Secret of the Nile: The Prelude Excerpt

Chapter 1                    

Lost Civilization Found

 

“Kill d’em dead.”

Grandpa Nathanial sat back in his chair and gazed out the window as he spoke while I listened attentively.

Musket fire echoed across the majestic Nile as we were forced to defend ourselves against a band of local robbers. We had no choice but to stand and fight them since it was too late for us to run and there was nowhere for us to hide

As our heads hit the sand beneath a deadly volley from an array of hostile muskets, I could hear the readily distinguishable accent of a Frenchman barking orders in English to his band of paid brigands. And they were indeed a crew that no English gentlemen would want to meet in a dark alley at midnight. They were at least fifty of the meanest, scruffiest down-and-outers I had ever seen in my young life. Even in the toughest areas of London, the riffraff weren’t such a well-developed species of riffraff.

“Nathanial, I’m worried about you,” my father said. “Be sure to keep your head down. That fiery red hair, against the light-colored sand of the riverbank, makes you an easy target. You’re a walking, talking bull’s-eye for that band of no-goods!”

“I will. And Father, please let me help defend the crew. One more musket could make a difference and help us win this battle.”

“Son, you know that handling a musket isn’t something to take lightly. With this weapon, you are the killer of men. You hold a man’s life in your hands. Are you willing to take that responsibility?”

“Father, it seems to me that either they kill us or we kill them in this battle. It is not about playing our Creator. Rather it is about self-preservation, is it not? It is not about philosophizing as our twelve men stare down the barrels of fifty muskets. Perhaps we can continue this philosophical debate at a later date—that is, if we even have the chance in this do-or-die battle.”

My father nodded slowly. “Fine. Here. Take Old Betsy, and use her well. She’ll be a friend for your entire lifetime and serve you as she served my grandfather and my grandfather’s grandfather before that.”

“Thank you. I will respect her and call on her to protect me only when my safety or the safety of my men is placed in great peril.”

While the battle raged on around me, I could not help but admire the fine military weapon my father had just handed me. This beautiful musket bore an exact resemblance to the one in Thomas Gainsborough’s 1748 painting, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews. The weapon had a single, smooth barrel with an oak stock. She had many dents in her metal barrel and gouges in her wooden stock as remnants of her former glory in a myriad of battles to preserve the life of a relative and the honor of our country. As I gazed at my new friend, the sound of my father’s voice brought me back to the reality of the moment.

“Nathanial Kenworthy, are you going to use that weapon or ogle it like some beautiful woman who just arrived at the king’s annual ball? Come on, son. You asked to join this fight…now join it!”

“Sorry. I just could not help myself. She is a beauty with such a long history behind her. Imagine, my great-grandfather held her close to his beating heart at the Battle of Culloden; my grandfather carried Old Betsy in the Napoleonic Wars; and my father defended our colonial possession at the Battle of Fort Erie. If she could only speak to me and tell me every exciting detail about her illustrious past.”

“She can speak to you if you load her, aim, and shoot at those brigands who want nothing more than to end our lives for the supplies of food and silver we have in our sailors’ trunks. Come on, lad. Get in the action or return my prize musket to me so I can stop the assault of those dirty thieves.”

Realizing that I had just rung out the last ounce of my father’s patience, I quickly loaded Betsy with some black powder, added the lead shot wrapped in cloth, and rammed it in fully. I primed the flashpan with a small amount of fine powder, closed the flashpan, and raised her to my shoulder. Carefully I aimed at my target. Boom! In a moment, I had ended the life of a young would-be robber as he was preparing to load his weapon. At the time, it did not sink in that I had killed a man. The battle was too intense to worry about feeling guilt or elation. Our lives were on the line.

Above the roar of the muskets, I made a tactical suggestion that would turn the battle in our favor. “Father, may I propose that we have the men hide amongst that grove of Fraxinus dimorpha about twenty meters from where we are now? This type of species is well known for its rock-hard trunks, which will help protect the men from the horrible brigands’ volley of death.”

“I don’t want to criticize your eloquent use of the King’s English; however, why do you always have to go into a long diatribe about a task that seems relatively straightforward and uncomplicated? Why not just say, ‘Get the men over there amongst those trees’? No scientific jibber-jabber, no species this or species that, is required.”

“Sorry. Nevertheless, I did not want to confuse you and have the men hide behind the Trema orientalis there on the right, since they are known as the softest tree trunks in this geographical quadrant of the Nile River. That miscalculation could cost the lives of our men; hence, accuracy is important when describing the proper location to launch our attacks and counterattacks from. Would you not agree, Father?”

“OK, OK. Fine. I now know what species of tree is the best when defending oneself against a group of dirty brigands. Sometimes I have to wonder exactly who is the father and who is the son in our family. You are such a precocious child. Still, I’m proud of you and your wily intellect.”

Needless to say, my father’s question concerning our roles in the Kenworthy family went unanswered, as there were more important issues at hand.

As the battle raged on around me, I cautiously crawled on my belly amongst a hail of musket balls to our newly proposed site. In modern warfare, it was common for the British army to form a straight line and then shoot their weapons in unison. However, this move would leave us reloading at the same moment as well. Rather than shoot at the robbers en masse, we changed our strategy to have each man shoot and then reload. As we adopted this approach, our heads popped up randomly, like characters in jack-in-the-box toys, to unleash a deadly round upon the scoundrels who wanted our English heads and our silver as their trophies.

After several minutes all the men except one had assumed their positions at our new site. Only Clive Smith-Jones was not harbored safely behind the tree trunks of ironwood. A big, slow man, he made an easy target for the robbers’ fire as he carried a one-hundred-kilogram keg of black powder on his shoulder. It came as no surprise that when the bandits emptied their muzzleloaders upon us, the big man was the first to fall from our group. As several well-placed shots found their mark and he collapsed before our eyes, his massive frame landed on the powder keg and it shattered into a thousand pieces. The saving grace of his loss was that his body hid the most expedient means of our survival. He would have wanted it that way.

My father saw that his most highly prized giant of a man had dropped and that the gunpowder was a mere twenty meters away from the line of advancing robbers. Ever the quick thinker, your great-grandfather put his plan into motion immediately.

“Nathanial, fetch me a lit torch, and men, cover me. I’ll put a speedy end to this battle before I sacrifice any more of my valued crew.”

I handed my father the torch, and he methodically made his way within throwing distance of our dead comrade. A second later, he tossed the torch. Ten robbers never knew what wiped them off the face of the earth that day. It was quick and painless.

“Here’s my gift to you and your lot!” he yelled.

The gunpowder exploded, and human body parts scattered within a fifty-meter radius. Unfortunately our cook for the journey, Isaac Hartley, took a direct hit from the disarticulated torso of a wicked robber and died instantly from this fluke accident.

 

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