftovers plopped loudly to the ground, the ‘body’ reacted, twisting and swaying as if threatened or frightened by the sound. Lee sighed. Whatever it was, it was still alive. Shaking his head at the cruelty of these enemies of Urarty, he refocused his attention on Theron.

The Assyrian seemed sated and at ease. After the all-day hunt, he was enjoying his reward: sitting beside a cool stream, eating the day’s catch. Theron rose, scratched his distended belly enthusiastically, and moved toward the captive beast. Walking past his dozing comrades, he stopped when he reached the tortured creature. Lifting the flap of his breeches, the tormentor relieved himself, aiming specifically at the bloodied head. The action wrung a guttural groan from the injured animal. Instinctively, it wriggled in a feeble attempt to move away from the stinging fluid.

“Вы не мертвы пока, Argishti, но вы пожелаете что вы было.”

//’Argishti?’// Lee’s ears perked up at the name. He strained to see clearer. Even in the shrouded gloom of a moonless night, he could discern the evil grin that split the barbarian’s face.

Theron finished urinating, lowered his breechcloth, then purposely kicked the helpless form in the back. This time there was only silence as the limp body swung back and forth from the thick tree branch. “If you thought we would let you die quickly, Argishti, you were deceiving yourself. Think again about telling us where your brother is because, if we must find Ervand ourselves, we’ll skin you alive in front of him and then feed him your entrails.”

“Argishti!” The whispered name sprung unbidden from Lee’s lips as realization dawned that the bloodied and beaten ‘animal’ hanging from the tree was not only human, but the prince he’d been sent to rescue. An inexplicable mixture of emotions boiled inside him – outrage at Theron’s disrespect and humiliation of royalty and anguish and guilt at the plight of Argishti. The fury inside threatened to explode into uncharacteristic rash action and, for a moment, he teetered on the edge, but reason and training tamped down the urge.

Inching forward, Lee watched closely for any sign that his small movements were being detected. To his right, insects clattered furiously while somewhere behind him a small unidentifiable animal scurried from one sheltering bush to another. He froze as he saw his enemy heft and hurl a spear in the direction of the disturbance. It fell uselessly to the ground, scant inches to his left, completely missing both him and the small beast. Cursing, the warrior stomped carelessly into the tangle of weeds to retrieve his weapon.

This time, Lee’s actions were immediate and dramatic. Bustling on all fours toward the wayward weapon, he located it a moment before the half-clothed warrior emerged from the other side of the thicket. Lifting the spear, he held it aloft, deliberately allowing the man’s momentum to impale him. An agonized shriek reverberated through the forest before the savage collapsed onto his back, the spear deeply imbedded mid-chest.

Concerned at the volume of the scream, Lee turned, peered into the shadows to check for any sign of his victim’s companions. A resulting eerie silence temporarily stilled the forest noises, a momentary quiet that abruptly ended with the half-hearted hooting of an owl. The bird’s monosyllabic calls echoed hollowly from the middle of the wood. Its cries were joined almost immediately by the humming of reassured insects and the scurrying feet of timid field mice and rabbits.

Lee violently yanked the spear from the barbarian’s torso. He was still alive, blood and saliva frothing from his lips, but both men knew the wound was mortal. Kneeling beside the dying man, he sought out and locked on his pained gaze.

Theron’s eyes widened in recognition and fear. He managed a gurgled “Errrvvannnd …” coughing as a fresh torrent of blood gushed from his nose and mouth. He struggled to get another breath, but it was obvious there would be no more.

Feeling physically and emotionally detached from the drama unfolding before him, Lee watched the suffering dispassionately. Then, on impulse, he sent a mouthful of wet spittle to mingle with the frothy blood on the corpse’s face. “Before this day is through, Assyrian, I swear Khaldis will close and lock the gates of paradise on both of us for what we will have done!” he whispered harshly just as a voice came from the vicinity of the clearing.

“What was that, Brid?”

“The last cry of the living surrendering to death.”

“It was terrible. It woke me from a sound sleep.”

“Probably just Theron hunting another rabbit. You know he always has better luck at night. Go back to sleep. You’ll need all your strength to continue the search tomorrow. Before the midday meal, I expect to see Prince Ervand hanging from the same tree as his brother.”

“Do you really think he’s still alive? After all, he’s just a boy, inexperienced in survival and warrior skills…”

“Inexperienced, perhaps …” Lee began as he rushed from the thicket and drove the already-bloodied spear into the closest man’s back, killing him instantly. He quickly withdrew the weapon and pointed it at the startled survivor.

The remaining man fell to his knees in surrender and, suddenly, the why, where, and who of this bizarre situation was as crystal clear as the herculite windows on his beloved Seaview. It was inexplicable, but he could no longer avoid the truth — an ancient identity, rooted in his immortal soul, had awakened.

*****

Stepping over the limp body of his second kill, he stood erect, glowering down at his humbled enemy. “…I am Ervand, son of King Menua and Queen Tirza of Urarty,” he affirmed in a language he didn’t recognize, yet somehow came naturally to him. “… and I declare that both my brother and I are born warriors. You,” he continued. “You are Nava?” Not waiting or even expecting an answer, he waved the spear toward the filth and blood-covered human hanging upside down. “Release Prince Argishti and tend to his wounds.”

“Yes, I am known as Nava. I see King Menua’s piglet believes himself to be grown,” the savage spat defiantly, lifting his head and meeting the younger man’s glare head on. “And if I don’t cut him down, what will you do?”

Ervand returned the stare, never dropping his eyes or his weapon. “The same thing I did to both of your companions,” he said with steely conviction. He watched the man as the stunning realization that Theron and Brid were dead sunk in. Finally, reluctantly, Nava moved toward Argishti, untied and unwound the hemp rope from the tree trunk and gently lowered the injured man. The dust and gravel beneath his scourged flesh wrung an agonized cry from the prince.

Never letting the spear or his guard down, Ervand rushed to Argishti.

“Brother … I am here,” he comforted.

“Er … vand … be … careful … don’t let him …” ended in a dry hacking cough.

“Do not trouble yourself with worry, Argishti. I have control. I promised to get you home, and I will.” He gestured with the weapon, threatening the now captive barbarian. “You will give him water, cleanse his wounds and find clothes to cover his nakedness. But first, sit down, put your hands behind your neck and hold your feet together so I may bind them.”

“But if you tie my feet, how can I get drink or clothing for Argishti?”

“I will not bind them tightly. You will still be able to walk upright … if you are very careful,” Ervand said as he used the hemp rope to hobble the man. “Stay where you are. Do not move,” he ordered as he stood and deliberately walked behind the Assyrian’s head. Abruptly, he drove the spear into the flesh of his enemy’s right bicep, piercing the skin until he felt bone stop the progress. This brought a howl of protest from the seated man, but Ervand swiftly repeated the process once more, rendering his prisoner’s right arm useless.

“Now, Nava, unlike your friends, you are blessed to serve Prince Argishti. You will be his handmaiden, feeding him, tending his wounds and dressing him. Ready yourself to be the mule you were born to be.”

“You have bound me like an animal and crippled me, young Ervand. It will not bode well for your future to turn your back on me.”

“I did nothing more to you than you did to my brother. Even your barbaric brain can understand justice. Move, Nava! Argishti needs treatment. Afterward, I will give you instructions on how to make a device that will help you bear the prince to Urarty.”

Ervand watched his captive struggle clumsily to get to his feet. Holding his injured right arm with his left, Nava wobbled toward the stream, fell to his knees and cupped handfuls of water onto his wound.

Ever watchful of his prisoner, Ervand sidled over to the prone Argishti, knelt down and surveyed his brother closely. The man’s long curly hair was matted with dirt and clots of brownish muck. Lackluster hazel eyes stared out of a face that was ashen beneath the grime and blood.

“I’m sorry I abandoned you,” he said in a somber voice, reaching out to check the spear wounds.

Argishti flinched away at the touch. “Why … are you here? You … were to continue … home. Ervand … you … you MUST live.”

“I don’t intend to die, my brother. But it is not I who will reign over Urarty. Somehow I know Khaldis has already made his decision on my destiny, and it does not lie in our homeland with its mountain ranges, olive trees, and endless sand. No, it will be my fate to sail the sea, to feel salted mists on my face, to smell the coming of a storm in the air. One day, I wish to captain a boat. In this way, I can serve you, my brother and my prince.”

Argishti sighed softly and carefully shook his head. “You have always … been about dreams … Ervand.”

“It is not a dream that I am here and that I am taking you home. As I promised.”

A haggard smile lit the horribly bruised face. “Then I will make you a promise … my brother. If we get home safely, I will build your boats and you will … be the captain of all ….”

“One will be enough, Argishti. Just one … long and sleek as a serpent … with port holes of impervious glass.”

At that moment, the prisoner returned, and Ervand lurched to a stand, spear at the ready.

“I have water for him to drink and to bathe his wounds. We can tear Theron’s clothing into bandages. Brid is almost the same size, so his garment will cover Argishti’s nakedness.”

Ervand nodded, indicating that Nava was to begin.

At the first touch of the damp cloth against his lips, Argishti winced and moaned softly.

“Cause him no further pain, barbarian!”

“Water will sting broken skin! If you think you can do better, here!” Nava held out the cloth.

Ervand ignored it, threatening once more with the spear. “You will do it better, or you will pay with your life.”

Nava stood, his face gone dark with rage, his stance threatening. “And if you kill me, young piglet, how will you get the prince of Urarty to his royal bed?”

Momentarily confused, Ervand risked a quick look at Argishti.

“It is all right … Ervand. I can endure the pain. Just stand safely afar. Do not … let this savage near enough to take … the … spear …” Argishti’s voice ended in an agonized groan that grew louder and louder.

*****

The scenery and its inhabitants suddenly winked out. Closing his eyes to an unexpected attack of vertigo, Lee felt a strange tug within, as if someone or something had reached inside his body and forcibly removed his soul. Weightless and dizzy, he dangled in a quiet limbo, a broken marionette with tangled strings. Then, inexplicably, he opened his eyes to find himself on the bottom of the ocean, the surrounding pressure squeezing both the oxygen from his lungs and the life from his body. The salt water stung his eyes and, for a moment, he was completely disoriented, but a quick look upward showed light. Lungs screaming for air, Lee kicked off the sludgy bottom, swimming and pushing against the forceful current that threatened to hold him in place. Using every muscle and sinew available to him, he headed for the surface. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t see, but he could hear the echo of someone calling to him.

“Ervand! Help me! Keep your promise!”

//Ervand?//

Kick!

Swim!

