Evie watched the celebration around her with an amused eye. Seeing her husband, son, and one of their best friends finally getting to relax and enjoy themselves was an amusing sight to behold. Alex had rapidly made friends with Ardeth's daughter and several other boys his age, and it relieved Evie to no end seeing Alex acting like an eight year old again. A half-smile tugged at her lips as she looked at Rick and Ardeth, who both could sometimes act like eight year olds with each other.
"Are you enjoying yourself?" The soft accented voice brought Evie out of her thoughts. Smiling up at Ardeth's mother, Evie nodded.
"Quite." She let her gaze roam back over to Alex, who was laughing and running in and out through the crowd. "Just seeing Alex enjoying himself is enough," she said quietly.
"He has seen much," Lila agreed. "But he is strong."
Evie nodded. "Just like Rick... and Ardeth."
Lila was amused. "Yes, my son is also quite stubborn, which sometimes can be mistaken for strength. He gets that from his father. And his sisters are just as stubborn as he is."
It was still a shock to hear that Ardeth did indeed have siblings, but the way Lila only said 'sisters' made Evie wonder. "Ardeth doesn't have any brothers?"
Lila shook her head a bit sadly. "About two years before Ardeth was born, I lost a boy child."
Evie's eyes were wide as she imagined the despair and heartbreak Lila must have went through. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Lila patted her hand comfortingly. "It's all right, a distant pain now. But after Ardeth, Hamid and I were never blessed with any other sons. The Old One, Ardeth's great-grandmother, told me that Allah must have had a different plan for our first son other than being the chieftain of the Med-Jai." Looking at Rick, Lila could easily imagine what her first son would have grown up to be like. "And it appears that she was right."
She frowned for a brief second when she saw young Alex sit, then wince and rub his right wrist as if it were causing him pain. Even as she returned to a light-hearted conversation with Evie, she couldn't help but worry over that little movement she had seen.
The soft voice brought Ardeth awake quickly. Even within the protected Med-Jai city, he felt that it was never wise to let his guard down. Sitting up in his bed, he pushed a few strands of hair out of his face and focused his eyes on his daughter.
"What's the matter, Aisha?" he asked gently. He hadn't ever seen her this upset, and it worried him to no end.
Aisha bit her lip for a moment, uncertain about this strange, nebulous feeling she had. "I think-" her voice faltered as the feeling grew. "I think that something is wrong with Alex," she explained in a rush.
Ardeth frowned a bit and stepped out of bed wearing only a pair of simple black leggings. Pulling on his normal pants, he took Aisha's hand as she pulled him down the hall towards the two rooms the O'Connells occupied.
They were halfway down the hall when they heard the first scream from Alex's room. Sprinting down the hall in front of her father, Aisha shoved the door aside and entered into her new best friend's room. Standing just inside the doorway, she watched in horrified silence as Alex writhed, his eyes clenched tightly shut against the pain that was spreading throughout his right arm from his wrist. The wrist was an angry red color, except for a growing black spot centered precisely where the Bracelet of Anubis had rested.
Ardeth felt more than saw O'Connell and Evelyn move in behind him, then heard their horrified gasps. "Aisha, go wake your grandmother, tell her to bring Kadira."
Aisha looked once again at Alex, torn between obeying her father and staying with her best friend. Feeling Ardeth's hand on her shoulder, she looked up to meet eyes that were almost a mirror of her own. "He must get help immediately. Only Kadira and your grandmother can help."
Ardeth knew that his first battle of the night was won as Aisha fled, running towards his mother's house. Evelyn had already moved to sit on Alex's bed, leaving the two men to talk.
"What's going on?" Rick's throat was clogging with emotion as he watched Evie try and soothe Alex.
Ardeth sighed. "I'm not sure, but I am sure that it has something to do with the Bracelet of Anubis."
"Be honest with me, is my son going to die?" Ardeth looked into the haunted eyes of his friend - his brother - and knew what he knew at Ahm Shere.
"We will not let him die, brother." The last word was spoken softly, more to himself than to anyone else.
Rick tightened a hand on Ardeth's shoulder. "I know you won't - brother," he replied just as softly.
A delicate cough behind them alerted them both to the presence of others. Lila stood with her hand on Aisha's shoulder, flanked by two other women, one holding a sharp reed and two bowls, one a bowl of the azure powder used for the markings of the Med-Jai, and the other a shimmery liquid that reflected the small light burning.
"We have a way to save young Alex," Lila said.
"How?" Evie asked, just a bit desperately. She hated the helplessness of watching her child in pain and not being able to do anything about it. How could she kiss it and make it better when the wound was otherworldly?
"By placing Med-Jai markings around that black mark to keep it from ever harming him again, so long as he lives." As Lila spoke, Evie's eyes wandered down to the aforementioned black spot.
"Oh my God, it's bigger," Evie breathed. The black mark was now distinctly a brand of a jackal-headed scorpion, about two inches long, and seemed to be getting larger with each breath she took. Her eyes locked with her husband's, and in the space of a second, they agreed to try anything to save Alex.
"Just save our son," Rick said.
Fallah immediately moved to Alex's right side, sitting in the spot Evie had just vacated for her. Kadira kept her eyes down as she sat down on Alex's left, softly praying to both Allah and to Isis, the protector of children. Lila turned to the two men.
"This will take a while, so I suggest that you both either get some rest, or find something to occupy your minds for a few hours."
Almost a week later, Alex watched nervously as Fallah gently wiped off the scabs covering his new tattoos. As the scabs were gently wiped away, his breath caught sharply at the sight of the brand in the center of the tattoos. He hated the sight of the jackal-headed scorpion and the fresh memories it brought back. Although the tattoos were quite a different story. They brought him a sense of peace and acceptance. His nose scrunched up as he tried to read the mix of hieratic and Arabic upside down, since Fallah was still holding his arm.
"They have healed well," she finally said.
"Does that mean I'll finally get to practice using a scimitar?" Alex asked, trying to keep any hint of whining from his voice.
Fallah smiled and collected her things. "Among other things, yes. Is there any pain?"
He shook his head. "My arm's just a bit sore, that's all. Nothing like the sharp pains before."
"Good. Your arm will continue to feel sore for the next few days, but if you start to feel any pain, see me immediately."
"I will. Thank you, Fallah." Fallah bowed her head and quietly left. Alex looked up from his arm as Aisha entered the room.
"What did Fallah say?"
"That they're healing well. I'll finally get to do things again."
Aisha smiled softly. She knew that he had been bored silly while he waited for the tattoos to heal. "What do you think?"
He shrugged. "Another legacy of Ahm Shere. This one's just more visible."
They both let the silence stretch on for a minute before she spoke again. "I've got a present for you."
Alex looked up. "You do?"
She nodded and held out her hand, which was holding a simple leather brace, much like the one Rick habitually wore. "I know that you can't put it on now, but you'll be able to wear it by the time you go back to school," she explained.
He accepted the gift and pulled her into a tight hug. "Thanks, Aisha."
"You're welcome, Alex." Pulling back, they smiled at each other. She reached out her hand, pulling him along. "Come on, Father said that he will let you practice today."
"Neat," he replied as they raced out of the house and outside into the warm sunshine.