It was from this very port that General Bonaparte had secretly departed back to Paris to proclaim his victory to the world, despite the fact that his campaign had been a failure in almost every sense with the exception of one area: archaeological discovery. The scientists, philosophers and historians Bonaparte had brought were so confounded with new discoveries that they did not even know where to start. Letters were written, books were published and universities established. Despite every other unfavorable opinion that the Egyptians had of the French, they did not have a very low opinion of the money that they were making on, what they considered, old junk.
So, it was decided that in order to better protect the sovereignty of the Egyptian people from the tyranny of the other European powers, a new fortress would have to be commissioned at the mouth of the Nile to eternally stand vigilant over the port of Rashid, or as it was known Europeans, Rosetta.
General Jacques François Menou of French expeditionary army was not, at the moment, a particularly happy man. As regional governor of the newly liberated Egypt, he had many important people and events to attend to, most of which were inside in the shade where a smoky eyed servant girl could be quickly called to fetch a cool glass of water, or failing that, anything else a man of taste could desire. And now, here he was, riding out in his best carriage while his cool drinks and warm concubines went to waste back in Alexandria.
"Driver," he called out as he slid the window open, "how much further to the construction site?"
The coach had just turned onto a bustling market street in the middle of the town. Stalls full of colorful fruits, fish and spices lined the sides of the street, each covered by bright canopies of cloth that seemed to interconnect together into a patchwork quilt that hung between the sand colored buildings. People mulled through the streets mulling about their business, sellers barked their wares and urchins chased each other screaming and laughing. "Not far now Monsieur General," responded the crisply uniformed driver from atop the coach, "just down this street."
General Menou frowned at this. Rashid had many interesting sites and stately homes to visit, and was particularly disappointed that he should have to hold the hand of some Captain who has to check every detail up the chain of command. "Ah, but duty calls," he muttered to himself. "Wouldn't you prefer to be out there shopping my love?"
This was directed to a ghostly figure, draped in a black robe from the crown of her head down to the floor, with only a small slit across the face for the person to see. The woman, for it was one, seemed to shrink away from such direct questioning, her golden brown eyes looking down and away, "Only if it is my husband's wish, husband to be."
"Oh, well," General Menou began, "yes of course, I see your meaning my love."
They arrived at the coastal site of Fort Julian, which overlooked the port, a short time later. A red faced soldier held the carriage door open and snapped to attention with a salute as the Menou stepped down. The foundation of the fort looked rough, as if it were itself a huge sandstone block hewn out of the local rock. Wooden scaffolds surrounded the building on all sides, each one clustered with robed and sandaled tradesmen. The General couldn't help but notice the way the scaffolds and the palm trees gently swayed together in the sea breeze. "As you were soldier, where is the officer in command?"
"Captain Bouchard is in the quarry Monsieur General," the soldier said.
Again, General Menou frowned "What? You mean to say he is not overseeing the construction or, more importantly, here to receive me?"
The red faced soldier opened his mouth and took in a deep breath as if to say something, but, seeming having nothing to say, quickly closed his mouth again as his red face took on the appearance of a man in deep cogitation.
" Monsieur General!" someone cried out a ways away.
"Ah, that would be him now Monsieur General," said the red faces soldier.
The young man who came running up to the General's coach was not a sight to warm the heart of any stanch old commander of men at arms. He was young, barely twenty it seemed, with a handsome face and short cut brown hair. His uniform jacket was dusty and half open, and we wore no hat. General Menou could make out that this mad man was captain, though he hoped that it wasn't.
The man came to a halt just short of running into Menou, and then bent over gulping in great gasps of air. "General, I... did not expect you so... so soon."
The General raised an eyebrow and swatted some dust off of the cuff of his own blue uniform sleeve "Captain Bouchard, I may presume?"
"Indeed, Monsieur General, Captain Pierre François Bouchard, army corps of engineers, at your service," said the young Captain who seemed to recover his composure a bit. "It's all gone mad monsieur, the workers are threatening to leave and if that happens then there is no way the fortifications can be completed, let alone harvesting the stone for the ramparts or the..."
