A little story . . . Nathaniel Dithers is a new character to be used in some Sudan games - he is a Methodist Missionary, but also a man of action (he's run a Boy's school, where he taught boxing and took the lads on frontier trips in Canada). He is married to a reformed dance-hall girl named Fanny - who is 23 years younger than him.
Also introduced is the leader of a band of Bashi Bazouks - Kemal Marzuq.
It's not as if Nathaniel Dithers always wanted to die a martyr's death in the desert, but this is where a lifetime of service had brought him.
After seminary school, Nathaniel spent 12 years as a director of a Boy's school in Toronto - mostly instructing the little ruffians in the arts of self defense. While his boxing, hunting, shooting, and Latin improved, he was bored.
Seeking high adventure, he requested reassignment from the church - and was sent to St. John's, in Newfoundland. There to set up and established the Methodist church at Cochrane Street.
While in St. John's, he met Fanny Belcher, a pretty dance hall girl down on her luck. She had sprained her ankle, and couldn't dance for her wages. Nathaniel had pity on her, and wed her, even though she was more than 20 years his junior.
Still, he sought more excitement, so he applied and applied for missionary work - finally (and quite by accident, too), Nathaniel was sent to the Sudan, to Bokhala.
Nathaniel Dithers is quite fluent in French, and is experienced with boy's schools, so he was to be sent to Brevilly, in the Sedan area of France - to oversee the running of a Methodist finishing school. But some clerk got Brevilly, Sedan mixed up with Bokhala, Sudan -- and here he is. Doesn't speak a word of Arabic, or any other language used within 100 miles, but still Nathaniel is determined to succeed.
So on the spot we find our man, in the Sudan, managing a Missionary school for the native children, as well as the various sons and daughters of the Europeans in the area.
And now the school is about to be overrun by bloodthirsty savages.
"It's a good thing", though Dithers to himself, "A golly-darn good thing I brought my Winchester 1866 with me. Helped me bag three Bison last time I took the Toronto lads on a buffalo hunt out west - should be good enough to shot some of these desert savages!"
Fanny had armed herself too. Her old pepperbox was still with her, as well as a bottle of gin. "Nathaniel is a good man, a kind man - and still quite well up to vigorous husbandly duties at his age," she thought, "But damn it all if I'm going to die here in the desert!" She took a long draw off the bottle, then hid it under her skirt, lest her husband see her.
The children were all hidden inside the church, and Dithers and his wife had piled up a bunch of boxes outside. They had a platoon of Egyptian soldiers with them, led by Corporal Nafiki. Those same soldiers had abandoned their railroad outpost a few weeks before, when the tribesmen were first threatening them. They abandoned the outpost, and came to Nathaniel for guidance and protection.
Arrayed against these few defenders of the lonely mission station were the screaming fanatical devotees to the local desert madman, Ras Al Mufti. A fervent holy man, practicing his own peculiar blend of Mohamedism and ritual mumbo-jumbo, he had stirred up some of the local tribesmen into a fervor - determined to destroy the Christian missionaries, and all who had converted. Word of a Messiah, the Mahdi, had reached these men - but they only had ears for Ras Al Mufti - the mad mullah of Bokhala.
The only hope that Dithers and his stalwart, but woefully outnumbered, band of defenders had was in a strange mix of wandering brigands and bandits that sometimes came to the mission to trade. These horsemen, self-styled Bashi Bazouks, wore Turkish style clothes, rode Arabian stallions, carried British rifles, and would work for anyone if the price were right. Nathaniel Dithers felt sure he had struck a chord of respect and friendship with their leader. But would they come to aid the defenders of the Christian church? And if they did come, would they fight for Dithers, for Al Mufti, or for none but themselves?
It wouldn't do any good appealing to Governor Gordon for aid, he had his own problems in Khartoum. The Mahdi had besieged the city, and who knows how long before the long promised rescue column would reach? No, Nathaniel Dithers, and his flock, were on their own.
Natunni, the servant girl, had just brought around a pot of tea to the defenders on the makeshift wall, when the first pink of dawn began to color the distant horizon. The hot cup felt good, and reassuring. Another night - another long night they had made it through, and Al Mufti's madness hadn't caused the warriors to attack. Perhaps they would just calm down and leave?
Slowly the sky brightened, and out past the lazy, shallow stream next to the mission, Dithers could see the tribesmen had come to within a couple hundred yards of the outpost. Nafiki saw them too, and he pointed. "Look, Dithers-pasha - they come. Soon morning prayers will be finished, and they will come down on us with spear and sword!"
"Have heart, Nafiki my friend. They haven't come yet...not yet." He checked his Winchester, and the boxes of ammunition he had stashed here at his place on the wall. He looked down the line to see that the fellahin had gotten their Remingtons ready in a similar manner.
"Fanny, love- Fanny, can you come here please?"
There was a ripple of spear points out on the highland, as the tribesmen began to rise from their morning prayers.
"Fanny dear - could you please get the children to sing the Hymn of Joy - it does so cheer us all up, and I think it would get the whole Mission in a great spirit this morning. Nafiki - I've been teaching it to some of your fellows, and if you wouldn't mind they could join in. The Hymn of Joy always does well with a strong bass section."
"Why Nathaniel, yes of course. That would be an excellent idea." She shuffled off to the Vestry - making sure she felt her gin bottle was safe and handy.
