Suddenly his mood changed. He grinned like a naughty schoolboy. “At this
moment I cannot think of anything I want more.”
Then you and I will have to draw up some sort of working agreement,” she
told him, and she leaned forward in a businesslike manner. “First, let
me tell you what I want, and then you can do the same.”
It was hard bargaining, and it was one in the morning when Royan
admitted her exhaustion. “I can’t think straight any more. Can we start
again tomorrow morning?” They still had not reached an agreement.
“It’s tomorrow morning already,” he told her. “But you are right.
Thoughtless of me. You can sleep here. After all, we do have
twenty-seven bedrooms here.”
“No, thanks.” She stood up. “I’ll go on home.”
“The road will be icy,” he warned her. Then he saw her determined
expression and held up his hands in capitulation. “All right, I won’t
insist. What time tomorrow? I have a meeting with my lawyers at ten, but
we should be finished by noon. Why don’t you and I have a working lunch
here? I was supposed to be shooting at Ganton in the afternoon, but I
will cancel that. That way I will have the afternoon and evening clear
Nicholas’s meeting with the lawyers took place the next morning in the
library of Quenton Park. It was not an easy nor a pleasant session, but
then he never expected it to be. This had been the year in which his
world began to fall to pieces around his head. He gritted his teeth as
he remembered how the year had opened with that fatal moment of fatigue
and inattention at midnight on the icy motorway, and the blinding
headlights of the truck bearing down on them.
He had not recovered from that before the next brutal blow had fallen.
This was the financial report of the Lloyd’s insurance syndicate on
which Nicholas, like his father and grandfather before him, was a
“Name’. For half a century the family had enjoyed a regular and
substantial income from their share of the syndicate profits. Of
course,’Nicholas had been aware that liability for his share of any
losses that the syndicate suffered was unlimited. The enormity of that
responsibility had weighed lightly; for there had never been serious
losses to account for, not for fifty years, not until this year.
With the California earthquake and environmental pollution claims
awarded against one of the multinational chemical companies, the
syndicate’s losses had amounted to over twenty-six million pounds
sterling. Nicholas’s share of that loss was two and a half million
pounds – some of which had been settled, but the rest was due for
payment in a little over eight months’ time – together with whatever
nasty surprises next year might hold.
Almost immediately after that the Quenton Park estate’s crop of sugar
beet, almost a thousand acres in total, had been hit by rhizomania, the
mad root disease. They had lost the lot.
“We will need to find at least two and a half million,” said one of the
lawyers. “That should be no problem – the Hall is filled with valuable
items, and what about the museum? What could we reasonably expect from
the sale of some of the exhibits?”
Nicholas winced at the thought of selling the Ramesses statue, the
bronzes, the Hammurabi frieze or any item of his cherished collection at
the Hall or the museum. He acknowledged that their sale would cover his
debts, but he doubted that he could live without them. Almost anything
was preferable to parting with them.
“Hell, no,” Nicholas cut in, and the lawyer looked across at him coldly.
“Well, let’s see what else we’ve got,” he continued remorselessly.
“There’s the dairy herd.”
“That will bring in a hundred thousand, if we are lucky,” Nicholas
grunted. “Leaves only two point four million to find.”
“And your racing stud,” the accountant came into the conversation.
“I have only six horses in training. Another two hundred grand.”
Nicholas smiled without humour, “Brings us down to two point two. We are
getting there slowly.”
“The yacht,” suggested the youngest lawyer.
“It’s older than I am,” Nicholas shook his head, “belonged to my father,
for heaven’s sake. You probably wouldn’t be able to give it away.
Sentimental is the only value it has. My shotguns would be worth more.”
Both lawyers bent their heads over their lists, “Ah, yes!
We have those. A pair of Purdey sidelock ejectors in good condition.
Estimate forty thousand.”
“I also have some secondhand socks and underpants,” Nicholas admitted.
‘%why don’t you list those also?”
They ignored the jibe. “men there is the London house,” the elder lawyer
went on unperturbed, inured to human suffering. “Good address. Value one
point five million.”
“Not in this financial climate, Nicholas contradicted him. “A million is
more realistic.” The lawyer made a note in the margin of his document
before going on, “Of course we want to avoid, if at all possible,
putting the entire estate up for sale.”
It was a hard and difficult meeting which ended with nothing definitely
decided, and Nicholas feeling angry and frustrated.
He saw the lawyers off, and then went up to the family quarters to take
a quick shower and change his shirt. As an afterthought, and for no
good’reason, he shaved and splashed aftershave on his cheeks.
He drove across the park and left the Range Rover in the museum car
park. The snow had turned to sleet, and I his bare head was sprinkled
with cold droplets by the time he had crossed the car park.
Royan was waiting in Mrs. Street’s office. The two of them seemed to be
getting along well together. He stopped outside the door to listen to
her laughter. It made him feel a little better.
The cook had sent across a hot lunch from the main house. She seemed to
believe that a substantial meal would keep this foul weather at bay.
There was a tureen of thick, rich minestrone and a Lancashire hotpot,
with a half bottle of red Burgundy for him and a jug of freshly squeezed
orange juice for her. They ate in front of the fire, while the rain
whipped against the windowpanes.
While they ate he asked her to give him the details of Duraid’s murder.
She left out nothing, including her own injuries and drew back her
sleeve to show him the dressing over the knife wound. He listened
intently as she told him of the second attempt on her life in the
streets of Cairo.
“Any suspicions?” he asked, when she had finished.
“Anybody you can think of who might be responsible?” But she shook her
“There was no warning of any kind, she said.
They finished the meal in silence, each of them thinking their own
thoughts. Over the coffee he suggested, “All right, then. -What about
They argued back and forth for nearly an hour.
“It’s difficult to agree on your share of the booty, until I know just
what your contribution is going to be,’Nicholas protested as he topped
up their coffee cups. “After all, I am going to be called on to finance
and conduct the expedition-‘
“You will just have to trust that my contribution will be worthwhile,
otherwise there will simply be no booty, as you call it. Anyway you can
be certain I am not going to tell you one thing more until we have -an
agreement, and have shaken hands on it.”
“A bit harsh?” he asked, and she gave him a wicked smile.
“If you don’t like my terms, there are three other names on Duraid’s
list of possible sponsors,” she threatened.
“All right,” he cut in with a contrived look of martyrdom, “I agree to
your proposal, But how do we calculate equal shares?”
“I shall choose the first item of any archaeological artefacts we are
able to retrieve, and you the next, and so on, turn about.”
“How about I choose first?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Let’s spin for it,” she suggested, and he fished a pound coin from his
“Call!” He flipped the coin, and while it was in the air she called,
“Damn!” he exclaimed, as he retrieved the coin and shoved it back into
his pocket. “So, you get first choice of the booty, if there ever is
any.” He held out his hand across the lunch table. “It will be yours to
do exactly what you want to do with it. You can even donate it to the
Cairo museum, if that is still your particular aberration. Deal?” he
asked, and. she took his hand.
“Deal,” she agreed, and then added, Partner.”
“Now let’s get down to it. No more secrets between us Tell me every
detail that you have been holding back.”
“Bring that book,” she pointed to the copy of River God, and while he
fetched it she pushed the dirty dishes aside. “The first thing we should
go over is the sections of the book that Duraid edited.” She turned to
the last pages.
“Here. This is where Duraid’s obfuscation begins.”
“Good word,’Nicholas smiled, “but let’s keep it simple.
You have obfuscated me enough already.”
She did not even smile. “You know the story to this point. Queen Lostris
and her people are driven out of Egypt by the Hyksos and their superior
chariots. They journey south up the Nile until they reach the confluence
of the White and Blue Niles. In other words, present-day Khartoum. All
this is reasonably faithful to the scrolls.”
“I recall. Go on.”
“In the holds of their river galleys they are carrying the mummified
body of Queen Lostris’s husband, Pharaoh Mamose the Eighth. Twelve years
previously she has sworn to him as he lay dying of a Hyksos arrow
through his lung that she would find a secure burial site for him, and
that she would lay him in it with all his vast treasure. When they reach
Khartoum she determines that the time has at last come for her to make
good her promise to him. She sends out her son, the fourteen-year-old
Prince Memnon, with a squadron of chariots to find the burial site.
Memnon is accompanied by his mentor, the narrator of the history, the
“Okay, I remember this section. Memnon and Taita consult the black
Shilluk slaves they have captured, and on their advice decide to follow
the left-hand fork of the rivet, or what we know as the Blue Nile.”
Royan nodded and continued the story. “They travelled eastwards and were
confronted by formidable mountains, so high that they were described as
a blue rampart.
So far what you read in the book is a fairly faithful rendition of the
scrolls, but at this point,” she tapped the open page, we come to
Duraid’s red herring. In his description of the foothills-‘
Before she could continue, Nicholas interjected, “I remember thinking
when I originally read it that it didn’t accurately describe the area
where the Blue Nile emerges from the Ethiopian highlands. There are no
foothills. There is only the sheer western escarpment of the massif. The
river comes out of it like a snake out of its hole. Whoever wrote that
description doesn’t know the course of the Blue Nile.”
“Do you know the area?” Royan asked, and he laughed and nodded.
“Alhen I was younger and even more stupid than I am now, I conceived the
grandiose plan of boating the Abbay gorge from Lake Tana down to the dam
at Roseires in the Sudan. The Abbay is the Ethiopian name for the Blue
Nile., “Why did you want to do that?”
“Because it had never been done before. Major Cheesman, the British
consul, had a shot at it in 1932, and nearly drowned himself. I thought
I could make a film, and write a book about the voyage and earn myself a
fortune , from the royalties. I talked my father into financing the
expedition. It was the kind of mad escapade that appealed to him. He
even wanted to join the expedition. I studied the whole course of the
Abbay river, not only on maps. I also bought myself an old Cessna 180
and flew down the gorge, five hundred miles from Lake Tana to the dam.
As I said, I was twenty-one years old and crazy.”
“What happened?” She was fascinated. Duraid had never told her about
this, but it was the type of adventure that she would have expected this
man to launch into.
“I recruited eight of my friends from Sandhurst, and we devoted our
Christmas holidays to the attempt. It was a fiasco. We lasted two days
on those wild waters. The gorge is the most hellish corner of this earth
that I know of It’s almost twice as deep and as rugged as the Grand
Canyon of the Colorado river in Arizona. It smashed up our kayaks before
we had covered twenty miles out of the five hundred.
We had to abandon all our equipment and climb the walls of the gorge to
reach civilization again.”
He looked serious for a moment, “I lost two members of our party. Bobby
Palmer was drowned, and Tim Marshall fell on the cliffs. We were not
even able to recover their bodies. They are still down there somewhere.
I had to tell their parents-‘ he broke off as he remembered the agony of
“Has anybody ever succeeded in navigating the Blue Nile gorge?”-she
asked, to distract him.
“Yes. I went back a few years later. This time not as leader, but as a
very junior member of the official British Armed Forces Expedition. It
took the army, the navy and the air force to beat that river.”
She stared at him with a feeling of awe. He had actually rafted the
Abbay. It was as though she had been led to him by some strange fate.
Duraid was right. There bably no man in the world better qualified for
the was pro work in hand.
“So you know as much as anybody about the real the gorge. I will try to
give you a general nature of indication of what Taita actually set down
in the seventh scroll. Unfortunately this section of the scroll had
suffered some damage and Duraid and I were obliged to extrapolate from
parts of the text. You will have to tell me how this agrees with your
own knowledge of the terrain.”
“Go ahead, he invited her.
“Taita described the escarpment very much the -way you did, as a sheer
wall from which the river emerged.
