Word filtered back to the valley of the Manchu troop movements on the Mongolian side of the Great Wall of China during the next few weeks. It appeared that an offensive was being prepared in face of the rising unrest on the high plateau. Caravans plodding across the Gobi Desert brought tales of skirmishes and executions to Urga. The Manchu Governor-General of the territory began to tighten security around the city against incursions from the mountain clans.
The worst news that came was a report that the Phantom General's troops had routed a Manchu column bound for Dragon's Heart. Many lives were said to have been lost on both sides, but no list of dead and wounded was forthcoming.
The usually kind people of the area became hostile toward the clan of Damba's father, knowing of his connection by marriage to the Dragon Throne. Many feared that they may have lost sons, brothers or husbands in the battle.
"Once again, the ruby has brought death," deplored Romelle on the morning before her birthday in late August. "Will its curse never end?"
Dash had come down from the temple to spend the day. Rebel had fully recovered and met him joyfully at the gate.
"May I suggest a pre-birthday picnic in a glade I know near the trail down the escarpment?" he queried. "There's a stream running through it. I have brought a nice lunch in the American style, prepared by the temple cook as your father taught him."
He set a basket on the dining table in the cottage and opened it. "Fried chicken and potato salad! Isn't that the way it's done?"
"Oh, Doctor Dash," cried Romelle, embracing him and giving him a kiss. "I can think of no nicer birthday gift, unless...Brad and Dayan were to come home."
Dash smiled. "They are in God's care, child. How much safer could they be? Let's be on our way. It will be warm today, and a nice wade in a cool stream is a worthy goal."
The three of them set out, with Rebel running ahead. The dog ran on a great distance twice, returning each time to insure they were still behind. The third time, he did not come back.
"Where is Rebel?" Romelle asked after a lengthy time.
He was nowhere in sight.
"Perhaps he's found a rabbit to track," suggested Dash. "We've an abundance of them in the valley - sleek, long-eared fellows. Any one of them would give him a good run."
As they approached the escarpment, Bart stood in his stirrups, on the alert. "What is that mass of people coming down? I've never seen so many up there at once!"
Dash frowned. "It looks like an army. I don't understand. But it's an army of Mongols! Look at the ancient uniforms of leather and mail."
"Shades of Jenghiz Khan!" murmured Romelle.
Suddenly, she cried out, "Look, there's Rebel! He's guiding them down!"As proudly as an Arab stallion, Rebel pranced ahead of a double column of men on horseback. They fanned out into broader lines as the trail widened to become the thoroughfare that crossed Dragon's Heart.
Immediately behind the dog rode Dayan. Behind him came Brad and Damba.
Beside Dayan, a palanquin borne by four soldiers on foot carried the Empress Eugénie. The radiance of the litter's cloth-of-gold curtains in the brilliant sunshine nearly consumed her with light.
At sight of her, the three from the valley burst into cries of "Blessing of God!" The cry was echoed in rippling chorus through all the ranks of troops.
"Look, my friends, this is the scene foretold by Dayan's vision in our circle of souls on Romelle's third birthday at Farnborough Hill!" exclaimed Dash with awe. "A great army descending a mountainside...the escarpment of Dragon's Heart! At its head an imposing general...my son! At his side a magnificent lady in a palanquin shimmering in the sun...the Empress Eugénie! All around them cries of 'Blessing of God, blessing of God.' Before them, leading the way, a small, prancing dog...Rebel! Could you doubt now, Bart, that Philo Duncan was the instrument of God's will that has brought us together here at this moment in the infinity of time?"
Romelle's heart was full. The words of Doctor Dash have healed my grief at last. Philo's life could have been lived no other way.
"My dear ones!" called Eugénie as she neared them. "Doctor Bart! Doctor Dash! After all these years! Romelle! I have brought Prince Dayan. It's his birthday tomorrow, too! What a celebration we shall have! Come to me!"
They dismounted and hurried to the litter. Dayan was already helping the Empress to the ground.
Romelle began to sweep into a curtsy, but Eugénie stopped her with an affectionate hug.
"The Living Buddha told me at Urga that you are a living goddess, my dear. He made me one, too, whilst I am in the country. You don't have to curtsy. We are equals now!"
As impeccably groomed as if she had come from tea at the Continental in Paris, the Empress stamped her dainty boots on the dusty road. "Oh, it's so good to be on terra firma again! The Living Buddha supplied my litter, but it bounced me like a rubber ball. I came all the way on horseback instead. I'm still quite a good rider, I discover. But I'm grateful I had the litter for this frightening trail. I kept one eye closed because I was afraid, and the other open to make sure those handsome young bearers stayed away from the edge!"
Brad came forward for his share of greetings. Damba stood aside beaming while Dayan lingered a little away.
"I have never seen such a beautiful valley!" declared the Empress. "I told Captain Duncan once that I prayed the mystery of Dragon's Heart would be resolved in my lifetime. And so it has. I look now at these scarlet flowers splashed across the escarpment walls and thank God those anxieties have come to an end."
"Your Imperial Majesty," interjected Bart, "we were bound for a picnic in a peaceful, shady glade not far from here. Why don't we go there and relax? Later, when you're rested, we can proceed to my home."
Eugénie was delighted.
Dayan's army pitched camp by the road. A thousand yurts mushroomed in an hour.
