Winds of Time – Prologue Excerpt

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I’m excited to share the prologue of “Winds of Time”


Jawad and Nasib – Egypt – 1854

In the early morning light, a rare gust of air puffed and mingled with the anxious sighs of two men. Nasib and Jawad folded their arms across their chests and stared out across the desert. Scribes to Abbas Pasha of Egypt, they stood in a commanding position on the balcony overlooking their Pasha’s white house-stables at Dar el-Beyda. Any minute, he would return from his early morning ride into the desert.
‘He comes now my friend,’ Jawad said.
Nasib’s hand beat a tattoo on his arm in perfect time to the galloping hoof beats.
Together the men watched the trail of dust become denser as a twelve-horse entourage galloped into view.

The chestnut Wazira, ridden by the Pasha, led the group. Both scribes admired the fiery chestnut. Renowned across the country for her bravery, Wazira was the colour of the sunset and three times as hot. She plunged with annoyance at her gallop being finished and with nostrils barely extended, the mare stamped her hooves eager for more. Her rider threw back his head and laughed.
‘We will go again this evening my sweet one,’ Abbas said. He stroked her neck, watching the mare calm at the sound of his voice. She turned her head to nuzzle his stirruped foot. Abbas dismounted, but before handing Wazira to his head groom, he stroked her delicate face.
‘Nostrils as soft as orange blossom and eyes dark as ebony,’ he whispered. ‘Beautiful enough to make grown men swoon.’
The entourage smiled and nodded their agreement. Tossing the reins to his groom, Abbas gave Wazira a final stroke on the neck then watched her being led away to the stables.
Abbas turned and noticed his two scribes standing apart from the others. They were frowning; the concern on their faces was enough to tell him they wished to discuss something serious.