Out across the way, the lone figure of Ras Al Mufti could be seen rising up on a berm, directing the faithful. They began descending out of the hilly area - first slowly, then with gathering speed. Soon, the bands of spearmen could be seen running at full speed across open ground towards the river.
The singing from the Church started out, as if in response to, and trying to dampen the crescendo of tribal charge.
Sing with all the Sons of Glory, sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking, soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking, know the everlasting peace.
The first Arabs made it to the edge of the river, and began splashing across the shallows, when a blast of gunfire off on the right called them up short. In an instant, the charging fanatics stopped, looked stupidly at the sight charging down on them, and turned to head back to the hills.
Out of the scrub - a failed attempt at an olive grove - came riding the band of Bashi Bazouks - firing into the Arabs and yelling their Turkish war cries at the top of their lungs! They were magnificent fellows, dressed in the brightest red and blue silks, wearing turbans and fezzes, and firing into the arabs from horseback with deadly accuracy.
Soon the Arabs had fled for the safety of the hills, and the Turkish horsemen had ridden into the confines of the Mission Station.
The big smiling Turk, Kemal Marzuq, came up to Nathaniel and slapped him on the shoulder.
"Truly, my friend, you are Beloved of God! You stand here like brave flies, ready to sting the mighty elephant that rides down on you. You and your help - ", he glanced contemptuously at the Egyptians.
"Still, you bravely faced the Arabs, and would have died facing them. All while your children sang praises to God! You are a wonder to behold, friend Dithers!"
Nathaniel couldn't help but smile.
"I would thank you, now, if you could spare some food for my men. We have ridden hard for six days to reach you. There is a storm coming, and we wanted to tell you. And, it is true, you also have the fattest sheep! Along the way we raided a Arab caravan, and also two slaver camps. The men have some plunder with them, and seek time to enjoy it."
Nathaniel only now noticed the women, Sudanese and others, being lowered down off of some of the horses.
"Kemal, Kemal - you know that my house is your house. You are welcome to rest here, and also kissra bread and miris will be ready within the hour. I must ask, however, that your men do not avail themselves of the ladies, which, um, well . . ."
"Ha ha! Dithers thinks we are going to have our way? Like Arab dogs? Nay - each of my men shall marry - today in fact - before he beds his prize. None of them have more than 1 or 2 wives already, so it is permitted. Still, come and tell me more about this miris, and I shall tell you of a wretched storm that comes to crash on your house."
"Storm, what storm? The miris is already cooking, we slaughtered several sheep last night, and it was to be for a feast today, but you are welcome to it. Now tell me of the storm."
"Well, you already have the dogs of Al Mufti across the stream wanting to cut your throats - that is bad enough, but perhaps a man might be allowed to survive such an ordeal. What I tell you of is a tribulation that the Prophets of old would have a hard time living with. The Mahdi - you have heard of Mahdi I believe? Yes - good. The Mahdi has many men - too many to count - coming this way. They seek to gather power by conquering all in the Sudan. Mahdi wants to conquer first all the Sudan, then go on to cleanse Egypt, and then finally all of Turkey. His goal is to make the Faithful more Faithful. Or that is what his followers claim. I think he is a conquering dog, who has been ignored too long. Now he is out of control. But his followers are coming this way - they want your head. And that of your Wife, and all those of your church here."
Nathaniel stared, not believing what he was hearing. First Al Mufti, now the Mahdi? Was this a test from Heaven?
"But fear not - Dithers. For your friends the English are coming to rescue you. They have sent soldiers, soldiers riding camels, led by a man called Baltimore. These men cannot ride so well, and go slow, but it is said that they can shoot with the eyes of eagles, and fight with the strength of lions. They come to help you."
"Good", thought Dithers, "the Camel Corps. They must have sent a detachment out from Gordon's relief column. That will be a blessing."
"And, friend Dithers, that is not all. When you came to Bokhala, did you not think it strange that there was not a village already here? A fresh stream coming from the rocks, a lovely oasis, green plants, everything a village longs for here in the southern Sudan. But there is nothing. Only the rocky rise across the stream. Do you know why, friend Dithers? No, you do not. Ha ha ha ha! And that is good, for it would keep you awake at night."
"Tell me Kemal. What do you know about the oasis?"
The Turk, suddenly, grew very grave and stared at his friend.
"It it because, friend Dithers, there was once an ancient city here. A city for a great king of old - older than Mohammed, Jesus, and all the prophets - a great king of the old Egyptians. But this king was living here in exhile - for he had done a wicked thing. And for that wicked thing, a curse was placed on him that he should never die, but live forever in torment. Five years ago, a meddling frenchman dug up the tomb of this king, and he walked the earth. It took many men to put him down, but still he did not die. It is because of this that Al Mufti seeks to kill you. He wants no man living in or near the site of this ancient curse."
Nathaniel looked serious for a minute, then a smile broke across his face.
"Kemal - my good man. Surely you can't be serious? An ancient curse? A wicked king who can't die? The Mahdi, with an army -- that I can believe. It makes me weak in the knees, but I can believe it. English soldiers on Camels - strange, but I can believe that too. But a story about an ancient king, and a curse - no, Kemal. You have been in the sun too long. Come let us see if that miris is ready to eat."
In the distance, the church boomed to life again, with another verse of the Hymn of Joy...
Life eternal! heaven rejoices; Jesus lives, Who once was dead.
Join we now the deathless voices; child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from the distant ages, saints all longing for their heaven,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages, all await the glory given.