It was just bloody typical. The sort of thing that only—and always—happened to him. Well, maybe not the bit before, with the plagues and the bugs and—oh yes, the mummies and whatnot… But this, this mundane yet ridiculous predicament—this was Jonathan all over.
It had started, as such things often did, with the best of intentions. The camels they’d recovered for the journey back to Cairo had been carrying just one sleeping mat, and one small tent. When the time came to make camp, out of the goodness of his heart, he’d offered the tent to Evy and O’Connell, in exchange for the bedroll. Alright, maybe not just goodness. There was also the gut-churning aversion to being stuck in a tiny space with a couple of spoony lovebirds, one of whom was his sister. He was a modern chap, and liked to think himself a rather liberal sort, but still, it was Evy . He didn’t need to see that. Or hear it. Or try to sleep next to it.
“Are you sure?” O’Connell asked again, as Jonathan was rolling out the mat. “We could squeeze in.”
“Oh no,” he grimaced for dramatic effect, and waved his hand dismissively. “You know me, O’Connell! I’m the rugged adventuring type, used to sleeping rough! Besides, someone’s got to keep all this treasure company, eh?” He patted one of his camel’s saddlebags. They’d discovered the prize when they stopped to figure out why Evy and O’Connell’s mount kept veering off to the right. Beni had apparently loaded it up with Seti’s gold—but only on one side. The animal was much happier—and less unsteady—once they redistributed the weight. “Anyhow, I’m not doing you any favours, old boy. She snores like a lumberjack.”
“Jonathan, I never — !” Evy sputtered, her delicate eyebrows raised in indignation.
He waved off her protests with a put-upon sigh. “Oh yes, I recall many a sleepless camping expedition for yours truly as a child…” Evy worked her jaw open and shut, her eyes wide and incredulous, but O’Connell just grinned. “Honestly I’d have preferred the camels.”
“Alright, we get it. See you in the morning, Jonathan.”
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Evy called out over her shoulder.
He winced, his hand over his bandaged shoulder. Why did she have to mention bugs? “Too soon,” he muttered to himself, as the couple disappeared into the tent. He turned back toward the campfire, ready to bed down himself. The woven reed mat was hardly the feather mattress he longed for, but it was a damn sight better than blistering his backside on the hump of a mangy camel all day.
Unfortunately, it seemed that one of said mangy beasts was of a similar mind. It had settled itself squarely on his sleeping mat, with its long knobbly legs folded beneath it. This was where it all started to go wrong.
“Oh no. No you do not ,” Jonathan scolded the camel, wagging his finger menacingly. It stared blankly at him with its dead black eyes. “Listen here, you hairy pile of fleas,” he barked. “This is my bed, and it is single occupancy , do you hear me?”
The camel belched.
“Oh for God’s sake!” He fanned the stench away from his face, wrinkling his nose. Now it was personal. He moved behind the camel and shoved its backside with all his might, leaning his shoulder against its malodourous rump. He was rewarded with another, more noxious emission of gas, and staggered off retching and swearing.
“All right then, no more mister nice guy!” he gasped. He picked up a riding crop, and gave ot a sharp flick across the camel’s rear end. It was possible—just possible —that he accidentally hit the animal in a sensitive area, if the resultant bellow was any indication. The camel sprang—or as near to ‘sprang’ as such an ungainly creature could achieve—and trotted off away from Jonathan’s bed...and then kept going. His smug smile faded into an expression of dismay as he watched it retreat over the moonlit dunes.
“Oh bugger me,” he breathed. He was no maths wizard, but he was quite sure that three people would not fit on one camel. Not to mention the fact that more money than he’d ever seen in his life was about to disappear into the desert. Biting his lip, he glanced back over his shoulder toward the tent. Should he ask O’Connell for help? If he and Evy were so wrapped up in each other that they hadn’t noticed all the racket so far, well… No, he decided. He was not going in there. There was nothing for it but to retrieve the miscreant ungulate himself. He broke into a run, still brandishing the crop as he tore off after the camel.
“Hey! Come back here, you!” he shouted. The camel paid him no mind. It loped along at what was rather a leisurely speed for a camel, but still fast enough to easily outpace a human. He thought back to his track and field days at school—but then he’d been running on an actual track , and not hills of shifting sand. Despite his valiant effort, the camel was pulling further and further ahead, while Jonathan’s calves and lungs were already burning from the exertion. Finally he was forced to stop, bent over with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath.
“What are you doing?”
The voice seemed to come out of nowhere, and Jonathan jumped away with a sharp yelp, landing on his backside in the sand. Towering over him, sat astride his own camel, was the Magi who’d helped them defeat Imhotep. He cut a dramatic figure; silhouetted in the moonlight, his robes fluttering in the faint breeze… Typical.
“My God, man,” Jonathan sputtered, when his heart recovered from the shock. “Don’t do that!” He’d had enough of things jumping out at him to last several lifetimes, thank you very much.
“My apologies.” He inclined his head slightly. “I did not mean to scare you.”
“Scare me—scare me? No, no,” he scoffed as he dusted himself off. “I simply, well—what are you doing here?” He stuck his hands on his hips, and craned his neck to look up at the other man.
The Magi hummed thoughtfully. “I decided it was perhaps unwise to leave the three of you to fend for yourselves alone in the desert.” He leaned forward, a hint of a smile playing across his lips. “It seems I was correct.”
“Oh no, no, we’re fine,” Jonathan replied, too quickly. “There was just a bit of an incident—well more of a misunderstanding, really—with one of the camels, and… running…” He glanced in the direction it had gone.
“I see.” Then, with a small, quizzical frown: “Why did you not take the other camel to go after it?”
Jonathan’s mouth fell open, and hung there a good few seconds before he snapped it shut. “Well, you know, there were, ah, circumstances, and, ah, the heat of the moment…” His voice trailed off as he ran out of excuses. “There may have been an element of panic,” he confessed.
The other man nodded. “Wait here. I will retrieve the beast.” Without another word, he spurred his mount forward, kicking up a spray of sand.
“Right,” Jonathan said to the space he had formerly occupied. “I’ll just… wait here, then.” He dropped back to the ground with a sigh, and sat cross legged with his chin in his hands.
It took an embarrassingly short time for his benefactor to return, with the runaway camel in tow. “I say, good show,” Jonathan exclaimed as he scrambled to his feet. “I’m sure I’d have run him down eventually you know… Stamina, pursuit predation and all that…” The Magi stared down at him impassively, and silently held out the camel’s reins. Jonathan took them, somewhat sheepishly. “Ah, what I mean is, thank you”—he paused, frowning. “You know, I just realized I never caught your name.”
“Ardeth Bay.” He smiled, small lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes.
Jonathan held out his hand. “Jonathan Carnahan.”
“I know,” he said as he gripped it.
“Of course you do,” Jonathan muttered. Sighing, he hoisted himself onto the camel’s back, and nudged it to follow Bay back toward the campsite. He glanced at the riding crop still in his hand, then let it drop to the ground before continuing. He was quite sure he could have retraced his own footprints back to the camp, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to have a burly desert ranger type along, so he wasn’t complaining. He was just happy to return to his blessedly camel-free bedroll.
He felt as though he’d barely closed his eyes when suddenly something was poking him quite urgently in the ribs. O’Connell was standing over him, prodding him with his boot.
“Is that really necessary?” Jonathan moaned, shielding his eyes from the morning sun.
“Wakey wakey, sleeping beauty,” he grinned, entirely too chipper. In the background, Evy was talking animatedly with Bay—or at him, anyway. “Did you get a good night’s rest, or did those camels keep you up after all?”
“Something like that,” Jonathan sighed.