Sol went for his usual evening ride around the Sandmen's encampment, before slipping away to head away to the rocky ridges that were slightly to the south, making sure he was not followed.
The encampment was hidden in a deep valley in the harshest part of the desert. Only madmen or fools ever ventured out here, and the Sandmen had taken full advantage of their isolated position to set up their base of operations. While they lived in tents, it actually served their purposes very well as the tents were well ventilated against the scorching winds and oppressive heat.
The outside of the tents had been painted with an adhesive, and the natural sands of the area had been spread over the entire surfaces of the tents, making them near invisible by air to detect.
While there were many wild stories floating around as to how the legendary Sandmen were the ghosts of the desert, as if they had never existed at all, Sol knew the truth on how they were able to move about with so little detection.
Their vehicles had all been specially fitted out with roll cages, undetectable to look at as the framework was all inside the chassis, but brilliant none the less. The vehicles were then simply "picked up" by a large claw vice through their windows. The claw was attached to cabling that was hung from the base of the Sandmen's helicopters, and they were air lifted back to the base. Almost like a child's "crane game" vending machine that he had seen in one of the cities large department stores, quite ingenious.
Nearing the edge of the large stand of rocks that were his destination, Sol double checked all around him, making sure that he was not followed, before he dismounted and tied his horse to one of the large boulders.
Reaching under a small cluster of rocks near the boulder's base, Sol pulled out a small black case, entering in the dial combination to pop the locks on each side.
Reaching inside of the case, Sol pulled out the small notebook computer, and the tiny satellite dish that was next to it. Firing up the notebook, he plugged in the satellite dish, waited to logg into the computer using his passwords, and then started the modem's connection.
Only a few seconds later, the notebook connected to the taskforce's mainframe. Sol logging in and awaited acknowledgement.
"Greetings Sol… what developments do you have today for us?" sprang up on the chat screen.
"The operation will need to be brought forward, the situation is compromised." Sol answered back.
"Explanation…" came the reply.
"The woman is declining, the situation is far too risky to continue. Organise an out for the woman ASAP" Sol wrote, crossing his fingers that the operatives on the other of side of this conversation would agree.
"Will need time to get the troops ready. Hold tight for one more week and we can follow through as planned"
Sol stood up, and in irritation kicked a small rock as hard as he could, grinding his teeth as he tried to keep calm. Turning back and kneeling beside the open case again, he typed,
"The woman will not last another week, her condition is too critical. Send a medivac immediately for the woman or I will evac her myself!"
Sol waited several minutes before he got a reply.
"The mission will go ahead as planned. The woman is not a priority. You will not risk years of work over one woman...Do you understand?"
Sol just stared at the screen, not believing the words that he was reading. He had known that the Taskforce's main priority had always been the mission, they made no apology for it either, but he would not let them treat Sarah with the same cold regard.
"Fine, but I need a message sent urgently to the Royal Palace."
Sol grinned as he wrote the reply, "I think the Sheikh would like to say goodbye to his wife. You may not think she is a priority, but I am sure that he feels completely differently. Oh, and you know what that means do you not? That there is a Royal Princess laying back in Rasheed's tent slowly dying. Did I also mention that Sheikh Ali would like to know that his wife is carrying the sole Heir to the throne of Barrauk in her womb?"
Sol waited, he could imagine the uproar he had just caused at the Taskforce's head quarters.
"So, either we bring this to an end early, and send in a medivac for her Highness, or, I contact the Palace myself. I am sure Ali is not short of willing men to rescue his wife and unborn child."
Mentally giving them to the count of 5 to crumble before he logged off, Sol didn't even get to three before the desperate reply came.
"WAIT! Give us 24 hours! Keep the tracers on yourself and the woman, and prepare for a midnight evac. Have her prepped and ready to be received to the medivac. Keep Rasheed in your sights, if he should leave the encampment, hit the beacon."
"Will do" Sol replied, then as an afterthought, typed "Oh, and thanks for finally seeing reason…"
Logging off, Sol hid the case back under the rocks, then mounted and headed back to the settlement.
As Sharif walked into the elevator of the building that housed his Taskforce's headquarters, he could not get the image of his littlest brothers face from his mind. He had seen Ali suffer terribly when their mother had been ill, then died. But nothing prepared him for the sight of his brother now. He was gaunt, with dark rings around both eyes and his pallor was unhealthy grey. Each time Ali had looked him in the eye, Sharif could see the very depth of his pain, and his own heart squeezed painfully to see such suffering. He had not been there for his brother for so many years; was not there to help him get over his grief for his mother, but he was determined that he would help his brother now.