They were forced to leave their chariots, which were unable to cover the
steep and rugged terrain of the canyon. They were forced to go forward
on foot, leading the pack horses.
Soon the gorge grew so steep and dangerous that they lost, which fell
from the wild goat tracks some of these animal they were following and
plunged into the river far below.
This did not deter them and they pressed on at the orders of Prince
“I can see it exactly as he describes it. It’s a fearsome bit of
“Taita then describes coming to a series of obstacles, which he
describes as “steps”. Duraid and I could not decide with certainty what
these were. But our best guess was that they were waterfalls.”
“No shortage of those in the Abbay gorge, either,” Nicholas nodded.
“This is the important part of his testimony. Taita tells us that after
twenty days’ travel up the gorge they came upon the “second step”. It
was here that the prince received a fortuitous message from his dead
father, in the form of a dream, in which he chose this as the site of
his own tomb.
Taita tells us that they travelled no further. If we are able to
determine what it was that stopped them, that would give us an accurate
measurement of just how far into the gorge they penetrated.”
“Before we can go any further we will need maps and satellite
photographs of the mountains, and I will have to go over my expedition
notes and diary,” Nicholas decided “I try to keep my reference library
up-to-date, and so we should have satellite photographs and the most
recent maps on file here in the museum. If they are Mrs. Street is the
one to find them.”
He stood up and stretched, “I will dig out my diaries this evening and
read over them. My great-grandfather also hunted and collected in
Ethiopia in the last century. I know he crossed the Blue Nile near Debra
Markos in 1890something. I’ll get out his notes as well. They are
preserved in our archives. The old boy may have written something there
that could help us.”
He walked with her to the old green Land Rover in the car park, and as
she started the engine he told her through the open window, “I still
think that you should stay over here at the Hall. It must be an
hour-and-a-half’s drive across to Brandsbury – each way that’s three
hours a day. We are going to have a lot of work to do before we can even
think of leaving for Africa.”
“What would people think?” she asked, as she let out the clutch.
“I have never given a damn about people,” he called after her. “What
time will I see you tomorrow?”
I have to stop off to see the doctor in York. He is going to take the
stitches out of my arm. I won’t be here before eleven,” she stuck her
head out of the window to yell back at him.
The wind tossed her dark hair around her face. His fancy had always run
towards dark-haired women. Rosalind had had that mysterious Eastern
look. He felt guilty and disloyal making the comparison, but the memory
of Royan was hard to shake off.
She was the first woman who had interested him since Rosalind had gone.
The admixture of her blood drew him.
She was exotic enough to pique his taste for. the oriental, but English
enough to speak his language and understand his sense of humour. She was
educated and knowledgeable about those things that interested him, and
he admired her spirit. Usually Eastern women were trained from birth to
be self-effacing and compliant. This one was different.
eorgina had phoned her doctor in York to make an appointment to have the
stitches removed from Royan’s arm. They left after breakfast from the
cottage in Brandsbury. Georgina was driving and Magic sat between them
on the bench seat.
As they turned into the village street, Royan noticed a large MAN truck
parked down near the post office, but she thought no more about it.
Once they were out in the countryside they found there were patches of
heavy fog that in places reduced visibility to thirty yards, but
Georgina made no concessions to the weather, and sent the Land Rover
rattling and whining through it at the top of its speed, which Royan
reflected thankfully was on the right side of sixty miles an hour.
She glanced over her shoulder to check the road behind them, and saw
that the MAN truck was following them, Only the cab rose above the sea
of low mist that surrounded it like the conning tower of a submarine.
Even as she watched it, a bank of fog intervened and swallowed it up.
She turned back to listen to her mother.
“This government is a troop of incompetent nincompoops.” Georgina
squinted her eyes against the smoke from the cigarette that dangled from
her lips. She drove singlehanded, stroking Magic’s flowing silken ear
with her free hand, “I don’t mind ministers boiling themselves into a
stupor, but when they start fiddling around with my pension I get really
mad.” Her mother’s pension from the foreign service was her sole source
of income, and it wasn’t much.
“You don’t truly want a Labour government, now tell the truth, Mummy,’
Royan teased her. Her mother had always been the arch Conservative.
Georgina wavered, and then avoided the choice, “All I say is, bring back
Royan turned slightly in her seat and glanced through the dirty rear
window again. The truck was still behind them, looming out of the fog
and the trail of blue exhaust smoke that Georgina was laying behind her
like the vapour trail of a jet aircraft. Up until now it had hung back,
but suddenly it accelerated up behind them.
“I think he wants to pass you,” Royan told Georgina mildly.
The massive bonnet of the truck was only twenty feet from their rear
bumper. The radiator was emblazoned with the chrome logo “MAN’ and stood
taller than the cab of the Land Rover, so that she could not see the
face of the driver from where she sat.
“Everybody wants to pass me,” lamented Georgina.
“Story of my life.” She held the centre of the narrow road doggedly.
Royan glanced back again, and saw that the truck was creeping still
closer. It filled the rear window completely.
The driver declutched and revved the gigantic engine menacingly.
“You’ better give over. I think he means business.”
“Let him wait,’ Georgina grunted around her cigarette butt. “Patience is
a virtue. Anyway, can’t let him through here. There is a narrow stone
bridge ahead of us. Know this stretch of road like the way to my own
At that moment the truck-driver sounded his klaxon so close that it was
deafening. Magic jumped up on the rear seat and barked in outrage.
“Stupid bastard,” Georgina swore bitterly. “What does he think he is
playing at? Write down his number plate. I am going to report him to the
“His plates are covered with mud. Can’t make it out, but it looks like a
continental registration. German, I think.”
As if the driver had heard her protest he slowed slightly and fell back
until a gap of twenty yards opened between the two vehicles. Royan had
swivelled right round in the seat to watch him.
“That’s better,” Georgina said smugly. “Ruddy Hun learning some
manners.” She peered ahead through the fog, “There is the bridge For the
first time Royan was able to see up into the driver’s cab of the truck.
The driver wore a balactava helmet that covered all but his eyes and
nose with dark blue wool. It gave him a sinister and evil aspect.
“Look outV Royan screamed suddenly. “He is coming straight at us!” The
engine beat of the great truck rose to a bellow that engulfed them like
the sound of a gale-driven sea. For a moment Royan saw’nothing but
glittering steel and then the front of the truck smashed into them from
She was thrown half over the back of her seat by the impact. She dragged
herself up and saw that the truck had picked them up like a fox with a
bird in its jaws. It carried the Land Rover forward on the steel bull
bars that protected the shining chromed radiator.
Georgina wrestled with the wheel, trying to maintain control, but the
effort was futile. “Can’t hold her. The bridge! Try and get clear-‘
Royan hit the quick-release buckle on her safety-belt and reached for
the door handle. The stone walls of the bridge were racing towards them
at a terrifying pace. The Land Rover was slewing across the road,
completely out of control.
The door burst open in Royan’s grip, but she could not push it all the
way before the Land Rover was flung into the solid stonework columns
that guarded the approaches PI to the bridge, The two women screamed in
unison as the vehicle crumpled, and the impact hurled them forward. The
windscreen shattered as they bounced off the stone columns, and the body
of the Land Rover flipped over as it went down the embankment and began
Royan was catapulted through the open door and flung clear. The slope of
the bank broke her fall, but it knocked the wind out of her. She bounced
and rolled down the incline and then dropped into the icy waters of the
stream below the bridge.
Just before her head went under, she found herself looking up at the sky
and the bridge above her. She caught one last glimpse of the truck
before it roared away. It was towing two huge cargo trailers. The tall
bodywork of the trailers stood higher than the guard rail of the bridge.
Both of the trailers were covered by a heav green nylon tarpaulin roped
down to the lugs on the body. She had only a subliminal glimpse of a
large red trademark and company name painted on the side of the nearest
trailer, but before she could register the name she was plunged below
the surface of the stream and the cold and the force of her fall drove
the air from her lungs.
She fought her way to the surface of the river, and found she had been
washed some way downstream.
Impeded by her sodden clothing, she floundered to the bank and used the
branch of a tree to haul herself out.
She knelt in the mud, coughing up the water she had swallowed and trying
to assess what injury she had suffered in the collision. Then her own
plight was forgotten as she heard the terrible sounds of her mother’s
agony from the overturned wreck of the Land Rover.
In frantic haste she clawed herself to her feet and stumbled through the
wet and frosted grass to where the Land Rover lay on its back at the
foot of the embankment.
The bodywork was crumpled and torn, and the bright silver aluminium
metal shone through where the dark green paint had been stripped away.
The engine had stalled, and the front wheels were still spinning
aimlessly as she reached it.
“Mummy! Where are you?” she cried, and the terrible sounds never
checked. She used the metal body of the vehicle to steady herself as she
dragged herself towards the sound, dreading what she might find.
Georgina sat on the wet earth with her back against the side of the car.
Her legs were thrust out straight ahead of her. The left one was twisted
so that the toe of the booted foot was pointed down into the mud at an
unnatural angle. The leg was obviously broken at the knee or very close
This was not the cause of Georgina’s distress. She held Magic in her
lap, and was bowed over him in an attitude of abandoned grief; the sound
of it bubbled up unchecked from deep inside her. The spaniel’s chest had
been crushed between metal and earth. His tongue lolled from the corner
of his mouth in his last smile, but the blood dripped steadily from the
pink tip and Georgina was using her scarf to wipe it away.
Royan sank down beside her mother and placed one arm around her
shoulders. She had never before seen her mother weep. She hugged her
hard and tried by main strength to quell the sound of her sorrow, but it
went on and on. , She never knew how long they sat together like that.
But at last the sight of her mother’s maimed leg, and an awakening fear
that the driver of the truck might return to finish the job, roused her.
She crawled up the bank and tottered into the centre of the road to stop
the next car that arrived on the scene.
Not until Royan was two hours late for their meeting did Nicholas become
sufficiently worried to phone the police in York. Fortunately he had
noticed the licence plate of the Land Rover.
It was an easy one for him to remember. The registration number was his
mother’s initials combined with an unlucky 13.
There was a delay while the woman constable checked her computer, and
then she came back. “I am sorry to have to tell you, sir, that Land
Rover was involved in an accident this morning.”
“What happened to the driver? Nicholas demanded brusquely.
“The driver and one passenger have been taken to the York Minster
“Are they all right?”
“I am sorry, sir. I don’t have that information.” It took Nicholas forty
minutes to reach the hospital and almost as long again to trace Royan.
She was in the women’s surgical ward, sitting beside her mother’s bed.
Her mother had not yet come round from the anaesthetic.
She looked up when Nicholas stood over her. “Are you all right? What the
“My mother – her leg is badly smashed up. The surgeon had to put a pin
in her thigh – the femur.
“How are you?”
“A few bruises and scrapes. Nothing serious., “How did it happen?”
“A truck – it pushed us off the road.”
“Not deliberate?” Nicholas felt something inside him quail as he
remembered another truck on another road on another night.
I think so. The driver wore a mask, a balaclava. He crashed into us from
behind. It must have been deliberate.”
“Did you tell the police?”
She nodded. “Apparently the truck was reported stolen early this
morning, long before the accident, while the driver was stopped at one
of those Little Chef cafes. He is German. Speaks no English.”
“That is the third time they have tried to kill you,” Nicholas told her
grimly. “So I am taking over now.”
He went out into the hospital waiting room and used the telephone there.
The chief constable of the county was a personal friend, as was the
By the time he returned, Georgina had come round from the anaesthetic.
Although still woozy she was comfortable as they wheeled her off to the
private ward that Nicholas, had arranged. The – orthopaedic surgeon
arrived a few minutes later.
“Hello, Nick, what are you doing here?” he greeted Nicholas. Royan was
surprised how many people knew him.
