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Rolfin's Orb
Book 6 - Ruby
Chapter 1

“Ew! There’s a camel’s tongue licking me!” Fiona pulled her hand away. She looked up at the hairy beast. Its teeth were coated with brown gunk and half-eaten plants were stuck in between them. “It’s slimy. P.U. Its breath is horrible, worse than a troll’s. We must be in Jordan.”

“We’re in Jordan? Are you sure?” Callum saw nothing but sand dunes. The blazing sun beat down on his head. “We could be in Mongolia, but it’s too hot to be Mongolia. It must be Jordan.”

“Will you guys be quiet. There is a man over there sleeping,” Elspet said, pointing. A man dressed in long dingy white robe sat in the sand. His back leaned against a large rock. He wore a kefiyah, a red and white checked headscarf. It was wrapped tightly around his head. Tiny drops of sweat trickled across his bronzed body. “I think the camels belong to him.”

Fiona turned and glanced around. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Look at all the sand. That’s all I can see, red sand and red cliffs. The jewel isn’t far though. I’m not picking up much about its location. It’s too hot out here and the sun is about to set. Let’s take the camels and find a village or town.”

“The camels are lying down. Do you think we can get them to stand up without waking the man?” Callum saw the knife sticking out of the man’s rope belt. “He’s got a weapon.”

Fiona grabbed hold of a rope that lay on the burning sand. She tugged at it, trying to pull the camel up to a standing position. It lifted its head, chewed its cud and refused to budge. The rope slid out of Fiona’s hand, burning it raw. She moved to the next camel. Its hump stuck up in the air, covered with a red, green and blue woven blanket. Clumps of matted fur poked out from underneath. She stroked its wiry brown fur. “Come on, camel,” she whispered, “get up. We need a ride.” She turned and looked to make sure the man was still sleeping.

“That man is a Bedouin. They live in tents made of black goat hair. I hope he doesn’t wake up,” Elspet said.

“I can’t get any of these camels to move. Surely we can get one of them to stand up,” Fiona said, annoyed with their stubbornness. “One of you come and do this. My hand is sore from rope burn.”

“Fiona! Talk to the camel! You always forget you can talk to animals.” Elspet reminded her.

Fiona smiled. Camels. You’re very nice looking animals. Your teeth are so, well, I don’t mean to be rude, but you could use a good toothbrush. We need a ride into the nearest town. If one of you will take us, we promise to bring you back. We’re not trying to steal you.

One of the camels fluttered her long eyelashes at Fiona. My name is Salome. I will give you a ride, providing you buy me some dates.

Dates? I didn’t know camels ate dates. I thought camels only ate grass and flowers and things.

We eat just about anything, but I’m partial to dates. Will you get me some if I help you?

It’s a deal. Can the three of us fit on your back? You’ve got a big hump. It looks like we’d slide right off.

Don’t be so foolish. I can carry the three of you with no problem. Do you promise to get me some fresh dates?

I promise. Now, how do we get up there?

The camel stood up and walked about ten feet from the others. It sat down again and allowed the three of them to climb on her back. Tell them to be careful of my blanket. I’ve grown quite attached to it. My master, Ahmed, had one of his wives make it for me last year and I think it’s pretty.

One of his wives? How many does he have?

He’s got four. Their names are Bashira, Fadwah, Kamila, and  Warda. Warda is the one who made my blanket.

That’s weird having four wives.

That’s the way it is done here in Jordan.

Salome stood up. “Whoa, camel.” Callum nearly fell off and grabbed a handful of her hair.

That’s very painful. Tell him to stop pulling my fur.

“Callum, you’re hurting Salome. Stop pulling her hair. Hold onto the blanket instead.” Fiona wrapped her arms around Elspet, who sat in the front, near Salome’s neck. Callum sat behind Fiona. “On second thought, hold onto me.” The camel took a step. The three of them wobbled to the side, nearly falling off. “Hold on tight. We’re going for a ride.”

“Where’s the camel taking us? Is she a nice camel?” Elspet petted the camel’s neck.

“She’s taking us to the nearest town. We have to buy her some dates and bring her back when we’re done with her,” Fiona said.

“Where is the nearest town?” Elspet couldn’t see anything but sand.

Where are you taking us?

I’m taking you to Madaba. That is the closest town. Why are three children wandering around in the Jordanian desert? It’s not safe and not a common thing, especially for girls.

Girls can do anything they want, at least where we come from. We’re on a quest. We’re looking for a jewel.

The camel plodded through the sand. In Madaba there are a lot of interesting things, especially the mosaics, but I’ve never heard of jewels, unless you mean desert diamonds.

“Desert diamonds?” Fiona spoke out loud.

“Diamonds? Are there diamonds around here?” Callum hoped there were.

Tell your friend, Callum, not to get too excited. While they are valuable, they aren’t real diamonds. They are only pieces of high grade quartz.  However, if you find one or two of them, put them in your pocket and take them home. They look like real diamonds, are clear and don’t crack with age. Look for them in the morning when the sun rises. They produce a soft glow, which makes them easy to spot on the sand. You can have nice jewelry made from them.

