The Shifting, Whispering Sands

By Phineas Phlogue, Esq.

(Photos will be inserted when our photographer - Snaps DePitcher - returns with his glass plates)


The shifting, whispering sands masked the sounds of hundreds of slippered feet as they glided across the desert floor in search of bounty and booty. The Arabian hordes were on the move again and only Sir Peter and the small Legion garrison of Fort Zinderpoof stood in their path. Would this be the zenith of Sir Peter’s illustrious (?) career or its’ nadir? We shall soon see as our hapless correspondent once again followed Sir P and his flock of fearsome followers into the maw of disaster.

Having spent the last week taking the waters at Wadi Mez, Sir Peter was feeling the itch of adventure course along his spine (or was it just a bad case of prickly heat?) His heart started racing as word came that the tribes were on the march! Should he stand guard over the shipment of jewels at the local Wells Farago office? Or should he resume his siesta (much more likely) on the terrace of "The Prancing Bedouin" B & B? Was his fate to be in preparing the port facilities for a siege — or downing a pint of "Shifting Scirocco" stout? (Need we even ask!) Of course, walking the rail line to prevent sabotage was out of the question — that entailed physical exertion. (Sir Peter sweat? Heaven forfend!)

As the sun rose on our sleepy little burg, we could just make out the mass of tribesmen as they began their well-planned (hah!) assault on the village. Berbers, Bedouin, Kayble, Riff, Tuareg and B-flat Arab units under the able command of Shiekh al Krim (that’s kreem to you — and smile when you say it!) began by a major shift to the left flank, leaving the stalwart Legionnaires a bit ruffled when they saw all their targets pulling farther and farther away from the firing ports of the fort! They would need to rethink their strategy if they hoped to save the day (and the helpless hamlet)!

Thus began the long march of the Legion to its’ doom. Leaving the 2nd squad to cover their passage (not really sure why — the local militia was headed in the other direction), the 1st squad emerged from Fort Zinderpoof in an effort to protect Wadi Mez. Unfortunately for our wandering frogophiles, the first thing they stumbled into was a patch of soft sand — REALLY soft sand! As their point man settled beneath the surface, our now-leery legionnaires decided to take a detour to the right. This took them out of harms way (temporarily), but slowed down their advance enough to make the race to the town a sure thing for the Arabs.

Even with a couple of tribal units taking time out to pray at the sacred "Tooomb — baya", the robed masses were the first to cross the city limits. Things began to look a bit tenuous for our hero! Deciding against holing up in the Wells Farago office (which just happened to be the most defensible joint in the whole burg!), Sir Peter began bee-lining it for the waterfront hoping against hope that a promised gunboat would appear in the nick of time to save his sorry derriere. In the words of that storied sage, Babar — "Sorrrry, Peeeter!" The gunboat would arrive, but long past time that Sir Peter would have any need of it!

Back in the desert, the Legion 1st squad began to take fire from a mass of fleet-footed Rifs that had hunkered down in a clump of palms directly between the dune-pounders and their goal of Wadi Mez. Being under the watchful eye of a benevolent Allah, these blue-robed bounders opened fire with divine accuracy from their breech-loaders! Frogs began croaking faster than you could say Jacques Robinson! Even with the covering fire from the fort, the Euros went down like nine-pins under the unholy fusilade. By the end of the day, only an officer (of course!) and one grunt were left of what was once the pride of the desert! So much for the first attempt to come to Sir Peter’s aid.

Emerging from the desert haze about this time was a long-lost legion mule company. While being only half-mounted meant they had to move at foot speed, at least their extra rifles would be helpful in fending off the locals — or would they? They started their long trek by advancing along the coastal railway line hoping to fend off any attempts to destroy the tracks.

Meanwhile back one the native sidelines, the Kayble were awaiting their turn to enter the Tooomb, but with ulterior motives! Watching as the Arabs and the Bedouin took their turns inside, the K (or as we would come to know them — Charlies’ Anglophobes) were plotting the destruction of the religious shrine. Their mullahs had dubbed the Babba Baya as anathema and had put the great Tooomb on their hit-list. Only hitch was, could our mad bombers pull it off without drawing undue suspicion on themselves? But first they had to plant la bomba and then beat feet before becoming sand sausage themselves! This proved a bit hairier than planned as the fuse was short and the cards were stacked in someone elses favor! Our Kayble-guys began sweating profusely when someone forgot to check their hourglass and they wound up remaining on-site longer than one would have wished. As the sands poured through the glass, our flat-footed functionarys finally filtered forth and dove for the nearest dune! With a mighty roar, the golden dome blasted off for a short flight into history — or at least into the depths of the nearby Frikkenendlis River. (And you thought there wouldn’t be any tie-in to the next scenario!) The prophet be praised, all the nearby tribesmen mistook the blast to be the end result of artillery fire from the feared (but still unseen) French gunboat.

Just prior to the blast, several bands of tribesmen advanced on poor Sir Peter. (Having mistaken a rotting hulk tied to a nearby third-rate pier for salvation, our hero was now doing his best Chicken Little imitation). Old Petey made for the nearest adobe hut, but the end was now in sight. Thankfully, word of Sir Peter’s connections with the Royal Geophysical Society and its heavily laden treasury had filtered down to the surrounding tribesmen and a ransom was more likely than a skewering! Hiking up his gallic shorts, Sir P laid down his pistol and raised up his tiny fingers in surrender. But he did it with panache! Twirling his glorious moustache and adjusting his pince-nez, our hero strode forth to meet his captor, Shiekh al Krim (that’s kreem to you — and smile when you say it!)

No sooner had this occurred than a low rumble was heard from the direction of the rail line. A couple of wounded and incredibly stupid Rifs had carried a box of dynamite to the center of the local spur and touched of the fuse. Unfortunately for them, they tarried a tad too long arguing about how long the fuse was and when time came, they were the first to know about the explosion! That’s one way to clean out the gene pool!

By now, the Legionnaires remaining in the fort figured out that the ball was in their court, and they had at least better try to look heroic! If they played their cards right, they could meander across the sands and never come near an arab! And such they did — bounding hither and thither, they never did get a local in their sights and would have better spent their time polishing their cover story!

With Sir Peter now firmly trussed across the back of Shiekh al Krim’s saddle (that’s kreem to you — and smile when you say it!) the robed rub began to make its’ way back in the direction of home. Misplaced fears of the French gunboat had actually forced the arabs to make the proper decision. Exiting stage left as fast as possible, the mighty shiekh’s forces faded into the dunes as quickly and quietly as they had come. Even the late arrival of a small detachment of camelry only bolstered the forces keeping Sir Petey under guard. Ah the thoughts of a kingly ransom!

As for the surviving denizens of Fort Zinderpoof, little is known since a report by a group of wandering Goums mentions only an empty fort, an open gate, and unused beds. The appearance by the newly-commisioned Gunboat only added to the mystery as they found nought but a bedraggled toppee lying bottoms up in the sands of Wadi Mez. The world awaits any word on the fate of the besotted boffin, Sir Peter — International Man of Mystery.

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