Foreword and Author's Note

These are a series of short stories in progress, collectively called "The Adventures of Altenglisch Hans Cuxhaven". A long name for a little character, whom I have been given permission to feature in these stories of adventure, horror, some comedy, and a little dumb luck. An original creation of my girlfriend (soon-to-be wife) whose fuller story you can read at these stories take place in no particular order at various junctures throughout Alteng's life. Any similarities between characters described herein and any persons living or dead is of course not only coincidental, it is indeed nearly impossible.

Part adventurer, spy, thief, pirate, knight errant, and misunderstood man-with-no-name, he wandered the world treating action as its own reward. Many times he actually managed to right wrongs and bring events to a conclusion that benefitted those around him, but he was no infallible superhero-sometimes the fates were against him and he was lucky to escape a setback alive. Occasionally he was even seen by the world at large as a villain, though he never saw himself that way. He was more like a knight in not-so-shiny armor, doing the right thing when he could, but accepting the reality of the complicated chaotic nature of the world- that things often can only be changed superficially, and even then but temporarily, and if one cannot cheat death then one should at least minimize suffering and face death as swiftly and painlessly as possible.

With his life's outlook learned from a combination of the sentiments of the Age of Reason combined with the thrill of adventure promised by the discovery of new lands and civilizations during the Rennaisance, all held in check by the last superstitious vestiges of the Dark Ages, we find someone with a conflicting personal moral code (and an outcast from his own people) that somehow manages to rise above his imperfections and for the most part makes the world a better place.

The Black Pharaoh, Chapter One

The figure in red fought the wind and burning sand, and fell to one knee.

He had gone for several days without food, and water was running low, but the more immediate peril was the storm which threatened to cast him down under the lash of relentless slicing sand. His clothing, once the essence of finery in his homeland, was now faded to a dull maroon from a brighter red whose original shade was now hard to guess, and was actually beginning to rip in places from the fury of the sand-laden winds. His cloak offered little protection from the onslaught that had carried on for several hours now, and his only hope was to make it to the lone outcropping of rocks he had noted on his map all those days ago in Khamet. He had seen their shape this morning, black bumps against a flat horizon, and now he was trying to make his way as best he could to where he thought they might be. But deep down he felt that if his eye hadn't deceived him, he should have reached them by now.

His family waited for his return back in Khamet, for he had insisted on going alone because the nature of this journey would bring him in contact with great danger. He could not bear to lose another wife, even though he often told her to get lost. But now, it was his turn to be lost. The hired guides had abandoned him three nights ago out of superstitious fear, and they took the pack animals and the equipment with them, but they left behind a decent skin of water.

Around him was nothing but a featureless choking brown cloud borne of a screaming, grinding gale. He considered half-burying himself in his cloak so that he may lie flat and let the storm swirl in impotent rage. But to lie down was instant death here, for the sand piled up around his knees if he halted for too long, and if he fell and could not rise he would soon be buried alive.

It was some seconds before the traveller realized that he had lost his footing not because of the blast of the storm, nor even from fatigue, but because he had been tripped up by a jagged jutting triangular black stone, thrust up from the desert like a skeletal hand to grasp the unwary. Trying to rise, the force of the wind made him roll sideways. To his dismay he discovered that he couldn't stop- the wind was too strong. So all he could do was allow himself to be cast about by the storm, and he tumbled end over end for many seconds along the desert floor, until with a suddenness that startled him, he felt himself pick up speed and roll downward to the bottom of a dune which had been hidden from him. As he slid and rolled towards the bottom, he began to feel the bite of solid rock as various portions of his body battered themselves against wind-cracked rubble. Various articles on his person (pouches of money, his sword, a safely tucked-away hat) ground into him as he fell and added to his discomfort. When he finally reached the bottom of the hill, he had half a mind to just lay there for a while. The wind seemed not so bad here, and sand merely fell around him like snow, rather than slicing into his face and clothing. Slowly he rose, and took a look around. He could actually see some distance around him, if there was anything to see. But there wasn't- only the dune behind him with its sparse pattern of shifting sliding flat black stones.

By now he had come to wonder if the glass-encased map back in Khamet was either merely old and inaccurate, or a cruel joke. Surely his wife would have warned him if she had seen anything wrong. His brother would definitely have told him (loudly and beratingly) that his quest for the Tomb of the Black Pharaoh was futile. But Alteng reasoned that the stories must be true, or that they had at least been handed down from even older legends that contained a grain of truth. The wealth that could be found was unimaginable (though Alteng had quite an imagination at times). But the danger to be faced in order to attain that wealth must also be very great, and he did not regret coming here alone.

The mid-morning sun managed to rise above the dune behind him, burning through the receding sandstorm, and this gave Alteng some hope to go on. At least now he had a sense of direction again, and he knew to go westward with the sun at his back. A long shadow several times his own height pointed the way forward, so fighting off the hunger and the growing thirst he walked in a more or less straight line towards nothing in particular that he could yet see. As he moved, the sun followed and Alteng's shadow shortened under its relentless mounting heat.