In the glade, they laid out sables for the Empress and Romelle, who sat close together with fingers entwined. Brad and Damba joined them. Dayan stood leaning against a tree, his warrior's helmet removed. She noticed that his black hair was growing back now that he no longer had to pose as a lama. He looked very handsome, but seemed unusually shy.
"Tell me how this has come about," Romelle demanded.
"It's quite a tale," Brad volunteered. "I crossed into Siberia when Damba and I were calling in the cavalry units for training. I telegraphed the Tsar and told him where I was. He sent Cossacks to my location and they took me to a telephone line where I was able to talk to the Tsar in person. We talked about the Magic Wine. He said they have enough to last till mid-September, so the delay caused by the war danger caused Alexis no harm. Alexis came on the line, and I told him about the Golden City. He was thrilled. There's a special citation waiting at Tsarskoe Selo. Rebel's new title is Imperial Brigadier of the Tsarevich Kennel Corps. He outranks me!"
Rebel's head was resting in Brad's lap. The Marine stroked the dog's ears.
"I also asked the Tsar to notify the Empress that we had found Bart. In addition, I gave him a message for President Taft, which he relayed through the American Embassy. I told the President about everything except the secret of the Magic Wine and Alexis' condition. I was asked to return the following week for any special instructions that might come through."
The Empress laughed. "When our Marine called back, he got the surprise of his life. Me! The Tsar informed him I had decided to come. I felt I had earned the right after these years of living with the constant danger of Dragon's Heart. Ah, you should have heard the hue and cry! King George said no. President Fallieres of France had a fit.
"They like to think of me as an old lady, you see, but we know better, don't we?"
She squeezed Romelle's hand.
"The Tsaritsa understood," the Empress continued. "She said why not? That was enough for the Tsar. I sailed in the Thistle to St. Petersburg and spent a few days at Tsarskoe Selo. Then the Tsar and his family took me beyond Lake Baikal on their private train. A veritable army of handsome Cossacks brought me on the new railroad branch to the Mongolian frontier. I used the same car the Tsaritsa provided for you. From there, I traveled in the Living Buddha's new motorcar, a gift from the Tsar, on Romelle's new highway. It was luxurious all the way. My companions were these three charming young men - Prince Dayan, our Marine, and my pet, Damba."
Romelle looked at the men. "We thought you were away at the wars!"
"We were," answered Brad, "but the presence of the Empress has created a truce throughout the country. The Tsar, the President of France and the King of England have issued a joint statement to the Emperor of China, who is all of four years old, that there will be peace in Mongolia while she is here."
Brad bragged that no Mongolians had lost their lives in the battle against the Manchu soldiers who were headed for the valley. "We finished off quite a few of them. The Manchus gravely underestimated our strength. They did not know that the private army of Damba's father was actually the army of Prince Dayan. We're a hundred-thousand strong. It's been a well-kept secret. Even Damba's father didn't know."
Damba nodded. "He knows now. My unfortunate father is under house arrest until this war is over. This will give him time to measure his values anew. He was most surprised to hear that I am not a lama. He thought my years in Japan were spent in spiritual studies."
The afternoon passed quickly. At four, the Empress announced she was ready to journey on. She rode sidesaddle until they neared the settlement, then changed to the litter, asking Romelle to join her.
"We will be two goddesses, out for an afternoon ride," she smiled.
Dayan had brought a guard of a hundred men from the encampment. The entourage created a colossal stir as it passed the caravansary.
The cook from the temple came down that evening to combine forces with Bart's cook to create a gala dinner to honor the arrival of the Empress. Fresh vegetables from Bart's garden and individual, breaded racks of spring lamb from the valley's finest stock were baked and scented with herbs.
Romelle was the last to appear. When everyone was assembled, she came out of her room wearing the white dress with the violet-embroidered bertha collar.
The men stood, their breath taken away by the sight of her in European garments that were not black.
"My mourning has come to an end," she announced. "I have regained my peace of mind. I am ready to face life again."
Around her throat were Annie's pearls. She wore her earrings from the Empress, and the canary diamond ring from Philo.
"It's high time, my dear!" exclaimed Eugénie. "Now I can tell you that I had Paul Poiret run up a whole new wardrobe for you in Paris. I brought a trunkload!"
After dinner, the Empress retired early, much in need of a night in a comfortable bed. Dash and Bart went outside to discuss the military situation with the others. Brad and Romelle were left alone.
"I need to talk to you, Romy," he said. "The Empress gave me news from Baltimore. Michael Foley is dead. He died suddenly of a heart attack. His assistant is running Duncan Cargo under Bridget's supervision. As soon as I can leave Mongolia, I think I should go back to the States and give them a hand until Uncle Bart decides what to do. I'm sure I can get a release from the Marine Corps. President Taft has suggested it himself.
"Romy, you know I love you, but I'd be out of my element with you. Basically, I'm just an American fellow who thrives in his native soil. You're Picasso's Golden Parisienne. You deserve more than someone like me. I thought at first it might work. I see now that it won't. I've done all that I can do out here. They don't need me now. If you don't mind, I'll go back with the Empress. We need to go before the weather turns to winter. She really is an old lady, you know. I don't want anything to happen to her. Do you understand?"
Romelle nodded. Her heart was filled with gratitude that Brad could remain her beloved brother, and she would not have to make a choice that would hurt him.
She slept peacefully that night in her father's room. Her own room she had given to Eugénie. Bart shared a yurt with Brad in the compound. Dayan spent the night with Dash.