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
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
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
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
“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
“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?”
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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.
“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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
“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
“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,
“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
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
“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
“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
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.
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
>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
“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
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!’
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