Wilbur Smith – The Seventh Scroll part-10


first coup notations and the epigrams that separate them.”

“We’ll try it that way,” Royan agreed. “The first notambers five and

seven and tion is the bee followed by the nu the sistrum.”

I have heard that so often Nicholas grinned. “Okayt What follows?,

already that I will never forget it er over the ation.” She ran her ring

“The first quot can be known hieroglyphics. “‘What can be given a name

What is nanwiess can A be felt. i sail with the tide behind me and the

wind in my face. 0, my beloved, the taste of You is sweet uPon my UPs.”‘

“Is that all?” he asked.

“Yes, then the next notation. The scorpion and the number two and three

and the sistrum again.” make Slowly! Slowly! First things first. What

can out of the 1sailing” and the “beloved’T

They riddled and wrestled with the text of the stele, So until their

eyes burned and they had lost track of day or night. They were

eventually recalled to reality by Sapperjs voice echoing up the

staircase. Nicholas stood up from the desk and stretched before he

looked at his watch.

“Eight. ‘clock. But I’ not sure if that is morning or evenin

Then he started as Sapper came up the staircase, and saw that his bald

head was shining with moisture and his shirt was soaked.

“What happened to you?” Nicholas demanded. “Did you fall into the

sinkholer Sapper wiped his face with the palm of his hand.

“Didn’t anybody tell you? It’s pissing with rain outside.” They both

stared at him in horror.

“So soon?” Royan whispered. “It wasn’t supposed to start for weeks yet.”

Sapper shrugged. “Somebody forgot to tell the weatherman.”

“Has it set in?” Nicholas asked. “What’s the state of the river? Has the

level started to rise yet?”

“That’s what I came to tell you. I am going up to the dam, taking the

Buffaloes with me. I want to keep an eye on it. As soon as it gets

unsafe I will send a runner down to you. When I do that, don’t stop to

argue. Get out of here fast. It will mean that I expect the dam to burst

at any moment.”

“Don’t take Hansith with you,” Nicholas ordered. “I need him here.”

When Sapper had gone, taking most of the workers from the tunnel with

him, Royan and Nicholas looked at each other seriously.

“We are running out of time fast, and Taita still has us in a tangle,’

Nicholas said. “One thing I must warn you.

When the river starts to rise ”

She did not let him finish. “The river!” she cried. “Not the sea! I was

mistaken in the translation. I read it as “tide”.

the sea, but it should have I assumed Taita was referring to been

“curyene,.The Egyptians made no distinction between rds.”

the two wo They both rushed back to the desk and her notebooks.

C4The current behind me and the wind in my face Nicholas changed the


on the Nile,” Royan exulted, “the prevailing wind is lways from the

always from the north, and the current a south. Taita was facing north.

The north castle.”

“We assumed the symbol for the north was the baboon,’

he reminded her.

“No! I was wrong.” Her face was alight with the fires of inspirations

“‘, my beloved, the taste of you is sweet upon my lips.” Honey! The bee!

I had the symbols for the north and south inverted.” we find there?”

“What about east and west? What can with fresh enthusiasm. “‘MY

He turned back to the texts of bronze sins are red as carnelians. They

bind me like cUns the They prick my heart with fire, and I turn my eyes

towards evening star.”‘

“I don’t see ation,” he stuttered eagerly. -Prick” is the wrong transi

ing towards the qt should be “sting”. The scorpion look the west. The

evening star. “Me evening star is always in rn castle, not the eastern

castle.” scorpion is the wester

“We had the board inverted.” She jumped up excitedly.

“Let’s play it that way!’

“We still have not determined the levels,” he objected.

“Is the sistrum the upper level, or is it the three swords?”

“Now that we have made this breakthrough, that is the only variable. We

are either right or Wrong. We will play work upper level, and if that

doesn’ the sistrurn first as the lay it the other way round.”

we can tricacies of the maze It was so much easier now. The in had

become less forbidding with familiarity. There were the large white

chalk signs in Nicholas’s handwriting on each corner and at each fork

and T-junction of the tunnels.

They moved swiftly through the complex twists and turns, their

excitement rising sharply as they followed each notation and “i6und the

way still clear before them.

“The eighteenth move.” Royan’s voice trembled. “Hold both thumbs. If it

takes us into one of the open files that threaten the opponent’s south

castle, then that will be the check coup.” She drew a deep breath and

read it aloud to him. “The bird The numbers three and five. With the

lower level symbol of the three swords.”

They paced it out and passed the five junctions into the lowest level of

the maze, reading their position from the chalk marks on the stone

blocks of the walls at each fork. “This is it!” Nicholas told her, and

they stood together and looked about them.

“There is nothing outstanding about this spot.” Disappointment was

bitter in Royan’s tone. “We have passed over it fifty times before. It

is just like any of the other turns.”

“That is exactly what Taita would have wanted. Hell!

He wouldn’t have put up a signpost saying ” marks the spot”, would he


“So what do we do?” She looked at him, for once at a loss.

“Read the last epigram from the stele.”

S he had her notebook in her hand. “‘From the black and holy earth of

dus very Egypt the harvest is abundant. I whip the flanks of my donkey,

and the wooden spike of the plough breaks new ground. I plant the seed,

and reap the grape and the ears of corn. In time I drink the wine and

eat the loaf. I follow the rhythm of the seasons, and tend the earth.”‘

She looked up at him. “The rhythm of the seasons? Is he referring us to

the four faces of the stele? The earth?”

she asked and looked down at the slabs beneath their feet, “The promise

of reward from the earth? Under our feet, perhaps?” she asked.

He stamped his foot on the slabs, but the sound was dull and solid.

“Only one way to find out.” He raised his voice and it echoed weirdly

through the labyrinth. “Hansith! Come down here!’

apper sat on the high seat of his yellow frontend loader in the rain and

cheerfully cursed his gang of Buffaloes, secure in the knowledge that

they understood not a word of his insults. The rain swept over them in

intermittent gusts off the high mountains. It was not yet the solid,

drenching downpour of the true wet season. However, the river was rising

sullenly, turning dirty blue’grey with the mud and sediment that it was

bringing down.

He knew that the flood had not yet begun in earnest.

The thunder that growled ominously along the mountain peaks like a pride

of hunting lions was only the prelude to the vast celestial onslaught

which would soon follow.

Although the river was lapping the top course of gabions “s dam, and was

roaring through the bypass that of Sapper he had cut into the side

valley, he was still holding it at bay. His Buffaloes were packing more

baskets with aggregate, using up the last of the steel mesh from the

stores in the quarry. As soon as each of these was filled and wired

closed, Sapper picked it up in the front bucket of the tractor and drove

it down the bank of the Dandera. He reinforced all the weak spots in the

dam wall, and then he began raising it another course. Sapper was fully

aware of the overturning effect that the river would exert once it began

to pour over the top of the wall. Nothing would be able to withstand its

power once this happened. It would carry away a rock-filled gabion as if

it were the branch of a baobab tree. it needed only a single breach in

the wall to bring the entire structure tumbling and rolling down. He had

no illusions as to just how swiftly the river could do its fatal work.

He knew that he dared not wait for the first breach to develop in the

wall before he warned Nicholas and Royan in the chasm downstream. The

river could easily outrun any messenger he sent, and once the wall began

to go it would already be too late. It would be a matter of fine

judgement, and he slitted his eyes against another gust of slanting rain

that blew into his face. His instinct was to call them out of the chasm

now – there was already less than twelve inches of free-board at the top

of the wall.

However, he knew that Nicholas would be furious if he was made to

evacuate the workings prematurely, and in so doing aborted all their

efforts. Sapper was fully aware of the extreme risks that Nicholas had

taken and of the crippling expenditure he had made to reach this stage.

Before they had left England, he had hinted to Sapper of the straitened

circumstances in which he found himself.

Although Sapper did not understand the intricacies or the

responsibilities of being a “Name’ at Lloyd’s, there had been so much

publicity in the British press that he could not but realize that, if

their venture here failed, the next stop for Nicholas would be the

bankruptcy courts – and Nicholas was his friend.

The squall of. rain blew over, and a bright hot sun burst through the

low cloud banks. The flow of the river seemed undiminished, but at least

the water level on the dam wall was no longer rising, “I’ll give it

another hour,” he grunted, engaging the gears of the tractor and easing

her down the bank to place another gabion in position.

Nicholas worked shoulder to shoulder with Hinsith’s gang as they began

to strip the paving slabs from the floor of the lowest level of the

maze. The joints between the slabs were so tight that, even using

crowbars, they had difficulty prising them apart, In order to save time,

Nicholas made the hard choice of going into a destructive search. He put

four of the strongest men in the team to work with home-made

sledgehammers, lumps of ironstone on wooden shafts, to break UP the

slabs so that they could be more readily levered out of the floor. He

felt guilty about the damage they were causing to the site, but the work

went ahead very much faster.

The high spirits and enthusiasm of the men were at last beginning to

wane. They had worked too long in the oppressive confines of the maze,

and every one of them was the head of the fully aware of the rising

level of the river at gorge, and of the mortal threat behind those

waters. Their expressions were surly and there was little laughter’ or

banter, But more worrying for Nicholas was the fact that at ported the

first the beginning of this shift Hansith had re duty.

desertions. Sixteen of his men had failed to report for They had quietly

rolled their blankets during the night, picked up whatever items of

value or utility they found lying around the camp, and crept away into

the darkness.

Nicholas knew that it was no use sending anyone after them – they had

too much of a start, and would be halfway up the escarpment already.

This was Africa, and Nicholas was certain that now that the rot had

started it would Spread very quickly.

He joked and jollied them along, not allowing them to sense his true

feelings. He worked shoulder to shoulder in the excavation in an and

sweated along with them made attempt to hold them, But he knew that,

unless they Ali under these slabs to keep their interest another

discovery and expectations alight, he might wake up tomorrow to

all find that even the monks and the faithful Hansith were gone.

He had started lifting the slabs in the angle of the corner of the maze,

and they worked out from there in both directions down the arms Of the

tunnel. His heart sank as they broke up each paving slab with the

hammers only to find beneath it the solid stratum of the country rock

with no indication of any joint or opening.

“It doesn’t look very hopeful,” he muttered to Royan as he took a short

break to drink from one of the water flasks.

She too was looking unhappy as she Poured water from the flask into his

cupped hands, so that he could wash the sweat and grime from his face.

“I may have got the symbols for the levels wrong,” she suggested. “It is

just the kind of trick Taita would play, to work out combinations which

would both give a logical solution.” She hesitated before she appealed

to him for guidance. “Do you think I should start working back the other


Her question was interrupted by a bellow from Hansith. “In the name of

the Blessed Virgin, effendi, come quickly!’

They spun around together. In “her haste Royan dropped the flask, which

shattered at her feet. She did not seem to notice that it had drenched

her legs, but ran back to where Hansith was standing with the hammer

poised for another stroke.

What is it-‘ she broke off as they both saw that beneath the paving

slabs Hansith had uncovered another layer of dressed stone sills.

These were laid neatly across the floor of the tunnel from wall to wall,

recessed into the surrounding rock, with knife-edge joints between them.

Their sides were smooth and plain, without engravings or markings upon


“What is it, icky?” Royan demanded.

“Either it’s another layer of paving, or it)s a cover over fall an

opening in the floor,, he told her eagerly. “We won’t know until we lift

one of them.”

The stone sills were too thick and heavy to be cracked with the

primitive hammers, although Hansith tried his best. In the end they were

forced to dig around the first of lever it free. It took five men to

raise the end of them and it and lift it off its foundation.

“There is an opening under it.” Royan went down on the space that it had

left. “Some her knees to peer into kind of open shaft!’

Once the first sill was removed it was easier to get a urchase on the

others that blocked the rectangular open I away, Nicholas shone ing.

When they had cleared them al the dark shaft that was revealed. It the

lamp down into stretched from wall to wall of the tunnel, and the head

stand up to his room was sufficient for even Nicholas full height on the

steps that led down at a forty-five degree angle.

“Surely this must be it.

“Another stairway he exulted exhausted all the false leads by now.”