Then he turned his attention to Georgina. “How are you feeling? We have
got ourselves a nice little compound fracture. Looks like confetti in
there. We’ve managed to put it all together again, but you’re going to
be with us for ten days at the very least.”
“Right you are, young lady,” Nicholas told Royan as they left Georgina
sleeping. “What more do you need to convince you? My housekeeper has
made up a room for you at the Hall. I am not letting you wander around
on your own any more. Otherwise, next time they try to cull you they may
have a little more luck.”
She was still too shaken and upset to argue, and she climbed meekly into
the front seat of the Range Rover and let him drive her first to have
her stitches removed and then back to Quenton Park. As soon as they
arrived, he sent her up to her bedroom.
“The cook will send dinner up to you. Make sure you take the sleeping
pill that the doc gave you. Somebody will fetch your gear from ‘s
cottage to Mrs. Street. In the meantime my housekeeper has set out some
nightclothes and a toothbrush in your room for you. I don’t want to hear
from you again before tomorrow morning.”
It was good to have him take control of her life. For the first time
since that terrible night at the oasis she felt secure and safe. Still,
she made one last gesture of independence and self-reliance; she flushed
the Mogadon sleeping tablet down the toilet.
The nightdress that was laid on her pillow was full, length sheer silk
with finest Cambrai lace at the cuffs and It. . A robe. She had never
worn anything so luxurious and sensual against her skin before. She
realized that it must have belonged to his wife, and the knowledge
stirred mixed emotions in her. She climbed up into the four-poster bed,
but even that lonely expanse of over’soft mattress and her unfamiliar
surroundings did not keep her too long from sleep.
u the morning a young housemaid woke her with au copy of The Times and a
pot of Earl Grey tea, then returned a few minutes later with her
“Sir Nicholas would like you to take breakfast with him in the dining
room at eight-thirty., While she showered Royan inspected her naked body
in the full-length mirror that covered one wall of -the bathroom. Apart
from the knife wound on her -arm, which was still livid and only
partially healed, there was a dark bruise on her thigh and another down
her left flank and buttock, legacies of the car crash. Her shin was
scraped raw, and gingerly she pulled a pair of socks over the injury.
She limped a little as she went down the main staircase to find the
“Please help yourself.” Nicholas looked up from his newspaper to greet
her as she hesitated in the doorway. He waved at the display of
breakfast dishes on the sideboard.
As she spooned scrambled eggs on to her plate, she recognized the
landscape on the wall in front of her as a Constable.
“Did you sleep well?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but went on, “I have
heard from the police. They found the MAN truck abandoned in a lay-by
near Harrogate. They are going over it now but they don’t expect to find
We seem to be dealing with someone who knows what he is doing.”
“I must phone the hospital,” she said.
“I have already done so. Your mother had an easy night. I left a message
that you would visit her this evening.”
“This evening?” She looked around sharply. “Why so late?”
“I intend to keep you busy until then. I want to get my money’s worth
out of you.”
He stood as she came to the table, and drew back her chair to seat her.
She found the courtesy made her feel slightly uncomfortable, but she
made no comment.
“The first attack on you and Duraid at your villa in the oasis – we can
draw no conclusions from that” apart from the fact that the assassins
knew exactly what they were after, and where to look for it.” She found
the abrupt change of subject disconcerting. “However, let’s give some
thought to the second attempt in Cairo. The hand grenade.
Who knew you were going to the Ministry that afternoon, apart from the
She reflected as she chewed and swallowed a mouthful of egg. “I am not
sure. I think I told Duraid’s secretary, maybe one of the other research
He frowned and shook his head. “So half the museum staff knew about your
“That is about it, yes. Sorry.”
He pondered a moment, “All right. Who knew you were leaving Cairo? Who
knew you were staying at your mother’s cottage?”
“One of the clerks from administration brought my slides out to the
“Did you tell him what flight you were leaving on?”
“No, definitely not.”
“Did you tell anybody at all?”
“No. That is.-‘she hesitated.
“I told the minister himself during our interview, when I asked for
leave of absence. Not him surely not?” her expression. reflected her
horror at the thought.
Nicholas shrugged, “Some funny things happen. Of course, the minister
knew all about the work that you and Duraid were doing on the seventh
“Not all the details, but – yes – in general terms he knew what we were
“All right. Next question, tea or coffee?” He poured coffee into her
cup, and then went on, “You said that nso Duraid had a list of possible
sponsors for an expedition.
Might give us some ideas as to a short-list of suspects?”
“The Getty Museum,” she said, and he’ smiled.
“Cross one from the list. They don’t go around tossing grenades in the
streets of Cairo. Who else was there on the list?, “Gotthold Ernst von
“Hamburg. Heavy industry. Metal and alloy refineries.
Base mineral production.”Nicholas nodded. “Who was the third name on the
“Peter Walsh,” she said. “The Texan.”
“That’s the one,” he nodded. “Lives in Fort Worth.
Fast-food’franchising. Mail order retail.” There were very few
collectors with the substance to compete with the major institutions
when it came to making significant of antiquities or to financing
archaeological acquisitions exploration. Nicholas knew them all, for it
was a mutually antagonistic circle of no more than a couple of dozen
He had competed with each of them at one time or ano& on the auction
floors of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, not to mention other less salubrious
venues where “fresh’ antiquities were sold. The adjective “fresh’ was
used in the context of “fresh out of the ground’.
“Those are two beady-eyed bandits. They would probably eat their own
children if they felt peckish. What would they do if they thought you
stood in their way to the tomb of Mamose? Do you know if either of them
contacted Duraid after the book was published, the way I did?”
“I don’t know. They may have.”
“I cannot imagine that either of those beauties would have missed such
an easy trick. We must believe that they both know that Duraid had
something going on. We will put their names on our list of suspects.”
Then he inspected her plate. “Enough? Another spoonful of egg? No? Very
well, let’s go down to the museum and see what Mrs. Street has found for
us to work on.”
When they walked into his study, she was impressed by the amount of
organization that he had accomplished in such a short time. He must have
been busy at it all last night, turning the room into a military-type
In the centre of the room stood a large easel and blackboard which were
pinned a set of overlapping satellite photographs. She went across to
study them, and then glanced at the other material pinned on the board.
Along with a large-scale map covering the same area of southwestern
Ethiopia as the satellite photographs there were lists of names and
addresses, lists of equipment and stores which he had obviously used on
previous African expeditions, sheets of calculations of distance and
what looked like a preliminary financial budget. At the top of the board
was a schedule headed “Ethiopia – General Information’. There were five
closely typed sheets, so she did not read through the entire schedule,
but she was impressed by his thoroughness in preparation.
Royan determined to study all this material at the earliest opportunity,
but now she crossed to one of the two chairs he had set up at a table
facing the board. He stood at the board and picked up a silver-topped
swagger stick from the table, brandishing it like a schoolmaster’s
“Class will come to order.” He rapped on the board.
“The first thing you have to do is convince me that we will be able to
pick up the spoor of Taita again after it has had several thousand years
to cool. Let us first consider the geographical features of the Abbay
Nicholas described the course of the river on the satellite photograph
with his pointer. “Along this section the river has cut its way through
the flood basalt plateaux.
In places the cliff of the sub-gorge are sheer, as high as four or five
hundred feet on each side. Where there are intrusive strata of harder
igneous schists the river has not been able to erode them. They form a
series of gigantic steps in the course of the river. I think you are
correct in your assumption that Taita’s “steps” are actually waterp
He came to the table and picked out a photograph from amongst the
bundles of papers that covered it. “I took this in the gorge during the
Armed Forces Expedition in 1976. It will give you an idea of what some
of those falls are like.”
He passed her a black and white riverscape of towering cliffs on either
hand and a cascade of water that seemed to fall from the heavens to
dwarf the tiny figures of half-naked men and boats in the foreground.
“I had no idea it was. like thad’ She stared at it in awe.
“Doesn’t do justice to the splendid desolation down he told her. “From a
photographer’s there in the gorge, gra point of view there. is no place
to stand from which you can get it all into perspective. But at least
you can see how that waterfall would halt a party of Egyptians coming
upriver on foot, or at least with pack horses. There is usually some
sort of path alongside the cataracts made by elephant and other wild
game over the ages. However, there is simply no way to bypass waterfalls
such as this one, and to get around those cliffs.”
She nodded, and he went on, “Even coming downstream we had to lower the
boats and all our equipment down each set of waterfalls on ropes. It
“Let us agree that it was a waterfall that stopped them going further –
the second waterfall from the westerly approaches,” she conceded.
Nicholas picked up the swagger stick and on the satellite photograph
traced the course of the river up from the dark wedge shape of the
Roseires dam in central Sudan.
“The escarpment, rises on the Ethiopian side of the border, that is
where the gorge proper begins. No roads or towns in there, and only two
bridges far upstream. Nothing for five hundred miles except racing Nile
waters and savage black basalt rock.” He paused to let that sink in.
“It is one of the last true wildernesses on earth, with an evil
reputation as the haunt of wild animals and even wilder men. I have
marked the main falls that show in the gut of the gorge here on the
satellite photo.” With the pointer he picked them out, each circled
neatly in red marker pen.
“Here is waterfall number two, about a hundred and twenty miles upstream
from the Sudanese border. However, there are a number of factors we have
to consider, not least the fact that the river may have altered its
course during the last four thousand years since our friend, “Taita,
“Surely it could not have escaped from such a deep canyon, four thousand
feet,” she protested. “Even the Nile must be held captive by that?”
“Yes, but it would certainly have altered the existing bed. In the flood
season the volume and force of the river exceeds my ability to describe
it to you. The river rises twenty metres up the side walls and bores
through at speeds 3; of ten knots or more.”
“You navigated that?” she asked doubtfully.
“Not in the flood season. Nothing could survive that.
They both stared at the photograph in silence for a minute, imagining
the terrors of that mighty stretch of water in its fury.
Then she reminded him, “The second waterfall?
“Here it is, where one of the tributary rivers enters the main flow of
the Abbay. The tributary is the Dandera river and it rises at twelve
thousand feet altitude, below the peak of Sancai Mountain in the Choke
range, here about a hundred miles north of the gorge.”
“Do you remember the spot where it joins the Abbay from when you were
“It was over twenty years ago, and even then we had been almost a month
down there in the gorge, so it all seemed to merge into a single
nightmare. The memory bluffed with the monotonous surroundings of the
cliffs and the dense Jungle of the walls, and our senses were dulled by
the heat and the insects and the roar of water and the repetitive,
unremitting toil at the oars i But, strangely, I do remember the
confluence of the Dandera and the Abbay for two reasons.”
“Yes?” She sat forward eagerly, but he shook his head.
“We lost a man there. The only casualty on the second expedition. Rope
parted and he fell a hundred feet. Landed on his back across a spur of
i am sorry. But what was the other reason you remember the spot.”
“There is a Coptic Christian monastery there, built into the rock face
about four hundred feet above the surface of the river.”
“Down the re in the depths of the gorge?” She sounded incredulous. “Why
would they build a monastery there?”
“Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian countries on earth. It has over
nine thousand churches and monasteries, a great many of them in
similarly remote and almost inaccessible places in the mountains. This
one at the Dandera river is the reputed burial site of St. Frumentius,
the saint who introduced Christianity to Ethiopia from the Byzantine
Empire in Constantinople in the early third century. Legend has it that
he was shipwrecked on the Red Sea shore and taken to Aksum, where he
converted the Emperor Ezana.”
“Did you visit the monastery?”