An eternity passed until his head emerged from the depths. Drawing in heaping gulps of oxygen, grateful for the warm sunlight on his face, he treaded water, turning in a slow circle to survey his environment. Almost everywhere was ocean, beautiful blue-green water, gently swelling and undulating before him. A few feet away was a beach, sparkling with white powdery sand and bordered by foliage so lush he could smell the varied fragrances of flowering plants and fruit trees. The intensity and beauty of the scene calmed him. His heart stopped slamming inside his chest, slowing to a regular rhythm, and his heavy gasps for air grew lighter and unhurried. Casually, with deliberate strokes, he began a leisurely swim to shore.

Suddenly, a shadowed insubstantial form appeared. It hovered above him, blocking his vision, dimming the daylight and shattering the serenity of his surroundings. The clear, sunny sky above abruptly became overcast. Dark billowing clouds brought chilling wind and threatening rain. Lightning flashed and the sea that had so warmly and lovingly embraced his exhausted body grew rough and angry, tossing him forcefully about.

“Ervand!” a disembodied voice croaked. “Keep your promise!”

“Chem haskanum.” He heard his voice speaking an unknown tongue yet instinctively knew the meaning of the words. //I don’t understand.//

“Ervand, don’t let them take me …” The voice turned guttural, ending in a terrifying animalistic growl.

Abruptly, a cresting wave captured his form, flip-flopping him over and over. He fought to breathe, to see, to get control, but he was caught in the throes of a ferocious sea. Survival training kicked in; he stopped struggling, letting his body go limp and be carried along to the shore. The deafening roar of the ocean blended with disembodied groans and growls as he tumbled helplessly along. Finally, the back of his skull struck something hard and solid and, for a moment, everything went black.

When he finally managed to raise his heavy eyelids, he discovered that he was lying on the beach. Far away, an extremely long distance, he could hear distinct echoes of gunfire. Instinct told him to get up … find shelter … hide … until all his senses returned. But the vertigo assailed him again, paralyzing him in his prone position, forcing him to close his eyes to the wildly spinning earth. The putrid smell of rot and decomposition suddenly filled his nostrils, making acidic bile rise in the back of his throat. He gagged, barely managing to hold back further retching. But, just as swiftly as it had appeared, the odor dissipated, leaving in its stead a heady floral fragrance. He recognized it as Cranesbill, one of his mother’s favorite flowers. The familiarity of the scent let him settle down, but the reaction was momentary. He tensed again as he felt invisible fingers, whisper-soft and flighty, gently caressing away the frown lines from his forehead. A sense of tranquility and peace flooded through him, and he relaxed once more.

//A dream,// he thought as he felt himself drifting off. //It has to be a dream.//

But, somewhere, inside his essence, he knew it was real.

*****

He came to on the hard cold floor of his cabin with three familiar faces staring down at him.

“Lee! Lee, what is it?” The admiral’s voice was shaken, his blue eyes bright with concern.

//What is what?// His head spun and the universe trembled around him. Overhead, stationary bolts of lightning flashed, hurting his eyes. He closed them reflexively. “I … don’t know,” he heard himself reply.

“What happened?”

He recognized Chip’s voice, equally troubled and probing.

But why was Chip here? Confused, he tried once more to open his eyes, found help in the blurry fingers of Jamieson as the doctor deftly pulled one long-lashed lid up.

“Doc?” Admiral Nelson spoke again.

“What’s he shooting at?” Chip added from somewhere near his feet.

//Shooting?// Lee struggled to remember where he was and why he was surrounded by what appeared to be three very worried and extremely inquisitive friends.

“I don’t know. No sign of any intruder.”

Arms lifted him, settling him on his bare feet, and, for a moment, the room tilt-a-whirled. Swallowing hard to quell the resulting nausea rising in the back of his throat, he touched his forehead, grateful for the arms that still held onto him protectively. “Oooh, that dizziness again,” he said.

“Who were you firing at?”

//Firing?//

“Firing?” Confused, he forced his eyes to focus, peer around the cabin. The admiral was there, still in uniform. Chip and Jamie were also present, both clad in pajamas and robes. Looking down at himself, he noted that he, too, was dressed for bed.

“Nearly a full clip fired,” Chip was saying.

Almost fully awake and aware now, Lee shook his head at the mystery. The gesture was a huge mistake as his surroundings see-sawed again. When all had stilled, he replied, “I don’t remember firing a shot.”

“Better get back into bed.”

He balked, determined to decipher the dreams he’d had, the gun he’d fired, the language he’d spoken. “No, I’m all right now.”

“Sure, sure, you’re just fine,” Jamie was saying as he arranged the covers on the bunk so Lee could lie back down. “Come on, Skipper. Off your feet.”

There was no use arguing. He was outnumbered and knew it. Reluctantly, he slid his backside on the bunk, flip-flopping onto his stomach. The blanket was pulled over him and tucked in at the sides. Its cocoon-like warmth was soothing and relaxing. Vague bits of conversation between the admiral and the boat’s doctor were captured, but the sedative’s effects still interfered with his ability to process information.

“Doc? Is he …to be … right?”

“Sure he will … after a … night’s sleep.”

“Well, let’s get out … and see that he … one.”

The room went semi-dark and silent, and Lee pulled the pillow closer, snuggling into a haze of slumber. He would obey his doctor’s orders … for now.

Later, he knew he would follow the commands of another.

*****

Harry had read the same sentence at least three times, and, although he understood every word, it was still incomprehensible. Sighing, he rolled off his bunk, closed and put the book down on his desk, mentally logging the page number for later. His mind wasn’t really on Rare Treasures of the Middle East. Right now, it was hovering somewhere between his cabin and the one down the hall that currently housed his ailing captain.

He lit a cigarette, then noted the time on his watch. Nearly 2330. All seemed quiet and in order on the boat. Yet a deep-down gut feeling told him something was amiss. Disturbed at his uncharacteristic unease, he took a long drag of the Marlboro, snubbed it out, and headed for the door. Opening it furtively, he poked his head through, looking left, then right. The corridor was empty, so he struck out for Lee’s cabin. Just as he rounded the corner, he spied a familiar figure exiting the captain’s room, surreptitiously closing the door behind him.

“Ahem!” he said, inwardly smiling at the guilty start by Chip Morton.

“Er … ah … Admiral! I was just … doing rounds,” the blond man said, fiddling nervously with the belt of his robe.

Harry raised one eyebrow and did his best to scowl. “In your jammies?” he asked, shaking his head.

“Well … um … you see, sir,” Chip stammered for a moment, then adopted an attentive stance. “Lee fired an awful lot of bullets in his cabin, and we were all too upset at finding him unconscious on the floor to check for bulkhead damage.”

“And did you find any?” Harry asked pointedly.

The exec studied his feet for a moment, then replied, “None, sir.”

“I see.” There was a long, uncomfortable silence, made even more so by Harry’s look of expectation. Finally, “So, how is he?”

Chip feigned ignorance. “How is who, sir?”

“You know exactly who I’m talking about, Commander. How is Captain Crane?”

Sheepishly. “He’s sleeping peacefully, Admiral.”

Harry nodded. “As you should be, mister,” he said sternly, letting a faint smile soften his demeanor.

Chip echoed the smile. “Aye aye, sir. Good night, Admiral!”

“Good night, Commander.” Harry watched his second-in-command until he disappeared around the corner of the ‘officer country’ corridor, then turned and strolled back to his own lodging. He trusted Chip to correctly assess Lee’s condition and, if his executive officer said the captain was sleeping peacefully, he could accept that. Except when he put his hand over the knob to open the door to his own compartment, the uneasiness returned two-fold. Drawing his brows together into a frown of irritation, he released the handle and retraced his steps back toward Lee’s cabin.

As he neared the captain’s bungalow a second time, he encountered another recognizable figure; however, on this occasion, the individual was quietly entering the room.

Harry waited until he saw the door close from inside, then took up a position to the right of the entrance. He crossed his arms, bent his knee, leaned backward against the bulkhead wall, and waited. The urge for another drag of his unfinished Marlboro rose unexpectedly inside him, but he quashed it, preferring instead to greet the uninvited visitor in person.

At least fifteen minutes passed before the door cracked and Doc Jamieson peered outside. He started when he saw Harry standing in wait, then continued his exit. Silently, he closed the door and turned to face his commander.

“Well?” Harry asked.

“Well what?” Jamieson countered, his chin lifted in defiance.

“Well, you’re the second person I’ve caught disturbing the captain’s prescribed good night’s rest.”

The doctor’s brows knit together into a frown of displeasure. “Who was the first?”

“Chip. He reported that Lee was sleeping peacefully.”

“Which is exactly what he’s doing. I can also tell you that he has no fever, his heart rate and respirations are normal, he’s in a good REM sleep state, and the additional sedative I just gave him should keep him out for at least another six or seven hours.”

Harry nodded at the news, then opened his mouth to ask another question. He never got the chance.

“By the way, Admiral, I’m the person who prescribed that treatment, and it’s in my job description to keep check on my patients. Mr. Morton had no business going in there, and I can only assume that your presence at the exec’s visit … and mine … can only lead to the conclusion that at least one other unauthorized person planned to cross the captain’s threshold tonight.”

“Uhhh … I was only …”

“Exactly. You are ‘only’ going back to your own cabin, Admiral,” Jamieson said, looking at his watch. “I know you and Lee think you’re superhuman, but you’re not. I’m prescribing a good night’s sleep for you too.”

“But …” Harry stammered.

“No ‘buts’, Admiral! In fact, I seem to remember you telling a certain captain not very long ago that I’m ‘here to make exactly those decisions.’ Now, suppose you let me do my job. Hmmmm?”

Sighing in defeat, Harry stared at his ship’s doctor. “Aye, aye,” he said in a sulky tone and started for his cabin.

“Good night, sir,” the doctor said politely.

“Good night, Jamie.”

“Oh … and Admiral? A word of warning. I intend to check on my patient several more times tonight. I don’t expect to see you when I’m out and about. Got it?”

Harry stopped, assumed a look of pure innocence and turned back. “Got it,” he said begrudgingly. Then, “Oh, by the way, did anyone ever tell you that you’d make a good drill sergeant?”

The doctor smiled. “Once or twice. I’ve also been accused of having delusions of grandeur and a Napoleon Complex.” He chuckled and head-gestured toward Lee’s doorway. “Mostly by the big-pain-in-the-ass patient in that room.”

This brought a grin to Harry’s face. “You know I feel your pain, Jamie,” he said, then sobered. “So, he’s going to be all right?”