Even Taita must have crowding up behind them, their The workmen were

very and the ting at this fresh disco sullen mood evapora certainty of

additional bonuses in silver dollars that they had earned.

“Are we going down?” Royan asked. “I know we should be careful and check

it for traps, but we are- running out Of time, Nicky.”

“You are right, as always. The time has come when we have to press on


hand, “Caution thrown to the winds.” She took his laughing. “Let’s go

down together.”

tious step at a They descended side by side, one cau time, with the lamp

held head high and the shadows retreating before them.

“There is a chamber at the bottom,’Royan exclaimed.

“Looks like a store room – what are all those objects stacked along the

walls? There must be hundreds of them.

Are they coffins, sarcophaguses?” The dark shapes were almost human,

standing shoulder to shoulder, rank after rank, around the walls of the

square chamber.

“No, I think those are corn baskets on one side,” she said, recognizing

them. “Those on the other side look like wine amphorae. Probably some

sort of offering to the dead.”

“If this is one of the funeral store rooms,” said Nicholas in a voice

tight with excitement, “then we are getting very close to the tomb now.”

“Yes!’ she cried. “Look – there is another doorway on the far side of

this store room. Shine the light over there.”

The beam picked out the square opening facing them across this lower

chamber. It was inviting, beckoning them almost seductively. They almost

ran down the last few steps in . to . the chamber lined with the reed

baskets and pottery wine jars. But as they reached the leveffloor of the

store room they ran into an invisible barrier that stopped both of them

dead and sent them reeling backwards.

“God!” Nicholas clutched at his throat, his voice a strangled choke.

“Get back. Got to get back.”

Royan was inking to her knees, also gasping and hunting for breath.

“Nicky!” she tried to scream, but her breath was trapped in her lungs.

She felt that a steel noose had encircled her chest and, as it

tightened, the breath was being forced out of her.

“Nicky! Help me!” She was strangling, like a fish thrown up on the bank.

The strength drained from her limbs, and her vision began to break up

and fade. She did not have the strength to stand.

He stooped over her and tried to lift her, but he was almost as weak. He

felt his own legs buckling, no longer able to support even his own


erately as he suffocated.

“Four minutes,” he thought desp i to brain death I “That’s all we have

got. Four minutes and oblivion. We have to get airer her armpits From

behind her, he slipped his arms und locked his hands together over her

breasts. Again he and ied to lift her, but his strength was gone. He

began to tr ds the stairs down which they had walk backwards towar run

so lightly, and every pace required a huge effort. She was already

unconscious, lying inert in the circle of his arms. Her limp legs

trailed across the stone floor as he dragged her back.

The lowest step caught his heels and he almost toppled his balance over

backwards. with an effort he regained and lugged her back up the steps,

her feet sliding and bumping loosely over the treads. He wanted to shout

to his lungs Hansith for help, but he did not have me air in to utter a


, she’s dead,” he told himself, and if you drop her no ps, his lungs

hunting for he struggled up another five ste precious air and finding

none. His strength oozed out of wobbled and as his vision slid and him a

drop at a time A

11 distorted.

“Please God, let me

“Let me breathe,” he pleaded.


Miraculously, like a direct answer to his prayer, he felt slide down his

panting throat and the precious oxygen ngth began flooding back swell

his lungs. At once his stre Royan’s chest and lifted and he tightened

his grip around her bodily. He staggered up the remaining steps with her

sprawled out Of the mouth of the body in his arms and shaft on to the

slabs of the tunnel at Hansith’s feet.

“What is is, effendi? What has happened to you and the lady?”

Nicholas had no breath to answer him. He laid Royan in the position for

mouth-tolmouth resuscitation, and slapped her cheeks.

“Come on!” he pleaded with her. “Speak! Talk to me!” There was no

response, so he knelt over her, covered her open mouth with his own and

blew down her throat, until from the corner of his eye he saw her chest

swelling and inflating.

He sat back for a count of three. “Please, my darling, please

breathe!’There was no colour in her yellow, corpselike face.

He bent over her and covered her mouth again, and as he filled her lungs

with his own breath he felt her stir under him.

“That’s it, my darling,” he told her. “Breathe! Breathe for me.”

At the next breath she pushed him away and sat up groggily, staring

round at the circle of faces that hovered over her anxiously. She picked

out Nicholas’s pale face amongst the black faces of the men.

“Nicky! What happened?”

“I am not sure – but whatever it was, it almost got both of us. How are

you feeling now?”

“It was as though an invisible hand had me by the throat, and was

strangling me. I couldn’t breathe, and then I passed out.”

“It must be some kind of gas filling the lower levels of the passage.

You were only out for less than two minutes,” he reassured her. “It

takes four minutes of oxygen starvation to kill the brain.”

“I have a terrible headache.” She pressed her fingers to her temples. “I

heard your voice calling me back. You called me “my darling”.” She

dropped her eyes.

“Just a little slip of the tongue.” He lifted her to her feet and for a

moment she swayed against him, her breasts soft and warm against his


“Thank you once again, Nicky. I am so deeply in your debt already, I

will never be able to repay you.”

am sure we will be able to work something out.”

She was suddenly aware of the niens eyes watching her and drew away from

him. “What kind of gas? And how did it get there? Was it another of

Taita’s tricks, do you think, Nicky?”

“One Of the gases of decay, most probably,” was his the lower part of

the opinion. . “Because it is trapped in passage, it must be a

heavier-than-air type. I would guess that it is probably carbon dioxide,

although it could be something like methane. I think methane is heavier

than air, isn’t it?”

“Did Taita do it deliberately?” The colour was returning to her cheeks,

and she was recovering swiftly.

I don’t know, but those baskets and jars are suspicious.

er that question when we have had a I will be able to answ chance to

examine their contents.” He touched her cheek tenderly. “How are you

feeling? How is your headacheT

“Better. What do we do now?”

he to

“Clear the gas from the chamber, Id her, “and as soon as possible.”

He used a candle from his emergency pack to, test for-the gas level in

the shaft. With it burning in his right hand he went back down the

steps, holding it low’to the floor, descending a step at a time. The

candle flame burned brightly, dancing to the movement of air as he went

down. Then, abruptly on the sixth step above the floor level of the

chamber, the flame turned yellow and snuffed out.

wall in white chalk, and He marked the level on the shaft, “Well, at

called up to Royan at the head of the still here. Must be carbon least

it’s not methane. I am dioxide.”

“Pretty conclusive test,” she laughed. if it goes boom, it’s methane.”

the blower fan,” Nicholas Hansith, bring down shouted to the big monk

Holding his breath as though he were snorkelling under water, Nicholas

carried the fan down the lower steps and set it up on the floor of the

chamber. He set the fan speed at “High’ and immediately retreated up the

shaft, drawing a huge breath as soon as he was above the chalk mark on

the wall.

“How long will it take to clear the gas?” asked anxiously, looking at

her wrist-watch. Royan

“I will test with the candle every fifteen minutes.

It was an hour before the gas had dispersed enough to enable him to

reach the floor of the chamber again, and breathe the air down there.

Then Nicholas ordered Hansith to bring down a bundle of firewood and

build a fire in the centre of the stone floor, to heat and circulate the

air more rapidly.

While he was doing this, Nicholas and Royan examined one of the baskets

that stood against the wall.

“The crafty old ruffian!” Nicholas Muttered half in exasperation and

half in admiration. “It looks like a mixture of manure and grass and

dead leaves, the same as a compost heap.”

They crossed the chamber, turned one of the pottery jars on its side,

and studied the powder that spilled out of it. Nicholas took up a

handful and rubbed it between his fingers, then sniffed it warily.

“Crushed limestone!” he muttered. “Although it has of acid. Vinegar,

perhaps, or even Isoonakgedagitowdirtihedsoomuetfoarnmd lost any odour,

Taita probably urine would have done the trick. As it broke down the

limestone, it formed carbon dioxide.”

“So it was another deliberate trap,” Royan exclaimed.

“Even so many thousands of years ago, Taita must have understood the

processes of decay. He knew what gases those mixtures would produce.

Amongst all the other accomplishments he boasts of, he must also have

been a nifty chemist.”

Furthermore, he must have known that without a draught or any movement

of air, these heavy inert gases amber indefiould hang here in the bottom

of the ch agreed. “I expect that this shaft is designed like nitely,”


‘ she pointed a ,trap. I bet that the passage rises again at the

mysterious doorway in the far wall, “in fact I can see the first steps

even from here.”

“We will soon find out if you are right,” he told her, because that’s

exactly where we are heading right now up those stePS.”

apper had placed caims of stones at the water’s edge to monitor the

river level. He watched es his ticker them the way a stockbroker watch


It had been six hours since the last rain squall had passed. The clouds

over the valley had burned away in the Ithough they still hung densely

over hot, bright sunlight, a the northern horizon. Their great

dun’coloured thunderheads reared to the heavens, menacing and ominous,

fonning their own mighty ranges that dwarfed the mountains beneath them.

At any time the downpour might ed, begin up there in the highlands. Once

that happen Sapper wondered how long it would take the flood waters to

reach them here in the Abbay gorge.

He dismounted stiffly from the tractor, and went down the bank to

inspect his stone markers. The water level had fallen almost a foot in

the past hour. He forced himself not to let his optimism bubble over –

after all, it had taken only fifteen minutes for the river to -rise the

same amount.

would come.

The final outcome was inevitable. The rains rst. He looked The river

would spate. The dam would bu at the dam wall, and shook his head with

fill downstream resignation.

He had done as much as possible to delay that moment. He had raised the

level of the dam wall almost four feet, and packed in another buttress

behind the wall to strengthen it. There was nothing further for him to

do, and he could only wait.

Climbing up the bank, he leaned wearily against the yellow steel of his

machine and looked across at his team of Buffaloes, strewn along the

bank like casualties on a battlefield. They had worked for two days to

hold back the waters, and now they were exhausted. He knew that he could

not call on them for another effort; the next time the river attacked,

it would overwhelm them.

He saw some of the men stir and sit up, and their faces turned upstream.

He heard their voices faint on the wind.

Something was exciting their interest. He climbed up on to the tractor

and shaded his eyes, The unmistakable figure of Mek Nimmur was coming

down the trail from the direction of the escarpment, stocky and powerful

in his camo fatigues, his gait determined. He was accompanied by two of

his company commanders.

Mek hailed Sapper from a distance. “How is your dam holding?” he called

in Arabic, which Sapper did not understand. “Soon it will rain on the

mountains, You won’t be able to hold out here much longer.” But his

gestures towards sky and river were immediately intelligible to Sapper.

Sapper jumped down from the machine to gr,6et him, and they shook hands

cordially. They had recognized in each other the qualities of strength

and professionalism that they both admired.

Mek seized his company commander, who spoke English, by the arm, and the

man fell into his by now familiar role of interpreter.

“It is not only the weather that troubles me,” Mek confided in a low

voice, and the interpreter relayed the information to Sapper. “I have

reports that the governMent troops are moving into position to attack

us. My intelligence is that they have a full battalion moving down this

way from Debra Maryam, and another force low the monastery at St.

Frumentius, moving up the be Abbay river.”

“Pincer movement, heyT said Sapper.

Mek listened to the translation and nodded gravely. “I am heavily

outnumbered and I don’t know how long I will they attack. My men are be

able to hold them when gueff illas. It is not our role to fight

set-piece battles. It is the war of the flea for us. Hit and run. I came

to warn You at short notice.”

to be ready to Pull out Sapper grunted. , “Don’t worry too much about

am a sprinter. Hundred yards dash is my speciality. It’s Nicholas and

ROYan you should be thinking of, them in that ruddy rabbit warren of


but I wanted to arrange

“I am on my way to them now a fall’back position. if we get cut off from

each other in the the monastery.

fighting, Nicholas has cached the boats at That is where we will


okay Mek—2 Sapper stopped speaking and all three I the trail, where

there was a fresh of them looked bank. “What’s disturbance amongst the

men along the going on?”

Mek one of my patrols coming in narrowed his eyes.

