As the caravan drew closer, I started to notice a little worm of fear gnawing at my gut. No - I needed to ask these people for help. We needed their aid - if they had any to give. I could smell the odor of the camels and the sweat of the desert as the caravan slowed. The man at the front had a regal air. He vaulted off his camel and led her to the shade of a nearby palm. He patted her neck with a strong tan hand and finally turned to acknowledge my companion and me.

" You travelers look quite despondent. Why do you pout outside the walls of Thebes when you are mere footsteps from her glory?"

Resh studied the desert-honed man with a critical eye. I noticed the caravan leader was completely serious about what he'd just said. I was amazed - he really saw worth in Thebes. If he only knew. . . I stood and replied.

"Well, you wouldn't want to know our tale. It is too long and boring for a working man such as you. What brings you to Thebes?"

The jaunty man removed his headscarf to reveal closely snipped hair and a jade earring in one ear. He flashed white teeth in a rakish smile.

"So," he looked at Resh."You let your woman do the talking?"

Great, I thought, He's a womanizing, domineering-

The stranger noticed my in-check anger and laughed. "I am but jesting! I am here to sell my wares, of course. I bear ivory from Nubia, papyrus from Egypt, and more! I even have a wreath of gold laurels. No mere victor's crown, mind you, but a wreath which once rested on the very brow of Caesar himself as he sat in the throne room of Rome. A lovely bargain at 50 talents!"

I smiled graciously.

"Of course it is worth that, for being Caesar's."

The man tugged at his earring and studied me. I felt my face warming, and it wasn't because of the sun.

"You are a shrewd one, my sweet. I should've known when I set my eyes upon your stately brow. Such beauty is always a sign of royal blood."

He patted a jingling pouch on the side of his dromedary. "And worthy of one of my jewelry pieces!" He laughed. " I am sorry, it is my salesman instincts. I must advertise at every opportunity."

Resh sighed impatiently.

"Do you think you could help us. . .?"

The man bowed with a flourish. "The name's Kalil A'deerja, at your service." He lifted an eyebrow and winked at me. My blasted face was getting warm again!

Resh continued. ". . .Kalil. Have you ever heard of a condition called 'the blindness of the gods?'"

Kalil rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I might've somewhere. Tarshish - or was that Damascus? I can't remember. Isn't it some superstitious curse?"

Resh and I exchanged glances. Was this Kalil the type who'd laugh if we told him, or run away from the "cursed ones?" I shrugged.

"Yes, but it may hold some validity, Kalil, because - "

I was just about to tell him but he blurted out, " I just realized I have a bolt of silk that would match perfectly with your lovely brown eyes. One moment, I'll get a swatch to show you. . ."

I threw my hands up and looked at Resh. He whispered, "It's better this way. Less chance of him dumping us in some 'temple for the cursed' or something."