Jamieson nodded. “I think so. He overdoes everything, never takes a second out for himself. He’s one of those damned Alpha personalities. They refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer, at least not without a fight. Unfortunately, we’re all mortal and, eventually, our health begins to suffer. If he continues to show these same symptoms for more than a week, when we get back to port, I’ll order some neurological tests.”

“So, it could be something serious after all?” Harry said with a hint of concern in his tone.

“I doubt it. Like I said before, it’s my humble opinion that he just needs to get some rest. Let someone else carry the weight of the world on their shoulders for a while.”

“Well, I won’t argue with you on that point.”

“And you won’t argue with me on my medical orders either. To bed, Admiral Nelson, or I’ll give you the same sedative I just gave your captain.”

“None for me, thanks! Good night, Jamie!”

“Sleep well, sir. Don’t worry. I’ll check on him periodically.”

“Jamie …” Harry’s voice went soft.”

“Sir?”

“If I’ve forgotten to mention this in the past, you’re one of the best. I’m proud to have you on my boat.”

The reply was even softer. “Thank you, sir. I’m very proud to serve here. Good night.”

*****

A loud thud startled him awake. Immediately alert and wary, Harry jerked upright in his bunk and looked around the brightly lit room. Nothing seemed unusual or out of place … except … He leaned over, peered down expectantly and felt a slow grin start. The large, hardback book he had been browsing lay face down where it had landed on the floor. Exhaustion and worry had finally pulled him from reading into slumber.

Shaking his head, Harry checked his watch. 0310. No wonder he’d fallen asleep. The book, Rare Treasures of the Middle East, was fascinating, informative reading, but sometimes the body’s primal needs usurped curiosity and the desire for knowledge. He slid off his bunk, retrieved the book from the floor, and placed it on his desk. Another, more urgent, biological need sent him to the head. Relieved, he washed his hands, glanced pointedly at his reflection in the mirror. The man who looked back at him had tired, puffy eyes, copper-gray stubble on his cheeks and unkempt hair. He splashed cold water onto his face, toweled off, then ran short freckled fingers through his tangled red mane. Another glance at himself brought a nod of semi-satisfaction. Jiggs Starke wouldn’t approve of the five o’clock shadow or the wrinkled uniform. But then Jiggs wasn’t here – he was stuck at the Pentagon in D.C., awaiting his turn to address the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the volatile situation in the Middle East and Seaview’s involvement in a secret mission to prevent World War III.

The assignment was relatively simple – return the remains of an ancient pharaoh to his homeland with all the pomp and circumstance befitting royalty. Washington’s theory was that the country of origin would be so grateful to have their national treasure home again that they would forget all about their quarrel with the two other countries. Toss in a little white lie — that the two opposing nations had aided in the recovery of the king – and the end result would, hopefully, be a ceasefire. Most learned men knew that the solution was only temporary, merely delaying the inevitable, but preventing bloodshed and all-out war, even for a short time, was worth the time and money spent.

Sighing, Harry left the head and retrieved an open pack of Marlboros from his desk. He selected one, put it between his lips, lit it, and pulled in a deep breath. Another drag, held longer, relaxed and soothed away some of the stress keeping him edgy and awake. A third inhalation seemed to do the trick, and he stubbed the cigarette out in the desk ashtray. Beside it lay the fascinating book he’d retrieved from the Institute library before they’d launched. He’d learned that many of the ‘rare treasures’ were on display in museums around the world, ancient plunder that had been recovered from mansions of the rich, the famous, the secret collectors, and former high-ranking World War II Nazi officers. There was a chapter on known priceless relics that had yet to be found. And then there was a segment on those treasures that had already been unearthed from darkened tombs and sand-covered ruins only to be totally unknown mysteries of the ages.

Harry glanced longingly at his bed, then turned to look at his cabin door. Down the hallway was another mystery – his ailing captain. Doc Jamieson seemed assured that the malady afflicting Lee was easily treatable, something akin to exhaustion and overwork. Sedatives and “a good night’s sleep” seemed rather generic treatment, one of those ‘only time will tell’ remedies. Yes, Lee was exhausted and overwrought which he guessed could account for Jamie’s diagnosis of a nervous condition. Seaview had been on back-to-back missions for the past six months, none of them routine milk runs. The physical and mental stress and strain might have worn his captain’s usual resiliency thin enough to bring on these attacks. Yet, for some unknown reason, he couldn’t agree with Jamieson’s opinion. He had seen Lee Crane injured, tortured, possessed, comatose, and near death only to quickly recover and bounce back, stronger and even more determined to be the best submarine commander on (and under) the high seas.

A longing to see Lee, confirm he was resting comfortably suddenly overwhelmed him. Jamie and his threats be hanged. He was an admiral, the owner and designer of Seaview, and both Will Jamieson’s and Lee Crane’s employer and superior officer. Come hell, high water, or the boat’s doctor, he was going to check on the condition of his captain and friend. Stealthily, he opened the door of his cabin and listened. The only sounds were the faint reassuring thrums of Seaview’s powerful engines. Poking his head out, he glanced left, then right. The corridor was deserted. Checking his watch once more, he noted the time: 0325. Jamie’s first examination of Lee had been close to midnight. Knowing the doctor’s routine as he did, Harry estimated that the next bed-check would have been two hours later. The third would probably come at 0400. If he played his cards right, he could get in, ascertain Lee’s condition for himself, and be out of the captain’s cabin in plenty of time before Doc’s return. Besides, he rationalized, what Jamie didn’t know would keep his own life quiet, serene, and peaceful, three things he desperately needed right now.

Closing his cabin door behind him, he smiled and strode cautiously forward, stopping only to peer around the corner into the next hallway. As expected, it was empty too, and he quickened his stride, arriving at and entering Captain Crane’s cabin in record time. He eased the door shut, then made directly for Lee’s bunk.

The soft amber glow of the bed light added a façade of warmth and color to Lee’s pale cheeks, and Harry stood beside the sleeping man, gazing down at him. Sweat damp hair, black as ebony, swirled and coiled on Lee’s aristocratic forehead, and his straight nose and square cheekbones lent their own aspects to a kind of nobility. His hazel-green eyes were closed, but long lashes rested upon dark crescent moon-like circles. That he was exhausted and unwell was evident.

Instinctively, Harry reached out a hand, feathered his fingers lightly across the captain’s brow. Lee was cool to the touch, but then the cabin was unusually chilly. Frowning, he moved to the front of the room, checked the thermostat. It read 72, the default setting for the entire boat. Yet, Crane’s cabin was so cold he could almost see his breath.

Shivering, he hurried back to Lee’s bedside. The covers were in disarray, evidence that even with two sedatives in his system, his friend was not resting comfortably nor getting the good night’s sleep prescribed by the ship’s doctor. Harry reached out, smoothing the sheet and blanket, and pulled them up to shield Lee’s neck and shoulders from the chilliness. He then began tucking the ends under the mattress, cocooning his friend.

“Admiral?” Lee’s voice, gravelly with sleep and narcotics, startled him.

“Yes, it’s me. Sorry to wake you, but the room was cold, and you’d kicked the covers …”

“… and you were concerned…” Lee paused for a moment to catch his breath. “Thanks, Admiral. I wish I knew … I wish I …” He smiled at his frailty, then his expression grew pensive.

“No need to get worked up about it. Doc says you’re exhausted, overtaxed. But, he assures me that by this time tomorrow, you should be feeling like yourself again.”

A disbelieving snort met his ears. “I don’t think it’s that at all. It’s something … I can’t put my finger on …I wish I could tell you…how I know …what … what I … feel …”

Eyes the color of raw honey sought out and locked on pewter-blue, but Harry severed the visual connection almost immediately. He was worried and anxious, and he knew it showed in his face and stance. He also knew that even in his weakened state, the intuitiveness of his young captain could be disturbing.

He reached out a hand, squeezed his friend’s shoulder gently. “I think we’re both aware enough that we don’t have to voice it, lad. Now, back to sleep. That’s an order.”

A weak grin lit the finely-chiseled features of his captain’s face, and he closed his eyes obediently. “Aye aye, sir,” was a hoarse whisper.

Nodding his approval, Harry turned to leave. He took a step forward, and felt his shoe strike something small and hard. It slid across the cabin floor, making a slight metallic thunk as it slammed into the bulkhead wall.

//Now what!’ Harry thought as he bent down to pick up the tiny object. His fingers closed around it, and he frowned. Straightening from his stooped position, he brought his hand up to eye level, then opened his fist to confirm what he already knew. Lee’s most sentimental and prized possession rested in his palm – a gold and black onyx ring.

“Lee,” he started, heading back to the bunk side. “Did you know your ring was on the floor?”

The younger man turned, cracked his eyelids slightly. “Whaaaa …” he mouthed sleepily.

“Your ring,” Harry said, holding it out so Lee could see. “I thought you never took it off.”

Still trying to blink away the fog, Lee opened his eyes wider, then reached out and took possession of the small gold circle. A puzzled frown crinkled his forehead as he inspected the ring, turning it over and over.

“Did you remove it and forget to put it back on? Sedation is notorious for short memory loss,” Harry soothed. He made to retrieve the jeweled item but, before he could touch it, Lee purposefully hurled the ring across the room. It hit the built-in chest of drawers and ricocheted back onto the desk.

For a moment, Harry stood in stunned silence, open-mouthed shock and disbelief on his face. Then, before he could utter a word, Lee Crane, eyes gone near-black with fury, lifted his right hand and pointed his index finger threateningly at Harry.

“Chem haskeshi, Nelson. Noy ghi pum te sher, Argishti!” he said in a voice not quite his own.

“What … what in blue blazes are you talking about?” Harry reached out a hand to calm Lee, but the moment he touched the captain’s shoulder, he collapsed, limply falling back onto the pillow.

“Lee … Lee!” A soft shake brought no response. Seaview’s captain had thrown a treasured heirloom across the room, spewed some unknown words in a language he’d never heard before, and lost consciousness.

“I thought I’d find you in here.”

Puzzlement and concern had distracted him to the point where he didn’t hear the cabin door open. Jamie, dressed in his duty uniform, stethoscope around his neck and doctor’s bag in his left hand, walked to the bedside. “Well, since you’re here, trying to do my job while disobeying my medical advice and orders, how is he?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Harry said, still bewildered by what he had just seen.

Doc looked up from checking Crane’s pulse, worry lines creasing his forehead. “His heartbeat’s up, racing like he just ran a hundred-yard dash.” He placed the stethoscope in his ears, held the end on the captain’s chest. “Admiral, was he up and about?”

Harry shook his head, stroked the stubble on his chin. “No. When I got here, he was out like a light, but the room was ice cold. I pulled his blanket up, and I guess that woke him.”