“Mere must be some new development.” He stopped not understand speaking

as he realized that Sapper could him, and then his expression changed as

he recognized the small, slim figure that was being carried on a rough

litter by thing-_ men of his patrol.

towards, her and sat up weakly Tessay saw him running her to the ground

and Mek on the litter. The men lowered the litter and placed both went

down on his knees beside They held each other in silence for a his arms


her face in his Mek gently cupped long moment. Then features.

hands and examined her swollen and arre Some of the burns had become

infected, and her eyes were slits beneath the bloated lids.

“Who did this to you?”he asked softly.

She mumbled incoherently through her black-scabbed lips. They made me

No! Don’t try to talk.” He changed his mind as her lower lip cracked

open and a droplet of fresh blood welled up and glistened like a ruby on

her skin.

“I have to tell you,” she insisted in a broken whisper.

“They made me tell them everything. The numbers of your men. What you

and Nicholas are doing here. Everything. I am sorry, Mek. I betrayed


“Who was it? Who did this to you?”

“Nogo and the American, Helm,’ she said, and although he embraced her as

gently as a father with his infant in his arms, his eyes were terrible.

/4P- -I he lowed chamber of the tunnel was cleared of gas at last.

Hansith’s fire burned bright and steady in the middle of the floor, the

rising hot air wafting away the noxious vapours and dispersing them

through the upper levels of the maze, where they mingled with

the’cleaner oxygen-rich air and lost their toxicity. By this time Royan

had fully recovered from the physical effects of the gassing, but her

confidence was shaken, and she allowed Nicholas to lead the way up the

steps that rose from the far side of the chamber.

“It’s the perfect gas trap,” Nicholas pointed out to her as they climbed

cautiously. “No doubt at all that Taita knew exactly what he was doing

-when he built this section of the tunnel.”

“Surely he must have expected any interloper of his period to have

either succumbed to his hellish devices, lost his way in the maze, or

given up and turned back by now,” she reasoned.

“Are you trying to convince me that this was Taita’s last line of

defence, and that he has no more tricks in store for us? Is that it?”

Nicholas asked as he took another step upwards.

“No. Actually I was trying to convince myself, and not having much

success. I just don’t trust him one little bit any more. I have come to

expect the worst from him. I expect the roof to collapse on me at any

moment, or the floor to open and drop us into a fiery furnace or

something worse.” They had descended forty steps down into the se they

were now climbing was a chamber, and the stairca mirror image of that.

It rose at the same angle and the tread of each step was the same depth

and width. As their heads rose above the fortieth step, Nicholas played

the beam of the lamp down the spacious, level arcade that ened before

them, and they were dazzled by a riot of OP

colour and pattern, bright and lovely as a field’ of desert blooms after

rain. The paintings covered the walls and ceiling of the arcade,

stunning in their profusion, wondrous in their execution.

“Taita!l Royan cried in a voice that quivered and broke. “These are his

paintings. There is no other artist like him, I could never mistake it.

I would know his work anywhere.”

stood on the top step and gazed around in They wonder. When compared to

these, the murals in the long gallery seemed pale and stilted, the

tawdry sham that they the work of a great master, a timeless really

were. This was genius, whose art could enchant and enrapture now just as

readily as it had four thousand years ago. involuntarily, They moved

forward slowly, almost down the arcade. It was lined on each side with

small ntal bazaar. The entrance chambers, like the stalls in an orie

ched up to the to each was guarded by tall columns that rea roof. Each

column was a carved statue of one member of the pantheon of gods.

Between them they held the high vaulted ceiling suspended.

As they drew level with the first two stalls, Nicholas stopped and

squeezed her arm.

“The treasure chambers of Pharaoh he whispered.

The stalls were packed from floor to ceiling with wonderful and

beautiful things.

“The furniture store.” Royan’s voice was as reverential as his as she

recognized the shapes of chairs and stools and beds and divans. She went

to the nearest chamber and touched a royal throne. The arms were twining

serpents of bronze and lapis lazuli. The legs were those of lions with

claws of gold. The seat and back were chased with scenes of the hunt,

and wings of gold surmounted the high back.

Stacked behind the throne was a great Profusion of other furniture. They

recognized a screened divan, its sides enclosed in an exquisite lacework

of ebony and ivory. But there were dozens of other items besides, most

of them broken down into their separate Parts so that it was not

possible to guess what they were. They gleamed with precious metals and

coloured stones in such confusion and variety that it was too much to

take in in a single glance.

Both the alcoves on either side of the arcade were stuffed with these

marvelous collections. Royan shook her head in wonder, and Nicholas led

her on. The walls that separated the alcoves were decorated with panels

illustrate in the Book of the Dead, and the journey of Pharaoh through

the pylons, the dangers and the trials, the demons and the monsters that

awaited him along the way.

“These are the paintings that were missing from the mock tomb in the

long gallery,” Royan told him. “But just look upon the face of the king,

You can see he was a real person. Those are perfect royal portraits.”

The mural beside them depicted the great god Osiris leading Pharaoh by

the hand, protecting him from the crowded close on either hand, waiting

thei monsters that showed the face of the king as he chance to devour

him. I with a kind and gentle, if must truly have been, a man rather

weak, face.

“Look at the figures,” Nicholas agreed. “They are not forward with the

right stiff wooden dolls always stepping foot. These are real men and

women. They are anatomic and had cally correct. The artist understood

perspectiv studied the human body.”

They came to the next pair of alcoves, and paused to peer into them.

“Weapons,” said Nicholas. just look at that chariot The panels of the

chariot were covered with a skin of old leaf, so that it dazzled the

eye. The harness and traces the horses that would draw it into seemed

only to await and the quivers strapped to the side panels behind battle,

elins. The each tall wheel bulged with arrows and jav was emblazoned on

the side panels.

cartouche of Mamose significant vehicle were war bows Piled beside this

of electrum and bronze whose stocks were bound with wir ays of daggers

with ivory handles and gold. There were arr and swords with blades of

glistening bronze. There were racks of spears and pikes. There were

shields of bronze, the targets decorated with scenes of war and the name

of the se. There were helmets and breastplates made divine Mamo from the

skin of the crocodile, and the uniforms and regalia of the famous

regiments of Egypt dressed the life-sized the wooden statues of the king

that stood in rows against walls of the alcoves.

a They walked on down the isle, between more paint, death of the icting

the life and the ings and murals dep ters and danking. They saw him

playing with his daugh nt son. They saw him fishing and hunting and

dling his infa isn’omarches, hawking, in council with his ministers and

dallying with his wives and concubines, and feasting with the priests of

the temple.

What a chronicle of life in ancient times,” Royan breathed with awe.

“There has never been a discovery remotely like this before.” Each of

the persons in the panels had obviously been drawn from life. They were

real breathing living men and women, every face and every expression

different, captured with the keen eye, the humour and he great humanity

of the artist.

“That must be Taita himself.” Royan pointed out the self-portrait of the

eunuch in one of the central panels. “I wonder if he took poetic

licence, or was he truly so noble and beautiful?”

They paused to admire the face of Taita, their adversary, and looked

into his searching, intelligent eyes. Such was the skill of the artist

that he watched them as keenly as they studied him. A small, enigmatic

smile played on Taita’s lips. The painting had been varnished, so that

it was perfectly preserved, as if it had been painted the day before.

Taita’s lips seemed moist and his eyes gleamed softly with life.

“His complexion is fair and his eyes are blue!” Royan exclaimed.

“Although that red hair is almost certainly dyed with henna.”

“It is weird to think that, although he lived so long ago, he almost

succeeded in killing us,’Nicholas said softly.

“In what land was he born? He never tells us that in the scrolls. Was it

Greeceor Italy? Was he from one of the Germanic tribes, or was he of

Viking stock? We will never know, for he himself probably did not know

his own origins.”

“There he, is again in the next panel.” Nicholas pointed down the arcade

to where the unmistakable face of the eunuch appeared in the throng that

knelt in homage before the throne on which sat Pharaoh and his queen.

“Like Hitchcock, he seems to like to appear in his own creations.”

They went on past the treasure stalls in which were stored plates and

goblets and bowls of alabaster and bronze chased with silver and gold,

polished bronze mirrors and rolls of precious silk and linen and woollen

cloth that had long ago rotted to shaggy black amorphous heaps. On the

walls that divided these from the next set of stalls they saw reenacted

the battle with the Hyksos in which Pharaoh had been struck down, the

arrow shot by the Hyksos king lodged in his breast. Then in the next

panel Taita, the surgeon, bent Over him with the surgical instruments in

his ed barb from deep in his hands, removing the blood-smear flesh.

Now they came to alcoves in which were stacked hundreds of cedarwood

chests. The boxes were painted with the royal cartouche of Mamose, and

with scenes of the king at his toilet: lining his eyes with kohl,

painting his face with white antimony and scarlet rouge, being shaved by

his barbers and dressed by his valets.

“Some of those chests will contain the royal cosmetics,” Royan murmured,

‘and some of them will be Pharaoh’s wardrobes of clothing. There will be

costumes in them for ack every occasion in his after-life. I long to be

able to unp and examine them.”

all panels showed the mart iage of the The next set of king to the

young virgin, Taita’s mistress. The face of Queen LostTis was tendered

with loving detail. The artist gloated on her beauty and exaggerated it,

his brush strokes caressing her naked breasts and lingering on all her

virtues until they epitomized feminine perfection.

“How much Taita loved her,” Royan murmured, and there was envy in her

voice. “You can see it in every line he drew.”

Nicholas smiled softly and put his arms around her shoulders.

There were hundreds more wooden chests stacked in the next alcoves.

Painted on the lids were miniatures of the king decked in all his

jewellery: his fingers and toes were thick with rings and his chest was

covered with pectoral medallions, while bangles of gold adorned his arms

and bracelets his wrists. In one portrait he wore the double crown of

the two kingdoms of Egypt united, the red crown and the white with the

heads of the vulture and the cobra on his brow. In another he wore the

blue war crown, and on a third the Nemes crown with gold and lapis wings

that covered his ears.

“If each of those chests contains the treasures depicted on its lid-‘

Nicholas broke off, unable to continue the thought. The possibility of

such riches was daunting, and the imagination balked at the magnitude of


“Do you remember what Taita wrote in the scrolls? “I cannot believe that

such a treasure was ever before accumulated in one place at one times’T

Royan asked him. “It seeffLs that it is all still here, every single gem

and grain of gold. The treasure of Mamose is intact.”

Beyond the treasury there was another alcove lined with shelves on which

stood the ushabti figures: dolls made of green glazed porcelain or

carved from cedarwood. They were an army of tiny figures, men and women

from all the trades and professions. There were priests and scribes and

lawyers and physicians, gardeners and farmers, bakers and brewers,

handmaidens and dancing girls, seamstresses and laundrymaids, soldiers

and barbers, and common labourers.

Each of them carried the tools and accoutrements of his or her trade.

They would accompany the king to the after world and there would work

for Pharaoh, and would go forward in his place if he were ever called

upon to perform a service for the other gods.

At last Nicholas and Royan came to the end of this fabulous arcade, and

found their way closed off by a series of tall, free-standing screens,

tabernacles that had been once fine white linen mesh but were now

decayed and rotted into ribbons and streamers, dirty and shabby as old

cobwebs, And yet the stars and rosettes of shining gold Now, still

hanging in the that decorated these curtains were mesh like fish in a

fisherman’s net. Through this ethereal web of silken wisps and golden

stars they could make out the shape of another gateway beyond.

actual tomb,” Royan

“That must be the entrance to the thin veil between us and the

whispered. “There is only a king now.

tated at the threshold, gripped by a strange They hesi the final step

reluctance, to take an old warrior, Mek Nimmur had seen and treated most

of the injuries that a man might sus in on the battlefield. His little

guerrilla group did not have a doctor, or even a medical orderly.

Mek himself treated most of his casualties, and he always had a medical

kit close at hand.

He had the men carry Tessay to one of the huts near the quarry, where,

screened by the grass walls, he stripped her of her tattered clothing

and treated her injuries. He abrasions with disinfectant, and cleaned

her burns and clean field dressings- Then covered the worst of them with

he rolled her gently on to her stomach and snapped the which glass phial

off the needle’of the disposable syringe wh was preloaded with a

broad’spectrum antibiotic. -and he said, “I She winced at the sting of

the needle, am not a very good doctor.”

other. Oh, Mek! I thought I would would have no ared never see you

again. I did not fear death as much as I fe that.”