“Hell, no!” he laughed. “We were too busy just surviving, too eager to
escape from the hell of the gorge to have any time for sightseeing. We
descended the falls and kept on down river. All I remember of the
monastery are the excavations in the cliff face high above the pool of
the river, and the distant figures of the troglodytic monks in their
white robes lining the parapet of the caves to watch impassively as we
passed. Some of us waved up to them) and felt quite rebuffed when they
made no response.”
“How would we ever reach that spot again, without a full-scale river
expedition?” she wondered aloud, staring disconsolately at the board.
“Discouraged already?” He grinned at her. “Wait until you meet some of
the mosquitoes that live down there.
They pick you up and fly with you to their lairs before they eat you.”
“Be serious,” she entreated him. “How would we ever get down there?”
“The monks are fed by the villagers who live up on the highlands above
the gorge. Apparently, there is a goat track down the wall. They told us
that it takes three days to get down that track into the gut of the
gorge from the rim.”
“Could you find your way down?”
“No, but I have a few ideas on the subject. We will come to that later.
Firstly, we must decide what we expect to find down there after four
thousand years.” He looked at her expectantly. “Your turn now. Convince
me.” He handed her the silver-headed pointer, dropped into the chair
beside her and folded his arms.
“First you have to go back to the book.” She exchanged the pointer for
the copy of River God. “You remember the character of Tanus from the
“Of course. He was the commander of the Egyptian armies under Queen
Lostris, with the title of Great Lion of Egypt. He led the exodus from
Egypt, when they were driven out by the Hyksos.”
“He was also the Queen’s secret lover and, if we are to believe Taita,
the father of Prince Memnon, her eldest son,” she agreed.
Tanus was killed during a punitive expedition against an Ethiopian chief
named Arkoun in the high mountains, and his body was mummified and
brought back to the Queen by Taita,’Nicholas expanded the story.
Precisely.” She nodded. This leads me on to the other clue that Duraid
and I winkled out.”
“From the seventh scroll?” He unfolded his arms and sat forward in his
“No, not from the scrolls, but from the inscriptions in the tomb of
Queen Lostris.” She reached into her bag and brought out another
photograph. This is an enlargement of a section of the murals from the
burial chamber, that part of the wall that later fell away and was lost
when the alabaster jars were revealed. Duraid and I believe that the
fact that Taita placed this inscription in the place of honour, over the
hiding-place of the scrolls, was significant.” She passed the photograph
to him, and he picked up a magnifying glass from the table to study it.
While he puzzled over the hieroglyphics Royan went on, “You will recall
from the book how Taita loved riddles and word games, how he boasts so
often that he is the greatest of all boa players?”
Nicholas looked up from the magnifying glass, “I remember that. I go
along with the theory that bao was the forerunner of the game of chess.
I have a dozen or so boards in the museum collection, some from Egypt
and others from further south in Africa.”
“Yes, I would also subscribe to that theory. Both games have many of the
same objects and rules, but bao is a more rudimentary form of the game.
It is played with coloured stones of different rank, instead of chess
men. Well, I believe that Taita was not able to resist the temptation to
display his riddling skills and his cleverness to posterity. I believe
that he was so conceited that he deliberately left clues to the location
of the Pharaoh’s tomb, both in the scrolls and amongst the murals that
he tells us he painted with his own hands in the tomb of his beloved
“You think that this is one of those clues?” Nicholas tapped the
photograph with the glass.
“Read it,” she instructed him. “It’s in classical hieroglyphics – not
too difficult compared to his cryptic codes.”
“‘The father of the prince who is not the father, the giver of the blue
that killed him,”‘ he translated haltingly, “‘guards eternally hand in
hand with Hapi the stone testament of the pathway to the father of the
prince who is not the father, the giver of blood and ashes.”‘
Nicholas shook his head, “No, it doesn’t make sense,” he protested, you
must have made an error in the translation.”
“Don’t despair. You are making your first acquaintance with Taita, the
champion bao, player and consummate riddler. Duraid and I puzzled over
it for weeks,” she reassured him. “To work it out, let’s go back to the
Tanus was not the father of Prince Memnon in name, but, as the Queen’s
lover, was his biological father. On his deathbed, he gave Memnon the
blue sword that had inflicted his own mortal wound during the battle
with the native Ethiopian chief There is a full description of the
battle in the book.”
“Yes, when I first read that section, I remember thinking that the blue
sword was probably one of the very earliest iron weapons, and in an age
of bronze would have been a marvel of the armourer’s art. A gift fit for
a prince,” Nicholas mused, and went on, “So “the father of the prince
who is not the father” is Tanus?” He sighed with resignation.
“For the moment I accept your interpretation.”
“Thank you for your trust and confidence in me,” she said sarcastically.
“But to proceed with Taita’s riddle Pharaoh Mamose was Memnon’s father
in name only, but not his blood father. Again the father who was not the
father. Mamose passed down to the prince the double crown of Egypt, the
red and white crowns of Upper and Lower Kingdoms – the blood and the
“I am able to swallow that more easily. What about the rest of the
inscription?”Nicholas was clearly intrigued.
“The expression “hand in hand” is ambiguous in ancient Egyptian. It
could just as well mean very close to, or within sight of, something.”
“Go on. At last you have me sitting up and taking notice,’Nicholas
“Hapi is the hermaphroditic god or goddess of the Nile, depending on the
gender he or she adopts at any particular moment. Throughout the scrolls
Taita uses Hapi as an alternative name for the river.”
“So if we put the seventh scroll and the “inscription from the Queen’s
tomb together, what then is your full interpretation?” he insisted.
“Simply this: Tanus is buried within sight of, or very close to, the
river at the second waterfall. There is a stone monument or inscription
on, or in, his tomb that points the way to the tomb of Pharaoh.”
He exhaled through his teeth. “I am exhausted from all this jumping to
conclusions. What other clues have you ferreted out for me?”
“That’s it,” she said, and he looked at her with disbelief.
“That’s it? Nothing else?” he demanded, and she shook her head.
“Just suppose that you are correct so far. Let us suppose that the river
is recognizably the same in shape and configuration as it was nearly
four thousand years ago. Let us further suppose that Taita was indeed
pointing us towards the second waterfall at the Dandera river. just what
do we look for when we get there? If there is a rock inscription, will
it still be intact or will it be eroded away by weather and the action
of the river?”
“Howard Carter had an equally slender lead to the tomb of Tutankhamen,’
she pointed out mildly. “A single piece of papyrus, of dubious
“Howard Carter had only the area of the Valley of the Kings to search.
It still took him ten years,” he replied. “You have given me Ethiopia, a
country twice the size of France.
How long will that take us, do you think?”
She stood up abruptly, “Excuse me, I think I should go and visit my
mother in hospital. It’s fairly obvious that I am wasting my time here.”
“It is not yet visiting hours,” he told her.
“She has a private room.” Royan made for the door.
“I will drive you to the hospital,” he offered.
“Don’t bother. I will call a taxi,” she replied in a tone that crackled
“A taxi will take an hour to get here,” he warned, and she relented just
enough to let him lead her to the Range Rover. They drove in silence for
fifteen minutes, before he spoke.
“I am not very good at apologies. Not much practice, I am afraid, but I
am sorry. I was abrupt. I didn’t mean to be.
Carried away by the excitement of the moment She did not reply, and
after a minute added,’You will have to talk to me, unless we are to
correspond only by note. It will be a bit awkward down in the Abbay
“I had the distinct impression that you were no longer interested in
going down there.” She stared ahead through the windscreen.
am a brute,” he agreedi and she glanced sideways at him. It was her
undoing. His grin was irresistible, and she laughed.
“I Suppose I will just have to come to terms with that fact. You are a
“Still partners?” he asked.
“At the moment you are the only brute I have.
suppose that I am stuck with you.”
He dropped her off at the main hospital entrance. “I will pick you up
here at three ‘clock,” he told her and drove on into the centre of York.
From his university days Nicholas had kept a small flat in one of the
narrow alleys behind York Minster. The entire building was registered in
the name of a Cayman Island company, and the unlisted telephone there
did not route through an internal switchboard. No ownership could be
traced to him personally. Before he had met Rosalind the flat had played
an important part in his social life. But nowadays Nicholas only used it
for confidential and clandestine business. Both the Libyan and the Iraqi
expeditions had been planned and organized from here.
He hadn’t used the flat for months, and it was cold and musty-smelling
and uninviting. He put a match to the gas fire in the grate and filled
the kettle. With a mug of steaming tea in front of him he placed a call
to a bank in Jersey, followed immediately by another to a bank in the
“A wise rat has more than one exit from its burrow.”
This was a family maxim, passed down through the generations. He was
going to need funds for the expedition, and the lawyers had most of
those locked up already.
He gave the passwords and account numbers to each of the bank managers,
and instructed them to make certain transfers. It always amazed him how
easily matters could be rranged, as long as you had money.
He checked his watch. It was still early morning in Florida, but Alison
picked up the phone on the second ring. She was the blonde feminine
dynamo who ran Global Safaris, a company that arranged hunting and
fishing expeditions to remote areas around the world.
“Hello, Nick. We haven’t heard from you in over a year. We thought you
didn’t love us any more.”
“I have been out of it for a while,” he admitted. How do you tell people
that your wife and two little girls had died?
“Ethiopia?” She did not sound at all disconcerted by the request. “When
did you want to go?”
“How about next week?”
“You have to be joking. We only work with one hunter there, Nassous
Roussos, and he is booked two years in advance.”
“Is there nobody else?” he insisted. “I have to be in and out again
before the big rains.”
“What trophies are you after? she hedged. “Mountain nyala? Menelik’s
“I am planning a collecting trip for the museum, down the Abbay river.”
It was as much as he was prepared to tell her.
She hedged a little longer and then told him reluctantly, This is
without our recommendation, do you understand. There is only one hunter
who may take You on at such short notice, but I don’t even know if he
has a camp on the Blue Nile. He is a Russian, and we have had mixed
reports about him. Some people say he is ex-KGB an was one of Mengistu’s
bunch of thugs.”
Mengistu was the “Black Stalin’ who had deposed an then murdered the
old Emperor Haile Selassie, and in sixteen years of despotic Marxist
rule had driven Ethiopia to its knees. When his sponsor, the Soviet
Empire, had collapsed, Mengistu had been overthrown and fled the
“I am desperate enough to go to bed with the devil,” he told her. “I
promise I won’t come back to you with any complaints.”
“Okay, then, no comebacks-‘ and she gave him a name and a telephone
number in Addis Ababa.
“I love you, Alison darling Nicholas told her.
“I wish,” she said, and hung up on him.
He didn’t expect that it would be easy to telephone Addis, and he wasn’t
disappointed in his expectations. But at last he got through. A woman
with a sweet lisping of Ethiopian accent answered and switched to fluent
English when he asked for Boris Brusilov.
“He is out on safari at present,” she told him. “I am Woizero Tessay,
his wife.” In Ethiopia a wife did not take on her husband’s name.
Nicholas remembered enough of the language to know that the name meant
Lady Sun, a pretty name.
“But if it is in connection with safari business I can help you,” said
Nicholas picked Royan up outside the hospital entrance.
“How is your mother?”
“Her leg is doing well, but she’s still distraught about is Magic –
about her dog.”
You will have to get her a puppy. One of my keepers breeds first-class
springers. I can arrange it.” He paused and then asked delicately, “Will
you be able to leave your mother? I mean, if we are going out to
“I spoke to her about that. There is a woman from her church group who
will stay with her until she is well enough to fend for herself again.”
Royan turned fully around in her seat to examine his face. “You have
been up to something since I last saw you,” she accused him. “I can see
it in your face.”
He made the Arabic sign against the evil eye, “Allah save me from
“Come on!” He could make her laugh so readily, she was not sure if that
was a good thing or not. “Tell me what you have up your sleeve.”