"Yes, yes indeed," interrupted the General. "But perhaps you had better slow down and tell me what the problem seems to be. The message I received indicated that there was a condition of great importance, but what it is I could not discover." He paused for a moment, looking left and right, and then said, "you haven't had another mummified pharaoh running around cursing people have you? The last one was a great deal of trouble and rather expensive to deal with."
Captain Bouchard blinked his eyes for a moment "What? No nothing of the kind. We've made a discovery in the sandstone quarry."
"A discovery? Well, you should have said so earlier," said the General who suddenly looked delighted. "How much gold have you found?"
"Well, none monsieur."
"Oh," said the general, his smile dimming, "then precious artifacts? Canopic jar, sarcophagus remains, lost tombs, that sort of thing?"
Captain Bouchard told him that, no, they'd found no such things.
"Good god man! Well then, what have you found" said Menou.
Captain Bouchard, who was an engineer by trade and not used to things that couldn't be calculated with a slide ruler and ordinance map, brushed his hand across his brow to wipe the sweat away. "You'd best come see for yourself monsieur."
Angry, hot and out of familiar territory, situations that are never acceptable to a military commander, General Menou fell back on the first weapon of all great leaders. He opened his mouth to start shouting.
"Abdullah," said the black robed woman who had just emerged from the carriage. Her appearance was so sudden that Captain Bouchard actually stepped backward from the shock.
Menou turned to look at the apparition in black, and then back to the Captain. "Um, may I introduce my fiancé, Nadira al-Fatima."
Captain Bouchard bowed "A pleasure, mademoiselle."
The ghostly woman did not respond or even look at Bouchard, but simply turned to the side and looked at the ground behind General Menou's feet.
"Um, yes, she's quite charmed," said the general, "I am sure. Now take us to see this discovery or yours."
The quarry was a short distance away, surrounded by the dusty yellow sand that always threatened to consume all of Egypt. The Captain talked about the progress that they had been making, about how the new steam engines had been of great help in excavating the stones. How the discovery of a site with already cut blocks had aided them greatly. "And then, I made the decision to try blasting. That's when we found it."
"You still haven’t told me what 'it' is Captain."
"As I said Monsieur General, you'll need to see it for yourself."
The quarry was essentially a great hole in the desert. A long spiral walkway snaked around the edge of the quarry, spiraling downward toward the middle where a huge steam engine sat idly puffing out a plume of white smoke. More local workers were here, though none of them seemed to be getting any work done. In fact, the general noticed, their chief occupation seems to have been huddling into small groups, whispering, and casting quick glances over their shoulders.
"Why aren’t they working, you should have the foreman on them," said General Menou.
"I suppose I should, however, my foreman ran off screaming like a wild animal two days ago and he has not been seen since," said Captain Bouchard.
General Menou, nodded, not knowing what to say to this.
"There is a wrongness here husband to be," said the ghostly woman from behind Menou. "These men are afraid for their lives."
"Nonsense my love, I'm sure they're just stalling so that they can collect as much pay from us as possible."
Captain Bouchard led them down the spiral walkway to the bottom of the quarry. "When we tried blasting, we found this. None of the workers will touch it or go near it." Next to the huge steam engine, a section of sandstone had been cleared away to reveal what looked like a pillared archway, though it was chipped and damaged from the force of the explosion. On the ground in front of the pillared arc, sat an immense black stone, as big across as a man. What seemed like the top had a huge chip in the shape of an upside down triangle broken off from it, and a smaller chip broken from the bottom. The blackness of the stone was shocking, the afternoon sun cast no glair or reflection from it's surface, and it seemed to the General, that the air became cooler as he moved toward it. But, the most shocking thing of all about the massive stone, was the neat writing that covered every inch of it, and seemed to be separated cleanly into a top, middle and bottom section.
"Should I be impressed Captain?" asked Menou.
Being a gentleman officer, Captain Bouchard didn't believe that it was his business to tell a senior officer what he should or should not be impressed with. "Perhaps Monsieur General," he said, "but, whatever the case, since we unearthed this stone, we have quarried no new rock nor continued with the business of building the fortress."