He helped her dress in the spare clothing from his pack, a sweatshirt

and fatigues that were many sizes too large for her. He rolled up the

cuffs for her, and his touch soldier.

was gentle. His hands were those of a lover, not a she whispered through

her must look so ugly,” swollen, black-scabbed lips.

“You are beautiful he denied it- “To me you will always be beautiful.”

He touched her cheek carefully, so as not to harm the raw burns that

covered it.

At that moment they heard the gunfire. It was still faint with distance,

borne down from the north on the rain winds.

Mek stood up immediately. “It has begun. Nogo is attacking at last it’s

all my fault. I told him-‘

“No,” he told her firmly. “It is not your fault. You did what you had to

do. If you had not, they would have hurt you even worse than this. They

would have attacked us, even if you had told them nothing.”

He picked up his webbing belt and strapped it around his waist. From far

off they heard the crumping detonation of exploding mortar shells.

“I have to go now,” he told her.

“I know. Do not worry about me.”

“I will always worry about you. These men will carry you down to the

monastery. That is the assembly point.

Wait for me there. I cannot hope to hold Nogo for long.

He is too strong. I will come to you soon.”

“I love you,” she whispered. “I will wait for you for ever.”

“You are my woman,” he told her in his deep, soft voice, and then he

ducked through the doorway of the hut and was gone.

hen Nicholas touched the frame of the screen, fragments of the mesh veil

tore free with even that tiny movement and fell to the tiles of the

floor. The golden rosettes trapped in their folds tinkled on the stones.

Now there was an opening in the curtain large enough for them to step

through, They found themselves before the inner doorway. It was -guarded

eat god Osiris on one side by a massive statue of the gr with his hands

crossed over his chest, clutching the crook and the flail. Opposite

stood his wife Isis, with the lunar crown and horns on her head. Their

blank eyes stared out into eternity, and their expressions were serene.

Nicholas and Royan passed between these twelve-foot-high statues and

found themselves at last in the veritable tomb of Mamose.

The roof was vaulted, and the quality of the murals that covered it and

the walls was different – formal and classical. The colours were of a

deeper, more sombre hue, and the patterns more intricate. The chamber

was smaller han they had anticipated; just large enough to accommodate

the huge granite sarcophagus of the divine Pharaoh Mamose.

The sarcophagus stood chest-high. Its side panels were engraved in

has-relief with scenes of Pharaoh and the other gods. The stone lid was

in the shape of a full’length effigy of the supine figure of the king.

They saw at once that it was still in its original position, and that

the clay seals of the priests of Osiris which secured the lid were

intact. The tomb had never been violated. The mummy had lain within it

undisturbed through the millennia.

But this was not what amazed them. There were two extraneous items

within the otherwise classically correct tomb. On the lid of the

sarcophagus lay a magnificent war bow. Almost as long as Nicholas was

tall, the entire length of its stock was bound with coils of shining

electrum wire, that alloy of gold and silver whose formula has been lost

in antiquity.

The other item that should never have been placed in a royal tomb stood

at the foot of the sarcophagus. It was a small human figure, one of the

ushabti dolls. A glance of this effigy, confirmed the superior quality

of the carving and both of them recognized the features instantly. Only

minutes before, they had seen that face painted upon the walls of the

arcade, outside the tomb.

The words of Taita, from the scrolls, seemed to reverberate within the

confines of the tomb, and hang like fireflies in the air above the


When I stood for the very last time beside the royal sarcophagus, I sent

all the workmen away.

I would be the very last to leave the tomb, and after me the entrance

would be sealed.

When I was alone I opened the bundle I carried. From it I took the long

bow, Lanata.

Tanus had named it after my mistress, for Lanata had been her baby name.

I had made the bow for him. It was the last gift from the two of us. I

placed it upon the sealed stone lid of his coffin.

There was one other item in my bundle. It was the wooden ushabti figure

that I had carved.

I placed it at the foot of the sarcophagus. While I carved it, I had set

up three copper mirrors so that I could study my own features from every

angle and reproduce them faithfully. The doll was a miniature Taita.

Upon the base I had inscribed the words Royan knelt at the foot of the

coffin and pick up the ushabd figure. Reverently she turned it in her

hands and studied the hieroglyphics carved into the base of the figure.

Nicholas knelt beside her. “Read it to me,” he said.

Softly she obeyed. “‘My natne is Taita. I am a physician and a poet. I

am an architect and a philosopher. I am your friend. I will answer for

you – “‘

so it’s all true,’Nicholas whispered, Royan replaced the ushabti exactly

as she had found it and, still on her knees, turned her face to his.

this,” she

“I have never known another moment like whispered. “I want it never to


“It will never end, my darling,” he answered her. “You and I are only

just beginning.”

ek Nimmur watched them coming, skirtin 9 the bottom slope of the hill,

It took the trained eye of a bush-fighter to pick them ut as they moved

through the thick scrub and thorn. As 0 he evaluated them he felt a

twinge of dismay. These were crack troopsi seasoned during long years of

war. He had once fought with them against the Mengistu. tyranny, an he

had probably trained many of those men down there.

Now they were coming against him. Such was the cycle of violence in this

racked continent, where the war and endless struggles were fuelled and

nurtured by the age-old tribal enmities and the greed and corruption of

the newage politicians and their outmoded ideologies.

But this was not the moment for dialectics, he thought bitterly, and

focused his mind on the tactics Of the battlefield beneath him. Yes!

These men were good. He could see it in the way they advanced, like

wraiths through the scrub. For every one of them he picked out, he knew

there were a dozen others that remained unseen.

“Company strength,” he thought, and glanced around at his own small

force. Fourteen men amongst the rocks, they could only hope to hit their

adversary hard while they still had the advantage of surprise, and then

pull back before Nogo ranged his mortars in on the hilltop where they


He looked up at the sky and wondered whether Nogo would call in an air

strike. Thirty’five minutes’ flying time viet’built Tupolevs from the

air base for a stick of those So at Addis, and he could almost smell the

sweet stench of wind, and see the rolling cloud of napalm on the humid

flame sweeping to wards them. That was the only thing his men really

feared. But there would be no air strike – not this time, he decided.

Nogo and his paymaster, the German von Schiller, wanted the spoils from

the tomb that Nicholas Quenton-Harper had discovered in the gorge. They

did not want to share any of it with those political fat cats in Addis.

They would not want to draw any government attention to themselves and

this little private campaign of theirs in the Abbay gorge.

He looked back down the slope. The enemy was moving in nicely, swinging

around the hillside to intersect the trail along the Dandera river. Soon

they must send a patrol up here to secure their flank before they could

sweep on. Yes, there they were. Eight, no, ten men detaching from the

main advance, and moving cautiously up the slope beneath him.

“I will let them get in close,” he decided. “I would like to get them

all, but that is too much to hope for. I would settle for four or five

of them, and it would be good to leave a few squealers in the scrub.” He

grinned cruelly. “Nothing like a man screaming with a belly wound to

take the fire out of his comrades, and make them keep their heads down.”

He looked across the rock-strewn slope, and saw that his RPD light

machine gun was perfectly sited to enfilade their advance up the slope.

Salim, his machine gunner, was an artist with that weapon. Perhaps,

after all, he could hope to put down more than five of them.

“We will see,” thought Mek, “but I must time it right.” He saw that

there was a gap in the ridge of rock just below him.

“They will not want to expose themselves by crossing the open ridge,” he

judged. “They will tend to bunch up and sneak through the gap. That will

be the moment.”

He looked back at the RPD. Salim was watching him, waiting for his

signal. Mek looked back down the slope.

ly “he thought. “Their line is bunching. “The big one es, on the left is

already out of position. Those two inside him are angling across towards

the gap.” Nogo’s men’s camouflage blended perfectly with the of their

weapons were wrapped with scrub, and the barrels rags and scraps of

camouflage netting so that they threw no sunlight reflections. They were

almost invisible in the bush;

it was only their movements and the skin tones that se now that Mek

caught betrayed them. They were soCIO

of one of their eyeballs but he still the occasional gleam could not

pick out their machine gunner.

He must silence the gun with his first burst. “Ah, Yes,” he thought with

relief. “There he is. On the right flank. I nearly missed him.”

eavy shoulders The man was short and thick-set, with ily on his hip.

carrying the gun eas and long arms, simian, from it was a Soviet-made

7.62mm RPD. The wink of brass ed over those the cartridges in the

ammunition belts festoor, great shoulders had given him away.

Mek eased himself down and inched around the base He slipped the

rate-of-fire ered him.

of the rock that cov cheek on the selector on his AKM to rapid, and laid

hi wooden butt. it was his personal weapon. A gunsmith in barrel for

him, action and lapped the Addis had trued the stock. All this as well

as glass-bedding the barrel into the rove the accuracy of this

notoriously had been done to imp inaccurate assault rifle- It was still

no sniper’s weapon, but ct to place all his with these modifications he

could expe shots within a two-inch circle at a hundred metres.

The man carrying the RPD up the slope was now only fifty metres below

where he lay. Mek glanced to his right to the to make sure that the

three others were moving in gap where Salim could take them out with a

single burst;

sight in the entre of the then he settled the pip of his fore

using his belt buckle as an RPD machine gunner’s belly, aiming mark, and

fired a tap of three The AKM rode up viciously and the triple detonation

stung his eardrums, but Mek saw his bullets strike, stitching a row up

the man’s torso. One hit low in the belly, the second in the diaphragm

and the third at the base of his throat. He spun around, his arms

flinging out and jerking, and then crashed over backwards, out of sight

in the underbrush.

All around Mek his men were firing. He wondered, how many of them Salim

had taken with that first burst, but there was no longer anything to

see. The enemy were all down in cover. A faint haze of gunsmoke blued

the air as they returned fire, and the scrub trembled and shook to the

recoil and the muzzle blast of their weapons.

Then, in the uproar of fire, in the whine and wail of ricochets off the

rocks, one of them began to scream.

“I am hit. In Allah’s name, help me.” His cries rang eerily across the

hillside, and the enemy fire slackened perceptibly. Mek clipped a fresh

magazine on to the AKM.

“Sing, little bird. Sing!the muttered grimly.

t required the combined strength of Nicholas, Hansith and eight other

men to lift the lid off the stone sarcophagus. Staggering under its

weight, they laid it carefully against the wall of the tomb. Then Royan

and Nicholas stood on the plinth of the sarcophagus to look down into

the interior.

Fitted neatly into the stone receptacle was an enormous wooden coffin.

Its lid too was in the form of the reclining Pharaoh. He was in the

posture of death with his hands crossed at his breast, clutching the

flail and the crook. The coffin was gilded and encrusted with

semiprecious stones. The expression on the face of the king’s effigy was


They lifted the coffin out of the sarcophagus, and its weight was less

than that of the stone lid, Carefully Nicholas split the golden seals

and the layer of hard dried

01 . Within it they resin that held the lid of the coffin in plac ctly,

and when the found another coffin, fitted perfe as revealed. It was

like a ened that yet another coffin wOP

nest of Russian dolls, one within the other, becoming smaller with each

revelation. coffins, each of them’

In the end there were seven mate and richly decorated than the

progressively more previous one. The seventh coffin was only slightly

larger I than a man, and it was made of gold. The polished metal caught

the light of the lamps like a thousand mirrors and the tomb.

threw bright arrows and darts into every recess coffin they When at

last they opened the golden inner found that it was filled with flowers.

The blooms had dried and faded, so their colour was sepia. Their scent

had long ago evaporated, so that only the musky aroma of great age

wafted up from the coffin. The petals were so dry and apery that they

crumbled at the first touch. Beneath the faded blooms was a layer of

the finest linen; once it must have been snowy white, but now it was

brown with age the flowers. Through the and the stain of the juices from

soft folds they saw once again the gleam of gold.

standing on either side of the coffin, Nicholas and Royan peeled back

the linen mesh. It crackled softly and but as it came tore like tissue

paper und their fingers, away they both involuntarily gasped with

wonder as the as only fraction ask of Pharaoh was revealed. It death-

man, but it was a perfect ally larger than the head of a it. Pharaoh’s

features had been pre, image in every deta ty in this extraordinary work

of art.

served for all eterni ed in silent wonder into the obsidian and rock

They star crystal eyes of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh gazed back at them sadly,

almost accusingly it was a long time before either of them could summon

the head thecourag6 and presumption to lift it away from did so, they

found further of the mummy. But when the

evidence that in antiquity the body of the king and that of his general,

Tanus, had been changed. The mummy that lay before them was obviously

too large for the coffin that contained it. It had been partially

unwrapped, and cramped into the interior.

