The Soldier and the Fortune-Teller
Writing a story that includes time travel might seem to be pure fantasy. Sisterhood of the Sword, coming in the summer of 2023, proves that is not the case. Most of this book takes place during World War II in the Canadian city of Halifax. However, this blog will include a chapter from another war. Halifax was established as a garrison city in 1749. Because of its long history and because of a Citadel in the center of the downtown, it makes a good backdrop for a story that happens to include time travel.
In truth, Sisterhood of the Sword is historically accurate to the point I included a bibliography in the back of some of the more unique sources used for research.
The following chapter will introduce "when" one of the first of Jamie Poole's friends--or ancestors of those she knows--happens upon one of the mysterious alabaster statues.
Be sure to get the other Jamie Poole books which pair perfectly with summer weather!
From Sisterhood of the Sword:
Private Harrison Borden stretched. Every part of his body ached. The fighting had ended. For now. He and the rest of the 78th Regiment of Foot reclined in their tented camp on a plain outside Alexandria. The 78th Regiment of Foot was a Highland Infantry Regiment of the Line raised by Francis Humberstone MacKenzie in late Eighteenth Century Scotland. Their first action, before Borden’s time, had begun in 1792 with the French Revolutionary Wars. He had joined up less than two years ago. Already the 78th had been active in the Netherlands, South Africa, and now Northern Africa.
As a result of their Scottish origin, Private Borden wore the MacKenzie tartan on his kilt, a uniform chosen because of the flexibility it provided in combat. Nearby, someone played the bagpipes. Borden had tossed off his glengarry bonnet to recline his head on his supply bag, listening while contemplating a nap. Perhaps the chap would soon stop. He was a bit too close.
This was the Alexandria Expedition, part of the Anglo-Turkish war, or more specifically part of the Napoleonic Wars, as they would be known. All Private Borden knew or cared about was their goal to secure Alexandria for a base of operation against the Ottoman Empire. The people of Alexandria, being disaffected toward Muhammad Ali of Cairo, had opened the gates to the city, making it one of the easiest conquests of the war.
As Private Borden catnapped despite the bagpipe, he had no way of knowing this victory would be short-lived. He couldn’t guess a lack of British supplies would put them at a disadvantage against their Egyptian adversaries. What he knew was the city made him curious, and for this reason he decided against the nap. He wanted to explore. He stood and shook off any sand. He felt safe wandering the city. He donned the glengarry bonnet and took off. He nodded at fellow members of the 78th who guarded the main streets. Not that there was much to guard. After all, the citizens had opened the doors to them!
The city, walled and gated, was built along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and had been founded by Alexander the Great. Once it had boasted the greatest library in the world. There had been a lighthouse here, too, if Borden recalled correctly. He knew only the basics of the city’s history.
Before he realized it, he’d wandered off the main thoroughfare and into an alley. He stood at a crossway, wondering which way would get him back to somewhere familiar. Why had he let himself get lost in his thoughts? He wandered left, then right, and left again, trying to get back on the main streets. The alleys were fascinating with a treasure trove of strange foods, wares, and people, but it wasn’t exactly safe. There could be spies, and he found himself thoroughly lost in the tangle of narrow sideways. Finally, many minutes later, he came to a clearing where all the alleyways exited into some sort of clearing where the buildings turned their backs. A few men in native dress regarded him curiously. They appeared to have been playing some sort of game on a stack of casks. He smiled and shrugged open palms to show he was unarmed. The men shrugged and resumed their game.
A woman materialized to Borden’s right before he realized there were any women in the area. She wore a loose-fitting garment and a rag wrapped about her head. It was hard to tell her age. The hair that escaped the rag was prematurely gray. She could have been anywhere from forty to eighty. She had no teeth. “My sir,” she said in halting English.
“Can you tell me…?”
“Oh, sir, you lost, sir?”
“Yes, mum. Which way is the main street?”
