• Winds from the West, Sands of the East


    Trembling, but gentle hands reverently lifted a small object out of the barely preserved chest that lay at the foot of a massive stone coffin and brushed the dust of centuries off the cracked and crazed leather binding of a small book before slowly opening it with a sense of awe. Dr. Marianna Stamps traced one fingertip over the ancient script contained within and knew immediately that this was no Bible or other such printed book, but a personal journal. Many aspects of the tomb she found herself in confused her. First was the fact that the body, once DNA tested, proved to be female, yet the grave goods were those of a warrior, a soldier for Saladin, one of high rank. Further, she wore the armor and weapons of a Knight. She had been dressed in chain mail and armor, carried a sword, and while the device on the shield was worn, it was clear enough to give them a clue to the identity of the woman. Seven silver stars on a deep green background surrounding a rearing golden stallion.

    She knew that device. It wasn’t a well-known family, but she was an expert on the Crusades, and knew the devices of every family that had sent Knights. This particular woman had come from a very small, but well off Barony that had once existed on the French/German border just before the Second Crusade.

    Yet this tomb was not crafted or filled by the hands of French or German Knights, who never would have left behind the small but valuable things they were finding in this small, hewn-rock chamber. This Knight should have been either burned or returned to her family to be buried in the family crypt, if she had died amongst her own. This set up was the ancient burial practices of a now extinct dynasty of Arabian Sheikhs, one of those sworn to Saladin.

    Why would a female Knight be in a tomb designed for a Sheikh?

    She intended to find out.

    Setting the fragile journal aside, she brushed her fingers across the stone coffin. Grit slowly fell away under the soft touch of fingers and almost by accident, she revealed a small insignia carved into the corner of one side. Curious, she brushed a little harder and more of the design was uncovered.

    A …Phoenix? It was a phoenix clutching a crossed sword and scroll in its talons, and written between its upraised wings were the words “Eternity” and “Grace” in Arabic.

    It wasn’t a design she was familiar with.

    A loud beeping from her coat pocket alerted her to the presence of her cell phone. Digging it out, she answered.

    “Dr. Stamps.”

    “Ms. Stamps. How are things at the tomb site? Are they stable enough for you to come here? We’ve found something on the body you might find … interesting.”The tone in her colleague’s voice was one of suppressed glee.

    Now that grabbed her attention. Her colleague, Dr. Freidrich, never referred to something as being interesting unless it was of grave importance. “I think so. What is it?”

    “ … I think you should wait and see it for yourself, Ms. Stamps. This woman knew someone amongst the royals. On both sides of the Crusades.”

    “I’ll be there in two hours. I’m bringing something with me. I found a personal journal in one of the chests. I’d like to get it scanned so I can read it. It should at least tell us who she was.”

    “I take it that your knowledge of what families participated in the second and third Crusades has you more than a bit confused about the woman’s origins.” Dr. Freidrich chuckled. “The age of the corpse puts it around that time frame, anyway. Well, what I have found may be quite the eye opener for you. She is surrounded by inconsistencies.”

    “Oh?” Dr. Stamps asked as she walked out of the chamber. It was becoming increasingly irritating to listen to him avoid answering her questions. Her colleague rarely played such guessing games. She knew he had found something extraordinary for him to be acting this way. He had a habit of withholding the most interesting bits of discovery until they were face to face.

    “I’ll show you when you get here. I think you’ll be … just as shocked as I am.” He hung up.

    Cursing the good Doctor would do no good she told herself. Pulling out a large evidence bag she painstakingly slid the old journal into it, and zipped it shut. That would protect it for the time it took to get her to the lab. Once there she could see to it that it was handled correctly; damage to such a find was a kind of sacrilege to her.

    Making a note in the evidence book, she informed a guard that she was taking an item with her for further study. He grinned at her, used to her habit of snitching things for personal perusal before they were tucked away in a climate-controlled vault.

    Looking back at the unassuming cliff face that hid the tomb she smiled. A new history was being discovered.

    She was getting into her beat up black Land Rover when a middle-aged man put his hand on the door. Distinctly Arabic, he wore the traditional dark colored clothes of the Bedouin.