Fiona, Elspet and Callum glanced down at the sand as the camel plodded along, keeping one eye open for the diamonds. About an hour into the tiring journey, Callum complained. “It’s so hot. Can we stop for a few minutes and rest in the shade.”

“Good idea. Even though it’s dusk, that sun is blazing. Salome, please stop for a few minutes so we can rest.” Fiona felt the camel’s pace slow and stop. “Thank you.” Salome knelt and they slid off and ran to the shade of a few boulders.

“We must be in some big desert. There’s still no sign of a town.” Callum wiped his brow.

“The jewel is somewhere in this area.” She sat down with her back against the rock. Elspet sat next to her.

 Even though it was dusky, Callum walked around the boulders, looking for desert diamonds. “Hey! What’s this?” He bent over and saw something golden sticking out from under one of the boulders. “It looks like gold. It’s not a diamond though.” He grabbed it and pulled it from under the rock. “Wow! This is so cool. It’s a magic lamp, like the kind in Aladdin.” He ran to the girls, wiping it with his shirtsleeve. “Fiona! Elspet! I found a magic lamp!”

They opened their eyes and saw Callum running towards them. Elspet asked, “What is that, Callum?”

“It’s a lamp. Didn’t you ever read Aladdin and the Magic Lamp? If I rub it, do you think a genie will appear and give me three wishes?” Callum blew the sand off it.

“Callum, don’t be so stupid. There isn’t such a thing as a genie. That was a story from a book called ‘1001 Arabian Nights. It’s not real. Tell him, Salome, that there’s no such thing as a magic lamp.”

Salome understood what Elspet said. I cannot talk to your friend, Fiona, but tell her that she should have an open mind. Many magical things can happen in the desert. She just might be surprised.

“He’s not stupid, Elspet, but she’s right, Callum. There’s no such thing. Salome just told me that we should have an open mind and not make fun of Callum and that magical things happen in deserts. I don’t really believe it’s a magic lamp either, Elspet. Why don’t you put it in your pocket and when we get to town you can sell it to someone!” Fiona stood up. “I think we need to get going. It’s nearly dark now and we’ve got to get to town before it gets much later.”

They climbed on Salome’s back and within an hour they reached Madaba. “It’s dark and most of the stuff is shut. I don’t see any hotels. Where can we sleep?” Elspet was worried.

May I make a suggestion? Warda’s friend, Layla, owns a carpet shop in town. She usually leaves the back door unlocked. Why don’t you go inside and sleep on one of the carpets. Just don’t touch anything.”  The camel trotted toward the shop. Here we are.  This is Heshbon’s Carpet Shop. Climb down and go inside. I’ll sleep out here.

They slipped off her back. Fiona turned the doorknob and peeked inside. “Is anyone in there?” Nobody answered. She stepped inside. “It smells like dust.”

Elspet and Callum followed, turning to see Salome lay her head down and close her eyes. “Look at all the carpets. They’re kind of cool. I think my mum would love one of these in our living room,” Elspet said.

“I think they’re all handmade too. Maybe we can take one back with us. We’ll have to see how long our money lasts and if we have time,” Fiona said, feeling the wad of cash in her pocket. “That reminds me, in the morning, we need to find a bank.”

“I’m going to sleep on this carpet.” Callum rolled a green and gold one across the floor. “There’s room for one of you too.”

“I’m going to lie down on this one,” Elspet said. She unrolled a red, gold and black carpet. “It’s gorgeous.”

Fiona picked one out for herself. “I like these earth tones.” She sat down on it. “Let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow’s a busy day.”

“Don’t you want to look around first?” Elspet walked to the front of the shop. “This is nice.” She came through carrying a glass bottle filled with layers of different colored sand. “Someone’s made a pattern with it.”

Callum sat up and took it from her hands. “It is cool. I always thought sand was just one color. You’d better put it back though, right where you found it.”

Elspet carried it through and put it down. “Look at all this curvy writing. It’s Arabic, I suppose. It’s much fancier than our English writing.” She walked around looking at all the symbols painted on the windows. “I can’t understand what any of it says.” She saw a shelf with blue glass vases. “Hebron glass,” she said, looking at the sing under it. “These mosaics are cool too.”

“Elspet, come and lie down. We need to sleep and you’re talking too much,” Fiona called through.

Elspet flung herself down on her carpet. “I was having fun looking at all the things Layla sells.” Nobody answered so she lay down. It didn’t take long for them to fall asleep. They woke up in the morning to Salome licking their faces.

“Gross. Don’t lick me,” Callum whined.

It’s morning, Fiona. Tell your friends they must get up before Layla comes to open her shop. Roll the blankets back up and put everything back just as it was. Hurry now.

They cleaned up after themselves and went outside into the alley. “Which way to the food?” Callum was feeling hungry. No sooner had they left when Layla ran down the street and went into the shop. “That was close.”

“I hope you put everything back where you found it, Elspet. We can’t buy food without money. I’ve got to find a bank or somewhere to change our British money into Jordanian money, which I think they call dinar. By the way, last night I saw the ruby in my dream. You’re not going to be happy. It’s back out in the desert.” Fiona cringed.