“Wait until we get back to the museum.” He would not be moved, and she
had to bridle her impatience.
As soon as they entered the building he led her through the Egyptian
room to the hall of African mammals, and then stopped her in front of a
diorama of mounted antelope. These were some of the smaller and
mediumsized varieties – impala, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, gerenuk
and the like.
“Madoqua harperii.” He pointed to a tiny creature in one corner of the
display. “Harper’s dik-dik, also known as the striped dik-dik.”
It was a nondescript little animal, not much bigger than a large hare.
The brown pelt was striped in chocolate over the shoulders and back, and
the nose was elongated into a prehensile proboscis.
“A bit tatty,” she gave her opinion carefully, unwilling to bend, yet
knowing he was inordinately Proud of this Specimen. “Is there something
special about it?, “Special?” he asked with wonder in his voice. The
Woman asks if it is special.” He rolled his eyes heavenward and she had
to laugh again at his histrionics. “It is the only known specimen in
creatures on earth. So rare that It is One of the rarest now. So rare it
is probably extinct by that many zoologists believe that apocryphal,
that it never really existed. They think it is that my sainted
great-grandfather, after whom it is named, actually invented it. One
learned reference hinted that he may have taken the skin of the striped
mongoose and stretched it over the form of a common dik-dik. Can you
imagine a more heinous accusation?)
“I am truly appalled by such injustice,’she laughed.
“Darned right, You should be. Because we are going to Africa to hunt for
another specimen of Madoqua harpent, to vindicate the honour of the
family., “I don’t understand.”
“Come with me and all will be explained.”He led her back to his study,
and from the jumble on the tabletop Picked out a notebook bound in red
Morocco leather. The cover was faded and stained with water marks and
tropical sun light, while the corners and the spine were frayed and
“Old Sir Jonathan’s game book,) he explained, and opened it. Pressed
between the pages were faded wild flowers and leaves that must have been
there for almost a century. The text was illuminated by line drawings in
faded Yellow ink of men and animals and wild landscapes.
Nicholas read the date at the top of one page.
2nd of February 1902.
A In camp on the Abbay river.
11 day following the spoor of two large bull ele Phants- Unable to come
up with the . Heat ve, intense- MY Men Played out Abandoned the chase
small antelope grazing on the river-bank which I and returned to camp.
On the return march lied a brought down with one shot from the little
Rigby “and- On close examination it proved to be a member of the genus
Madoqa. However, it was of a species that I had never seen before,
larger than the common dik-dik and Possessing a striped body. I believe
that this specimen may be new to science.
He looked up from the diary. “Old great-grandpa Jonathan has given us
the perfect excuse for going down into the Abbay gorge.” He closed the
book, and went on, “As you pointed out, to cater for our own expedition
would require months of planning and organization, not to mention the
expense. It would mean having to obtain approval and permission from the
Ethiopian government. In Africa that can take months, if not Years.”
“I don’t imagine that the Ethiopian government would be too cooperative
if they suspected our real intentions,” she agreed.
“On the other hand, there are a number of legitimate hunting safari
companies operating throughout the country. They have all the necessary
permits, governmental contacts, vehicles, camping equipment and logistic
back, up necessary to travel and stay in even the remotest areas.
The authorities are quite accustomed to foreign hunters arriving and
leaving with these companies, whereas a couple of ferengi nosing around
on their own would have the local military and everybody else down on
them like a herd of angry buffalo., ( So we are going to travel as a
pair of dik-dik hunters?”
“I have already made the booking with a safari operator in Addis Ababa,
the capital. MY Plan is to look upon the whole of our project in three
distinct and separate stages.
The first stage will be this reconnaissance. If we find the lead we are
hoping for, then we will go back again with our own men and equipment.
That will be stage two. Stage three, of course, will be getting the
booty out of Ethiopia, and that I assure you from past experience will
not be the easiest part of the operation.”
“How will you do that-‘ she began, but he held up his hands.
“Don’t ask, because at this stage I don’t have even the vaguest idea how
we will do it. One stage at a time.”
“When do we leave?”
“Before I tell you when, let me ask you one more question. Your
interpretation of the Taita riddle – did you explain that in the notes
that were stolen from you at the oasis?”
“Yes, everything was either in those notes or on the microfilm. I am
So the uglies will have it all neatly laid out for them, just the way
you laid it out for me.”
“I am afraid they will, yes.”
“Then to reply to your question as to when, the answer is tout de suite,
and the tooter the sweeter! We must get into the Abbay gorge before the
competition beats us to it.
They have had your conclusions and suppositions for almost a month. For
all we know they are on their way already!
“When?” she repeated eagerly.
“I have booked two seats on the British Airways flight to Nairobi this
Saturday – that is, in two days’ time. We will connect there with an Air
Kenya flight to Addis that will get us in on Monday at around midday. We
will drive down to London this evening and stay over at my digs there.
Are your yellow fever and hepatitis shots up to date?”
“Yes, but I have no equipment and hardly any clothing with me., I left
Cairo in rather a hurry.”
We will. see to that in London. Trouble with Ethiopia is it’s cold
enough to emasculate a brass monkey in the highlands, and like a sauna
bath down in the gorge.”
He crossed to the board and began to check off the items on his list.
“We will both start malarial prophylactics immediately. We are going
into an area of chloroquineresistant . falciparum mosquitoes, so I will
put you on Mefloquine “He worked swiftly through the list.
“Of course all your travel documents are in order, or you wouldn’t be
here. We will both need visas for Ethiopia, but I have a contact who can
arrange that in twenty-four hours.”
As soon as he completed the list he sent her up to her room to pack the
few personal items she had brought with her from Cairo.
By the time they were ready to leave Quenton Hall it was dark outside,
but still he stopped for an hour at the York Minster Hospital to allow
her to say goodbye to her mother. He waited in the Red Lion pub across
the road, and he smelt of Theakston’s Old Peculier when she climbed back
into the Range Rover beside him. It was a Pleasant, yeasty aroma, and
she felt so much at ease in his company that she lay back in the seat
and fell asleep.
His London house was in Knightsbridge, but despite the fashionable
address it was much less grand than Quenton Hall, and she felt IF more
at home there, even if it was only for two days.
During that time she saw little of Nicholas, for he was busy with all
the last-minute arrangements, which included a number of visits to
government offices in Whitehall. He returned with wads of letters -of
introduction to high officials and British Embassies and High
Commissions throughout East Africa.
“Ask any Englishman,” she smiled to herself “There is no such thing as
upper-class privilege any longer, nor is there an old-boy network that
runs the country.”
While he was away, she went off with the shopping list he had given her.
Even walking the streets of the safest Capital city in the world she
found herself looking back over her shoulder, and ducking in and out of
ladies’ rooms and tube stations to make certain that she was not being
“You are acting like a terrified child without its daddy,” she scolded
However, she felt a quite disproportionate sense of relief each evening
when she heard his key in the street door of the empty house where she
waited, and she had to control herself so as not to rush down the stairs
to welcome him.
On Saturday morning, when a taxi cab deposited them at the departures
level of Heathrow MNIJ Terminal Four, Nicholas surveyed their combined
luggage with approval. She had only a single soft canvas bag, no larger
than his, and her sling bag over her shoulder. His hunting rifle was
cased in travel-worn leather, with his initials embossed on the lid. A
hundred rounds of ammunition was packed in a separate brass’bound
magazine and he carried a leather briefcase that looked like a Victorian
“Travelling light is one of the great virtues. Lord save us from women
with mountains of luggage,5 he told her, refusing the services of a
porter and throwing it all on to a trolley, which he pushed himself.
She had to step out to keep up with him as he strode through the crowded
departures hall. Miraculously the throng opened before him. He tilted
the brim of his panama hat over one eye and grinned at the girl at the
check’in counter, so that she came over all girlish and flustered.
It was the same once they were aboard the aircraft.
The two stewardesses giggled at everything he said, plied him with
champagne and fussed over him outrageously, to the obvious irritation of
the other passengers, including Royan herself. But she ignored him and
them and settled back to enjoy the unaccustomed luxury of the reclining
first-class seat and her own miniature video screen. She tried to
concentrate on the screen images of Richard Gere, but found her
attention wandering to other images of wild canyons and ancient stelae.
Only when Nicholas nudged her did she look around at him a little
haughtily. He had set up a tiny travelling chessboard on the arm of the
seat between them, and now he lifted an eyebrow at her and inclined his
head in invitation.
When they landed at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Kenya they were still
locked in combat. They were level at two games each, but she was a
bishop and two pawns up in the final deciding game. She felt quite
pleased with herself.
At the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi he had booked a pair of garden
bungalows, one for each of them. Within ten minutes of her flopping down
on the bed, he called her from next door on the house phone.
“We are going to dinner with the British High Commissioner tonight. He
is an old chum. Dress informal. Can you be ready at eight?”
One did not have to rough it too onerously when travelling around the
world in this man’s company, she thought.
It was a relatively short haul from Nairobi up to Addis Ababa, and the
landscape below them unfolded in fascinating sequences that kept her
glued to the cabin window of the Air Kenya flight. The hoary summit of
Mount Kenya was for once free of cloud, and the snow-clad double peaks
glistened in the high sunlight.
The bleak brown deserts of the Northern Frontier District were relieved
only by the green hills that surrounded the oasis of Marsabit and, far
out on the port side, the dashing waters of Lake Turkana, formerly Lake
The desert finally gave way to the highlands of the great central
plateau of the ancient land of Ethiopia.
“In Africa only the Egyptians go back further than this civilization,’
Nicholas remarked as they watched it together. “They were a cultured
race when we peoples of northern climes were still dressing in untanned
skins and living in caves. They were Christians when Europeans were
still pagans, worshipping the old gods, Pan and Diana.”
“They were a civilized people when Taita passed this way nearly four
thousand years ago,” she agreed. “In his Scrolls he writes of them as
almost his cultural equals which was rare for him. He disparaged all the
other nations of the old world as his inferiors in every way.”
From the air Addis was like so many other African cities, a mixture of
the old and the new, of traditional and exotic architectural styles,
thatched roofs alongside galvanized iron and baked tiles. The rounded
walls of the old tukuls built with mud and wattle contrasted with the
rectangular shapes and geometrical planes of the brick built
multi-storeyed buildings, the blocks of flats and the villas of the
affluent, the government buildings and the grandiose, flag-bedecked
headquarters of the Organization of African Unity.
The distinguishing features of the surrounding countryside were the
plantations of tall eucalyptus trees, the ubiquitous blue gums that
provided firewood. It was the only fuel available to so many in this
poor and war-torn land, which over the centuries had been ravaged by
marauding armies and, more recently, by alien political doctrines.
After Nairobi the high-altitude air was cool and sweet when Royan and
Nicholas left the aircraft and walked across the tarmac to the terminal
building. As they entered, before they had even approached the row of
waiting immigration officers someone called his name.
“Sir Nicholas!” They both turned to the tall young woman who glided
towards them with all the grace of a features lit by a welcoming dancer,
her dark and delicate smile. She wore full’length tradition al skirts
which enhanced her movements.
“Welcome to my country of Ethiopia. I am Woizero Tessay.” She looked at
Royan with interest, “And you must be Woizero Royan.” She held out her
hand to her and liked each other Nicholas saw that the two women
I will see to the “If you will let me have your passports. There is a
formalities while you relax in the VIP lounge.
from your British Embassy waiting there to greet you, man Sir Nicholas.
I don’t know how he knew that you were arriving.”
the VIP lounge.
There was only one person waiting i He was dressed in a well-cut
tropical suit and wore the orange, yellow and blue diagonally striped
old Sandhurst tie. He stood up and came to greet Nicholas immediately,
Nor, ? it’s good to see you again Must be all
“Nicky, how are yo of twelve years, isn’t it?”