Punching numbers for the top floor, his mind wandered back to the painful time when his other beloved brother Sol, had been cast away from them by his own father. He had fought then to keep Sol safe and at home with them, but his struggles with his father had been for nothing. Sol had been whisked away, not allowed to even say goodbye to his brothers as he was taken from their lives.
Sharif would not let Ali down as he had let Sol down he thought to himself as he his floor came up, and he stepped out of the elevator and into the offices.
No sooner had Sharif placed his briefcase down on the conference room's table, than his communications expert rushed up to him, his face sweaty, as if he had ran up several flights of steps at full speed.
"Your Highness, we have had word from our operative on the inside. He is requesting an immediate evac." The man took a deep breath then continued.
"We tried to get more time, but he says that the woman there is the wife to Sheikh Ali, and that she is carrying his child."
Sharif nodded. "This I know, having just come from my brother's Palace, it is true. They hold his wife, and she is indeed pregnant. We will need to plan this very carefully, not only do we have to capture Rasheed and his men, but we need to get her out safely. This will take time. Did you ask for one more week to ready our men?"
"Yes sire, but the operative denied us the time, he told us that the Princess is deathly ill, and will not make another week. He says if we do not move in immediately, he will evac her personally. He has agreed to a midnight drop in 24 hours."
Sharif swore violently. "What do you mean she is deathly ill? What have they done to her?"
"We do not know your Highness, the operative did not say. All we know is that he claims that both she and the baby cannot wait another week. The operative is a qualified doctor, so if he says she is this ill, then she truly is."
"Of course", Sharif paced in circles as he thought, capturing his goatee in his hand and stroking it as he paced.
"Call in all the men for an emergency strategy meeting, I will need to bring my brother in for this, he should know what to expect."
"Oh, and take this, these are the phone records that were sent to the Princess's colleagues in Australia, informing them that her plane crash landed on entry to Barrauk. The caller impersonated Ali. I need these traced at once." Sharif tossed the folder down on the table in front of his communications expert.
Sharif placed the call to his brother, asking him to be present for the meeting, and giving him the address of the building.
Sitting back in his chair, he let his mind wander. He was going to be an Uncle! The words seemed to blur on the edge of his conscious as his thoughts drifted to the one other time when he had been told the same thing, only by a different brother.
"I am sorry Sharif, we never meant for this to have happened, I know that she is meant to be yours but I cannot help what my heart knows it wants."
Sol had stood before him, holding his own betrothed to be Shael, tightly to his chest as she wept, hiding her face in shame from Sharif.
Sharif stepped forward, holding out his hand as he lifted Shael's face to look at him.
"Do you love him?" he asked gently, searching her eyes for the truth, and only seeing love for his brother as she looked back at Sol and smiled.
"Yes, I do" she said between hiccuped sobs.
"Then dry your eyes Shael, we will sort something out. Let me speak to father. I am sure he will understand.
"I do not think so brother, for there is more…you are going to be an Uncle. Shael carries my child."
Less than a week later, after his father had decreed that Sharif marry Shael immediately and claim the child as his own, Shael had fled the Palace walls. As the wedding guests filled the great hall, She had taken the keys to Sharif's Bentley, and whilst still wearing her wedding gown, had driven into a tree going in excess of 200km/h. Her death he was told later was not instant. She had hung on until medics had tried to free her from the wreckage. Her last words to the paramedic who had held her hand on her last breaths were of how sorry she was to have brought so much shame to the Royal family.
Sharif had lost a great deal that day. Not only had he lost the woman who was to be his wife, a child that he would have loved as his own, in honor of his brother, but he also lost his brother, whom was sentenced to exile and sent away that very day.
He would do anything he could to stop this happening to Ali. He had accepted that he would grow old never having known love, never having a child of his own growing inside the belly of a woman who cherished him dearly. He was determined that his little brother know the joy that had been denied him for so long. This child, was more precious than all the riches in all Barrauk, and would see that the Royal lineage did not die out in their generation. Determined more than ever before, Sharif ushered in his men who had just arrived for their emergency meeting, and prepared to tell Ali the bad news about Sarah.
