Skeletons On The Zahara by King Dean

Skeletons On The Zahara by King Dean

Author:King, Dean
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 0759509670

Chapter 12

Honor Among Thieves

Captain Riley and his men had come full circle. The Sahara had taken the Commerce from them, reduced them, and sent them away, but now they were back. They could hear the waves crashing at Cape Bojador— a fact that Sidi Hamet confirmed— over the bones of the Commerce. They had regained lost ground and reached a milestone. The news boosted the morale of the sailors, especially those who had remained skeptical of Hamet's intentions. They quietly rejoiced at the proof that they were in fact heading toward the Empire of Morocco. At the same time, Hamet added an ominous fact: “You will get no more zrig,” he told Riley regretfully, shaking the collapsed goatskin.

Late in the morning of October 8, they began to see hard flat surfaces blown clean between the dunes, as if the mountains of sand were merely piles sitting on a giant tabletop. Around noon they reached a clearing to the northeast, where they gazed out on open hammada, something the sailors had never thought they would be grateful to see. They were now within a day's ride of Cape Bojador and entering a more populous region of the desert, occupied by two dozen tribes. Most, including the Oulad Bou Sbaa and their rivals the Oulad Delim, were deemed “ferocious” or “savage” by Moroccans as well as by Westerners. Brisson called the Oulad Delim “so . . . rapacious, that friends, or enemies, they are almost equally to be feared.”

As they neared the northern limits of the desert, they would have to penetrate the regions of the Reguibat tribe, near the Saguia el-Hamra wadi, and of the Tekna, who lived between the Saguia and Oued (wadi) Draa. North of the Draa, where the desert gave way to arid hills and then fertile valleys, lay Souss, the land unsubdued by the Sultan of Morocco and dominated by warlords with troops of mercenaries who roamed the countryside. They controlled the caravan traffic to Tombuctoo and the ransoming of shipwrecked Westerners whenever they could, both for profit and for the prestige it brought them. Hamet would have to elude them, as well as his own greedy father-in-law, who lived near Wednoon.

The sailors had hoped to bathe in, or at least gaze upon, the sea, preferably at Bojador, where they could find out whether the brig remained, but the dunes to the west did not diminish. When the breakthrough came, they headed nearly due east over deep but not piled sand. As they rode along the southern side of a ridge of dunes, the Bou Sbaa spotted two distant camels heading in a northeasterly direction. In urgent need of food and water, they lit out for them, with the sailors trailing behind.

As they approached the camels, they saw that they were loaded with goods in large tent-cloth sacks. Lashed to their sides were an earthenware pot and a few small skin bags, but there was no sign of any owner. The Bou Sbaa smelled a trap. Scanning the terrain for hidden enemies, they unsheathed their guns and primed them.


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