“I show you. I show. But first. You see this.” She took his hand and led him a few paces to her home. The entrance hid behind a stack of wicker baskets.
“Oh, no, mum,” Borden pulled his hand to free it, assuming she led him to a brothel. He had a young wife in Scotland who was pregnant with their first child.
“You see. You see.” She tugged.
Against his will, Borden followed. They entered the house. A man and a couple children sat on pallets on the floor. It was clear they were poor.
“Come, come.” The woman pulled him over to the man. Curious now, Borden followed. The man held something in his lap wrapped in rags. These he undid. Borden gasped. The man held up a statue no more than the length of a man’s foot. It was of a woman holding a sword.
“Is that…?” Borden stuttered.
The man replied with an Arabic word Borden didn’t recognize. “Mur…” he couldn’t get his mouth around the
pronunciation. “Alabaster,” he finished in English instead.
“Alabaster. Yes. Is alabaster. You like?”
He was mistaken. She had a few teeth hiding in the back of her mouth. He reached for the statue, but the man snatched it away.
“Look. No touch.”
“Yes, mum,” Borden replied, a glint of hunger lighting his eyes. The statue was beautifully carved. The woman gazed at him through dark green eyes. She seemed to smile with full lips painted rich pink. Even the sword was painted. A blue stone was set into the pommel. It was utterly magnificent.
As he regarded the statue, he realized any noise in the room had died. He glanced around. Everyone, including the children, regarded him. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
“You buy?” The woman cocked her head.
“You want to sell this?” He assumed it was a family heirloom. It looked old, but what did he know? He wasn’t an antiquities dealer.
“Yes. Yes. You buy.”
The family had to be hungry. Whatever they wanted for the statue would feed them for the year. Something like this had to be expensive. Private Borden looked down at his sporran. He thought he had carried his purse when he entered Alexandria. Either he had forgotten it back at camp or a pickpocket had lifted it neatly. He extended his hands in the international sign. “I have no money.”
The woman looked sad but not angry. So did the man.
“I’m sorry. I can try to find money. I’ll come back…” He voice dropped. He wanted the statue. Could he afford it though? He didn’t even know the price. It would look oddly out of place in his cottage. Even so, he wanted it desperately, more than anything in his life. He’d never felt such greed. Something in the woman’s eyes…
He’d find a way to get it.
“You come back. Yes?”
The woman smiled. “He help you back.”
Private Borden looked over his shoulder. Another man stood there. Had he been there the whole time? While the man dressed similarly to the other men in a loose fitting gallabiyah and a scarf about his neck, his eyes were ice blue. They blazed coldly from beneath a turban.
“My brother son,” the woman tried to explain.
“I’ll help you back,” the man replied in perfect British English.
Returning to camp no worse for wear an hour later, Private Borden discovered his purse had indeed been stolen. On this account he felt discouraged for many reasons. He had a wife at home after all. And by god, that statue had been beautiful. He almost ached for want of it. Imagine his wife’s surprise if he returned from this war with a souvenir. It could be handed down to his son and his son’s son. A wonderful heirloom. Imagine the stories they’d tell! Borden wrote about it in his diary, but he didn’t tell any of the other men. He also never returned to purchase the statue. He never found the money. But he never forgot.
Harrison and Cora Borden had a son who also joined the 78th Highlanders. By now the 78th had expanded to North America. Their son, Conrad, served at Fort George on Citadel Hill in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Decedents of the
Borden family remained in Halifax and heirlooms—uniforms, including hats and boots and sometimes swords
and guns, as well as medals and other baubles—were handed down. Harrison was remembered by his grandson, great-grandson, and even his great-great grandson who each read his diary. And they spoke often of the alabaster statue that Harrison couldn’t buy because he’d been pickpocketed. The question that chased through the family: What exactly had Grandpa Harrison seen?
This would prove an especially curious question for Hibbert Borden of the Royal Canadian Navy who would serve during World War II.