Jamieson popped a thermometer into Lee’s slack mouth, held it closed with one hand while rechecking his pulse with another. “Was he coherent?” the doctor asked, nodding satisfaction at the second results. “That’s better … much better.”

“I thought so. But then he went off on a tangent, speaking words I didn’t understand. He seemed furious.”

“About what?”

Retrieving the ring from where it had fallen on the desktop, Harry held it up for Jamie to see. “This,” he said, eyes wide with puzzlement. “I found it on the floor, tried to give it back to him, and he sat up, took it, and threw it across the room.”

“Is that all?”

“No, it’s not. I’ve heard of people speaking in tongues before, but I’d never seen or heard it until now.”

Doc checked the thermometer reading. “No temp,” he reported. Shaking the mercury back down, he replaced the instrument in his bag and peered at Harry. “Probably the sedative, Admiral. I’ve had a couple of other patients act similarly — agitation fear, hallucinations. I think I’m going to send one of my PA’s down here to sit with him until he’s completely out from under the influence.”

Harry shook his head. “No need, Jamie. I’ll stay with him.”

“No, Admiral, you won’t. I want you back in your cabin and in your bunk now! If you think I can’t see the signs of exhaustion and lack of sack time, then you don’t know me very well.”

“I’m all right, Doc. A few more hours and this mission will be finished, and we’ve all got nearly six weeks layover in Santa Barbara. I’ll rest then.”

“Do you want to know how I can tell you’re overly tired and sleepy? You don’t lie as well. Your six-weeks won’t be spent on the golf course, the beach, or even the local bar. You’ll spend it hunched over that desk at N.I.M.R., twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Now, for once in your life, will you listen to me? Please?”

Harry had the presence of mind to look sheepish. Nodding absently, he peered once more at his sleeping captain. “You’ll have someone with him from now on?”

“I will.”

“What’s wrong with him, Jamie?”

“Nothing serious. The unusual behavior is probably due to the medication I gave him. If he needs something else, I’ll change to a different sedative. Now, go get some sleep, Admiral. I can do my job.”

This brought a wry smile. “I know you can.”

Jamie turned back to his patient, began to unbutton his pajama top. “I’m going to give him one more ‘once over’ and then I’ll be in my office. Where will you be, Admiral?”

Harry shuffled toward the cabin door. “I shall be at my place of duty, Doctor. My bunk.”

“Good night, Admiral. Again!”

“Jamie …” He paused at the door and looked around. Doc was palpating Lee’s abdomen and belly.

“He’ll be fine, Harry,” Jamieson said without looking up. “Now off with you.”

With one final glance, Harry turned, opened the door and headed back to his own cabin.

*****

From the moment Harry set foot on the bridge, things started going to hell in a hand-basket. To make matters worse, the circumstances escalated to serious, then to downright critical. With Lee still on bed-rest, the captain’s very conspicuous absence was wrecking havoc with his usually stellar crew’s efficiency. Minor mistakes by experienced seamen were happening all over the ship. Kowalski’s misinterpretation of a radar blip for an enemy sub caused the organized chaos of an unnecessary red alert. Then Patterson slipped on someone’s spilled coffee and was now in Sickbay with an ankle the size of a softball. Finally, Sharkey revealed that one of their newest crewmembers, Simpson, had failed to report for breakfast or his morning detail. Morton had ordered a search party for their AWOL seaman.

It was then that Sparks reported an incoming message from D.C. Harry took the paper, scanned it hastily once, then studied it more closely. After a third defined word-by-word examination, he shook his head and frowned severely. “Well, that’s all we need,” he spat, not even trying to keep the irritation from his voice.

“Bad news, sir?” Commander Morton, who had edged so close that Harry could feel his exec’s breath on the back of his neck, asked needlessly.

//Damn politicians! Damn false détente! Damn 3,000-year-old dead kings. Damn, damn, damn!// “The emergency cabinet meeting has been called 12 hours sooner; that means our deadline is 12 hours earlier!” Harry snarled caustically.

“Twelve hours!” Morton was aghast. “There’s absolutely no way we can make it in that amount of time!”

“Oh, there’s a way … the Flying Sub.”

“But what about the matter of secrecy?”

Harry sighed and sent Chip his best ‘fed-up’ glower. “We’ve got to make some kind of a sacrifice, and we can’t afford to be late. Now get the Flying Sub ready,” he ordered. Then, just because it gave him pleasure to be in charge of ‘something’ in this mission, he added, “At once!”

Morton got the message. Looking around the control room, he spied Sharkey standing nearby. “Chief,” he barked.

Hearing the agitation in both his superiors’ voices, Sharkey reported sharply. “Sir!”

“Ready the Flying Sub for immediate launch!”

The executive officer’s tone brought the CPO to near attention, but he quelled the instinctive urge to stand and salute. Instead, he replied in his most professional voice. “Aye, sir,” and headed for the entry well to FS1.

*****

When their journey finally ended, it was mid-morning, and the Urartan township almost burst at the seams with noisy villagers engaged in daily chores. Ervand paused at the start of the cobblestone street, shifted his weapon from one hand to the other, then ordered Nava to halt.

The Assyrian hauled the travois containing a suffering, yet still alert, Argishti to a spot directly beside his captor. Exhausted, Nava leaned forward and mopped his sweaty brow. Both princes and barbarian surveyed the bustling scene around them.

At the open market, women held on to their babies and toddlers while examining fresh fruits and vegetables for evening meals. At another section, a large farmer argued loudly with an even larger man about a misdirected order of fertilizer. Nearby, a wagonload of the foul-smelling material drew swarms of flies.

Ervand watched as the merchant filled several large containers with fertilizer and presented them to the irate customer. The man was still not pleased, but he seemed to accept the replacement, loading all onto a nearby wagon and stalking off to another section of the market. As soon as the farmer departed, Ervand walked deliberately to the fertilizer dealer.

“Good morning, citizen. I seek King Menua and Queen Tirza. Can you tell me where they reside?” he asked the man politely.

“Shah … do I look like someone who would know the comings and goings of royalty?” the merchant said over his shoulder as he stacked several cloth bags of fertilizer into another wagon. He brushed his long-fingered hands together to rid himself of any leftover material, then turned around. The undisguised impatience on his face was immediately replaced by shock as he viewed the filthy youth and the wounded, bound barbarian at his side. Gazing down into the travois, he recoiled at the sight of the bruised and bloodied Argishti. “Who are you, stranger,” he asked, loudly, suspicion rife in his tone and manner. Others on the street stopped what they were doing and curiously looked and listened as the conversation continued. “Why have you brought these barbarians to our village,” he continued, “and what business could you possibly have with our rulers?”

“I am Ervand, Prince of Urarty, second son of King Menua. I captured the Assyrian two days ago and rescued my brother, Prince Argishti, from their warrior band.”

The large man moved closer and, glancing around, Ervand could see some patrons leaving the markets and starting toward them.

“Our princes are no longer with us,” the merchant said, sidling nearer. “It was reported days ago that they were killed by Assyrian warriors in the town of Tushpah. The king and queen have retired to their house to mourn, and you will not disturb them! How dare you come here with these lies … and how dare you bring these enemies of Urarty into our village!”

Ervand took a step back as the angry trader’s stance turned threatening. “What I speak is the truth!” he proclaimed loudly, so that the crowd now gathering around them could hear. “Tushpah has been overrun by these barbarians … the palace and holy places plundered and destroyed. My brother’s intended is dead and, as you can see, we barely escaped with our lives. But, I assure you, Prince Argishti and Prince Ervand survived. We have come home.”

“Death to the teller of lies!” rang out from one of the surrounding villagers.

“Kill them! They disgrace our royal family with their filth and untruths!”

Ervand moved to shield his brother, raising his spear threateningly. “I do not lie! Argishti lies here …” he waved his free hand over the still body. “But the breath has not left his body. He has the strength of a warrior, but even he cannot survive much longer without medical care. Is there not one of you who can look at us and see beneath the blood and bruises of battle? Can not one of you recognize your princes?”

The large merchant moved even closer, reaching out a ham-sized hand to grab Ervand’s arm. Ducking, the boy feinted to the right, shoving his weapon toward his aggressor. The man froze just as the rust-colored tip pierced the skin of his gullet.

“Stop!” A strong voice stilled the angry mob, and a hushed gasp of incredulity went up as the battered man in the travois struggled to his feet.

“Argishti!” Ervand took a step back, undecided whether he should continue to keep the crowd at bay or help his fragile sibling.

“Do not harm him, brother. He is merely paying homage to us and to our parents!”

“But they do not recognize us … they will not show us the way.”

“I know the way …” Argishti whispered, glancing toward the west end of the township. He lifted a grime-encrusted hand, pointed a trembling finger toward several nearby knolls. “There … in the basin of those hills … there is where we played as children, watched over … by our loving nurse …” He took a step, tottering in the attempt, yet brushing away hands that reached out to steady him.

The merchant sucked in a surprised breath. “What was the name of your nurse, boy?”

With the threat of attack lessened, Ervand pulled the spear slightly back. Peering up at his brother, he could see the adrenalin surge waning. Dropping his weapon on the ground, he barely managed to catch the ragdoll limp body before Argishti collapsed. With great tenderness and care, he maneuvered his brother back onto the travois. As he started to return his attention to the merchant, vise-like fingers closed around his right bicep. He felt himself jerked forward, nose-to-chest with the larger man.

“I asked a question! What was the name of your nurse?”

Ervand suppressed the urge to spit into the ugly face. “What is it to you who my nurse was?”

“I’ll give you one more chance to answer. If you do not, then we will kill the three of you and dispose of your bodies so that King Menua and Queen Tirza will never know of your deception.”

“Tell him, you fool!” Nava shouted. “Tell him before all of this is for naught.”

“But I don’t … remember … I was only …”

“You were only six.” A soft voice wafted over the crowd. “But I thought surely that you would never forget me.”

A middle-aged woman elbowed her way through the throng, emerging only two or three feet from where Ervand stood, still ensnared in the huge fertilizer trader’s grasp. Dressed in a flaring olive-green skirt and long-sleeved plum-colored blouse, she appeared to be in her late forties. Her black hair, streaked with gray, was meticulously caught up and pinned to the back of her head in a neat bun, and she viewed the situation with animated brown eyes. Her gaze finally settled on the merchant.

“Libarid,” she said, clasping her small hand over the big man’s larger one. “Let the boy go.”

Ervand watched as his captor hesitated, seemingly gauging his chances of disobedience before thinking better of it. He felt the fingers pinching his arm suddenly loosen, and he hurriedly backed away, again taking up a protective stance near his brother.

