With some regret, I abandoned Saint-Louis with the expedition. We had received reinforcements from Paris to bolster our forces. The green recruits had no idea what was fated for us deep in the Sahara of Mauritania. As we traversed the dunes, Grosvenor and Adrian determined the final plans. Adrian was charged with capturing the Americans with the elite Foreign Legions solders who had proved their allegiance to him. Grosvenor would blockade Durant’s escape with the recruits.
The company arrived some days before the meeting between Durant and the Americans. Drifts of sand had abruptly changed to coarse bedrock with grottoes and outcroppings. We sheltered from the elements in a valley. In the distance was a rugged hill where Durant was dug in. The advance scouts who investigated it were met with gunfire. Grosvenor took up the perimeter with defensive constructions. I remained with Adrian, guarding the trail into the mysterious rocky landscape.
We saw the Americans coming from miles away. Travelling in a colorful caravan of gentlemen-scholars and revelers, Gipsies and Moors, characters of all stripes- they made an incredible din. Musicians played their flutes as the ladies danced oblivious of the burning desert sands. We lied in wait concealed on the side of the canyon overlooking the narrow pathway leading to the lair of Durant. The first of their troop passed through. Adrian crouched near me, waiting for me to point out the Americans as I was the only individual who had met them. More passed by and a painful eternity passed until I pointed at Gerald and Adams.
The Foreign Legion troops broke cover and pointed their weapons at the newcomers. Adrian called out, “Stop right there, Americans. You are under arrest.” He climbed down to face Adams and Gerald. Gerald laughed. “This is a great joke! Arrested in the middle of the desert!” Adams roared with mirth. “What is our crime, O king of the desert?” Adrian did not see the humor. Coolly, he responded, “I represent the Empire of France. You are being taken into custody for attempting to purchase what rightfully belongs to the empire.”
Adams and Gerald looked at each other and burst out laughing, “This man is trying to tell us our money isn’t good here! If we buy this motor-cycle, it is ours.” Said Gerald once he recovered. Adams chuckled. “I have no idea what is going on here. Is our money not good here?” The circular interchange between Adrian and the Americans was broken by an unexpected event.
On the high top of the gully stood Grosvenor illumined by the desert sun. His troops emerged from their positions on the ridges above us. “Adrian, you simple fool. As if I would play nice with you when you have slighted me time and time again. I am a forgiving and merciful man. But you, Adrian, will not escape this time. The troops who chose to follow you made a most unwise choice. They will share your fate. The Sahara of Mauritania will conceal your untimely end. I will bring in Durant, these Americans, and the motor-cycle myself and have the glory for my own. You will not interfere this time.”
With a cold fire burning in his eyes, Adrian seemed to grow in stature. His troops rallied around him, emboldened. Rounds bounced off the canyon walls. Adrian led the charge himself as he deftly ascended the sides of the canyon. His furious aspect caused Grosvenor’s novice troops to lose their nerve, and with it their aim. The Americans grouped defensively and wildly shot at all the combatants. Soon enough the firefight ceased in a pause to reload. Grosvenor was shrilly calling, “Stop them! Do not let them up here!” His soldiers, badly shaken, began to desperately reload their weapons. They trembled and fled as Adrian burst to the top of the ridge surrounded by his elite vanguard.
Grosvenor groveled as Adrian grimly approached. The mutinous troops had lost their will to fight and were peacefully disarmed. Grosvenor’s gaze shifted all round for an escape like a cornered animal. His eyes met with Adrian’s whereupon he screamed, “Curse you Adrian! Because of you all is lost! Everything will end in ruin! Our dispute is not over, for I shall finish it in Hell!” With that, Grosvenor plunged himself into the abyss.
Adrian didn’t waste a moment of time in savoring this victory; he stood tall and boldly announced this: “All you who served Grosvenor are pardoned. He was a treacherous villain who followed his own interests before those of the Empire.” Vultures circled overhead ready to feast on the casualties of the encounter. Adrian continued. “Men! Let us fulfill our mission and return in triumph.” The defeated legions recovered their dignity as the march to Durant began.
As the regiment approached the rugged hill the Sufi began to hamper its progress. Appearing and disappearing like smoke the outlying troops were decimated. But when they attempted to face Adrian, the mystic warriors were confounded. The change in Adrian was complete. All his being was devoted to the completion of his purpose. His aim was flawless as was those of his troops. Relentlessly marching and crushing all those in his path, our company soon reached the summit of the stony hillock.
At this height we could see a great distance. The sun hung low in the sky that was swarmed with carrion birds and dust. Facing us was a final mound that contained an inscrutable cavern that ran into the heart of the mountain. Out of the entrance stepped none other than Jean Garcon. For the first time, Adrian shrunk back unable to comprehend. Slightly beyond the daylight, the tall shadowy form of Durant could be made out just barely from the dark obscurity of the cave. Garcon addressed us.
“Not another step forward, gentlemen. My master Lucien Durant will perish before subjecting himself to the Empire. The entrance to this grotto is rigged with explosives. You cannot capture him. By pursuing this end you will render the wonderful motor-cycle lost to the world.” Adrian reeled with confusion and managed to gather himself enough for a final push. “Men! Do not falter now! Charge!” Durant’s strange laughter echoed from the depths. The mountain shook with the force of the explosion that sent rubble and sand flying hundreds of meters in the air.
Ears ringing I groped about searching for my comrades. As the smoke cleared the extent of the damage was clear. The cavern had vanished into a ruin of stone. Adrian had rallied his remaining troops whose number had been drastically reduced. We were all exceedingly fortunate to escape the blast unscathed. Many were not so lucky. For some time, we stared at where that cave had been, futilely attempting to understand the events of the day.
The vultures began their meals and a silence hung in the air. Adrian was the first to break it. “That Durant…preferring to destroy himself and his invention than face justice.” We trudged back to the blockade force the next day. Fortunately, there was no resistance from the Sufi this time who were nowhere to be found. Adrian ordered the blockade legions to scour the area for other caves that may have provided escape for Durant. After a fortnight of fruitless search, Adrian was satisfied and ordered the return to Saint-Louis. Imperial forces were downcast. There had been much loss of life all for naught. Conversely, the American caravan caroused excitedly, rejoicing in the adventure for which they faced no consequence.