SEVENTH SCROLL By: Wilber Smith part 2

part- 2
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

for you.”

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

head.

“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

our agreement?”

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

pocket.

“Call!” He flipped the coin, and while it was in the air she called,

“Heads.”

“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

indefatigable Taita.”

“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

it.

“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

Memnon.”

“I can see it exactly as he describes it. It’s a fearsome bit of

countryside.”

“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

Maggie.”

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

bathroom.”

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

York police.”

“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

behind.

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

to roll.

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

to it.

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

Hospital.”

“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

hell happened?”

“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

hospital administrator.

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

holdall.

“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

dining room.

“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

much.

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

minister himself?”

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

assistants.”

He frowned and shook his head. “So half the museum staff knew about your

appointment?”

“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

airport.”

“Did you tell him what flight you were leaving on?”

“No, definitely not.”

“Did you tell anybody at all?”

“No. That is.-‘she hesitated.

“Yes?”

“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

scroll?”

“Not all the details, but – yes – in general terms he knew what we were

up to.

“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

Schiller.”

“Hamburg. Heavy industry. Metal and alloy refineries.

Base mineral production.”Nicholas nodded. “Who was the third name on the

list?”

“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

men.

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

headquarters.

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

pointer.

“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

gorge.”

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

falls.”

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

wasn’t easy.”

“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,

visited it.”

“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

there?”

“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

rock.”

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

story?”

“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

seat.

“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

Queen.”

“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

book.

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

ashes.

“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

encouraged her.

“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

authenticity.”

“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

with ice.

“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

gorge.”

“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

brute.”

“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

Cayman Islands.

“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

bushbuck?”

“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

country.

“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

Lady Sun.

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

Africa?”

“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

witches!’

“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

existence.

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

battered.

“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

sorry.”

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

followed.

“You are acting like a terrified child without its daddy,” she scolded

herself.

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

antique.

“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

Rudolf.

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

immediately.

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

them.

“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

efficiency.

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

Lead”, Nicky.”

“‘Serve to lead”T Royan asked, as they walked out to the waiting

aircraft.

“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

below.

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

shoulder.

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

starboard wingtip.

“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

of papyrus.

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

wheel.

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

Alto Nicholas.”

“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

for themselves.

“You don’t want to do the tourist run, do you?” Boris made it sound like

a threat.

“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

beautiful.

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

macho.”

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

two-step jig.

“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 murals.”

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

sky.

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

in Africa.

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

a panther.

“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

and humiliation.

“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

gusty belch.

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

unblemished.

His chest hair was thick and dark. She decided that his body was good to

look at.

“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

keyboard.

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

necessary.

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?

Black chimps!’

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:

PEGASUS EXPLORATION

BASE CAMP – ONE KILOMETRE

PRIVATE ROAD

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.

Pegasus Exploration.”

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

opalescent veil.

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

towing.”

“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

this moment?”

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

hour.”

“Hey, English, my truck!” He ran to catch up with them, but Nicholas

accelerated away.

“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

silence.

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

came out.

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

fingernails.

“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

man.

“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

id’

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

truck.

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

himself.”

“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

snorted.

“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,

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