“The desert? We’ve got to ride the camel all the way back? My bottom is sore,” Callum complained again.

“Mine is too.” Elspet rubbed her bottom.

“We will get something to eat first. I’ll buy each of us a hat, a backpack and some water,” Fiona said.

Don’t forget my dates. The camel nudged Fiona’s shoulder. I’ll stay here and wait for you. Don’t be long.

Heading to the main street of Madaba, they looked at all the store signs. “What do Jordanians eat for breakfast?” Callum saw a man sitting on the ground in front of the store. He had something in his mouth. “Is he sipping coffee?”

“ I don’t think so. I think it’s called a narghila,” Elspet said.

“What? How do you know that?” Callum didn’t believe her.

“I saw one in the carpet shop. It had a sign on it calling it a narghila. It’s a water pipe. I don’t know what it does, but I think he’s smoking it,” Elspet said.

“That’s weird. Who’s ever heard of smoking water? Strange,” Callum mumbled.

“There’s a bank. I’ll be back in a few,” Fiona said. When she came out she shook her head back and forth. “He tried to rip me off. He said that I could only get ten dinar for all this money. I knew he was lying. Another man came in and hit the first man across the head and told him to give me the right amount. Here’s some for each of you. Let’s find a place to eat.”

They saw a café across the street from a church. “This looks good.” Elspet turned the door handle and they went inside. “It’s a buffet.” They each paid for their own meal and helped themselves to figs, yogurt, pita, hummus, olives, and cheeses. “This is the strangest breakfast I’ve ever eaten, but I like it. It’s different.”

“I’m surprised that haven’t seen anything you want to paint. Come to think of it, you didn’t mention one thing in Tasmania or Yukon.” Callum snickered, putting an orange slice into his mouth.

“As a matter of fact,” Elspet said between bites of fig, “I want to paint Donjek glacier one day and go back to Vincenzo’s vineyard to paint the grapes. I just didn’t want to bore you both.”

“What would you paint here?” Fiona looked around at everything. “I think it’s sort of drab and boring here.”

“What? How can you say it looks drab? Look at the colors. Did you noticed how the sky looked on fire last night when the sun set? It shimmered off the red cliffs. The sun was a golden ball of fire. I’d paint Salome, the camel. She’s interesting, though I’d not paint her horrid teeth and tongue.” Elspet laughed, trying not to choke on her fruit.

“We’d better get back to the desert before it gets too hot. You stay here and finish eating. I’ll go and find us a backpack and all the essentials,” Fiona said. She jumped from her seat and headed out the door and across the street.

Elspet and Callum finished eating and stood outside. They watched the people walking past. “Everyone here sort of looks the same. They’ve all got dark hair and dark eyes,” Elspet noted.

“They look like Jimmy and Jack and Jesse and Julian,” Callum said.

“Not Jeffrey and Johnny. They look different than the others, don’t they?”

“They’re Arabic. Burill was on the Arabian Peninsula. We’re not that far from it.”

“That’s a cool church over there. There are a lot of tourists. Should we go and see while we’re waiting?”

“All right,” Callum said. They walked across to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. When they went inside they noticed the entire floor covered with mosaics. “This is great. Someone worked hard putting all those tiny pieces into place to make a map of the Holy Land.”

“It is amazing, Callum. I think it’s beautiful.” Elspet walked around looking at all the other mosaics. “I read that Madaba is called ‘The City of Mosaics’. I believe that now after seeing this.”

Callum looked out one of the windows. “There are a lot of people here.”

Elspet stood next to him. “You’re right. There’s Fiona now,” Elspet said. “She’s got the backpack. Good.”

Fiona waved for them to come across the street. They headed into the alley and found Salome. Fiona reached into her backpack. These are for you. I hope you enjoy them. I got you a lot and the man who sold them to me thought I was nuts for buying that much.

Ah, dates. I’m so hungry. Put them down on the ground and I’ll eat them. When I’m finished, we’ll head back. I’m sure my master, Ahmed, will be wondering where I wandered off to.

Fiona put the dates down on the wrapper and they watched Salome munching away. “That’s so gross,” Elspet whispered to Callum. “Look at the dates stuck on her brown teeth. Ick. 

Ten minutes later they were on Salome’s back. Fiona slipped the backpack over her shoulders and they headed back to the desert. “Cheerio, Madaba,” Callum waved.

See those boulders up ahead? That’s where my master waits. Where did you want to go?

I want to go to that desert castle over there. Fiona smiled and pointed to an abandoned building a mile or so away.

We call them qasrs, not castles, but it means the same thing. Very well. The camel stopped at the entrance to the castle. Stay in the shade and good luck.

But I promised to take you back.

I’ll be fine. I know my way home.

An hour later, Salome arrived to find Ahmed tying the camels together and about to leave. He turned in her direction and grinned. “Salome! You’re back.” He stroked his precious camel’s cheeks. “Where have you been, you naughty girl?” She fluttered her eyelashes in an attempt to charm him. “Don’t flirt with me.” He laughed. “Never mind. As long as you’re back safe, that’s all that matters.” He tied her rope to the others and walked toward the rising sun.

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