Both Jawad and Nasib were nervous but the situation with the stallion must be immediately addressed. Their Pasha’s word was law and what they must tell him would have him raging; with no choice they accepted his prolonged tirades. His generosity towards them knew no bounds. They considered it their obligation to repay such munificence with truthfulness and loyalty.
For hours, they remained closeted away in the cavernous office with the Pasha. No one was permitted to enter and no one possessed such a foolish desire. The anger of the Pasha echoed throughout the palace. When the door opened, his orders were loud and demanding. Find the Bedouin who bred the stallion Durbi and bring him to the palace.
When the Bedouin arrived, he was ushered into the Pasha’s office.
‘Would you recognise your stallion Durbi?’ he asked. ‘The English Queen has sold him! It is a gross insult to me, how dare she do such a thing!’
The Bedouin trembled, knowing his candle of triumph, the selling of his famous stallion would soon flicker out. What was the Pasha going to do to him?
‘Answer me, are you mute? Would you recognise your stallion?’
‘I would know him in a thousand, Pasha,’ the Bedouin replied.
Within the week, the Bedouin was dispatched with the Pasha’s most trusted mameluke, Aly Bey, to repurchase the stallion.
The Pasha remained annoyed, making life difficult for those around him for many weeks.
In the East, the darkness comes quickly. Every evening as soon as the sun sank below the horizon, the Pasha’s scribes sat with an aperitif to watch the stark, empty desert disappear from sight. There was comfort in the echoed whinnying of the horses from the stables. Only when alone did they discuss their position as Abbas Pasha’s scribes. They often wondered if the rewards were worth the worry but as the days, months and years passed, with them disappeared any chance of leaving. To know the Pasha’s secrets was to know Anubis – Egypt’s god of death hovered, waiting patiently to strike at any time.
Together they finished their drink then walked up the wide, marble staircase. They would keep watch and then in turn catch some sleep. A contingent of guards fell into place at vantage points around the palace. The corridors emptied as the occupants retired to bed. The palace fell silent, sentries stood to rigid attention, knowing their fate should the Pasha catch them slumped asleep. They were in awe of their powerful ruler. Some described him as having a strict sense of obligation while many of his people called him obstinate and cruel.
The only time Abbas Pasha genuinely smiled was when he was with his favourite Arabian horses. He loved them with a passion and this reflected in the magnificent animals he bred. From childhood, the Bedouin horses kept Abbas spellbound and by the time he reached adulthood, he was an expert on the breed. He studied pedigrees and closely observed the offspring of his horses. His scribes’ position was to note everything about the genealogies of the Arabian horse and his renowned stud for posterity. Overseen by the Pasha’s trusted Aly Bey, the details of his priceless collection of Arabian horses were well documented. The stud records were as famous as the Arabian horses themselves. Hand written and illuminated in gold leaf, the pages were inscribed in black, red and blue ink. The scribes laboured long and hard on the volumes lining his office walls.
The beauty of his priceless Arabian horse collection was the envy of nobles all over the world. Emissaries arrived ready to offer Abbas a fortune for just one of his treasured horses. He was scathing to these visitors.
‘The Arabian horse will never retain its quality and characteristics unless it breathes the desert air,’ he said. Completely dismissive of his visitors, he glared at his scribes for allowing his time to be wasted.
There was talk; the people were unhappy. Both Nasib and Jawad were nervous, warning their master to take care. He looked at them with scorn. ‘Enough! I am tired of your voices. I need to ride. Have my groom saddle Ciaffar.’ His voice reverberated around the palace. The men did his bidding, bowing respectfully before retiring from the room. Abbas strode down the alabaster-floored corridor, past the massive columns and the magnificent gilt furnishings as he called to his entourage to join him.
From the stables came a procession of grey horses; Ciaffar at the lead. The sight of the white prancing stallion changed the expression on the Pasha’s face. It became suffused with love and tenderness. He seemed almost passionate, as the stallion was halted before him. He smiled, lifted his hand to stroke the horse’s neck, his glance proudly taking in the perfect proportions, the intelligent head and the gleaming white coat. The next instant, the Pasha’s eyes were upon the two men standing beside him, his voice accusing and furious.
‘Why is he not shod?’ No one breathed. ‘I will not tolerate such idiocy! Find the culprit and nail Ciaffar’s shoes to the fool’s feet. No one does this to Ciaffar.’
Jawad stared at him in horror. ‘Pasha please – not that!’ he pleaded.
Abbas waved the words aside.
‘You dare speak back to me?’ His words caused the men to cringe.
‘But Pasha, think again, perhaps another punishment?’ Nasib begged.
‘You push me too far. Do as I say.’ Abbas turned and marched into the palace.
Tormented wails changed from pleading to ear-piercing screams as the red-hot shoes were nailed to the soles of the foolish groom’s feet. The evening breeze collected his pain, spreading the horror across the desert and into the heavens. In the early hours of the morning, the merciful gods answered his cries and granted his spirit to the hereafter.
‘He has made a serious mistake,’ Nasib whispered. Jawad agreed while picking up his pace as they hurried back to the palace.
‘Pasha you must forgive me for saying that you are sealing your fate,’ Jawad insisted some hours later in the office.
There was no softening in the Pasha’s stern features. ‘He needed to be punished.’
‘The people Pasha, the people will make you pay,’ Jawad repeated.
‘I have nothing more to say on the subject,’ said Abbas. He sounded weary. ‘It is finished. I have something else on my mind.’
‘Can we help Pasha?’ Nasib was eager to forget the groom’s deafening screams echoing in his head.
‘I must rebury my treasure.’
The two men’s faces blanched, neither dared to catch the other’s eyes. Each knew the fate of those given the task of changing the location of the treasure. All were dead! The Pasha killed all witnesses. They had become complacent, thinking this was not going to be one of their duties. Many years ago, they assisted the Pasha to formulate a plan and they had been well rewarded with land and horses.
‘You can begin the task,’ Abbas instructed. ‘You know the place I have chosen. I am leaving for Benha at the end of the week, remove the treasure from its present site.’ He handed them a sheet of paper with the location clearly marked. ‘I expect it to be completed when I return!’
The two men quaked with fear.
Abbas was alone, standing on the long, raised terrace at Benha. His mind was on his horses and how his latest military victory had secured him twenty more mares. He knew the bloodlines and coveted them with every breath he drew. Another Jellabiyah! The thought quickened his pulse and he smiled with satisfaction. Already he was riding this new Jellabiyah across the desert sands. In all its beauty the setting sun dazzled and blocked his vision of the figures that snuck up from behind. He was not quick enough. The two assassins leapt upon him choking the life from his body. His only thoughts were of never again seeing the sunlight striking the obelisks with gold, and never again stroking his beloved horses.
Every major event in Jessikah’s life began with the written word. On her deathbed, her mother Samantha implored her to write the family history. And it was a postcard with a name on the back that had brought her to Australia …
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