In a few minutes more, the Albatross and its escort reached the edge of the floodplain, leaving a trail of puzzled farmers and herdsmen in their wake. They followed the river to a small collection of tan brick houses, toward which the Albatross turned. It circled once and set down outside the village, while the Kestrel loitered overhead.
As Cannon and the rest of the shore party disembarked, packs slung over their shoulders, the Albatross turned around. The pilot firewalled the throttles, and the airplane clawed its way into the sky, still heavily loaded with fuel for the flight back to Inconstant. From the village came a darkly-tanned man leading a team of camels.
“That is my man from El-Balyana,” Masaracchia said. “Shall we meet him halfway?”
Half an hour later, they were on their way. It was too early in the day for the camels to develop their customary foul temper. Cannon urged his mount over the crest of the shallow rise out of the valley, and saw the shining desert sands laid out before him.
Some distance way, perhaps a few miles, a handful of rocks stood like fingers extending through the rolling dunes. “There,” said Masaracchia.
Iseabail pushed up the brim of her hat and squinted. “Yon rocks? Dinnae look like any ancient temple I’ve seen.”
“Under the sand,” said Cannon. “Rock doesn’t move.”
“An’ nae a soul cared enough tae dust the place in a thousand years?” Iseabail snorted.
Cannon turned in his saddle. “They’re Mohammedans. All of this is long-forgotten.”
“Still, wouldnae they ha’ told someone of it?”
“They did.” Cannon faced forward and urged his camel onward. “Or someone did, anyway. He vanished without a trace.”
“An’ here we go, right at wha’ever vanished him,” Iseabail mused.
Cannon glanced over his shoulder. “You didn’t sign on thinking the life of a pirate was safe,” he pointed out.