“A royal mummy would have had hundreds of charrns and amulets placed

beneath the wrappings,” Royan whispered . “This is the plainly dressed

corpse of a nobleman and not that of the king.”

Nicholas gently lifted the inner layer of bandage away from the dead

head and a thick coil- of braided hair was revealed.

“The portraits of Pharaoh Mamose on the walls of the arcade show that

his head hair was dyed with henna,” Nicholas murmured. “Look at this.”

The braid was the colour of the winter grasses of the African savannah,

gold and silver.

“There can be no doubt now. This is the body of Tanus. The friend of

Taita and the lover of the queen.”

“Yes,” Royan agreed, her eyes soft with tears. “He is the true father of

Lostris’s son, who became in his time the Pharaoh Tamose and the

forefather of a great line of kings.

So this is the man whose blood runs through the history of ancient


“In his way he was as great as any Pharaoh,” Nicholas said quietly.

t was Royan who roused herself first. “The river!’


she cried, with a razor edge to her voice. “We cannot let all this go

again, when the river rises.”

“Neither can we hope to save all of it. There is too much. A great mass

of treasure. Our time here has almost run out, so we must pick out the

most beautiful and important pieces and pack them into the crates. Lord

alo’the knows if we even have time for that.”

So they worked in a frenzy in the short time that was left to them. They

could not even think about saving the eapons, the statues and the

murals, the furniture and the banqueting. utensils and the wardrobes of

costumes. The great golden chariot must stand where it had stood for

four thousand years, They removed the golden death’mask from over

Tanus’s head, but they left his mummy in the innermost of the golden

coffins. Then Nicholas sent for Mai Metemma. The old abbot came with

twenty of his monks to receive the lie of the ancient saint that he had

been promised holy re as his reward. Reverentially, chanting deep and

slow, they bore Tanus’s coffin away to its new resting place in the

maqdas of the monastery. ect,”

“At least the old hero will be treated with resP Royan said softly. Then

she looked around the tomb. “We cannot leave the site like this, with

the coffins thrown Royan protested. “it looks as about and the lids

discarded, though grave-robbers have been at work here.”

“Grave-robbers is exactly what we are.” Nicholas smiled at her.

tly, “and we

“No, we are archaeologists,” she denied ho must try to act like it.” ing

coffins one within So they replaced the six remain the other, laid them

back in the great sarcophagus, and finally replaced the massive stone

lid. Only then did Royan allow them to begin selecting and packing the

treasures they would take with them.

The death’mask was without any doubt the premier item in the entire

tomb. it fitted neatly into one of the the wooden ushabd of Taita laid

alongside it, crates, with until it was firmly secured, Royan packed

with Styrofoarn waterproof wax crayon: “Mask & scribbled on the lid in

Taita Ushabti’.

Their final selection was, perforce, hurried and superof the cedarwood

official. They could not rip open every one chests that were piled high

in the alcoves of the arcade.

The painted and gilded chests themselves were priceless artefacts, and

should be treated with respect. So they allowed themselves to be guided

by the illustrations on the lid of each. They discovered immediately

that these were indeed an accurate inventory and catalogue of the

contents. In the chest which showed Pharaoh decked in the blue war

crown, they found the actual crown laid on gilded leather pillows that

had been moulded to fit it exactly and to protect it.

Even in the short time left to them they became almost surfeited by the

magnificence of the items they uncovered as they selected and opened the

cedarwood chests. Not only the blue crown, but the red and white crown

of the kingdoms united was there, and the splendid Nemes crown, all

three in such a miraculous state of preservation that they might have

been lifted from Pharaoh’s brow that morning.

From the very outset it had to be a prerequisite that any artefact must

be small enough to fit into one of the ammunition crates. If it were too

large, no matter what its value or historical significance, then it had

to be rejected and left in the tomb. Fortunately, many of the cedarwood

chests containing the royal jewellery fitted snugly into the metal

crates, so that not only the contents but also the chests themselves

could be saved. However, the larger items, the crowns and the huge

jewelled gold pectoral medallions, had to be repacked.

As the ammunition crates were filled, they carried them down and stacked

them on the landing outside the sealed doorway, ready to be carried out.

Including the.

crates that contained the eight statuettes of the gods from the long

gallery, they had packed and catalogued forty-eight crates when they

heard Sapper’s unmistakable accents floating up the staircase.

“Major, where the hell are yOU7 YOU can’t bugger about hairy arse out

in here any longer. Come on, man! Get you of here. The river is in full

spate, and the dam is going to burst at any minute.”

Sapper came bounding up the staircase, but even he stopped in wonder and

awe as he looked for the first time pon the splendours of the funeral

arcade of Pharaoh Mamose. It took some minutes for him to recover from

the shock and to revert to his old prosaic self again.

“I mean it, major! It’s a matter of minutes, not hours.

That ruddy dam is going to go. Apart from that, Mek is fighting in the

hills at the head of the chasm. You can hear the gunfire even at the

bottom of the cliff in Taita’s pool.

4 Al You and Royan have to get out and fast, I kid you nod’

“Okay, Sapper. We are on our way. Get back to the chamber at the bottom

of those stairs. You saw those ammunition crates down there?” Sapper

nodded, and Nicholas went on quickly, “Have the men lug those crates out

of here. Get them down to the monastery. I want you to supervise that

part of it. We will follow you down the trail with the rest of them.”

“Don’t mess around, major. Your life isn’t worth a pile of old junk like

this. Get moving now.”

“Get on with it, Sapper. But don’t let Royan hear you call it a pile of

old junk. You could be in really serious trouble.”

Sapper shrugged. “Don’t say I didn’t warn. you.” He turned and started

back down the staircase.

“You know where the boats are stashed, Nicholas shouted after him. “If

you get there before me, get them inflated and the crates lashed down.

We will be right behind you.”

The moment Sapper was gone, Nicholas raced back

down the arcade to where Royan was still at work in the treasury.

“That’s it!” he shouted at her. “No more time. Let’s get out.”

“Nicky, we can’t leave this-‘

“Oud’ He grabbed her arm. “We are getting out now.

Unless you want to share Tanus’s tomb with him on a permanent basis.”

“Can’t I just-‘

“No, you crazy woman! Now! The dam will go at any moment.”

She’broke away from him, snatched up some handfuls of left-over

jewellery from the open chest at her feet, and began stuffing them into

her pockets.

“I can’t leave these.”

He seized her around the waist and swung her over his shoulder. “I told

you I meant it,” he said grimly, and ran with her down the arcade.

“Nicky! Put me down.” She kicked with outrage, but he continued running

down into the chamber at the foot of the staircase.

Hansith and his men were carrying the last few packed ammunition crates

up the staircase on the far side of the chamber. They balanced the

crates easily on their heads and went up the steps with alacrity.

Here Nicholas set Royan down on her own feet again, “Will you promise to

behave now? We aren’t playing games.

This is deadly serious – I mean deadly, if we get trapped down here.”

“I know.” She looked contrite. “I just couldn’t bear to leave the rest

of it.”

“Enough of that. Let’s go.” Nicholas grabbed her hand and dragged her

after him. After the first few steps she shook her hand free and started

to run in earnest, outstripping him and reaching the top of the

staircase a few paces ahead of him.

Even under their burdens the porters were making good time. Caught up in

the long hurrying column, Nicholas and Royan wound their way back

through the maze, grateful for the signposts at each corner, and made it

down the central staircase into the ruined long gallery without taking a

wrong turning. Sapper was waiting for them at the ruins of the sealed

doorway, and grunted with he porters.

relief when he saw them amongst I thought I told you to go on ahead and

get the boats ready,’Nicholas shouted at him.

“Couldn’t trust you not to be bloody stupid.” Sapper looked miserable.

“Wanted to make sure you didn’t hang about in there.”

“I am touched, Sapper.”Nicholas punched his shoulder, and then they ran

down the approach tunnel and clattered over the bridge across the


“Where is MeV Nicholas panted at Sapper’s back as he jogged in front of

him. “Have you seen Tessayr

“Tessay is back. She had a nasty experience. She was in a terrible mess.

Seems she got badly knocked about.”

“What has happened to her?” Nicholas was appalled.

“Where is she?”

“It looks like she fell into the hands of von Schiller’s gorillas and

they beat the hell out of her. Mek’s men are taking her down to the

monastery. She will wait for us at the boats.”

“Thank God for that,” Nicholas muttered, and then louder, “What about


“He is trying to hold off Nogo’s attack. I have been hearing rifle fire

and grenades and mortar shells all morning. He too is going to fall back

and wait for us at the boats.”

They ran the last few yards down the tunnel ankle, deep in slush and

water, and at last crawled over the wall of the coffer dam on to the

rocky ledge around Taita’s pool. Nicholas looked up to see Hansith’s

porters scrambling up the bamboo scaffolding ladder towards the top of

the cliff, each of them hauling up one of the ammunition crates.

At that moment he caught a sound that he recognized instantly. He cocked

his head to listen and then told Royan grimly, “Gunfire! Mek is fighting

it out, but it’s pretty darned close.”

“My bag!” Royan started towards her thatched shelter at the foot of the

cliff. “I must get my kit., “You won’t need your make-up or your

pyjamas, and I’ve got your passport.” He seized her arm and turned her

back towards the foot of the ladder. “In fact the only thing you need

now is plenty of space between you and Colonel Nogo. Come along, Royan!’

They swarmed up the bamboo scaffolding and when they reached the cliff

top Royan was surprised to discover that, although the earth was wet

underfoot from the recent rain squalls, the sun was high and hot. She

had lost all sense of time in the cold, gloomy passages of the tomb, and

now she held up her face to the sunlight and drank it in gratefully for

a moment while Nicholas checked the porters and made certain that they

were all out of the chasm.

Sapper set off at the head of the column along the trail through the

thorn forest, with the file of porters strung out behind him. Nicholas

and Royan waited until all the men were on the pathway before they

themselves brought up the rear of the column. The sound of the fighting

was frighteningly close now. It seemed to be almost at the brink of the

chasm close behind them, less than half a mile away.

The crackle of automatic fire gave a spring and a lift to the feet of

the porters, and the entire party raced back through the forest to reach

the main trail down to the monastery before they were cut off by Nogo’s


Before they reached the junction of the paths, they ran into a party of

stretcher-bearers carrying a litter. They too were headed down towards

the monastery. Nicholas thought the person they were carrying was one of

the wounded guerrillas of Mek’s force. But even when he caught up with

them it took a moment for him to recognize Tessay’s swollen and burned


“Tessay!” He stooped over her. “Who did this to you?” She looked up at

him with the huge dark eyes of a wounded child, and told him in halting,

broken words.

“Helm!” Nicholas blurted. “I’ love to get my hands on that bastard.” At

that moment Royan caught up with them, and she let out a small cry of

horror as she saw Tessay’s face. Then immediately she took charge of


tcher’bearers Nicholas spoke quickly to one of the stre from he



“Mezra, what is happening out there?”

“Nogo moved a force in from the east of the gorge.

They outflanked us, and we are pulling out, This is not our kind of


“I know,” Nicholas remarked grimly. “Guerrillas must

“Where is Mek Nimmur?” keep moving. \

“He is retreating down the eastern bank of the chasm.” As Mezra replied,

they heard a renewed outburst of firing behind them. “That is him!”

Mezra nodded. “Nogo is pushing him hard.”

“What are your orders?”

“To take Lady Sun to the boats and wait for Mek Nimmur there.”