"Hmm," said the general, "well, get rid of it then."
"Monsieur, I do not think you follow my meaning, I cannot persuade the workers to go near it at all."
"Well then get some bombardiers to fire cannons at it, they certainly did a number on the old Sphinx after all."
"No," said the general's fiancé, "this cannot be. Abdullah, I cannot be here."
"What was that you said my love?"
"This, this must be buried, quickly or destroyed," she said.
"But that would be against General Bonaparte's orders," said the young captain. "It is an artifact of some kind mademoiselle, it should be studied."
General Menou gently patted her on the shoulder, "Try not to concern yourself my love, it's only an old stone." He looked to Captain Bouchard with an embarrassed expression. "My fiancé is strictly devout and does not enjoy looking upon pagan artifacts."
Captain Bouchard said "Oh, yes of course."
"No," said the woman as she pulled away from the General and stepped toward the massive black monolith. "You don't see, but I will destroy this abomination myself." She began to mutter under the hood.
Then, as if from the ground itself, a low hum began to rise up, like that sound of a thousand locusts just over the horizon, ready to swarm in and consume all life. The workers, wide eyed and open mouthed, raised their hands over their heads and looked to the sky in horror. From nowhere, winds began to blow, at first a low breeze, but they rose in speed and ferocity, becoming a gale and then a hurricane. Sand whipped and flew everywhere spiraling around the woman and the stone, who stood at the center of the tempest.
Those workers and soldiers who were not knocked down, fled though the sand and wind. "What in heaven's name is happening?" screamed General Menou as he grabbed hold of Captain Bouchard for support.
"I do not know monsieur, your fiancé seems to be casting spells upon the monolith!"
"Well, she shouldn't be doing that!" cried the general who spit several times to get the sand out of his mouth, make her st-".
But the general didn't have time to finish, because the fierce winds had picked up the steam engine as if it were a child's toy, still piping out a stream of white smoke.
"Look out!" cried the Captain as he bodily threw himself onto Menou pushing them both to the ground just as the whirling mechanism flew over them and collided with the side of the quarry.
Then, the captain and general saw the woman raise her hand, palm forward toward the stone. For a moment, it looked to Captain Bouchard as if there were a mark on the her palm that was not unlike some kind of eye, but before he could tell, twin tongues of light snaked around the woman's arm to join together at the palm of her hand. Static arcs of blue lighting dances across the swirling sand and onto the stone.
She whispered something, and then there was silence. The sand, the gale, everything had stopped as if waiting for instructions as to what to do next. The general's fiancé took several steps back from the stone, as if shocked or surprised. One by one, the letters and glyphs on the monolith filled with a golden light, as if they were reading themselves.
"What..." General Menou began to ask.
And then a pure white lance of light, like the late afternoon sun's rays thought a narrow window into a dusty room, shot from the monolith at the woman. She had not time to scream or even breath, but was simply lifted into the air where she hung in a globe of light tethered to the stone.
General Menou struggled to get up but Captain Bouchard, who was a much younger and stronger man, held him down. "No, you cannot know what would happen if you interfere with this magic."
"It could kill her if I do nothing!"
"It could kill her of you do, or if it has gone sour, then she is dead already monsieur," shouted the captain.
They both looked at the woman, still suspended in the air, and then to the stone, which was now glowing with a light of its own. From the stone, a column of the pure white light shot upward into the sky and it was so bright they had to look away.
And then there was no light.
The sand, still motionless in the air, simply fell to the ground with a collective thud. The afternoon sky was blue and clear again. The stone no longer glowed, and the General's fiancé lay motionless on the ground where she had fallen.
"Nadira!" screamed the general "Get off me man, before I have you shot!"
Captain Bouchard did so, and then helped Menou get to his feet. As best he could in his expensive boots, the general ran to where the woman lay, kicking up great trails of sand into the air as he went. The Captain quickly followed.
"Dear god," said Bouchard as he knelt next to the woman, "the stone, must have defended itself perhaps."
"What do you mean?" cried Menou, "what's happened to her?"
Captain Bouchard turned to look at the general, "She has been turned to salt."
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