The woman then turned her haunting eyes on him, and he met her unyielding glance head on. But she was intimidating in her stare, and he suddenly felt as though she could see right through him. He squirmed, inwardly uncomfortable in the grip of her stare, and dropped his gaze. When he looked up again, he saw that her piercing look was now focused on Argishti.

Ervand saw a flicker of some unrecognizable emotion flash fleetingly across her lined but still handsome face as she examined his brother with her eyes. It disappeared before he could discern what it was. Then, just as suddenly, her stare held him physically at bay.

Reaching out her hand, she stroked his cheek tenderly. “Libarid,” she said to the merchant. “He may not recognize me, but I know the face of the child I nursed from the day of his birth. This is Prince Ervand,” she declared, all the while pulling him into an embrace.

Normally, he would have recoiled from the touch of a stranger, but something made him stand still for the embrace. She smelled of rose water … clean linens … fresh baked bread … tantalizingly familiar scents that awakened long-buried memories.

When she drew back, there were tears of joy in her eyes, and the smile on her face was no longer sad.

“… Marmar?” he asked, his voice little more than a whisper.

“Yes, my prince. It is your Marmar. Welcome home, child!”

*****

The small room was balmy, moist from the hot water of the bath and the richness of the midday sun’s rays pouring through the skylight above. Ervand languished in the weightless warmth and surveyed his surroundings. Mosaics of tiny gem-colored tiles formed ornate pictures on the walls – scenes of Urarty’s beautiful landscape overflowing with likenesses of his parents — their wedding, his father’s coronation, Argishti’s birth, and his own. In between the life-size artwork were varied prayers to Khaldis for the country’s continued safety or, should war occur, victory over their enemies.

Ervand ducked his head, submerging his entire frame in the large recessed bath. Savoring the freedom of floating in complete silence, he allowed his mind to wander over the past few seasons. It had not been an easy adaptation for either of them. His parents’ joy and surprise at their sons’ almost miraculous ‘resurrection’ had been short-lived. Once King Menua learned of the attack and destruction of Tushpah by Assyrian barbarians and the capture, torture, and subsequent maiming of his first born, his outrage and drive for justice was relentless. Urarty had enlisted allies from all territories, most of whom had also suffered losses of land and inhabitants to the uncivilized minions.

The war had been swift and costly to all sides, but, in the end, Urarty’s legions prevailed. The Assyrians were a beaten tribe, and what peoples survived had moved far to the east to resettle.

//And regroup.// Ervand thought grimly as his need for air became urgent. He lifted his head from the water, sucked in a deep breath and shook the excess droplets from his long dark locks. The sound of unexpected, yet familiar, laughter made him swipe his eyes of moisture.

“So here is where you spend your afternoons!” his brother said. “Lolling and wallowing like a water hound in the Lake of Van.”

Ervand focused on Argishti, marveling at how well his sibling had recovered from his ordeal. He would always limp, and his left arm was useless, locked and frozen into a bent position, but he was alive. That, in itself, was a miracle.

In spite of his afflictions, his brother stood tall and handsome. His breeches were walnut brown, blousened above ecru leather boots. His tunic, a dark forest green, accentuated the jade and gold flecks in his eyes. His raven hair was shoulder-length, held in place on his forehead by a slender band of silver.

Ervand slithered through the water, halting only when he reached the corner of the spa. He placed his bare arms on the edge and stared up at Argishti. “I like water. Perhaps, in my next life, I will be a water hound,” he said matter-of-factly. “So, tell me, brother, why are you dressed so formally on a regular day?” He dropped his arms, placed his feet on the sides of the bath, and pushed, sending his body floating backward.

“You mean you haven’t heard? Father wishes to see me about something important at the midday meal. You wouldn’t by any chance know what it’s about …”

Ervand allowed his lower body to sink until he was standing in the water. “I might,” he teased. “I think he and mother have finally found a woman who will have you.”

“What!” Argishti was aghast. “That’s… that’s barbaric … arranged marriages are archaic, and I won’t be pushed into anything of the kind. Of all the stupid … ridiculous …” Ervand’s laughter stopped his tirade in mid-sentence.

“My prince, how can you be so brilliant as a warrior, yet so gullible when it comes to your little brother?”

Argishti moved closer to the edge of the bath. “Perhaps because my little brother is just as brilliant at deception as he is persuasion. One day you will make a fine ambassador for Urarty.”

Ervand again approached the edge of the spa, placed his elbows over the edge and started to draw himself up. “Only if you keep the promise you made to me.” He pulled himself half out of the water, sliding his buttocks onto the tiled floor, and reached for the towel he’d placed nearby. Before he could touch it, Argishti grasped the towel and held it behind his back.

“What promise, Ervand?” he said calmly and succinctly. “I don’t recall any such promise to such a scalawag as you.”

“Argishti! The towel! I’m wet and cold. And you remember the pledge of a boat, long and sleek. An ambassador travels … as the captain of my ship, I can take care of my responsibilities to Urarty and live my dream.” He scooted his behind farther from the rim of the bath and held up his hands. “The towel, my brother! Now!”

But the crown prince merely smiled, turned on the heel of his good foot and limped out the door of the bathhouse. “Oh,” he said, putting a hand to his chin and looking back at the naked, shivering Ervand. “I forgot to mention that father wants you at the midday meal also. I assume you’ll be able to find something fit to wear … if you can ever get back to the main house.” Laughing and tossing the towel over his right shoulder, Argishti closed the door.

“Argishti!!!” Ervand looked around the small enclosure, searching for something – anything – to cover his nakedness. The clothing he’d worn before bathing had already been picked up by one of the maids, and he’d only asked for a single towel. //Damn you, brother!//

Moments later, the door opened again. Ervand looked up expectantly, “Argish …ti … ohh …no…” he said, scooting over the tiles and sliding back into the now cool water.

“Prince Ervand,” the young maid gasped. “I’m so sorry, sire. I didn’t realize you were still …”

Ervand stood in the shoulder-deep water, garnering as much dignity as he could in the situation, and managed a slight smile. “It’s all right, Reyna. No harm done.”

//Yet!// he fumed silently.

The servant stuttered something unintelligible and turned to leave.

“No! Reyna … please. I need you.”

“Sire?” The girl froze in place and stood stiffly. “How can I please you?”

Ervand felt his face flame. //Damnation!! Argishti … you are a scoundrel!//

“I just need a fresh towel or a clean garment, if you will fetch one for me please. You can just place it inside the door.”

From his viewpoint, he could see the servant visibly relax.

“I will bring both immediately, sire,” Reyna said and hurriedly slammed the door behind her.

For a moment, Ervand merely stood and seethed. Then, with a whoop of frustration, he dunked his entire body into the cool, refreshing water.

*****

Lee Crane felt the water in his tiny shower growing colder and, reluctantly, reached out and turned the stream off. Exiting, he toweled off in the small area, ran a hand over the fogged-up mirror and rechecked his facial hygiene. He’d been a bit shaky with the razor, but his reflection showed no nicks or blood. He ran a small black comb through the mass of ebony curls on his head, frowning as the perfectly groomed hair slowly and deliberately returned to its original state. Sighing, he squeezed a dab of Brylcream into his hand, palming it onto his hair. Another comb-through showed marked improvement. The hair wasn’t smooth, but he could deal with waves over curls any day.

A fresh uniform awaited him in his closet. Lee donned it quickly. Some unknown and unexplained sense of urgency drove him to hurry. He had obeyed the ship’s doctor, getting a full night of rest, but now he was feeling fine and raring to go. Something was amiss on his boat. He knew it instinctively and intuitively. Applying the comb one more time to a stubborn coil on his forehead, he patted down his hair and stepped to the door. Damn the torpedoes and Doc Jamieson! He exited his cabin at full speed and headed for the Control Room.

*****

“Mr. Morton, would you come down to the flying sub?” Sharkey’s emotionless voice echoed through the hollowness of FS1’s connecting chute up to the control room.

//Now what?// Harry thought, recognizing the CPO’s tone as too quiet, too calm for any ‘situation normal.’ Something in the bowels of the flying sub was very wrong. He watched as Morton disappeared, feet first, into the hatch. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he waited for the bad news. Several minutes later, it came in the form of the missing crewmember’s obviously dead body being hefted through the opening.

“Simpson,” Harry said to his executive officer who returned to the control room just after the crewman. “I’m very sorry to hear about that. How’d it happen?”

Morton shook his head, his eyes locked on the corpse as it was carried across the room. “We don’t know, sir, but we’re investigating.”

As the dead man disappeared through the portal door, Harry shook himself mentally awake, refocusing on their situation. “The wrecked controls?”

Morton seemed in the same state of shock, but, at his superior’s questions, he startled alert. “Well, they’re still being repaired, but there’s no telling how long that’ll take. We’ll never make our deadline now.”

Harry was somber. “I agree.”

“I don’t,” came from the spiral staircase behind both officers.

Harry managed an outward frown of displeasure but, inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief as Lee Crane continued down the steps, stopping just in front of the plotting table. His captain looked well-rested and brimming with health. His uniform was crisply pressed, his shoes spit-polished to a perfect shine. Every hair was in place, every curl relaxed and tamed. His hazel eyes revealed open curiosity, anticipation, and excitement. In spite of the commander’s outward appearance, Harry couldn’t help himself. “What are you doing on your feet?”

Crane grinned sheepishly. “I was getting a little tired of being useless, Admiral. I thought I could help. Looks like you could use a little.”

“I’m afraid it’s no use, lad. We’re more than twenty-four hours off schedule; the flying sub is laid up. There’s no way we can make that deadline.” Harry knew the moment he said it that his captain would take the bait.

“He’s right, Lee. We can’t make it,” Chip chimed in. Both men exchanged knowing glances and waited.

“I think we can,” was said without boasts or promises. Crane was calm, efficient and composed. “It’ll be close,” he added, exchanging looks with both Harry and the exec. “But there’s a chance.”

“How?” Harry asked, checking the younger man for the return of any signs of stress, dizziness, or weakness. Crane exhibited none.

“By running at flank speed the rest of the way,” he said nonchalantly.

“You can’t do that!” Morton was aghast. “The engines would never take it.”

“We’ve never run half that long at flank speed,” Harry added.

Crane looked to his commander, then at his second-in-command, waiting for more protests. There were none. “Then it looks like we’re about to set a new record, that is if I’m still in command of the ship,” he said, locking gazes with Harry.

There was no hesitation. “Yes, you are.”

Crane grabbed the mike, coiling his long fingers around it. He used his thumb to key it twice. “Engineering!”