“Hello, Geoffrey. I had no idea they had stuck you out here.”
“Military attache. His Excellency sent me down to meet you as soon as he
heard that you and I had been at Sandhurst together.” Geoffrey looked at
Royan with marked interest, and with a resigned air Nicholas introduced
“Geoffrey Tennant. Be careful of him. Biggest ram I safe within half a
mile of north of the equator. No girl him.”
“I say,. steady on,, Geoffrey protested, looking pleased with the
reference that Nicholas had given him. “Please don’t believe a word the
man says, Dr Al Simma. Notorious prevaricator.”
Geoffrey drew Nicholas aside and quickly gave him a r6sum6 of conditions
in the country, particularly in the outlying areas. “HE is a little
worried. He doesn’t like the idea of you swarming around out there on
your own. Lots of nasty men down there in the Goiam. I told him that you
knew how to look after yourself.)
In a remarkably short time Woizero Tessay was back.
“I have cleared all your luggage, including the firearm and ammunition.
This is your temporary permit. You must keep it with you at all times
whilst you are in Ethiopia. Here are your passports – the visas are
stamped and in order. Our flight to Lake Tana leaves in an hour, so we
have plenty of time to check in.”
“Any time you need a job, come and see me,’Nicholas commended her
Geoffrey Tennant walked with them as far as the departures gate, where
he shook hands, “Anything I can do, it goes without saying. “Serve to
“‘Serve to lead”T Royan asked, as they walked out to the waiting
“Sandhurst’s motto the explained.
“How nice, Nicky, she murmered.
“I have always considered Nicholas to be more dignified and
appropriate he said.
“Yes, but Nicky is so sweet.”
the high, thin air the Twin Otter aircraft that took them on the last,
northern, leg pitched and yawed in the updraughts; from the mountains
Although they were at fifteen thousand feet above sea level, the ground
was close enough for them to make out the, villages and the sparse areas
of cultivation around them. Subjected for so many centuries to primitive
agricultural methods and to the uncontrolled grazing of domestic herds,
the land had a thin, impoverished look, and the bones of rock showed
through the thin red fleshing of earth.
Abruptly ahead of them the plateau over which they were flying was rent
through by a monstrous chasm. It was as though the earth had received a
mighty sword-stroke that struck through to her very bowels.
“The Abbay river!” Tessay leaned forward in her seat to tap Royan’s
The rim of the gorge was Clear-cut, and then the slope dropped away at
an angle of over thirty degrees. The bare plains of the plateau gave way
immediately to the heavily forested walls of the gorge. They could make
out the candelabra shapes of giant euphorbia rising above the dense
jungle. In places the walls had collapsed in scree slopes of loose rock,
and in others they were up-thrust into bluffs and needles that erosion
had sculpted with a monstrous artistry into the figures of towering
humanoids and other fantastic creatures of stone.
Down and down it plunged, and they winged out over the void until they
could look directly down, a mile and more, on to the glittering snake of
the river in the depths.
The funnel shape of the upper walls formed a secondary rim as they
reached the sheer cliffs of the sub-gorge five hundred feet above the
Nile water. Deep down there between its terrible cliffs the river gouged
dark pools and long slithering runs through the red sandstone. In places
the gorge was forty miles across, in others it narrowed to under ten,
but through all its length the grandeur and the desolation were infinite
and eternal. Man had made no impression upon it.
“You will soon be down there,” Tessay told them in a voice so awed that
it was almost a whisper, and they were both silent. Words seemed
superfluous in the face of such raw and savage nature.
.. Almost with relief they watched the northern wall rise to meet them,
and the high mountains of the Choke range stood up against the tall blue
African sky, higher than their fragile little craft was flying.
The aircraft banked into its descent and Tessay pointed over the
“Lake Tana,” she told them. It was a wide and lovely body of water, over
fifty miles long, studded with islands on each of which stood a
monastery or an ancient church. As they dropped in over the water on the
final approach, they could make out the white-robed priests plying
between the islands on their traditional little boats made from bundles
The Otter touched down on the dirt strip beside the lake and rolled out
in a long trailing cloud of dust. It swung in -and stopped engines
beside the run-down terminal building of thatch and daub.
The sunlight was so bright that Nicholas pulled a pair of sunglasses
from the breast pocket of his khaki jacket and placed them on his nose
as he stood at the top of the boarding ladder. He took in the pock-marks
of bullets and shrapnel on the dirty white walls of the terminal, and
the burnt’out hull of a Russian T35 battle tank standing in the grass on
the verge of the runway. The’ barrel of its turret gun pointed
earthwards, and grass had grown up between the rusted tracks.
The other passengers pushed forward impatiently behind him, jostling him
and jabbering with excitement as they saw friends and relatives waiting
to greet them under the eucalyptus trees that shaded the building. There
was only one vehicle parked out there, a sand-coloured Toyota Land
Cruiser. The roundel on the driver’s do6r had at its centre the painted
head of a mountain nyala, with long corkscrew horns, and in a ribbon
below it the title “Wild Chase Safaris’. A white man lounged behind the
As Nicholas came down the ladder behind the two women, the driver
slipped out of the truck and strode out on to the strip to meet them. He
was dressed in a faded khaki bush suit, and he was tall and lean and
walked with a spring to his step.
“Fortyish,” Nicholas judged his age from the grizzling in his short
beard. “One of the hard men,” Nicholas thought.
His ginger hair was cropped short, his eyes were pale killer blue. There
was a puckered white scar that ran across one cheek and up to twist and
deform his nose.
Tessay introduced `Royan to him first, and he made a short, choppy bow
as he shook her hand. “Enchant6, he told her in an execrable French
accent and then looked at Nicholas.
“This is my husband, Alto Boris,” Tessay introduced him. “Boris, this is
“My English is bad,” Boris said. “My French is better.”
“Not much to choose between them,” Nicholas thought, but he smiled
easily and said, “So we will speak French then. Bonjour, Monsieur
Brusilov. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.” He offered the
Russian his hand.
Boris’s grip was hard – too hard. He was making a contest out of the
greeting, but Nicholas had expected it He knew this type of old, and he
had taken a deep grip so Boris could not crush his fingers. Nicholas
held him without allowing any strain or effort to show on his lazy
smile. Boris was the first to break the handshake, and there was just
the trace of respect in those pale eyes.
“So you have come for a dikdik?” he asked, just short of a sneer. Most
of my clients come for big elephant, or at least for mountain nyala.”
“Bit rich for my nerves,” Nicholas grinned, “all that big stuff. Dik-dik
will suit me fine.”
“Have you ever been down in the gorge?” Boris demanded. His Russian
accent overpowered the French words and made them difficult to follow.
“Sir Nicholas was one of the leaders of the 1976 river expedition,’
Royan intervened sweetly, and Nicholas was amused by her unexpected
intervention. She had picked up the antagonism between them very
quickly, and come to his rescue.
Boris grunted, and turned to his wife. “Have you got all the stores I
ordered?” he demanded.
“Yes, Boris,” she answered meekly. “They are all on board the aircraft.”
She is afraid of him, Nicholas decided, probably with good reason.
“Let’s get loaded up, then. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
The two men rode in the front seats of the Toyota, and the women sat
behind them with many of the packages of stores packed in around them.
Good African protocol, Nicholas smiled to himself: men first, women fend
“You don’t want to do the tourist run, do you?” Boris made it sound like
“The tourist run?”
“The outlet from the lake, and the power station,” he explained. “The
Portuguese bridge over the gorge and the point where the Blue Nile
begins,” he added. But before they could accept he warned them, “If you
do, we won’t get into camp until long -after dark.”
“Thanks for the suggestion,) Nicholas told him politely, “but I have
seen it all before.”
“Good.” Boris made his approval evident. “Let’s get out of here.”
The road swung away into the west, below the high mountains. This was
the Goiam, the land of the aloof mountaineers. It was well-populated
country, and they passed many tall, thin men along the roadside as they
strode along behind their herds of goats and sheep, with their long
staffs held crossways over their shoulders. Both men and women wore
shammas, woollen shawls, and baggy white jodhpur pants, with their feet
in open sandals.
They were people with proud and handsome features, their hair dressed
out into thick, bushy halos, and their eyes fierce as those of eagles.
Some of the younger women in the villages they passed through were truly
Most of the men were heavily armed. They carried twohanded swords in
chased silver scabbards, and AK-47 assault rifles.
“Makes them feel like big men,” Boris chuckled. “Very brave, very
The huts in the villages were circular walled tukuls, surrounded by
plantations of eucalyptus and spiky-headed sisal.
Bruised purple storm clouds boiled over the high peaks of the Choke and
swept them with squalls of rain. Like silver coins, the huge drops
rattled against the windscreen of the Land Cruiser and turned the road
to a running river of mud under their wheels.
The condition of the road surface was appalling; in places it
deteriorated into a rocky gully which even the four-wheel drive Toyota
could not negotiate, and Boris was forced to make his own track across
the rocky hillside.
Often reduced to walking speed, they were nevertheless tossed about in
their seats as the wheels bounced over the rough terrain.
“These damn blacks don’t even think to repair the roads,” Boris grunted.
“They are happy to live like animals.” None of them replied, but
Nicholas glanced up into the rear-view mirror at the faces of the two
women. They were closed and neutral, hiding any hurt that either of them
might have felt at the remark.
As they went on, the road, bad as it had been originally, became even
worse. From here onwards the soft the fire. The two women sat a little
to one side, talking quietly, and Boris had his feet propped on the low
table as he leaned back in his chair with a glass in one hand.
He indicated the vodka bottle on the table, as Nicholas stepped into the
circle of firelight, “Get yourself a drink Ice in the bucket.”
“I prefer a beer,” Nicholas told him. “Thirsty drive.” Boris shrugged
and bellowed for his camp butler to bring a brown bottle from the
portable gas refrigerator.
“Let me tell you something, a little secret.” He grinned at Nicholas as
he poured himself another vodka. “There is no such animal as a striped
dik-dik these days, even if there ever was one. You are wasting your
time and your money.”
“Fine,” Nicholas agreed mildly. “It’s my time and my money.”
“Just because some old fart shot one back in the Dark Ages, doesn’t mean
you are going to find another now. We could go up into the tea
plantations for elephant. I saw three bulls there only ten days ago. All
with tusks over a hundred pounds a side.”
As they argued, the level in Boris’s vodka bottle fell like the Nile at
the end of the inundation. When Tessay told them that the meal was
ready, Boris carried the bottle with him; he stumbled on his way to the
table. During the meal his only contribution to the conversation was to
snarl at Tessay.
“The lamb is raw. Why don’t you see to it that the cook does it
properly? Damn monkeys, you have to watch everything they do.”
“Is your lamb under-cooked, Alto Nicholas?” Tessay asked without looking
at her husband. “I can have them cook it longer.”
“It’s perfect he assured her. “I like mine pink.”
Si By the end of dinner the vodka bottle at Boris elbow was empty, and
his face was flushed and swollen. He got up from the table without a
word and disappeared into the darkness in the direction of his tent,
swaying on his feet and occasionally catching his balance with a
“I apologize,” essay told them quietly. “It is only in the evenings. In
the day he is fine. It is a Russian tradition, the vodka.” She smiled
brightly; only her eyes stayed sad.
“It is a lovely night, and too early yet for bed. Would you like to walk
up to the church? It is very old and famous.
I will have one of the servants bring a lantern, so that you may admire
The servant walked ahead of them, lighting their way, and an ancient
priest waited to welcome them on the portico of the circular building.
