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Марк Ходдер «The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi»

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Автор Марк Ходдер

Published 2013 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi. Copyright © 2013 by Mark Hodder. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Cover illustration © Jon Sullivan

Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke

Inquiries should be addressed to

Pyr

59 John Glenn Drive

Amherst, New York 14228–2119

VOICE: 716–691–0133

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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Hodder, Mark, 1962–

The secret of Abdu El Yezdi : a Burton and Swinburne adventure / By Mark Hodder.

pages cm.

ISBN 978-1-61614-777-8 (pbk.)

ISBN 978-1-61614-778-5 (ebook)

I.  Title.

PR6108.O28S43   2012

823'.92—dc23

2013010096

Printed in the United States of America

Writing is a solitary business at the best of times, but when deadlines draw near, one is forced into prolonged seclusion. During these periods, on the infrequent occasions when I’ve emerged from my study, bearded, unwashed, and with a crazed glint in my eyes, my beautiful partner, Yolanda, has fed me and talked soothingly until the twitching has stopped. What small measure of sanity I still possess must be credited to her. I give her my thanks and my love.

My gratitude, also, to Lou Anders and the Pyr team in the US, and Michael Rowley and the Del Rey team in the UK. Your faith in me and your continued support are hugely appreciated.

Many of the characters featured in this novel bear the same names as—and similar personalities and histories to—people who actually lived. However, as will quickly become apparent, the 1859 of this story is not the 1859 you’ll discover in history books.

If a person whose life is well documented had been presented with completely different opportunities and challenges, would they have turned out the same? In The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, the answer to that question is a resounding, “No!” Thus, though my characters are intended to evoke their famous counterparts, their portrayal is not in any way biographical. In an attempt to compensate for any disrespect I may have shown them, I’ve included brief factual information at the end of this book, which I hope will encourage my readers to explore the real histories of the truly remarkable and admirable men and women featured herein.

“Unjust it were to bid the World be just

And blame her not: She ne’er was made for justice:

Take what she gives thee, leave all grief aside,

For now to fair and then to foul her lust is.”

—A THOUSAND NIGHTS AND A NIGHT,

TRANSLATED BY SIR RICHARD FRANCIS BURTON

“When one creates phantoms for oneself, one puts vampires into the world, and one must nourish these children of a voluntary nightmare with one’s blood, one’s life, one’s intelligence, and one’s reason, without ever satisfying them.”

—ELIPHAS LEVI, AXIOM XI OF LA CLEF DES GRANDS MYSTÈRES

Captain Richard Francis Burton leaned on the basin, looked into the mirror, and saw Captain Richard Francis Burton glowering back. He scowled into the black, smouldering eyes and snarled, “I’m sick of your meddling! I’ll live by my own choices, not by yours, confound you!”

His tormentor’s glare locked aggressively with his own.

At the periphery of Burton’s vision, behind the devil that faced him, the cabin door opened and a slim young man stepped in. He was prematurely bald but sported a very long and bushy beard.

“You’re awake!” the newcomer exclaimed, leaning his silver-topped walking cane against the wall.

Burton turned, but when he stopped the room didn’t—it continued to spin—and the other jumped forward and took him by the elbows. “Steady on, old chap.”

There was something rather repellent about the man’s touch, but Burton was too weak to shake him off, so submitted meekly as he was guided to his bunk.

The visitor shook his head disapprovingly. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing. Sister Raghavendra will have your guts for garters. Back into bed with you, sir. You need rest and plenty of it. You’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.”

Burton managed to shrug free from the other’s grip and slurred, “Did you see him? Why won’t he leave me be?”

“To whom do you refer?”

“Him!” Burton shouted, flinging a hand toward the mirror and almost overbalancing. “Dogging my every step, the old fool! Interfering! Always interfering!”

The younger man chuckled—a sound that inexplicably sent cold prickles up Burton’s spine. “It’s merely your reflection, and you’re hardly old; just worn out, that’s all. The fevers have taken their toll, but I’m sure you’ll regain your looks once you’ve shaken off the malaria. Now come, lie down, I’ll read to you awhile.”