“Engineering, aye,” was the immediate response.

“This is the captain. Come to flank speed, hold her wide open until further orders!” Not waiting for a response, he turned to Morton. “Chip, how did we get so far off course?”

“Somebody tampered with the automatic navigator.”

Harry watched in awe as the younger man took complete control of the situation. “So far, we … uh … we don’t know who,” he admitted, feeling a bit foolish.

The captain keyed the mike again. “Master at arms!”

“Security, aye.”

“I want armed guards posted at all vital areas of the ship. Maintain around the clock detail.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

A faint grin lifted Harry’s lips, and he could’ve sworn he heard the whole control room crew sigh in contented relief. “Well,” he said to the man at the helm. “Welcome back to duty.”

*****

Artificial night had always been his favorite time on Seaview. The corridor lights were dimmed every evening at 1800, Santa Barbara time. Delightful smells drifted from the galley, crewmen hurried to dinner or their duty positions while others, watch completed, hurried from dinner to their cabins. By 1900, the boat was almost silent, the perfect time for a stroll.

Lee stopped, put his hand on his holstered weapon and adjusted the belt to the right. With the fit a bit more comfortable, he continued his patrol, nearing a side corridor. A sharp right brought him nose to weapon with an ever-ready Chief Sharkey.

At the sight of his captain, the CPO visibly relaxed and reholstered his gun. “Sir,” he acknowledged.

“Good evening. Everything all right in this section?” Lee looked around, examining the darkness at the end of the bulkhead.

“So far, so good. Are you feeling any better, sir?” Sharkey asked, not taking his eyes off Crane.

Lee pretended not to notice. “I’m feeling fine,” he said and quickly changed the subject. “Just make sure that the guards stay on their toes, all right?” He forced a slight smile of encouragement.

The CPO returned it. “You can count on that,” he said with a crisp nod.

“Very well. Carry on.”

“All right, sir.”

Satisfied with the level of security in the area, Lee moved on, rounding another corner. He was halfway down the corridor when a strange sound accosted him. He closed his eyes, listening as cheers erupted, bells rang incessantly, and the tantalizing smell of Cranesbill filled his nostrils. For a moment, he was in an ancient city at some vast celebration … and a split-second later, he found himself leaning against the cool bulkhead of his boat. Frowning, he shook off the sense and smell of another time, and continued on his way.

Seconds later, the unexpected howl of the ship’s emergency claxon hit him just as he reached the stairs leading to the control room. A sudden, familiar dizziness overwhelmed him, and he felt the back of his throat burn with bile. Reaching out, he grasped one of the small steel pylons beneath the staircase to steady himself, but his knees had already melted into jelly.

He knew he was blacking out, knew he was falling.

He didn’t feel himself hit the ground.

*****

Sickbay was standing room only, that is, if one could stand on his own. Unfortunately, most crewmen reporting in weren’t completely ambulatory. Jamieson surveyed the ward and shook his head. Three unconscious men, including the captain of the ship, and seven other sailors occupied the beds and gurney in the room. In the outer area, men lined up with everything from bruised fingers and toes to possible broken arms and concussions. It was a good thing Admiral Nelson had added two more physician’s assistants to Sickbay’s mandated crew.

And speaking of Nelson, Jamie watched as the admiral made his way through the ward, patting one patient on the shoulder, just staring down at another, speaking softly to a third. He turned, acknowledging Jamieson just as he entered the room.

“Pretty strange group of casualties,” he said to the admiral’s unspoken question.

“Strange? Strange in what way?”

Jamieson made his way to the left and pointed at an unconscious crewman. “Well, Blair, the man who was standing guard at the circuitry room when it blew up … he has a bad bruise on the back of his neck.”

Nelson’s brows knit into a frown. “Back of his neck? Well, how could he get that in a fall?”

Will shook his head, confused. “He couldn’t! That’s what’s so strange. Looks to me like someone hit him.”

Nelson appeared thoughtful for a moment. Then, “How is he now?”

“Soon as he gets rid of that headache, he’ll be ready for duty.”

Nelson nodded, liking the report. “Good. Now … Kowalski …”

The doctor scratched his head, already anticipating the reply to this diagnosis. “That’s another strange case,” he said. “If he had a broken arm, I’d know how to treat him, but I can’t find anything wrong except a pure shock syndrome.”

The admiral’s frown was back, and this time it was darker. “That’s the same diagnosis you made about Captain Crane!”

“That’s right. The cases seem to be identical.” Perplexed, Will shrugged his shoulders.

“How are they now?” was barely controlled.

“They’re both coming out of it nicely. Nothing wrong with either one that a good, sound night’s sleep won’t cure.”

Nelson seemed angered, but he kept his voice lower than Jamie expected. “Look, you said that before about Captain Crane, and this is his third attack!”

Will sighed his own bewilderment. “Yes, I know. Well, as I said, a broken arm would be much simpler.”

“All right,” the admiral said. “As soon as the captain’s on his feet, have him come down to my office.” He looked around the room once more, shook his head in disgust, and headed for the door.

“Right.” Jamie finished to his departing back.

*****

The carnival atmosphere and brightly strung outdoor lanterns made the courtyard a jubilant place to be. Everywhere he went, Ervand found smiling faces, an uncommon sight since the passing and entombment of King Menua only one month ago. He shoved the distressing thought to the back of his mind and concentrated on the attendants. Strolling through the crowd of visiting royalty, local dignitaries, subjects, servants, friends and family, he greeted each in turn politely. Great-aunt Manush, from his mother’s side, snatched him, buried his face in the flesh of her large bosoms, squeezed his torso in an almost unbearable hug, and planted a wet kiss on his cheek. Embarrassed, but not wishing to hurt her feelings, he allowed the indignity, then quickly excused himself from the group of elderly female relatives whose sole reason for living seemed to be conversing about the upcoming celebrations: the coronation of his brother, Argishti, and his brother’s wedding to the lovely Palisan one day later. Sidestepping any further overt shows of affection, Ervand entered the grand ballroom, closing the heavy doors behind him.

Siphoning in the hushed calm of the room, he sighed with relief, then gazed around the ornately decorated space. Flowers were everywhere. Bright garlands laced through the high beams of the ceiling, potted plants of fragrant herbs and spices, bouquets of greenery and blooming Cranesbill decorated the coronation throne and family chairs.

A multitude of brightly lit lanterns, lush ferns and more blossoming plants filled an adjacent room. Long tables were laden with more food than anyone could possibly eat. Large kegs of wine and ale had been retrieved from the cellars, some of which, he suspected from the crowd’s animated excitement, had already been imbibed.

“Ervand?” His brother’s voice echoed softly from the small antechamber on his right.

“Argishti,” he acknowledged, entering the tiny room.

The prince, resplendent in a pristine shirt of cambric linen and dove grey breeches that blousened into fawn-colored knee boots, sat on a hand-carved wooden bench. His raven locks were pulled straight and tied into a thick queue that hung down his back. He nodded at Ervand’s approach. “Here,” he said, patting the seat. “Sit beside me.”

The younger man obeyed, sliding next to his brother. “Are you not excited?” he asked, noting Argishti’s furrowed brow and obvious melancholy.

A breathy sigh was his answer and, for the first time, Ervand noticed a round shiny object in the prince’s hand. He was twisting and turning it nervously.

“No … I’m afraid, my brother. Afraid for Urarty. Afraid for our people. But especially … afraid for you.”

“For me? Why would you fear …”

Argishti stood, his golden eyes flashing electric anger. “Do you not understand, Ervand? I am not strong enough to be your king. How can a man with a useless arm and crippled leg lead an army against invaders? And what kind of woman would want to marry a man who cannot even embrace her with both hands?” His fury extinguished, Argishti hung his head despondently. “I am not fit to wear our father’s ring. It should be yours. You are also Prince of Urarty – a whole man who can defend the country against our enemies. Urarty …her future, her safety, her might … should belong to you, my brother.” He opened his hand, exposing the ancient symbol of Urartan power – a thick circle of gold enhanced by a single emerald-cut onyx gemstone. “Take it, Ervand. Take it and wear it for our people, for our father, for me.”

The younger prince felt his face burn, his breaths quicken with mounting anger. He stood, nostrils flared, eyes darkening with disillusionment and rage. He reached out, snatched the golden ring, and held it up for Argishti to see. “If I accept this, would you have me take Palisan as well? After all, she is contracted to wed the King of Urarty! I have seen the two of you together. You love her. And she loves you,” he said, noting the grimace of uncertainty that flashed across his brother’s face. “Don’t doubt her, Argishti. She loves you – the love of a woman for a man — without pity — without embarrassment. Yes, the marriage was arranged, but I doubt if even Niari cared as much for you as Palisan. Would you condemn her … and me … to a loveless union, all because you are too afraid your professed infirmities make you less of a man, less of a leader? Can you not see what the rest of us see? What our father saw on his death bed when he passed the ring and the responsibility to you.” Ervand closed his fingers over the small piece of jewelry, drew back his arm, and threw it with all his might into the decorated sanctuary. “Chem haskeshi! Noy ghi pum te sher, Argishti! I do not wish to marry your princess, nor do I wish to take your place as leader of Urarty.”

“You don’t understand, Ervand. I am no longer able or worthy to wear the ring.”

“Five years ago we returned to our homeland. I was only a boy, tried and tested by Khaldis …”

For the first time, Argishti lifted his head and locked gazes with his younger brother. “A trial you passed, confirming your warrior status at only sixteen … which is why now, it must be you, not I, who will be king.”

Ervand’s voice went brushed velvet soft. “I also seem to remember a warrior, bent and bloodied, captured, tortured, and burning with fever, yet still strong enough, brave enough, courageous enough to spur that boy onward. Had it not been for your wisdom and your guidance, Nava would have killed us both. Our bleached bones would still be lying undiscovered in the desert.”

On impulse, Ervand exited the antechamber, searched frantically through the sanctuary until he found and reclaimed the golden symbol of Urartan power. Returning to the small room, he studied his brother closely, noting the doubt still plaguing the future king. On impulse, he fell to his knees, reached out and gently placed the ring on Argishti’s left forefinger. “My king,” he said humbly. “I vow to serve you and Urarty in any capacity you deem fit. You have my loyalty, my respect, my admiration, and my undying love, for now and for always.”

As if on cue, ceremonial horns sounded, trumpeting the beginning of a new era. Cheers arose from the crowd outside as the doors to the sanctuary were opened. Ervand turned, watching as spectators filed past the antechamber in search of seats with good views. He stood, reached out his hand and helped Argishti to his feet, then turned to enter the rapidly filling room. A hand on his shoulder stopped his forward motion, and he looked back to find his brother’s face alight with both excitement and anxiety.