“Good! Nicholas told him. “We will go with you.”

he jet Ranger was flying low, hugging the contours Of the land, never

cresting the high ground. Helm knew that Mek Nimmur’s shufta were armed

with RPGs, rocket-launchers. In the hands of a trained man, these were

deadly weapons against a slow-flying, unarmoured aircraft such as the

jet Ranger.

The pilot’s defence was to use the terrain as cover, weaving and

twisting up the valleys so as to deny the racketeers a clear shot.

Although the rain clouds were slumping down the into the Abbay gorge,

the helicopter was escarpmen keeping well below them. However, the

sudden squalls of wind rocked the machine dangerously and splatterings;

of heavy raindrops rattled against the windshield. The pilot sat forward

in the seat, leaning against his shoulder-straps as he concentrated on

this dangerous low flying in these unpleasant conditions. Helm sat in

the right’hand seat, beside the pilot. Von Schiller and Nahoot Guddabi

were together in the rear passenger seat, both of them craning nervously

to peer out of the side windows as the heavily wooded slopes of the

valley streamed past, seemingly close enough to touch.

Every few minutes the radio crackled into life, and they could hear the

terse transmissions of Nogo’s men on the ground calling for mortar

support or reporting objectives attained. The pilot translated the radio

gabble for them, twisting round in his seat to tell von Schiller, “There

is a sharp fire-fight going on along the top of the chasm, but the

shufta are on the run. Nogo is handling his force well. They have just

dislodged a strong force from the hillside to the east of us,” he

pointed out of the left hand port, “and they are hammering the shufta

with mortars as they run.”

“Have they reached the spot in the chasm where Quenton-Harper was


“It isn’t clear. All a bit confused.” The pilot listened to the next

burst of Arabic on the radio. “I think that was Nogo himself speaking

just then.”

“Call him up!” von Schiller ordered Helm, leaning over the back of his

seat. “Ask him if they have secured the tomb site yet.”

Helm reached across and lifted the microphone off its hook below the

instrument panel. “Rose Petal, this is Bismarck. Do you copy?”

There was a pause filled with static, and then Nogo’s voice Speaking

English. “Go ahead, Bismarck,’

“Have you secured the primary objective? Over.”

“Affirmative, Bismarck. All secured. All opposition suppressed. I am

sending men down the ladder to clear the workings.”

Helm swivelled in his seat to look back at von Schiller.

“Nogo has men in the chasm already. We can go in and land., “Tell him

not to let any of his men into the workings before I arrive,’ von

Schiller ordered sternly, but his expression was triumphant. “I must be

the first in there.

Make him understand that.”

While Helm relayed his orders to Nogo, von Schiller tapped the pilot on

the shoulder. “How long to the objective?”

“About five minutes’flying time, sir.”

“Circle the site when you arrive. Don’t land until we are sure Nogo has

it under his control.”

The pilot lifted the collective and the sound of the rotors altered as

they changed pitch. The helicopter slowed and then hovered in mid-air,

while the pilot pointed down.

“What is it?” von Schiller followed his gesture. “What do you see?”

“The dam,” Helm answered. Quenton-Flarper’s dam.

He did a load of work down there.”

The wide body of trapped water gleamed grey and sullen under the rain

clouds, tainted with the run-off from the highlands. The water diverted

into the side canal boiled white and angrily down into the long valley.

“Deserted!” Helm commented. “All Harper’s men have pulled out.”

“What is that yellow object on the bank?” von Schiller wanted to know.

“That’s the earth-moving machine. You remember? My informer told us

about it.”

“Don’t waste any more time,” von Schiller ordered.

“Nothing more to see here. Let’s get on!’

Helm tapped the pilot’s shoulder, and gestured downstream.

apper was waiting for them to catch up at the junction of the trail,

where the diverted river was roaring down the valley in a torrent and

had washed out a long section of the original track. The porters, strung

out in a long line down the valley, each with an ammunition crate

balanced on his head, were picking their way along the higher ground

above the water.

Tessay’s litter was near the rear of the column, with Royan and Nicholas

trotting on each side of it and steadying it over the rough and uneven

sections of the path.

“Where is Hansith?” Nicholas shouted at SappeT, shading his eyes to

check the men ahead of him, and trying to pick out the big monk’s

distinctive form from amongst the others in the caravan.

thought he was with you,” Sapper shouted back. “I haven)

t seen him since we left the chasm., Nicholas turned and stared back the

way they had come, along the footpath through the Thorn forest.

“Damn the man,” he grunted. “We can’t go back to look for him. He will

have to make his own way down to the monastery.”

At that moment they heard the faint but familiar flutter of rotors in

the hot, humid air below the lowering cloud masses.

“The Pegasus chopper! Sounds as though von Schiller is heading directly

for Taita’s pool. He must have known all along exactly where we were

working,” said Nicholas bitterly. “Not wasting any time. Like a vulture

coming in to a fresh carcass.”

Royan was also looking up at the sound, trying to pick out the shape of

the aircraft against the dark clouds. Her OEM NOOF AL

, the tendrils of sweat-damp face was flushed from the ru hair dangled

down her cheeks. “If those swine are allowed to enter our tomb it will

be a dreadful desecration of a sacred place,” she said angrily.

Nicholas reached-across the litter and took Suddenly determined. “You

are her arm. His expression’was stem an right. Go on down to the

monastery with Tessay. I will follow you later.” Before she could

protest or question him, he strode across to Sapper.

“I am putting the two women in your care, Sapper.

Look after them.”

“Where are you going, Nicky?” Royan had come up behind him, and

overheard his orders to Sapper. “What are you going to do?”

“One little chore. Won’t take me long.”

“You aren’t going back there?” She was horrified. “You will get yourself

killed or worse. You saw what Helm did to Tessay-‘

“Don’t fuss yourself, my love,” he laughed, and before she realized what

he intended he kissed her full on the lips.

While she was still flustered and confused by this display in front of

so many men, he pushed her gently away.

“Take care of Tessay. I will meet you at the boats.” Before she could

protest further, he turned and struck out up the valley at a long-legged

lope which carried him over the rough terrain so swiftly that she had no

further chance to prevent him.

“Nicky!” she screamed after him despairingly, but he pretended not to

hear and kept going, following the diverted river upstream, back towards

the dam.

he jet Ranger followed the convoluted course of the river below the dam.

At moments they could look directly down into the narrow gap between the

high cliffs, into the shaded depths of the chasm, almost dry now, with

only the occasional gleam of the shrunken and still pools.

“There they are!” Helm pointed dead ahead. There was a small cluster of

men on the brink of the chasm.

“Make sure they aren’t shufta!” There was fear in von Schiller’s voice.

“No!” Helm reassured him loudly. “I recognize Nogo, and that tall one

beside him in the white shamnia is the monk Hansith Sherif, our

informer.” He shouted above the engine beat at the pilot, “You can go in

and land. There!

Nogo is waving you in!’

The moment the skids of the helicopter touched the ground, both Nogo and

Hansith ran forward Between them they helped von Schiller down from the

passenger cabin and hustled him clear of the spinning rotors.

“My men have secured the area,” Nogo assured him.

“We have driven the shufta down the valley towards the river. This man

is Hansith Sherif, who has been working beside Harper in the tomb. He

knows every inch of the tunnels.”

“Does he speak English?” Von Schiller looked up at the tall monk


“A little bit,” Hansith answered for himself.

“Good! Good!” Von Schiller beamed at him. “Show me the way. I will

follow You. Come on, Guddabi, it’s about time you did some work for the

money I am paying you., Hansith led them quickly to the head of the

scaffolding, where von Schiller paused and looked down nervously into

the gloomy depths of the chasm, The bamboo framework seemed flimsy and

rickety, the drop deep and terrifying. Von Schiller was on the point Of

Protesting when Nahoot Guddabi whimpered behind him.

“He does not expect us to climb down there, does he?” His terror

bolstered von Schiller immediately, and he turned on Nahoot with relish.

“It is the only access to the tomb. Follow the man down. I will be close

behind you., 1VjU,)t “Putul- YY(, When Nahoot still hesitated, Helm put

a calloused hand in the small of his back and shoved him forward.

“Get on with it. You are wasting time.”


Reluctantly Nahoot started down the affording after SC the monk, and von

Schiller followed him. The framework of bamboo shook and swayed under

their combined weight and the drop to the rocks below sucked at them,

but at last they reached the ledge beside Taita’s pool. There they stood

in a small group, staring about them in awe and wonder. .

“Where is the tunnel?” von Schiller demanded as soon as he had regained

his breath, and Hansith beckoned to him to follow him to the wall of the

small coffer dam.

Here von Schiller paused and looked around at Helm and Nogo. “I want you

to remain on guard here. I will enter the tomb with Guddabi and this

monk. I will send for you when you are needed.”

“I would feet happier to be with you, to protect you, Herr von

Schiller-‘ Helm began, but the old man frowned at him.

“Do as I tell you!” And with Hansith steadying him he climbed stiffly

down the wall of the coffer dam into the mouth of the tunnel. Nahoot

Guddabi followed him closely.

“The lights? Where does the power come from?” von to know.

Schiller wanted

“There is a machine,” Hansith explained, and at that moment they heard

the soft burble of the generator ahead one of them spoke again as they

moved down of them. the entrance tunnel after Hansith, until they

reached the bridge over the dark waters of the sinkholes

“This is very rough construction,” Nahoot muttered, his uneasiness at

last giving way to professional interest. “It tomb I have does not

remind me of any other Egyptian ever inspected. I think we may have been

misted. It is bably some native Ethiopian workings.” pro

“You are making a premature judgement,” von Schiller admonished him.

“Wait until we have seen the rest of what this man has to show us.”

Von Schiller steadied himself with a hand on Hansith’s shoulder as they

crossed the bobbing pontoons of baobab wood, and he scrambled ashore on

the far side with relief.

They started up the rising section of the tunnel and passed the

high-water mark.

As soon as the construction of the walls changed to packed and dressed

stone, Nahoot remarked on it. “Ah! I was disappointed at first. I

thought we had been duped, but now one can see the Egyptian influence.”

They reached the landing outside the ruined gallery on which stood the

Honda generator. By -now both von Schiller and Nahoot were sweating with

exertion and trembling with excitement.

4Th is looks more and more promising. It may very well be a royal tomb,”

Nahoot exulted. Von Schiller pointed to the plaster seats stacked

against the -side wall where Nicholas and Royan had abandoned them.

Nahoot fell to his, knees beside them and examined them eagerly, his

voice trembling as he cried out.

The cartouche of Mamose, and the seal of the scribe Taita!” He looked up

at von Schiller with shining eyes, “There can be no doubts now. I have

led you to the tomb as I promised you I would.”

For a moment von Schiller stared at him, speechless in the face of such

hare-faced arrogance. Then he snorted with disgust and stooped to peer

through the open doorway into the long gallery.

“This has been destroyed!” he cried in horror. “The tomb has been


“No, no!” Hansith assured him. “Come this way. There is another tunnel


As they picked their way through the rubble and wreckage, Hansith told

them in halting, broken English AL

how the roof of the gallery had collapsed, and how he, Hansith, had

found the true entrance under the ruins.

Nahoot stopped every few paces to examine and exclaim over the scraps of

painted plaster that had survived the fall of the roof. “These must have

been magnificent.

Classical work of the highest order-‘

“There is more to show you. Much more,” Hansith promised them, and von

Schiller snarled at Nahoot.

“Leave these damaged sections now. Time is running out on us. We must

hurry on directly to the burial hamber.”

Hansith led them up the hidden staircase into the maze of the bao, and

then through the twists and turns to the lowest level.

“How did Harper and the woman ever find their way through this?” von

Schiller marvelled. “It’s a rabbit warren.”

“Another concealed staircase!” Nahoot was amazed, and stuttered with

excitement as they descended into the gas trap where the ranks of

amphorae had stood undisturbed for thousands of years, and thn climbed

the last flight of stairs to the beginning of the funeral arcade.

Now both of them were stunned by the splendour of the murals and the

majesty of the great god images that guarded the length of the arcade.

They stood side by side unable to move, frozen with awe as they gazed

about them.” $ “I never expected anything like this,” von Schiller

whispered. “This exceeds anything that I ever hoped for.”