He was thin and so very black that only his teeth flashed in the gloom.
He carried a magnificent Coptic cross in massive native silver, set with
carnelians and other semi-precious stones.
Both Royan and Tessay dropped on their knees in front of him to ask for
his blessing. He slapped their cheeks lightly with the cross and
genuflected over them, mumbling his benediction in Amharic. Then he
ushered them into the interior.
The walls were covered with a magnificent display of paintings in
brilliant primary colours. In the lantern light they blazed like
gemstones. There was a strong Byzantine flavour to the style: the
saints’ eyes were huge and slanted, with great golden halos over their
heads. Above the altar, with its tinsel and brass furnishing, the Virgin
cradled her infant while the three wise men and a host of angels knelt
in adoration. Nicholas slipped his Polaroid camera from the pocket of
his jacket and adjusted the flash. He wandered around the church
photographing these murals, while Tessay and Royan knelt before the
altar side by side.
Once he had finished his photography Nicholas found a seat on the
hand-hewn wooden pews and sat quietly watching their intent faces which
the candlelight touched with golden highlights, and he was moved by the
beauty of the moment.
“I wish I had that kind of faith,” he thought, as he had so often
before. “It must be a comfort in the hard times. I wish I were able to
pray like that for Rosalind and the girls.” He could not stay longer,
and he went out and sat on the church portico where he watched the night
In these high altitudes, in the thin unpolluted air, the stars were such
a dazzling blaze that it was difficult to pick out the individual
constellations. After a while his sadness abated. It was good to be back
When the two women emerged at last from the dark interior, Nicholas gave
the old priest a one hundred birr note and a Polaroid photograph of
himself which the old man clearly valued above the money. Then the three
of them walked back down the hill together in companionable silence.
icky!” Royan shook him awake. When he sat up and switched on his torch,
he saw that she had thrown the woollen shawl over a pair of men’s
striped pyjamas before she had come into his tent.
“What is it?” he asked, but before she could answer he heard the sound
of a hoarse and angry voice shouting invective in the night, and then
the unmistakable thud of a clenched fist striking flesh and bone.
“He’s beating her.” Royan’s voice was tight with out-‘ rage. “You have
to make him stop.”
There was a cry of pain after the blow, and then sobs.
Nicholas hesitated. Only a fool interferes between a man and his wife,
and his reward usually is to have them unite and turn savagely upon him.
“You must do something, Nicky, please., Reluctantly he swung his legs
out of the cot and stood up. He slept in’boxer shorts, and he did not
bother to find his shoes. She followed him, also on bare feet, to the
end of the grove where Boris’s tent stood beyond the dining tent.
There was a lantern still burning within, and it threw magnified shadows
on the canvas walls. He saw that Boris had his wife “by the hair and was
dragging her across the floor, roaring at her in Russian.
“Boris!” Nicholas had to shout his name three times to get his
attention, and then they saw the shadow play on the canvas as he dropped
Tessay and flung open the tent flap.
He was dressed only in a pair of underpants. His torso was lean and
muscular, the chest flat and hard-looking, covered with coppery curls.
On the floor behind him Tessay lay face down, sobbing into her cupped
hands. She was naked, and the planes of her body were sleek as those of
“What the hell is going on here?” Nicholas demanded, his anger only just
beginning to stir as he witnessed the gracious, gentle woman’s distress
“I am giving this black whore a lesson in good manners,” Boris gloated,
his face still swollen and flushed with drink and passion. “It’s none of
your business, English, unless you want to pay some money and have a bit
of pork for yourself.” He laughed, an ugly sound.
“Are you all right, Woizero Tessay?” Nicholas looked directly into
Boris’s face, sparing the woman the further humiliation of another man’s
eyes on her nudity.
Tessay sat up, lifted her knees against her chest, and hugged them with
both arms to cover her body.
“It’s all right, Alto Nicholas. Please go away before there is real
trouble.” Blood was trickling from one nostril into her mouth, and
dyeing her teeth pink.
“You heard’my wife, English bastard. Go away! Mind your own business. Go
away, before I give you a little lesson in good manners also.”
Boris staggered forward and thrust his open hand against Nicholas’s
chest. Nicholas moved as smoothly and as effortlessly as a matador
avoiding the first wild charge of the bull. He swayed to one side, and
used Boris’s own momentum to send him on in the direction in which he
was already committed. Completely off balance, the Russian reeled across
the open ground in front of the tent until he collided with one of the
camp chairs and went down in a sprawling heap.
“Royan, take Tessay to your tent!” he ordered softly.
Royan ran into the tent and pulled a sheet from the nearest cot. She
spread it over Tessay’s shoulders and lifted her to her feet.
“Please, don’t do this,” Tessay sobbed. “You don’t know him when he gets
like this. He will hurt somebody.”
Royan dragged her, still protesting and weeping, out of the tent, but by
now Boris was on his feet again. He bellowed with rage and picked up the
camp chair that had tripped him. With a single jerk he tore off one of
the legs and hefted it in his bunched fist.
“You want to play games, English? All right, we play!” He rushed at
Nicholas, swinging the chair leg like a Ninja baton, so that it hissed
with the force with which he aimed it at his head. As Nicholas ducked
under it Boris reversed the swing, going for the side of his chest,
under his upraised arm. It would have staved in his ribs if it had
landed, but again Nicholas twisted away.
They circled each other warily, and then Boris charged again. If it had
not been for the effect of the vodka on the Russian’s reflexes Nicholas
would never have taken a chance with an adversary of this calibre, but
Boris was just loose enough in his control to allow him to duck in under
the swinging chair leg. He straightened, with all his weight rolling
into the punch, and his fist slogged into the pit Of Boris’s belly just
under the sternum. The Russian’s breath was driven out of him in a great
The chair leg flew from his grip, and he doubled over and collapsed.
Clasping his middle, and heaving and wheezing for breath, Boris lay
curled in the dust. Nicholas stooped over him and told him softly in
English, “This sort of behaviour simply isn’t good enough, old chap. We
don’t bully-girls. Please don’t let it happen again.”
He straightened up and spoke to Royan, “Get her to your tent and keep
her there.” He combed his hair back from his face with his fingers. “And
now, if you have no serious objections, may we get a little sleep?”
It rained again during the early hours. The heavy drops drummed down on
the canvas and the lightning lit the interior of the tents with an eerie
brilliance. However, by the time that Nicholas went through to the
dining tent for breakfast the next morning, the clouds had cleared and
the sunshine was bright and cheering. The sweet mountain air smelt of
wet earth and mushrooms.
Boris greeted Nicholas with hearty good fellowship.
“Good morning, English. We had some fun last night. I still laugh to
remember it. Very good jokes. One day soon we will have some more vodka,
then we will makesome more good jokes.” And he bellowed through to the
kitchen tent, “Hey! Lady Sun, bring your new boyfriend something to eat.
He is hungry from all the sport last night.”
Tessay was quiet and withdrawn as she supervised the’ servants handing
round breakfast. One eye was swollen almost closed, and her lip was cut.
She did not look at Nicholas once during the meal.
“We will go on ahead,” Boris explained jovially as they drank coffee.
“My servants will break camp, and follow us in my big truck. With luck,
we will be able to camp tonight on the rim above the gorge, and tomorrow
we will begin the descent.”
As they were climbing into the truck, Tessay was able to speak to him
softly for a moment, without danger of Boris overhearing her. “Thank
you, Alto Nicholas. But it was not wise. You don’t know him. You must be
careful now. He does not forget, not does he forgive.”
From the village of Debra Maryarn Boris took a branch road that ran
alongside the Dandera river directly south, wards. The road they had
followed the previous day from Lake Tana was shown on the map as a major
highway. It had been bad enough. But this track that they were now on
was marked as a secondary road “not passable in all weather’. To
compound matters, it seemed that most of the heavy traffic that had torn
up the main road had followed this same track. They came to a place
where some huge vehicle had become bogged down in the rain-saturated
earth, and the efforts to free it had left areas of ploughed land and an
excavation like a bomb crater that resembled an old photograph of the
battlefields of First World War Flanders.
Twice during the day the Toyota too became stuck in this foul ground.
Each time this happened, the big truck that was following them came up
and all the servants swarmed down from the cargo body to push and heave
the Toyota through. Even Nicholas stripped to the waist to work with
them in the mud to free it.
“If you had only listened to my advice,” Boris grumbled, “we would not
be here. There is no game where you want to go, and there are no roads
worth the name either.”
In the early afternoon they stopped beside the river for an alfresco
lunch. Nicholas went down to the pool beside the road to wash off the
mud and filth of the morning’s labours. He had been in the forefront of
the efforts to keep the truck moving. Royan followed him down the slope
and perched on a rock above the pool while he stripped off his shirt and
knelt, at the verge to splash himself with the cold mountain water. The
river was muddy yellow and swollen from the rainstorms.
“I don’t think Boris believes your story about the striped dik-dik,” she
warned him. “Tessay tells me that he is suspicious of what we are up
to.” She watched with interest as he sluiced his chest and upper arms.
‘”ere the sun had not touched it, his skin was very white and
His chest hair was thick and dark. She decided that his body was good to
“He is the type that would go through our luggage if he gets a chance,’
Nicholas agreed. “You didn’t bring anything with you that has any clues
for him? No papers or notes?”
“Only the satellite photograph, and my notebooks are all in my own
shorthand. He won’t be able to make anything of them.”
“Be very careful of what you discuss with Tessay.”
“She is a dear. There is nothing underhand about her.” Heatedly Royan
came to the defence of her new friend.
“She may be all right, but she’s married to my chum Boris. Her first
allegiance lies there. No matter what your feelings towards her, don’t
trust either of them.” He dried himself on his shirt, slipped it on and
then buttoned it over his chest. “Let’s go and get something to eat.”
Back at the parked truck Boris was pulling the cork from a bottle of
South African white wine. He poured a tumbler full for Nicholas. Chilled
in the river, it was crisp and fruity. Tessay offered them cold roast
chicken and injera bread, the flat, thin sheets of stone-ground
unleavened bread of the country. The trials and labours of the morning’s
travels faded into insignificance as Royan lay beside Nicholas in the
grass and they watched a bearded vulture sailing high against the blue.
It saw them and drifted overhead curiously, twisting its head to look
down at them. Its eyes were masked in black like those of a highwayman,
and the distinctive wedge-shaped tail feathers flirted with the wind the
way the fingers of a concert pianist would stroke the ivories of the
When it was time to go on, Nicholas gave her his hand to lift her to her
feet. It was one of their rare moments of physical contact, and she held
on to his fingers for just a second or two longer than was strictly
There was no improvement in the surface of the trac as they drew nearer
to the rim of the gorge, and the hours passed in this bone-jarring,
teeth-rattling progress. The track snaked over a rise and then
dog-legged down the far slope. Halfway down Boris swore in Russian as
they came round the hairpin bend of a high earthen bank to find a huge
diesel truck slewed across the track, almost blocking it.
Even though they had been following the tracks of this convoy of
vehicles since the previous day, this was the first of them that they
had encountered, and it took Boris by surprise. He hit his brakes so
suddenly that his passengers were almost catapulted from their seats,
but on the steep incline in the mud the brakes did not bring them to a
complete halt. Boris was forced to change down into his lowest gear and
steer for the narrow gap between the bank and the truck.
From the back seat Royan looked out of the window I beside her, up the
high side of the diesel truck. There was a company name and logo
emblazoned in scarlet on the green background.
A strong feeling of du vu overcame her as she stared at the image. She
had seen this sign recently, but her memory cheated her: she could not
recall the time or the place. She only knew that it was of vital
importance that she should remember.