“Come, my king,” Ervand smiled.

“Wait!” Argishti said in a new, commanding tone.

Still grinning, Ervand genuflected. “I await your orders, sire,” he said in a slight teasing tone.

“I have a question,” Argishti said, his face suddenly serious.

Ervand sobered, raising his brows in expectation.

“After I am crowned king, what do you suggest should be my first order of business?”

The younger man thought for a moment, then answered. “If it were me, I would free Nava. Send him back to his homeland so he can be with his family. Perhaps that small kindness will be multiplied when next we meet Assyria in battle.”

Argishti nodded in agreement. “So wise for one so young. A gift of freedom to an enemy is something that will never be forgotten.” He took a step forward, pulling his damaged leg along, then halted once again. “Any other words of advice for me, my brother?”

Ervand watched as several family members wandered by still looking for vacant seats. Spying one particularly large woman, he ducked back into the anteroom, crouched down, and peered clandestinely around the doorway. “Just one suggestion,” he said somberly, “but it is very important advice and must be heeded.”

Bemused, Argishti cocked his head, trying to see around his brother’s compact body. “And what might that be, Ervand?” he asked.

“If you like your ribs and enjoy breathing, beware of Great-aunt Manush!”

*****

The knock on the door was soft, the opening tentative, revealing an uncharacteristically hesitant Captain Crane. Harry palmed the mouthpiece of the telephone he’d had plastered to his ear for over an hour. “Come in, Lee,” he said in a low voice, gesturing for the captain to take a seat to his left.

Crane closed the door and moved stoically to his assigned place. He seemed despondent, his face pasty as bread dough, his eyes dull and guarded. Harry again held his hand up, signaling for the commander to stand by.

“All right, Doctor,” he said, continuing the phone conversation. “You consult with Professor Alikhanov on the second matter. I’ll trust your judgment on the first. Let me know as soon as you can. Appreciate it. Yes, yes, I know, I know. You can sleep tomorrow, and next time Seaview gets to Europe, I owe you a dinner at your choice of restaurant. All right … AND a bottle of Dom Perignon! 1959? Are you off your … oh, yes, of course. Consider it done. Yes. Yes. Very well … okay.” There was a pause as Harry listened attentively to the person at the other end of the line. “I understand. Oh, and Doctor? It’s critical that I get that information as soon as you know something. Thanks! Same to you. Goodbye.”

Harry pushed one of the white buttons at the bottom of the phone, then rested the receiver in its cradle. Sighing heavily, he looked into the haunted eyes of his friend. “How are you feeling, Lee?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess,” the younger man replied. “I still have no idea what happened.”

Leaning back in his seat, Harry reached for the cup of coffee that had been keeping him going for more than 28 hours. “Then let me bring you up to date,” he said, sipping the warm brew.

When he had finished relating the circuitry room sabotage, the boat’s resultant damage, and the ongoing repair work, Lee looked up, his chameleon eyes wide with concern. “I had no idea all that happened. I was checking the guard details when I suddenly blacked out. Next thing I knew I woke up in Sickbay. What do you think’s wrong with me, Admiral?”

“I don’t know, Lee. Neither does Doc. But we can’t afford to take any more chances with your health. That’s why I’m relieving you of all duties until we reach port.” Harry waited for the typical explosion, but his captain’s reaction was strangely mild.

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” he said rather offhandedly. “I’m all right now.”

Harry was emphatic. “I said I don’t want to take any more chances.” Again, he braced himself for a flurry of Crane-logic on why he was perfectly fine and fit for duty. And, once more, the captain’s response wasn’t the expected one.

Lee’s downcast eyes focused on the deck floor. “You … uh … you think I’m going to have another attack, don’t you?”

Temporarily at a loss for words, Harry finally managed to stutter a reply. “Uh … it’s a possibility. I want you to get a good rest, that’s all.”

“Well, what about the mission?” the younger man asked.

“Oh, I’m not concerned about completing it.”

At this, Crane’s detached manner suddenly slid away. “Not concerned! You tell me yourself there isn’t a prayer of reaching port before the deadline!”

Harry allowed himself an invisible smile of satisfaction. Finally, something had kindled a recognizable reaction in Lee.

The admiral kept his voice nonchalant. “I have no intention of reaching it by then. I’m taking the sarcophagus in the Flying Sub.”

“What about your orders?” Crane asked, his brows furrowed, his hands fisting and unfisting in frustration.

“I have an okay to change them. They would’ve preferred a less spectacular way, but any method’s better than none. I’ll fly out tomorrow morning.”

“I see,” Crane said, obviously not understanding at all.

“So, there’s really no reason why you can’t take the next couple of days off. Get some rest.” Harry stood, offered a comforting pat on the shoulder, signifying that the discussion was at an end. Crane also stood and headed for the door.

“Maanak parov, Lee,” he said so quietly he wasn’t sure his friend had heard.

“Bedkee yertam hima, Admiral,” Crane replied automatically as he reached for the knob. Seemingly unaware that he had both understood and replied in an unknown language, he turned, managed a grim smile, and left the cabin.

Harry watched worriedly as the slender man exited the room. A few moments later, he cracked his door, peeking through to ensure that Lee went back to his own compartment. As soon as Harry saw him enter and close the door behind him, he returned to his desk and picked up the phone receiver. He released the ‘speaker-off’ button, re-establishing contact. “Paul? Are you still there?” he spoke into the mouthpiece. “Good. So you heard everything? What do you think?” He listened as the British professor confirmed his suspicions. “I agree with everything you’ve said. You’ve known him nearly as long as I have – something is definitely ‘off’ there – and I’m certain it’s connected to our 3,000-year-old friend. When you hear from Professor Alikhanov, call me via radio-telephone. If you can’t reach me that way, contact Angie. I’ll check in with her periodically after I’m aloft.”

The voice from England continued for another minute or two, then Harry nodded to himself and grinned. “It’s a date, Paul. But, old friend, tell me you were just kidding about the Dom Perignon 1959?” The laugh from thousands of miles away echoed in his ear, and he smiled wider. “All right, you old pirate! You’ve got it. Take care now. I’ll be waiting for both yours and the professor’s info. Thanks again.”

Still smiling, Harry hung up the phone and checked his watch. Five minutes had passed since Lee left for his own cabin. Sobering, Harry again opened his door and checked the corridor. When he found it empty of personnel, he hurried to the control room.

*****

Even before he descended the spiral staircase into the nose of Seaview, Harry knew something was amiss. Halfway down, he noted the crash doors were sealed, a definite sign that all was not as it should be on board. He grabbed the mike, pressed the button and called Morton.

“Why are the crash doors closed?” he asked, his voice hinting of irritation.

“Engineering recommended we close them until they could check the framework for leaks, sir. Do you want them opened?” Chip replied.

Nelson pondered the situation and decided his plan would probably work better if the area remained sealed. “No. Leave them closed,” he ordered, disengaging the mike before Chip could answer. He placed it back in its holder, checked the holster and weapon he’d donned before entering the control room nose, and headed for the entrance hatch to FS1.

Moments later, hunkered down in the gloomy darkness of his revolutionary flying submarine, Harry waited. The thunderous silence enveloped him, heightening his apprehension. If Paul’s revelations were correct … if Professor Alikhanov confirmed his English friend’s suspicions … if the trap he was laying caught the saboteur …

Heaving a deep stress-relieving sigh, he forced his reeling mind to stillness and focused on the task at hand. Less than a minute later, he was rewarded with the sound of FS1’s top hatch being opened, followed by footsteps descending the entrance stairs.

Instinctively, he reached out a freckled hand, grabbed an ankle and pulled the intruder off balance. The tall man fell heavily backward but recovered quickly enough to put up a fight; however, the brawl that ensued was short-lived. Harry quickly finished him off with a stiff left to the solar plexus and a hard right to the jaw, sending him crumpling to the floor.

Palming his smarting knuckles, Harry moved toward the unconscious figure. Even in the dark, he could see the man was slender-bodied with long legs, and he was clothed in the standard khaki uniform of a Seaview officer. On closer inspection, he recognized the square-jawed profile and dark, wavy hair. As much as his conscious mind refused to believe what his eyes told him, there was no longer any doubt about the saboteur’s identity. He was Lee Crane.

*****

No matter the time of day or the number of occupants, Sickbay always smelled of Lysol disinfectant, rubbing alcohol and the concoction Doctor Jamieson laughingly referred to as ‘coffee.’ Harry doubted if more than one-third of it was actually from the Folgers jar kept beside the well-worn Mr. Coffee, but then he also had his own special potion hidden in a desk drawer in his cabin. There were times when military men – off duty, of course – deserved the warm calmness of a smooth brandy or a shot of Jack Daniels #7.

Tonight, however, relaxing with a Marlboro and a glass of fine whiskey would have to wait a while longer. Although physically fatigued from the long round-trip flight on FS1, he was more mentally exhausted from dealing with conference skeptics and political red tape. There had been heated discussions with both American and Middle-Eastern ambassadors who at first refused to hear him out. Having a Nobel Award-winning university professor like Dr. Paul Langford and the well-renowned archaeologist, Professor Nakim Alikhanov, back him up with historical facts and ancient relics finally made even the most cynical politicians reluctantly pay attention.

It had taken more than thirty-six hours to rectify the situation, correct the mistakes, and soothe all the ruffled opinionated feathers. But, in the end, unreasonable men were forced to listen to logic and truth and then act accordingly. The results were the ruination of one dead man’s reputation, the rectification of a seventy-year-old error, a compromise among disputing nations, and a fragile peace that would, hopefully, hold long enough to prepare for the next Middle-Eastern emergency.

Still clad in his black leather flight jacket, Harry snorted at the odors in the dispensary, then walked over to the gurney where a prone and apprehensive Lee Crane looked up at him.

Leaning on the raised metal bedside, Harry grinned. “One sacred sarcophagus signed for, sealed and delivered. I think the crisis is over.”

The captain’s face showed both pleasure and disappointment. “Congratulations,” he said quietly. “I’m afraid I wasn’t much help.”

“Well, it wasn’t your fault,” Harry soothed, reaching out to touch the vivid bruise his fist had raised on his friend’s cheek. “How do you feel?” he asked, swallowing the guilt that threatened.

Lee’s lush lashes dipped, ebony fans on his olive skin. “Much better, thanks. At least for the time being.” His lids lifted showing eyes the color of honey and jade. “What if I get another attack?”

“You won’t! We’ve taken care of it.” Harry was adamant.