“The rooms on each side are filled with treasures.” Hansith pointed down

the arcade. “There are such things as you have never dreamed. Harper was

able to take very little with him – a few small boxes. He has left piles

of goods, stacks of chests.”

“Where is the coffin? Where is the body that was in the tomb?” von

Schiller demanded.

“Harper has given the body, in its golden coffin, to the abbot. They

have taken it away to the monastery.

“Nogo will soon fetch it back for us, You need not worry about that,

Herr von Schiller,” Nahoot assured him.

s though the spell that held them was shattered by this promise, they

started forward together, slowly at first, and then both of them began

to run. Von Schiller tottered into the nearest store room on his old,

stiff legs, and giggled like a child on Christmas morning as he gazed

upon the piled treasures. “Incredible!’

He dragged down one of the cedarwood chests from the nearest stack, and

ripped off the lid with trembling fingers. When he saw the contents he

was struck speechless.

He knelt over the chest and began to weep softly with emotion too

overwhelming to express in words.

/4, Nicholas was banking on the fact that Nogo’s men would be driving

along the Cliff tops to reach Taita’s pool, and that he would have a

free run up the course of the diverted stream to the dam site. He took

no precautions against running into them, other than to pause every few

minutes to listen and peer ahead. He knew that he had little time left

to him. He could not expect the rest of the party to wait for him at the

boats and endanger themselves for this whimsy of his.

Twice he heard automatic gunfire in the distance, coming from the

direction of the chasm, down towards the Po. However, the chance he

took paid off, and he reached the dam site without running into a I ny

of Nogo’s forces. He did not, however, push his luck too far. Before

approaching the dam openly, he climbed the hillside above it and

surveyed the area. It gave him time to recover from the hard run up the

valley, and to check that Nogo had not left men to guard the dam,

although he considered this unlikely.

He could see that the yellow front-loader tractor was still parked on

the bank high above the wall where Sapper MET &

had left it. He could also see no sign of any human presence, no armed

Ethiopian army guards. He grunted with relief and wiped the sweat out of

his eyes with his shirtsleeve.

Even with his naked eye he could see that the water was lapping the top

of the wall and squirting through the gaps and chinks between the

gabions. Yet from where he stood the wall still seemed to be holding

well, and it would need another foot rise in the level of the backed-up

river to overturn it.

“Well done, Sapper,” he thought, grinning. “You did a hell of a job.”

Nicholas studied the level of the river and the condition of the waters

that were being held back by the wall.

The flow down from the mountains was much stronger than when he had last

been here. The river bed was brimming from bank to bank, and some of the

trees and bushes at the edge were already partially submerged, bowing

and nodding as the swift current tugged at them. The flood was a sullen

grey colour, fast and hostile, swirling into the pond of the dam before

finding the outlet into the side channel and tearing down it, growling

like a wild animal released from its cage, brimming into spume and white

water as it felt the sharp fall into the valley.

Next he looked towards the escarpment of the gorge.

It was blotted out by banks of dark, menacing cloud that obscured the

northern horizon. At that moment a squall of wind swept over him, cold

with the threat of rain. He needed no further urging and started down

the slope towards the dam, slipping and sliding in his haste. Before he

reached the bottom, the squall of wind had turned to cold rain. It flung

needles into his face and plastered his shirt to his body.

He reached the tractor and scrambled up into the t. There was a moment

of panic when he driver’s sea AL

Wor thought that Sapper might have removed the key from its

hiding-place under the seat. He srabbled for it for a few seconds until

his fingers closed over it, and then let out a sigh of relief.

“Sapper, for a moment there you were very close to death. I would have

broken your neck with my own hands.” He thrust the key into the ignition

lock and turned it to the pre-heat position, waiting for the coil light

on the dashboard to turn from red to green.

“Come on!” he muttered impatiently. Those few seconds of delay seemed

like a lifetime. Then the green light flashed and he twisted the key to


The engine fired at the first turn and Nicholas hooted, “Full marks,

Sapper. All is forgiven.”

He gave the machine time to warm up to optimum operating temperature,

slitting his eyes against the rain as he waited and looking around at

the hills above him, fearful that the sound of the engine might bring

Nogo’s gorillas swarming down on him. However, there was no sign of life

on the rainswept heights.

He eased the tractor into her lowest gear and turned her down the bank.

Below the dam wall the water that was finding its way through the gaps

was less than hub-deep.

The tractor bounced and ground its way through the boulder-strewn

watercourse. Nicholas stopped the machine in the middle of the river bed

while he studied the downstream face of the dam wall for its weakest


Then he’ lined up below the centre of the wall, at’the point where

Sapper had shored up the raft of logs with rows of gabions.

“Sorry for all your hard work,” he apologized to Sapper, as he

manoeuvred the steel scoop of the tractor to the right height and angle

before attacking the wall. He worried the gabion he had selected out of

its niche in the row, reversing and thrusting at it until he could get

the scoop under it and drag it free. He pulled away and dropped the

heavy wire mesh basket over the waterfall, then drove back and renewed

the attack.

It was slow work. The pressure of the water had wedged in the gabions,

keying them into the wall so it took almost ten minutes to free the

second basket. As he dropped that one over the waterfall, he glanced for

the first time at the fuel gauge on the dashboard of the tractor and his

heart sank. It was registering empty. Sapper must have neglected to

refuel it: either he had exhausted the fuel supply or he had not

expected ever to use the machine again when he abandoned it.

Even as Nicholas thought about it the engine stuttered as it starved. He

reversed it sharply, changing the angle of inclination so that the

remaining fuel in the tank could slosh forward. The engine caught and

cleared, running smoothly and strongly once again. Quickly he changed

gear and ran back at the wall.

“No more time for finesse,” he told himself grimly.

“From here on in it’s brute force and muscle.”

By removing two of the gabions he had exposed a corner of the log raft

behind them. This was the vulnerable and part of the wall. He worked the

hydraulic controls lifted the scoop to its highest travel. Then he

lowered it carefully, an inch at a time; until it hooked over the end of

the thickest log in the jam. He locked the hydraulics and thrust the

tractor into reverse, gradually pouring on full power until the engine

was roaring and blowing out a cloud of thick blue diesel smoke.

Nothing gave. The log was jammed solidly and the wall was held together

by the keying of the gabions into each other and the enormous pressure

of water behind them. Despairingly, Nicholas kept the throttle wide


The lugged tyres spun and skidded on the boulders under them, throwing a

tall shower of spray high into the air and churning out loose rock and


“Come on!” Nicholas pleaded with the machine. “Come on! You can do it.”

The engine beat faltered again as she starved for fuel.

She spluttered and coughed, and almost stalled.

“Please!” Nicholas begged her aloud. “One more try.” Almost as if it had

heard him, the engine fired again, ran unevenly for a few moments, and

then abruptly bellowed at full power again.

That’s it, my beauty,” Nicholas yelled, as it lurched hammered against

the wall.

an With a sound like a cannon shot the log snapped and the top end of it

flew out of the wall, leaving a long, deep hole through which the river

poured triumphantly, a thing -‘solid column of dirty grey water.

“Thar she blows!” Nicholas shouted, jumping down from the driver’s seat.

He knew there was not enough time left for him to drive the tractor out

of the river bed. He could move more quickly on his own feet.

The current seized his legs, trying to pull them out from under him. It

was like one of those childhood nightmares when monsters were pursuing

him and, despite his every effort, his legs would only move in slow


He glanced back over his shoulder, and at that instant he saw the

central section of the dam wall burst, blowing outward in a violent

eruption of furious waters. He struggled on another few paces towards

the bank before the deep and turbulent tide picked him up. He was

helpless in its grip. It swept him away, over the waterfall and down,

down into the hungry maw of the chasm.

these are the royal crook and sceptre of the Pharaoh,” cried von

Schiller in a voice that was gusty and faint with emotion as he lifted

them out of the cedarwood chest.

“And this is his false beard and his ceremonial pectoral Wo, emblem.”

Nahoot knelt beside him on the floor of the tomb under the great statue

of Osiris. All the ill feelings between them were forgotten in the

wonder of the moment as they examined the fabulous treasures of Egypt.

“This is the greatest archaeological discovery of all time,” von

Schiller whispered, his voice tremulous. He pulled his handkerchief from

his pocket and dabbed at the perspiration of excitement that trickled

down his cheeks.

“There is years of work here,” Nahoot told him seriously. “This

incredible collection will have to be catalogued and evaluated. It will

be known for ever as the von Schiller hoard. Your name will be

perpetuated for all time.

it is like the Egyptian dream of immortality. You will never be

forgotten. You will live for ever.”

A rapturous expression crossed von Schiller’s features.

He had not considered’ that possibility. Up until this moment he had not

considered sharing this treasure with anybody, except in his particular

way with Utte Kemper, but Nahoot’s words had awakened in him the old

impossible dream of eternity. Perhaps he might make arrangements for it

to be made accessible to the public – but only after his own death,


Then he thrust the temptation aside. He would not debase this treasure

by making it available to the common rabble. It had been assembled for

the funeral of a pharaoh.

Von Schiller saw himself as the modern equivalent of a pharaoh.

“No!” he told Nahoot violently. “This is mine, all mine.

When I die it will go with me, all of it. I have made the arrangements

already, in my will. My sons know what to do. This will all be with me

in my own grave. My royal grave.

Nahoot stared at him aghast. He had not realized until that moment that

the old man was mad, that his obsessions had driven him over the edge of

sanity. But the Egyptian knew that there was no point in arguing with

him now later he would find a way to save this marvelous treasure from

the oblivion of another tomb. So he bowed his.head in mock acquiescence.

“You are right, Hell von Schiller. That is the only fitting manner to

dispose of it. You deserve that form of burial. However, our main

concern now must be to get all of it to safety. Helm has warned us about

the danger of the river, of the dam bursting. We must call him and Nogo.

Nogo’s men must clear out the tomb. We can ferry the treasure in the

helicopter up to the Pegasus camp, where. I can pack it securely for the

journey to Germany.”

“Yes. Yes.” Von Schiller scrambled to his feet, suddenly terrified at

the prospect of being deprived of this wondrous hoard by the flooded

river. “Send the monk, what is his name, Hansith, send him to call Helm.

He must come at once.”

Nahoot jumped up to his feet. “Hansith!” he shouted.

“Where are you?”

The monk had been waiting at the entrance to the burial chamber,

kneeling in prayer before the empty sarcophagus which had contained the

body of the saint. He was torn now between religious conviction and


When he heard his name called he genuflected deeply, and then rose and

hurried back to join von Schiller and Nahoot.

“You must go back to the Pool where we left the others-‘ Nahoot started

to relay the orders, but suddenly a strange, distracted expression

crossed Hansith’s darkly handsome features and he held up his hand for


“What is it?” Nahoot demanded angrily. “What is it that you can hear?”

Hansith shook his head. “Be quiet! Listen! Can’t you hear it?”

“There is nothing-‘ Nahoot began, but then broke off suddenly, and wild

terror filled his dark eyes.

There was the softest sound, gentle as the sigh of a summer zephyr,

lulling and low.

“What do you hear?” von Schiller demanded. His hearing had long ago

deteriorated, and the sound was far beyond the range of his old ears.

“Water!” whispered Nahoot.”Running water!’

“The river!” shouted Hansith. “The tunnel is floodingr He whirled round

and went bounding down the funeral arcade with long, lithe strides.

“We will be trapped in here!” screamed Nahoot, and raced after him.

“Wait for me,” von Schiller yelled, and tried to follow.

But he soon fell behind the two much younger men.

The monk, however, was far ahead of both of them as he took the flight

of stairs up from the gas trap two at a time.

“Hansith! Come back! I order you,” Nahoot cried despairingly in his

wake, but he caught only a flash of the monk’s white robe as he darted

into the first twist of the labyrinth.

“Guddabi, where are you?” von Schiller’s voice quavered and echoed

through the stone corridors. But Nahoot did not reply as he ran on in

the direction which he thought the monk had taken, passing the first

turn in the maze without even glancing at the chalk marks on the wall.

He thought he heard Hansith’s racing footsteps ahead of him, but by the

time he had turned the third corner he knew he was lost.

