The crack of the rifle was like lightning cutting through the jungle. Ardeth knew immediately what it meant, and he whirled around, the cry escaping him. “Horus!”
The falcon was lost. He knew that, the same way he knew that it was Lock Nah who had figured it out and shot the bird. A fine grief seized him, surprising in its intensity.
He stared through the trees, unable to face the others just yet. He supposed they had laughed to hear it. This is Horus, my best and most clever friend. It sounded pitiful even in his memory, for what kind of man had a bird as his only friend?
Or maybe they had pitied him, instead. Maybe they had thought that he was to be humored and treated gently, if his life was so lonely that he turned to a falcon for companionship.
The sorriest thing of all was that in a way, they were right.
It was lonely, being leader. As a boy he had had many friends, and he had played for hours with them all, laughing often. But time had a way of changing everything, and their paths grew apart. While the other boys still ran about and shouted loudly, his life became more disciplined and rigid, as befitted the next leader of the Med-jai. More and more often he found himself alone, and by the time he took command of the Med-jai, his life was set. Eventually, of course, he would have to marry and father a son, but those were things still in the future. For now, there was nobody but himself. Men came and sought his advice, the commanders debated with him and obeyed, but at the end of the day, nobody stayed. For a little while, there had been Horus, but now the falcon was dead, and he was alone again.
Jonathan Carnahan would never understand. The man was little more than a scoundrel, a drinker and a gambler and a thief, although he redeemed himself by his occasional flashes of bravery and his intense loyalty to his family. Jonathan would have many people he surrounded himself with, many whom he called friends, oblivious to the fact that most of them would desert the man at the first sign of real trouble. Quite probably he had never felt lonely in his entire life.
Nor would Rick O’Connell understand, although there was a chance. Ardeth had not forgotten that O’Connell claimed to have gotten his tattoo in an orphanage, and he wondered at the story behind that dropped hint of past pain. Yet O’Connell was an adventurer, a man who made his own luck, who drew people to him with his outgoing personality and boyish charm. O’Connell might have been lonely a few times in his life, but had probably never admitted it to himself.
Of them all, only Evelyn might understand. She looked like she knew the pain of loneliness, of what it felt like to be surrounded by people and yet still feel alone. Here was someone who would understand how even a falcon could be a friend. From the very start, Ardeth had been drawn to her, and he admitted that he would do anything for her and her family. Learning her true history had only affirmed his private feelings, although a small part of him wondered if he only wished to protect her out of the old duty of the Med-jai, the men who had once stood watch over Pharaoh and the royal family.
Then it hit him. The Med-jai. Without Horus to bring messages, the commanders would not know where to find him. The Army of Anubis would arise and wash over the earth, destroying everything in its path.
Everything crystallized around him. He wondered how long he had been standing here, staring into the jungle. He turned around. “I must go,” he said. “I must tell the commanders where we are.”
“You can’t go.” Rick O’Connell stepped forward. “I need you to help me find my son.”
Ardeth looked at him, seeing the pain only a father could experience. O’Connell was the bravest man he knew, yet right now the American was almost begging.
And the anguish in Evelyn’s dark eyes… She silently pleaded with him to stay, to help her. She had fought bravely alongside him in her house, heedless of the danger to herself as she tried to protect both her son and the Bracelet. Nor could he forget that she had saved his life on the bus, shooting the mummy that had been about to slash his throat open.
He owed her, he realized. Young Alex O’Connell was brave and resourceful, the true child of his parents, but the boy would not be able to make an escape on his own. The O’Connells would have to save him on their own, and they were asking for his help.
On the bus he had joked with O’Connell, “Glad to see me now?”, knowing full well what the answer was. He had called Rick, “my friend,” but the words had felt strange in his mouth. But why was that so? Did it have to be that way? The O’Connells had expressed genuine concern over the wounds he had taken at the hands of the mummy, and they were staring at him now, imploring him with their eyes to stay with them, to help them.
He had a duty to the Med-jai, but these people were his friends, Ardeth thought suddenly, and felt amazingly lighter over it. He had traveled from Egypt to London to see them and warn them, and his fate was entwined with theirs now. Today he had lost Horus, but he had made an even greater discovery, about friendship and how sometimes those bonds transcended everything else.
He looked at Rick. “But first I shall help you,” he said, and started walking forward. Wordless with gratitude, they fell in behind them, and he led them to Ahm Shere.