Burton shook his head, his knees buckled, and he sat heavily. “Reflection, be damned. If I ever meet the dog, I’ll kick him all the way to Hades!”

The visitor gave a snort of amusement, and the odious nature of his presence finally registered in full. Burton looked up at him, his jumbled senses converging, bringing the man’s penetrating blue eyes into focus, noting the wide and rather cruel-looking mouth and the polished, overdeveloped cranium.

Dangerous. The fellow is dangerous.

A tremor ignited in Burton’s stomach and raced outward through his body, causing his question—“Who are you, anyway?”—to come out more as a teeth-rattling moan.

“Four times I’ve visited your room, Captain,” the man replied, “and four times you’ve made that very same enquiry. The answer is as ever. I am Laurence Oliphant, Lord Elgin’s private secretary. He and I joined the ship at Aden for passage to London.”

Burton frowned and struggled to clarify his thoughts. Memories eluded him. “Aden? We’re not at Zanzibar?”

“No, we’re not. The Orpheus departed Zanzibar two weeks ago. It spent five days at Aden, has just departed Cairo, and is currently en route to London via Vienna, where it will pick up the foreign secretary, Lord Stanley.”

“What day is it?”

“Night, actually. Wednesday, the thirty-first of August. Tomorrow, your long expedition will finally be over. You’ll be glad to get home, I expect. I understand you have a fiancée waiting for you.”

Burton lifted his legs onto the bed, waited for Oliphant to arrange the pillows behind him, and lay back. His limbs jerked and his hands began to shake uncontrollably. He felt himself burning, sinking, disconnecting.

He could sense the eyes of the Other Burton upon him.

Go away. Go away. Leave me alone. I haven’t time for you now. I have to watch this fellow. There’s something about him. Something wrong.

Oliphant went to the basin, wetted a flannel, returned, placed it on Burton’s forehead, and sat beside him. “You’ve been out of commission for nearly a month, but Sister Raghavendra says you’re through the worst of it. She thinks the fever will break within the next few hours.” He tapped his finger on Burton’s shoulder. “Why do you do it, Captain? Why push yourself so hard? First in India, then your mission to Mecca, and now Africa—what drives you to such endeavours?”

Burton whispered, “The devil. He’s inflicted upon me a mania for exploration.”

“Ha! Well, this time Old Nick took you to the brink of death. You were lucky you had one of the Sisterhood of Noble Benevolence with you.”

Sister Sadhvi Raghavendra. Her beautiful face blurred into Burton’s memory then swam away.

“It wasn’t luck,” he murmured. “Is she aboard? I want to see her.”

“She was here but half an hour ago. I’ll call her back if you wish it.”

Fragments. Broken recollections. Cascading water falling from the great lake—almost an inland sea—to begin its long journey to the Mediterranean. Standing on a hill overlooking it, his companion at his side.

Burton sucked in a deep, shuddering breath, feeling his eyes widen.

“John! My God! How is John?”

Oliphant looked puzzled. “John?”

“Lieutenant Speke.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know him. Half a mo! Do you mean the chap who was with you at Berbera back in ’fifty-five? The one who died?”

“Died?”

“I was in the Far East at the time, but if I remember the reports rightly, he took a spear meant for Lieutenant Stroyan. It pierced his heart and killed him outright. That was four years ago.”

“Four years?” Burton whispered. “But Speke and I discovered the source of the Nile.”

“The fever has you befuddled. As I say, Speke copped it during your initial foray into Africa. It was you, William Stroyan, George Herne, and Sister Raghavendra who solved the puzzle of the Nile. You’ll be remembered among the greatest of explorers. You’ve made history, sir.”

The information fell between Burton and the Other Burton and they fought over it. The Burton here, now—the real Burton, blast it!—knew the fact to be true. Lieutenant John Hanning Speke had been killed in 1855. The Other Burton disagreed.

That is not when he died.

It is. I was there. I saw it happen.

He died later.

No! He died defending Stroyan.

He sacrificed himself for you.

Get away from me! Leave me alone!

You need me, you dolt.

The argument melted ...