“Must’ve exerted some sort of control over my mind …” Crane said pensively.

“Definitely.”

Again, Lee sought out and held his superior’s gaze. “How do you explain it?”

Harry was thoughtful for a moment before replying. “You know, Lee, I think that there are some things that are better left unexplained.” He fingered the bruised cheek once more. “I also think you should get some rest. We’ve reversed course, but it’s still a long way to Santa Barbara.”

“I ‘m tired of resting, Admiral. Besides, you look exhausted. When was the last time you slept?”

Harry mulled the past few days through his memory, then chuckled. “To be honest, lad, I can’t remember the last time my bunk and I were friendly.”

“Then I suggest you remedy that … before Jamie catches you.”

Harry pushed off the bed railing. “Is that an order, Captain?”

The blinding smile Lee flashed was a healing balm to Harry’s soul. “No, sir. Just a sincere recommendation.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” he said, turning to leave Sickbay. He got all the way to the entrance, paused, and then looked back. “Before I go, answer a question for me, Lee,” he said. “Have you ever heard of the ancient kingdom of Urarty?”

Crane looked puzzled, then slightly shook his head. “I don’t believe so.”

“Well, when Doc finally puts you on quarters, I have a book that I think you might be interested in reading.”

“A book? What kind of book?”

“It’s called Rare Treasures of the Middle East.”

Crane’s confusion deepened, bringing a grin to Harry’s face.

“Sounds more like something you’d want to study,” the captain said.

“I guess we should thank our lucky stars that I was interested enough to read it. To tell you the truth, it stopped a war.”

At this, Crane’s curiosity crested. “How?” he asked, struggling to sit up on the gurney.

Harry yanked a pillow from a nearby bunk, returned to the bedside, and placed it behind his friend. He then helped him ease back into a more comfortable position. “You’re going to get both of us in trouble if you don’t stay horizontal.”

Lee reclined into the pillows, but he was still bursting with curiosity. “Admiral … how?”

Pulling up a stool, Harry slid his tired body onto it and looked directly into Lee’s hazel eyes. “Because I discovered that the American archaeologist who found our ancient friend seventy years ago misidentified him.”

“What?” Crane moved to sit up again but, this time, Harry was ready for him.

Nodding, he placed his palm onto Lee’s chest and exerted a slight pressure. The younger man sighed heavily and allowed himself to be repositioned onto the pillows.

“Anyway,” Harry went on, “Before I delivered our 3,000-year-old friend, I talked to Professor Paul Langford from the University of London.”

“I know him,” Lee interrupted. “He was one of my history professors when I did some grad work in England.”

“Yes, and I owe him a very expensive bottle of Dom Perignon.”

“1959,” Lee finished, nodding in remembrance.

“Exactly. Anyway, I noticed that things started to go to hell on a handbasket after we got the sarcophagus onboard. You were periodically ill; we lost a crewman; the automatic navigator’s destination was changed; and none of us knew what in blue blazes was going on. Luckily, the first night we were back aboard, I began to read a book I’d recently bought — Rare Treasures of the Middle East.

“And this book stopped a war?” Lee interrupted, impatient to hear the rest.

“It did,” Harry continued. “I told Paul what was happening on Seaview and detailed your sudden, strange illness. He was listening when we had our conversation in my cabin.”

“When you relieved me of duty,” the captain said softly.

“I had no choice, Lee,” Harry replied apologetically. “Paul isn’t just a genius in history and antiquities; he’s also quite interested in the occult, paranormal science, and reincarnation.”

“Which is relevant how? I don’t understand, sir.”

“I didn’t either at the time. Nor did he until I told him what was happening to you – the fainting spells, speaking in a foreign language …”

“I did what?”

“You spoke to me in ancient Armenian, Lee. Paul was listening as we talked in my cabin — he even told me how to say ‘good night’ in the language. And he heard you reply in kind — ‘Have a good night.’ I’d already related some of the things you’d done and most of what you’d said the night you threw your ring on the floor. He was very concerned. Said he had to contact a professor of ancient Armenian history, Dr. Nakim Alikhanov…”

Lee’s brows drew into a mystified frown. “I don’t remember any of this, Admiral. I spoke to you in Armenian? And I threw my ring?” he asked, holding up his left hand and examining the cherished golden circle.

“You threw it across your cabin and then pretty much told me what I could do with it – in Urartan.” At his captain’s appalled look, Harry held up his hand. “Like you said, Lee, you didn’t know what you were doing or saying. And, in truth, it wasn’t you … at least not you in your present form.”

“I don’t understand … again,” the captain said in obvious frustration.

“Neither did I … nor did Paul … at the time. I told him what I could, even mentioned some of the words you said — ‘chem haskim’ — and what seemed to be a name: Argishti. That’s when Paul asked me to examine the king’s left hand and tell me what I found. I went to the storage area, opened the sarcophagus, lifted the wrappings from what was left of his fingers, and found an ancient ring of pure gold with an onyx gemstone imbedded in the top. It was then Paul proclaimed that our friend was not the king the cabinet representatives were looking for, but instead, an ancient ruler of Urarty – King Argishti. After he and Professor Alikhanov discussed the strange goings-on aboard, a sarcophagus that had to come from the Bronze Age, and some of your ancient Armenian words, we knew we were returning the wrong king.”

“The wrong … king. And I spoke in an ancient language. I don’t believe this, Admiral!”

“You don’t have to, Lee. Let’s just say that you helped fulfill a 3000-year-old promise.”

“I … I did … what?”

“Professor Alikhanov clued me in while I was on my way to the conference.” Harry repeated the story of the two ancient princes, their seclusion in the village of Tushpah, Argishti’s maiming, coronation, marriage, and Prince Ervand’s fame as a great seaman and ambassador for Urarty.

“Sounds like a nice fairy tale, Admiral, but I still don’t know what this has to do with me.”

“Do you believe in reincarnation, Lee? Never mind … never mind …” he said, reacting to the look of naked skepticism that greeted his question. “Just open your mind a little and listen. The princes were as close as two brothers could be. At just 21 and 16, both avoided death by fleeing their sanctuary city of Tushpah. Unfortunately, Argishti’s left leg and right arm were permanently damaged, and he was captured by Assyrian soldiers. Ervand was ordered by his brother to escape, to return to their parents in Urarty, and to rule as he would have ruled. But Argishti also made Ervand promise that, if he died by the hands of his captors, the boy would seek out his body and ensure it was entombed on Urartan soil.” Harry paused to let the information sink in. Then, “Don’t you get it, lad? We were delivering the King of Urarty into the hands of an old enemy. He just wanted to go home.”

“To Armenia?”

“Exactly.”

“And what did I have to do with it?”

“The name Ervand means nothing to you?”

Lee slowly shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, believe me, after you’ve read the book I have and another that Paul is sending, it will.” Harry yawned, covering his mouth with the palm of his hand. “Well, we can talk some more after both of us have had a good night’s sleep. Get some rest, lad,” he said, standing up to leave.

“Wait!” Lee started to sit up again, thought better of it, and lay back into the pillows. “Admiral, you can’t just tell me this and then leave? Who is this Ervand? What does he have to do with me? And what about the real king the cabinet was expecting?”

“Paul took care of that — he knew that the correct Middle Eastern king was in a rival country’s museum. With a little bit of political maneuvering, some bribery, some threats and some promises, we got the custodial country to present the correct king to their enemies. Making everyone happy.”

“Except Argishti …” Lee looked pensive.

“I arranged for his return to his tomb at the base of Mount Ararat myself, Lee. He’ll be receiving a royal homecoming and burial next to his queen, two of his children, and his beloved brother. He’s back home where he wanted to be. I think both brothers’ souls are now resting in peace.”

“Okay, what’s going on in here?” Doctor Jamieson said as he entered Sickbay for 2300 hour rounds. He reached for the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope and turned to the captain. “I know I gave strict orders that you were to rest here for 48 hours, then be on quarters until we reach Santa Barbara. I don’t see you getting any ‘rest’.” He looked pointedly at Harry.

Both men had the presence of mind to look guilty.

“It’s my fault, Jamie. I wanted to clue him in on the mission and how it went.”

Jamieson put the stethoscope in his ears and placed it over Lee’s heart. “Breathe deeply, Captain. Once more. All right, lean forward and let me listen to your back.”

As Crane sat up, Jamieson turned his attention on Harry. “Admiral, how long has it been since you had more than an hour or two of sleep? Another deep breath, Captain. And again.”

“Too long, Doctor. Believe me, I want to follow your orders. I’m leaving now.”

“Eight hours, Admiral Nelson. That means I don’t want to see you anywhere else on this boat, especially here in Sickbay, until 0700 hours tomorrow morning. Do I make myself clear, sir?”

Harry smiled. “You do, indeed, Jamie. And I can’t say that I disagree with you one iota. I am tired.” He headed for the exit.

“Well, just in case you find yourself walking in your sleep and wind up back in here disturbing my patient … do you see that syringe and the little glass bottle next to it in my medicine cabinet?”

“I see it,” Harry said knowingly.

“That’s the sedative you asked me to use on Lee before you flew off in the Flying Sub … the special one that works for twenty-four hours?”

“What about it?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“It’s also a great remedy for sleepwalking. Good night, Admiral. I’ll see you at breakfast in the morning.”

“Good night, Jamie. Good night, Lee.”

Crane swiped the blood pressure cuff away. “Admiral, you won’t forget … the book?”

“No, Lee, I won’t forget. When you’ve recovered a bit more, I’ll bring it to your cabin and let you read it. I think it’ll explain a lot of things that have happened in the past few days.”

“I look forward to learning more about this King Argishti and Prince Ervand,” Lee said, finally submitting to the doctor’s attempts to take his blood pressure.

“Ban gisher, Lee,” Harry said as he crossed the Sickbay threshold.

Lee’s reply was automatic. “Good night, Admiral.”

*****End*****

NOTE: Argishti and Ervand were real ancient Armenian princes who were secreted away by their parents to be educated in the large villages of Tushpah which bordered the Lake of Van and was built at the base of Mount Ararat. Khaldis was the name of the one god worshipped by the ancient Armenians, and the name for Armenia in the B.C. time period was Urartu and/or Urarty. All other happenings in the above story squeezed out of my twisted mind. My main motives for writing this were: #1 — I wanted to explain why and what the Mummy was after. #2 — I noticed through dozens of viewings that the Mummy never tried to harm Lee — only to communicate with him. And #3 — I am an Egyptology and ancient history buff, so I thought I’d try to lend a little credence to a story that (IMO) should and could’ve been much better. Hopefully, I’ve achieved at least one or two of the above.

 

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