He stopped with his heart racing savagely and the bitter gall of terror

in the back of his throat.

“Hansith! Where are you?”he screamed wildly.

Von Schiller’s voice came back to him, ringing weirdly down the

passageways, “Guddabi! Guddabi! Don’t leave me here.”

“Shut up!” he screamed. “Keep quiet, you old fool!’

Panting heavily, the blood pounding in his ears, he

111, Timor:

tried to listen for the sound of Hansith’s feet. But he heard only the

sound of the river. The gentle susurration seemed to emanate from the

very walls around him.

“No! Don’t leave me here,” he screamed, and began to run without

direction, panic-stricken, through the maze.

/4′ ansith took each twist and’turn unerringly, with the terror of

dreadful death driving his 7 feet. But at the head of the central

staircase his ankle twisted under him and he fell heavily. He tumbled

down the steeply inclined shaft, bumping and rolling the full length,

gathering speed as he went until he reached the bottom and lay sprawled

on the agate tiles of the long gallery.

He dragged himself to his feet, bruised and shaken by the fall, and

tried to run on. But his leg gave way under him again, and he fell in a

tangle. His ankle was badly sprained and would not carry his weight.

Nevertheless he dragged himself up a second time and hobbled down the

gallery, supporting himself with one hand on the shattered wall.

When he reached the doorway and crawled through it on to the landing

beside the generator the sound of the water came up the tunnel. It was

much louder now – a low, reverberating growl which almost blotted out

the soft, discreet hum of the generator.

“Sweet loving Christ and the Virgin, save me!” he pleaded as he

staggered and lurched down the tunnel, falling twice more before he

reached the lower level.

On his knees he peered ahead, and in the glare of the electric lights

strung along the roof of the tunnel he could make out the sink-hole

below him. He did not at first recognize it, for it had all changed. The

water level was no longer lower than the paved floor on which he

sprawled. It was brimming, a great swirling maelstrom, and the water

pouring into it was being sucked away through the hidden outlet almost

as fast as it entered from the tunnel mouth on the far side. The pontoon

bridge was tangled and half, submerged, bobbing and canting and rearing

as it fought its retaining cables like an unbroken horse on a tether.

From Taita’s pool’a roaring river of water was boring down the far

branch of the tunnel across the sink-hole.

The tunnel was flooding rapidly, the water already reaching halfway up

the walls, but he knew that it was the only escape route from the tomb.

Every moment he delayed, the flood became stronger.

“I have to get out through there.” He pushed himself to his feet again.

He reached the first pontoon of the bridge, but it was careering about

so madly that he dared not attempt to remain upright upon it. He dropped

to his hands and knees, crawled out on to the flimsy structure and

managed to drag himself forward from one pontoon to the next, “Please

God and St. Michael help me. Don’t let me die like this,” he prayed

aloud. He reached the far side of the sink’hole and groped for a

handhold on the roughly hewn walls of the tunnel.

He found a hold with his fingertips and pulled himself into the mouth of

the tunnel, but now the full force of the water pouring down the shaft

struck his lower body. He hung there for a moment, pinned by the raging

waters, unable to move a pace forward. He knew that if his grip failed

he would be swept back into the sink-hole and sucked down into those

terrible black depths.

The electric bulbs strung along the roof of the tunnel ahead of him

still burned brightly, so that he could see almost to the open basin of

Taita’s pool where the bamboo -scaffolding would offer escape to the top

of the chasm. It was only two hundred feet ahead of him. He gathered all

his strength and pulled himself forward against the raging waters,

reaching forward from one precarious handhold to

the next. His fingernails tore and the flesh smeared from the tips of

his fingers on the jagged rock, but he forced his way onwards.

At last he could see daylight ahead of him, filtering from Taita’s pool.

Only another forty feet to go, and he realized with a surge of relief

and joy that he was going to make it out of the deadly trap of the

shaft. Then he heard a fresh sound, a harsher, more brutal roar as the

full flood of the burst dam poured down the waterfall into Taita’s pool.

It found the entrance to the tunnel and came down it in a solid wave,

filling the passageway to the roof, ripping out the wiring of the lights

and plunging Hansith into darkness.

It struck him with such force that it seemed to be not mere water but

the solid rock of an avalanche, and he could not resist it. It tore him

from his insecure perch and plucked him away, tossing him backwards,

spinning him down the length of the shaft that he had gained with so

much effort, and hurling him into the sink-hole beyond.

He was swirled end over end by the crazed waters. In the darkness and

wild confusion he did not know which direction was up and which down,

but it made no difference for he could not swim against its power, Then

the sink’hole seized him full in its grip and sucked him swiftly and

deeply down. The pressure of the water began to crush him. One of his

eardrums burst, and as he opened his mouth to scream at the agony of it

the water spurted down his throat and flooded his lungs. The last thing

he ever felt was when he was flung against the side wall of the

sink-hole, travelling as fast as the falling waters, and the bones of

his right shoulder shattered. He could not scream again through his

sodden lungs, but soon the pain faded into oblivion.

As his corpse was drawn swiftly through the subterranean shaft it became

mangled and “dismembered on the jagged rock sides, and was no longer

recognizable as human.


by the time it was discharged through the butterfly fountain on the far

side’ of the mountain. From there the torn fragments were washed down

the diverted Dandera river to join, at last, the wider and more stately

waters of the Blue Nile.

he waters pouring through the gap in the dam i wall picked up the yellow

front-loader and tumbled it over the waterfall into the chasm as though

it were a child’s toy. Nicholas had a glimpse of it in the air below

him. Even as he fell himself, he realized that if he had stayed with the

machine he would have been crushed beneath it. The huge machine struck

the surface of the pool in a fountain of white spray and disappeared,

Nicholas followed it down, falling free, even managing J11 to keep his

head uppermost, feet foremost, as he swooped I down the waterfall. The

flood that carried him cushioned his fall, so that instead of being

dashed against the exposed boulders at the bottom, he bounced and

tumbled in the racing torrent. He came to the surface fifty yards

downstream, tossed his wet hair out of his eyes and glanced around him


The tractor was gone, swallowed deep into the pool at the foot of the

waterfall, but ahead of him was a small island of rock in the middle of

the river. With a dozen overarm strokes -he swam to it and clung to a

rocky spur.

>From there he looked up at the sheer walls of the chasm an remembered

the last time he had been trapped down here. The ation “ie a felt at

the destruction of the dam and the flooding of Pharaoh’s tomb


He knew that he would not be able to climb those slick, water-smoothed

cliffs that offered no handholds and which belled outwards in an

overhang over his head.

Instead he weighed the chances of working his way back upstream to the

foot of the falls. From here it looked as though there was some sort of

funnel or crevice up the east side of the chute which might offer a

ladderway to the top, but it would be a hard and dangerous climb.

The volume of water coming over the falls was not as heavy as he had

expected, considering the vast body of water that was being held back by

the dam. He realized then that the greater part of the wall of gabions

must still be in place and that this torrent was only the result of

water escaping through the narrow gap he had torn in the centre of the

wall. The remainin gabions must still be 9 holding in place under their

own weight. However, he realized that they could not hold much longer

and that the river must soon plough them aside and burst through in full

force. So he abandoned the idea of swimming back to the foot of the


“Have to get out of its way,” he thought desperately, as he imagined

being caught up in the terrible flood which would certainly come down at

any moment. “If I can reach the side somewhere, perhaps find a ledge,

climb above the flood.” But he knew it was a forlorn hope. He had swum

the length of the canyon once before without finding a handhold on the

slick walls.

“Swim ahead of it?” he thought. “A slim chance, but the only one I

have.” He kicked off his boots, and gathered himself. He was about to

push off from his temporary refuge, when he heard the rest of the dam

wall high above him give way.

There was a rumbling roar, the crackle of logs snapping and breaking,

the grating and grinding of heavy gabions being -thrown around like

empty rubbish cans, and then suddenly and terrifyingly a solid wave of

grey water burst over the top of the falls, carrying with it a wall of

trash and debris.

“Oh mother! Too late. Here comes the big one!’

He shoved off from his rock, turning downstream, and swam with all his

strength, kicking and flailing his arms in a wild crawl stroke. He heard

the roar of the approaching wave and glanced back over his shoulder. It

was overhauling him swiftly, filling the chasm from wall to wall,

fifteen feet high and curling at the top. He had a fleeting mental II

image from his youth, waiting to surf that notorious wave at Cape St.

Vincent, hanging on the line’up and seeing it humping up behind him,

this great wall of water, so mountainous and so overwhelming.

“Ride id’ he told himself, judging the moment. “Catch it like a slider.”

He clawed through the water, trying to get up speed to ride up the wall.

He felt it seize him and lift him so violently that his guts swooped,

and then he was on the crest of it. He arched his back and tucked his

am-is behind him in the classic body-surfer’s position, hanging in the

face of the wave, slightly head down, the front half of his body thrust

clear of the water, steering with his legs. After the first few

terrifying seconds he realized that he was ic abated and riding her high

and had some control; his pan he was overcome by a sense of wild


“Twenty knots!” He estimated his speed by the giddy i blur of the canyon

walls passing him on either side. He steered away from the nearest wall,

sliding across the face, taking up station in the centre of the wave, He

was caff ied along by the wave and by the thrilling sensation of speed

and danger.

The increased depth of water in the chasm covered the dangerous,

knife-sharp rocks, enabling him to ride clear of them. It smoothed out

the waterfalls and the chutes, so that instead of dropping down them and

plummeting below the surface of the pool beneath he slid down them with

a smooth rush, holding his position in the face of the wave with a few

quick overarm strokes or a kick of the legs.

“Hell! This is fun!” He laughed aloud. “People would pay money to do

this. Beats the hell out of bungee jumping.” A

Within the first mile the wave began to lose its shape and impetus as it

spread out. down the canyon. Soon it would no longer have the power to

hold him up in the surfing position, and he glanced around him swiftly.

Floating near by, keeping pace with him in the flotsam of debris from

the dam, was one of the treetrunks that had formed part of the raft with

which Sapper had plugged the gap in the wall.

He steered across to this ponderous piece of timber. It was thirty feet

long and floated low in the flood, its back showing like that of a

whale. Its branches had been roughly hacked away by the axemen, and the

spikes that remained provided secure handholds. Nicholas pulled himself

up on he treetrunk, lying on his belly, facing downstream, to with his

legs still dangling in the water. Swiftly he recovered his breath and

felt his full strength returning.

Although it had smoothed out and lost its wave formation, the flood was

still tearing down the chasm at a tremendous pace. “Still not much under

ten knots,” he estimated. “When this lot hits Taita’s pool, I pity von

Schiller and any of his uglies who are in the tomb. They are going to

stay in there for the next four thousand years.” He threw back his head

and laughed triumphantly.. “It worked! Damn me to hell, if it didn’t

work just the way I planned it.”

He stopped laughing abruptly as he felt the treetrunk veer across the

river towards one of the canyon walls.

“Oh, oh! More trouble.”

He rolled to one side of the treetrunk and kicked out strongly. His

ungainly vessel responded, swinging heavily across the current. It was

sluggish steering, not enough to avoid contact with the rock wall

entirely, but instead of striking full’on it was merely a glancing

collision that pushed him back again into the main flow of the current.

He was gaining confidence and expertise every moment, “I can ride her

all the way down to the monastery!’

The AL

he exclaimed delightedly. “At this rate of knots I might even get to the

boats before Sapper and Royan.”

Looking ahead, he recognized this stretch of the chasm that he was

hurtling through. -i@

“This is the bend above Taita’s pool. Be there in another minute or two.

I expect the scaffolding has been washed away by now.” He pulled

himself as high on the log as he could without upsetting its balance,

and peered ahead, blinking the water out of his eyes. He saw the head of

the falls above Taita’s pool racing towards him, and he braced himself

for the drop.

The long, smooth chute of racing water opened ahead of him, and the

moment before he flew down it he had a glimpse into the basin of rock

below it. He saw at once that his expectations had been premature. The

bamboo scaffolding had not been entirely washed away, although it was

badly damaged. The lowest section was gone, but the Upper part hung

drunkenly down the rock cliff, just touching the surface of the racing

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