=======================================================================Ali rolled Maya into the office building, her wheelchair taking up much of the little walk space there was as he navigated her along the corridors and into the elevator. Maya had insisted on attending the meeting, tears spilling down her cheeks as she begged, and Ali had been helpless to say no to the old woman.
Her broken leg lay straight out on the specially altered wheelchair to support her cast. Ali had to strain to get her out of the elevator and around the sharp corner and into the Headquarters of Shariff's Taskforce.
Maya's nurse Akila, had come along to keep an eye on Maya, and tend her should the meeting become too much for her. Maya had been an absolute mess once she had woken up from her surgery. Constantly begging Ali for forgiveness for having taken Sarah out of the Palace, and needing Ali to understand that they had only wanted to surprise Ali for his birthday the following night. His birthday… Ali had forgotten the event with everything that was going on. He refused to acknowledge it until he had his wife back in his arms.
Parking the wheelchair near the end of the table, Ali greeted Sharif with a warm hug, and then sat down next to him to await the meeting to start.
"Before we begin Ali, there is news of Sarah."
Ali's eyes bulged wide as he jumped out of his seat, kneeling down in front of Sharif "Tell me please…I beg of you!" he pleaded, desperation racking his body with visible tremors.
"Ali…" Sharif began gently, taking Ali's shoulders in his hands "The operative we have on the inside is a doctor, and he has sent an urgent plea to end our undercover operation immediately." Sharif squeezed Ali's shoulders.
"A doctor… I don't understand…..THE BABY!, she has lost the baby?" Ali's voice rising as terror took over his body.
"No no, the baby is safe for the moment Ali, calm yourself." Sharif told him in a soothing low voice.
"Sarah is very ill though, and our operative wishes to evac her immediately. We have set this meeting up to organise a rescue for her, and the arrest of Rasheed."
Ali had tears streaming down his face as he took in his brother's words. While the baby was still hanging in, Sarah's own life was in the balance.
"What can I do to help?" he asked, the need to be involved evident on his face as he looked up at his brother.
You can help me organise this lot" Sharif told him, pointing to the rows of uniformed men that had gathered in the next room.
Ali nodded, wiping his face on his handkerchief before pocketing it.
"Do not worry brother, we WILL get her home" Sharif promised him.
A quiet sobbing brought the two men out of their intense conversation.
Looking over their shoulders, they saw Maya, weeping into her tissue, and gazing at both men with a sad smile on her face.
"Maya, it has been so long" Sharif exclaimed, leaning over to embrace the old woman warmly.
"Too long Sharif, look how you have grown, your father would be so proud of the man who stands before me today" she praised him.
Sharif's chest puffed out, as it struck him that her words meant more to him that all the praises his officials could ever lavish on him. Lifting his gaze, his breath caught as his eyes met the most incredible shade of blue he had ever seen, sparkling in the light like the purest sapphire, in the eyes of the small young woman that stood beside Maya.
Shaking his head slightly to clear the dumbstruck trance that had captured him, he lowered his eyes, and noticed that not only did the woman have eyes that he could stare at forever and never tire of gazing into, but below them was a tiny little button nose, slightly upturned and covered with such a light dusting of freckles. He had such an intense urge to count each one.
Further down his eyes travelled, and were met by a set of lips that were full, pouty and shaped like a perfect little bow. Such a small delicate little mouth, the color of crushed berries, even without a single trace of lipstick to enhance them.
"Breathtaking" he whispered, not knowing he had even said it out aloud, until he noticed a blush creep up those lovely porcelain fine cheeks of the girl he was so fascinated with, and a shy smile grace her lips. Snapping himself back to the present, He leant out a hand, pushing back a lock of black glossy hair from her face, and asked her "And you are?"
"Oh, I am Akila, Miss Maya's nurse."
Sharif smiled at her, before taking her hand and placing a gentle kiss on the top of her hand.
"My pleasure to meet you Akila" he murmured, drawing another gorgeous blush to her face.
"Please, sit beside me" he told her, moving one more seat over so that she could sit between Maya's wheelchair and himself.
"It is so heartbreaking that it has taken such a thing as this to bring you all both together again, but it must be Allah's work to have brought you to each other once more" Maya said, looking from Ali to Sharif.
"Yes indeed Maya, there are many blessings to be thankful for this day" Sharif murmured, his gaze resting on Akila as her eyes met his, and she smiled once more.