Friday, 28 February 2014

The Servants of Ra: Zairah Al-Ghais



Here is Zairah from the Servants of Ra company.  This is a lovely, animated figure but her slim ankle is a weak point and she needs careful handling; like the young lady on whom I have based her name!

She was discovered by Sir Lawrence Swann during his two year stay in Cairo,  He introduces her, in London, as his draughtswoman and explains that she is someone who would copy Egyptian inscriptions, sculptures and paintings as source material for his magnum opus The Pharaoh Akhenaten and his court inspect candidates for the role of temple dancing girls purchased from an Akkadian slave trader.  A painting he is producing for the Worshipful Company of Bankers livery hall in Threadneedle Street.

"Just make sure there are lots of naked slave girls in it. And heaps of gold!" demanded Sir Paul Fudgge ("that's two gs, old man"), one of the richest but most unpopular aldermen in the City of London, who had commissioned the painting.




Although she is, indeed, a talented artist, Swann actually discovered Zairah dancing virtually naked in a brothel just a few streets behind his hotel, Shepheard's, in Cairo.  Sir Lawrence was surprised at the number of such establishments so close to Shepheard's and the recently renovated Grand Hotel.  He supposed the proximity of the Greek Consulate had something to do with it.  He needed a dancer who could be the centrepiece of his painting.  In  truth, he was looking for a Circassian dancing girl, as he supposed that they might be more likely to happily dispense with their clothes than the local lovelies.  When he saw Zairah, however, he knew he had found his model.  She had the most beautiful back he had ever seen and, indeed, her entire rear aspect was one of the great sights of Egypt. Or so he told himself as Zairah went through a series of artistic contortions for him in his room at Shepheard's, while he tried to capture her sinuous form on paper.  

He discovered both her extraordinary gymnastic ability and her skill with a blade when a trio of unsavoury locals tried to relieve him of his Breguet pocket watch in the narrow alleys behind the Khan el-Khalili souk.  Zairah, in a sudden flash of movement, disarmed one robber with a swift blow to his wrist and flicked the knife into the air with her foot before it hit the ground. She caught it, deftly, in her dainty hand and supporting herself on the shoulder of the astounded knifeman ran up the side of a wall to land a solid kick on the head of the thief behind.  A quick slash of the next man's cheek, with her recently acquired blade, sent the low life scum scuttling back into the shadows. 

Shortly afterwards, recovering over a strong Turkish coffee in Fishawi's coffee house, Sir Lawrence offered to employ Zairah full time as draughtswoman, model and bodyguard.  He took a room for her adjoining his, for the sake of propriety, although it had an interconnecting door which was never locked. 




One afternoon, as she stood on the small balcony overlooking the delightful garden at the rear of the hotel, she began to speak of a lost tomb discovered by a Turkish archaeologist.  An intact, possibly royal, tomb containing an extraordinary device covered in hieroglyphs linking it to Akhenaten himself. 

Having become fascinated by the pharaoh in the research for his painting, Swann was intrigued but sceptical.

"I would bet ten thousand pounds that there are no intact royal tombs in the whole of Egypt.  No one will ever find one. They have all been plundered by filthy Egyptians; either in antiquity or more recently, since Egyptology has become so fashionable!" he declared. "No offence about the "filthy Egyptian" comment, of course, young Zairah!"

"No offence taken.  The sponge bath you gave me this morning saw to that, anyway!" she giggled.

"How do you know this Turkish chap?" asked Swann.  Zairah raised one elegant eyebrow and looked at the floor.

"I see.  Best not to ask.  Perhaps I should meet the fellow!"

"Perhaps you should.   I will arrange it!"

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Servants of Ra: Rumblings in Hampshire




A gentleman with the hideously foreign name of Laurens van Zwaan would never have been completely acceptable in the more rarefied strata of English society. As Sir Lawrence Swann, however, the famous painter was welcome at every society occasion, with the embarrassing exception of Court, where her Majesty the Queen lately refused to receive him because of an increasingly dubious reputation.  She had knighted him only last year, on his return from two years painting in Egypt.  Now, however, the Queen Empress believed that an unmarried man such as Sir Lawrence should not be seen to be consorting with quite so many young, unaccompanied women at his Egyptian-decorated home in Hampshire.  Arguments that a famous painter of scenes of Ancient Egypt would need a multiplicity of young female models, to help him replicate the court of the pharaohs for the vast painting commissioned by one of the City livery companies, fell on haughtily deaf royal ears.  The word harem had been mentioned on more than one occasion.   Sir Lawrence's recent affectation of wearing a tarboosh, since his return from Cairo, did little to allay the Queen's suspicions of what might be termed "Ottoman" tendencies.




In the smoking room of the United Services Club in Pall Mall, Lt. Colonel "Eggy" Newman, who lived not far from Sir Lawrence in the Meon Valley, was telling of strange comings and goings, odd lights in the middle of the night and unearthly shrieks at the painter's house.  "The general feeling locally is that odd rites are taking place there. Arcane rites.  Heathen rites.  All to do with the chap's fascination with the Pharaohs.  Half naked slave girls and what have you."  He took an appreciative sip of his Taylor's 1868, from a vintage before the phylloxera blight ravaged the Douro a few years later.

"I say!" said Captain Jonty Smalme.  "How do you know all this?  Met the fellow in the Castle at Cowes this summer.  Seemed a perfectly decent chap for a foreigner, apart from not liking Stilton.  Thought the Dutch ate cheese all the time, what? Although I never quite know with the Dutch whether they are our friends or enemies.  Not like the French, of course.  Know where you are with the French. Fire on the uproll eh, Admiral?"  He glanced across at Admiral Troutbridge who was puffing on a large cigar and gazing into the middle distance. "But the Dutch?" Smalme continued.  "I know they gave us a king and what have you but didn't they give your chaps a good pasting a couple of hundred years ago?"  Smalme, who was very much the junior officer sat around the table and not eligible to be a member of the club, looked at Admiral Troutbridge realising that he might have just gone too far.  Too much port. Again.

"Dashed good chaps in a sea fight," replied the Admiral. "Strapping milk-fed gels.  Good at dykes.  Overrated cheese. Talk too loudly!"  He looked at Smalme pointedly.

"I think," said Newman, "that someone should come down to Hampshire and investigate his house.  Do a bit of a recce.  After all, Holland is right next door to Germany and he could be up to things a lot more sinister than having a few half naked bints running about."

"Perhaps some of the bints need rescuing..." ventured Smalme.

"Well done, Smalme.  I'll leave it to you to put a small force together. Strictly informal. I'm sure the Admiral can supply a couple of chaps from the Senior Service."

"You can count on it!" confirmed Troutbridge. "I'll get some fellows up from Pompey!"

"What?" said Smalme, realising he had been outmanoeuvred.  What had he let himself in for?