The side of the Toyota scraped against the metal of the truck, and then
they were past it. Boris leaned out of his window and shook his fist at
the driver of the larger vehicle.
He was a local man, probably recruited in Addis by the owner of the
truck. Grinning at Boris’s antics, he leaned out of his own cab to
return the clenched fist salute, adding a nice little touch by jerking a
raised forefinger upwards.
“Dungeater!” Boris roared with outrage at being bested in the exchange,
but he did not stop. “No use even talking to them. What do they know?
For the rest of the wearisome journey Royan remained silent and
withdrawn, shaken and troubled by the conviction that she had seen the
trademark of the winged red horse before, with, set above it in a
pennant, the name of the company: “PEGASUS EXPLORATION’.
As they approached the end of the day’s journey at last they passed a
signpost beside the track. The supporting legs of the sign were solidly
set in concrete, and the artwork was of such high quality that it could
only have been that of a professional signwriter.
Across the top of the board an arrow indicated a newly bulldozed road
that headed off to the right, and the directions read:
BASE CAMP – ONE KILOMETRE
NO ENTRY TO UNAUTHORIZED TRAFFIC
The scarlet horse reared in the centre of the board with its wings
spread wide, on the point of flight.
Now she gasped aloud as the elusive memory came upon her with stunning
clarity. She remembered where she had last seen the flying red horse. In
an instant she was transported back into the icy waters of an English
salmon river, flung from the rolling body of the Land Rover, the huge
MAN truck roaring over the bridge above her, and, for a subliminal pulse
of time, the prancing red horse upon its side.
she almost shouted aloud, but controlled herself. The terror of the
moment returned to her with full force, and she found herself breathing
hard and her heart racing as though she had run a long way.
“It cannot be a coincidence,” she assured herself silently, “and I am
not mistaken. It is the same company.
She was withdrawn and distracted for the last few miles of the journey,
until the track they were following ended abruptly on the brink of the
sheer cliffs of the escarpment, Here Boris pulled on to the grassy verge
and stopped the engine.
“This is as far as we ride. We camp here tonight. My big truck is not
far behind. They will make camp as so on as they arrive. Tomorrow we
will go down into the gorge on foot.”
As they dismounted, Royan tugged at Nicholas’s arm, “I must speak to
you,” she whispered urgently, and she followed him as he led her along
the bank of the river.
He found a place for them to sit side by side, with their legs dangling
over the drop. Beside them the swollen yellow river seemed to sense what
lay ahead of it. The cold mountain waters speeded up, swirled amongst
the rocks, and gathered themselves for that dizzying leap out into empty
space. The cliff below them was a sheer wall of rock almost a thousand
feet deep. It was so high that in the evening light the abyss far below
was a dark, mysterious place, its bottom hidden from them by shadow and
spray from the falls. As Royan looked down into it her sense of balance
swirled with vertigo. She cringed back from the edge and found herself
instinctively leaning against Nicholas’s shoulder to steady herself.
Only when they touched did she realize what she was doing, and she
pulled away from him self-consciously.
The muddied waters of the Dandera. river leaped from the brink, and were
miraculously transformed into curtains of ethereal lacework as they
fell. Like the skirts of waltzing bride they shimmered and swirled, and
rainbows of light played through them as though from an embroidery of
seed pearls. Still falling, the columns of white spray twisted and
changed into lovely but ephemeral shapes, until they struck the lower
ledges of glistening black rock and exploded outwards into fresh clouds
of white that at last screened the dark depths of the abyss with ” an
It was with a conscious effort that Royan pulled her mind away from the
awe-inspiring scene and back to the troubled present.
“Nicky, do you remember I told you about the truck that forced my mother
and me over the bridge in the Land Rover?”
“Of course.” His expression was mystified as he studied her face. “You
are upset. “What is it, Royan?”
“The truck had signwriting down the sides of the trailers that it was
“You told me, yes. Green and red. You told me that you didn’t get a good
enough look to read the sign.”
“It was the same as the truck we passed this afternoon.
I saw the sign at the same angle as before and it came back to me. The
red Pegasus, the flying horse.”
He studied her face for a while, “Are you absolutely certain?”
“Absolutely!” She nodded vehemently.
Nicholas stared out over the magnificent panorama of the gorge spread
below them. It was forty miles to the far wall of the canyon, but in the
brilliant rain-washed air it seemed so close that he could reach across
and touch it.
“A coincidence?”he wondered at last.
“Do you think so? A very strange and wonderful coincidence, then.
Pegasus in both Yorkshire and Gojam?
Do you accept that?”
“It doesn’t make sense. The truck that hit you was stolen-‘
“Was it?” she demanded. “Are we sure of that?”
“If it wasn’t, then let’s hear your ideas.”
“If you were planning an assassination, would you rely on stealing a
truck conveniently left at a Little Chef for you?”
He shook his head, “Go on.”
“Suppose you arranged for your own truck to be placed there for you, and
for your driver to report it stolen only after you had a good head start
on the police.”
“It’s possible,” he agreed without enthusiasm.
“Whoever murdered Duraid, and made two further attempts to kill me,
obviously has considerable resources at his disposal. He is able to make
arrangements in Egypt and England. On top of that, he has the seventh
scroll in his possession. He has our notes and all our workings and
translations which point him clearly to this spot on the Abbay river.
Just suppose that he has control of a company like Pegasus – is there
any reason why he can’t be here in Ethiopia, just as we are, right at
Nicholas was silent for a while. He picked up a stone from the ledge
beside him and tossed it out over the cliff.
They both watched it drop away, dwindling in size until it vanished in
the veils of spray far below where they sat.
Abruptly Nicholas stood up and reached for her hand to pull her to her
feet beside him. “Come on,” he said.
“Where are we going?”
“Pegasus base camp. Let’s go and have a chat to the site foreman.”
Boris protested angrily and hurried to intervene when Nicholas climbed
into the Toyota and started the engine, “Where the hell do you think you
are going?, “Sight-seeing.” Nicholas let in the clutch. “Back in an
“Hey, English, my truck!” He ran to catch up with them, but Nicholas
“Charge me for the hire.” fie grinned back at Boris in the rear-view
mirror. -off and followed the They reached the signposted turn side
track over the ridge. The Pegasus camp lay on the far side. Nicholas
braked to a halt on the crest of the rise and they studied it in
An area of about ten acres had been cleared and levelled. It was
surrounded by a barbed-wire security fence, with a single closed gate.
Three of the massive diesel trucks in their green and red livery were
parked in a rank inside the fence. There were also several smaller
vehicles and a tall mobile drilling rig in the line. The rest of the
yard was filled with prospecting equipment and stores. There were stacks
of drilling rods and steel core boxes, wooden crates of spares, and
several hundred forty-four-gallon drums of diesel and oil and drilling
mud. The drums and the stores were stacked with a neatness and sense of
good order that was startling in this wild and rocky landscape. just
inside the gate stood a small village of a dozen buildings made of
corrugated sheet sections, of the Quonset type. They too were set out in
a street of military precision.
“A big, well-organized outfit,” Nicholas commented.
“Let’s go down and see who is in charge.”
There were two armed guards on the gate, dressed in the camouflage
uniform of the Ethiopian army. They were clearly surprised by the
arrival at the gate of the strange Land Cruiser, and when Nicholas
sounded his horn one of them came forward suspiciously with his AK,47
rifle at the ready.
“I want to speak to the manager here,” Nicholas told him in Arabic, with
enough haughty authority to make the entry uncertain and uneasy.
The soldier grunted, went back and consulted his colleague, then lifted
the handset of the two-way radio and spoke earnestly into the
mouthpiece. There was a five minute delay after he finished speaking,
and then the door of the nearest Quonset building opened and a white man
He was dressed in khaki coveralls and a soft bush cap.
His eyes, covered by mirrored sunglasses, were set in a deeply tanned,
leathery face. His physique was short and chunky, and his sleeves were
rolled up over hairy, work thickened arms. After speaking a few words to
the guards at the gate he came out to the Toyota
“Yeah? What’s going down here?” he demanded in Texan drawl, speaking
around the stub of an unlit cigar.
“The name is Quenton-Harper.” Nicholas dismounted from the truck to
greet him, and held out his hand.
“Nicholas Quenton-Harper. How do you do?”
The American hesitated, and then took the hand as though he had been
offered an electric eel to squeeze.
“Helm,” he said. “Jake Helm, from Abilene, Texas. I am the foreman
here.” His hand was that of an artisan, with calloused palms and lumpy
scar tissue over the knuckles, and half moons of black grease under the
“Terribly sorry to worry you. I am having some trouble with my truck. I
wondered if you had a mechanic who could have a look at it for
me.”Nicholas smiled winningly, but received no encouragement from the
“Not company policy.” He shook his head.
“I am prepared to pay for any-‘
“Listen, buddy, I said no.” Jake removed the cigar from his mouth and
examined it minutely.
“Your company – Pegasus. Can you tell me where your head office is
situated? Who is your managing director?”
“I am a busy man. You are wasting my time.” Helm ,,returned the cigar to
his mouth and began to turn away.
“I will be hunting in this area over the next few weeks.
I would not like to endanger any of your employees with a stray shot.
Can you give me some idea of where you will be working?”
outfit here, mister. I don’t
“I am running a prospecting give out news flashes on my movements. Beat
He turned and walked to the gate and gave brusque orders to the guards
before marching back to his office building.
“Satellite disc on the roof,” Nicholas remarked. “I wonder who our lad
Jake is speaking to at this very moment.”
“Somebody in Texas?” Royan hazarded.
“Doesn’t follow, necessarily, Nicholas demurred. Tega, is probably a
multinational. Just because Jake is one, doesn’t mean his boss is Texan
also. Not a very instructive conversation, I am afraid.” He started the
engine and Uturned the Toyota. “But if someone at Pegasus is the ugly
mixed up in this, he will recognize my name. We have given them notice
of our arrival. Let’s see what we have flushed out of the bushes.”
When they got back to the Dandera river falls, they found that Boris’s
truck had arrived, the tents had been erected, and the chef had brewed
tea for them. Boris was less welcoming than his chef, and maintained a
sullen silence while Nicholas tried to placate him for commandeering his
It was only after his first vodka of the evening that he mellowed
sufficiently to speak again.
“The mules were supposed to be waiting for us here.
Time means nothing to these people. We cannot start down into the gorge
until they arrive.”
“Well, at least while we are waiting for them I will have a chance to
sight in my rifle,’Nicholas remarked with resignation. “In Africa it
never pays to be in a hurry. Too wearing on the nerves.”
After a leisurely breakfast the next morning, when there was still no
sign of the mules, Nicholas fetched his rifle case.
When Nicholas lifted the weapon out of its nest of green baize, Boris
took it from him and examined it minutely.
“An old rifle?”
“Made in 1926,’Nicholas nodded. “My grandfather had it made for
“They knew how to make them in those days. Not like the mass-produced
crap they turn out today.” Boris pursed his lips critically. “Short
Mauser Oberndorf double square, bridge action, beautiful! But it has
been rebarrelled, no?
The original barrel was shot out. I had it replaced with a Shilen match
barrel. It will shoot the wings off a mosquito at a hundred paces.”
“Calibre 7 57, is it?” Boris asked.
‘275 Rigby, as a matter of fact,” Nicholas corrected him, but Boris
“It is exactly the same cartridge – just your English bloodiness must
call it something else.” He grinned. “It wilt push a 150 grain bullet
out there at 2800 feet per second.
It is a good rifle, one of the best.”
“You will never know, my dear fellow, how much your approval means to
me,’Nicholas murmured in English, and Boris chuckled as he handed the
rifle back to him.
“English jokes! I love your English jokes.”
When Nicholas left camp carrying the little rifle in its slip case,