    “Greetings, Westerner,” he said. “I believe we may have much to discuss.” He paused and turned to look at the tomb. A small smile flickered over his face, before it disappeared. He looked back at her and bowed slightly. “I am Ahashin-ibn-Sha’alazar. Please forgive my lack of manners in meeting you in this place, but I fear there was no time to make other arrangements.” His English was perfect, marred only slightly by an accent. “My family will be leaving this place soon, and I wished to speak of the tomb that has been found. There is a tale passed down in my family that pertains to the one buried there.” It seemed like only then did he notice the journal sitting in the archeologist’s lap. Again that strange smile slid across his face. “However, I see now that you have discovered your own methods for hearing the story. It is, perhaps, best that any tale should be told by the one who lived it.”

    Dr. Stamps was beginning to become confused. This man spoke as if the person in the tomb was of personal importance to him. “What are you talking about?” she demanded.

    “This tomb belongs to one of my ancestors.” He gazed at the setting sun, a strange, but proud, look in his glittering black eyes. He held up a hand to stave off any questions. “We knew that this place would eventually be discovered by your kind, it was inevitable. However, she was once one of your own and we find it only fitting that you Europeans learn of her. A woman, who was also a Knight of the Crusades. She believed in something so much she abandoned all she could have been as a woman to fulfill a duty she felt was hers. She was much honored amongst our ancestors for her sacrifice.”

    Giving her that weird smile again the Bedouin turned on his heel and walked away, leaving the archeologist sitting dumbfounded in her car.

    Really, now, just how strange was her day going to get?

    Shakily she closed the car door and started the engine. She wasn’t so sure she should be driving, but there were places she needed to get to. Having a case of nerves wasn’t going to help her any.

    Medina was an hour drive away after all.

    Her arrival at Freidrich’s labs was obviously expected, one of the student interns stood wating for her at the doors. He bowed politely and escorted her inside out of the heat of the afternoon sun.

    Detouring briefly, she handed the journal to the paper specialist in another lab and gave instructions to ensure a hard-copy was made available to her at the first moment possible.

    Finally she stood at the door to Freidrich's offices. He was an expert at skeletal reconstruction. He had worked miracles on other projects, and she was hoping he'd managed to pull another one.

    "I had the strangest ... encounter before I left the site," she announced as she closed the door behind her. "This Bedouin walked up and claimed he was a direct decendant of our Lady Knight. Can you believe it?"

    Laughter bubbled up from the far end of the room, and she rolled her eyes at the sight of the good Professor buried up to his eyebrows in books about the Crusades. Then again, considering he was a dwarf, that wasn't really all that much. "Actually, yes I can," he chortled up at her. "Judging from the things I found by studying her bones and what was left of fher muscles, she was at least seventy when she died. It is possible she could have had children." Standing from his seat on the floor where the books were spread all around him, he dusted off his hands and lead her over to the gurney where the body was laid out. Climbing up on his specially made platform, he began pointing out certain things in the bones that she didn't have much of a clue about beyond the basics, he explained how it told him just how old the living person had been when she had died. Then he floored her.

    "Now, I'm sure you're wondering what was so important. Well, this place here," he said, pointing to a strange mark in the corpse's skin and smiling like a wolf, "Is not a discoloration in the skin from age or injury. It's the remains of a tattoo. I've seen it once or twice before, on living people. They are, one and all, the decendants of a single man. They have the DNA to prove that much. But as for who their common ancestor was, even in the local histories his name is only mentioned rarely; there is little proof he really exsisted except for vocal traditions. His name was Shayan ad-Dīn ibn Ayyub. According to those traditions, he was Saladin's half brother, a b*****d. This woman may well have been his wife." he paused, frowning. "The problem is, why would a man such as this wed a European Christian? He would have been Kurdish Muslim, and being so close to Saladin, it's doubtful that he would be allowed to do whatever he pleased. Their story must be an incredible one."

    He grinned up at her stupified face. "See why I wanted you here pronto?"

    "I think ... I need to sit down."