John Ross ©
‘Bwana. You want guide. I good guide. Very reliable. Very cheap. Please Bwana I have three wives and six children; all eat much; need money.’
Charles Goodbody was about to shrug off the man tugging at his sleeve but when he turned to face him he saw a reasonably well presented, tall man in his early thirties, dressed in clean khaki shorts and open necked shirt. He had been looking for a guide for a week and was tired of being accosted in the streets of this dusty outpost by would be guides who were unsuitable.
Charles had spent the last month in Africa putting together an expedition that was to travel into an unexplored section of the vast Sahara Desert. This expedition had been his burning ambition ever since as a very young child he had heard the stories about a lost Roman city deep in the Sahara Desert. Its houses were said to be lined with gold and silver and its inhabitants dressed in fine linen adorned with precious stones. Raised in an aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times his dream was to find the city and restore the fortunes of his family. Graduating from university with honours in Ancient History his dream became closer to reality when he discovered a map in an old Roman scroll purporting to show the location of the city.
After a brief discussion Charles hired the guide whose name was Magnus. The expedition positions were now filled and the next morning they set out.
A week later they were well into the desert and Charles called a meeting because some of the porters were starting to complain about their pay and conditions. A promise, by Charles, of an extra bonus soon calmed everyone down.
However the next morning Charles awoke to find that during the night all except two of the porters had packed some supplies and water barrels onto three of the horses and absconded. Magnus, the guide, assured Charles that they still had enough water and food to continue.
The going became increasingly hard. The temperature soared above 120 degrees during the day and below freezing at night. On the tenth day they came to high ridges of sand that stretched out into the distance. Climbing the ridges was exhausting work and a day’s travel was down to just a few miles. On the fifteenth day one of the remaining horses lost its footing and rolled down a sand dune and broke its neck. Its pack consisted of four large water barrels that split and the water drained away into the hot sand.
Magnus was adamant that they must continue as they would run out of water if they tried to go back. Their only hope was to find the lost city. They struggled on with water severely rationed.
At dusk on the twentieth day, and with their water now completely gone, they crawled over a rocky crest that protruded from the endless sand and there before them was a large green valley dotted with clumps of palms and scattered settlements. In the distance a walled city glistened in the sunlight. Cattle grazed on the lush grass and large tracts of land supported many types of crops.
At the foot of the slope a group of men and women were waiting for them. As they neared some of them called out a greeting in Latin and a woman with a baby on her hip ran up to Magnus and hugged him. A tall elderly white man walked forward and said, ‘Welcome Charles.’
Charles was dumbfounded. How did they know who he was and that he was coming?
The elderly man, whose name was Ignatius, insisted that Charles partake of water, food and a long bath before he would explain everything to him. Charles was escorted to one of the many low wooden houses in one of the settlements. It was richly adorned and contained beautifully carved furniture that was inlaid with silver. He bathed in a deep tub made from marble and was fed a sumptuous meal served on gold platters that were brought to the table by young women clothed in the finest silk. Refreshed and with his curiosity at bursting point Charles was eventually shown into another house which was even more ornately decorated and where Ignatius and Magnus were sitting side by side. Ignatius spoke for many minutes. Charles felt a wave of weariness creep over him and he slipped into a deep sleep.
He awoke with a start. He was lying in his bed, in the room, in the seedy hotel, in the town where he had set out from. It was all just a dream; but it had been so clear, so real.
As yet unseen, beside him, was a small silver box filled with large green emeralds. The lid was inscribed in Latin. ‘You dreamed of fabulous riches and dared to follow that dream. Use what you have been given wisely.’