Wilbur Smith – The Seventh Scroll part-11

part-11

waters. It was swaying and swinging loosely as the current snatched at

it, and incredulously he realized that there were at least two men

trapped

on the flimsy structure, clinging desperately to the ladderway of

lurching, clattering poles. Both of them were trying to claw their way

up it to the top of the cliff.

In that fraction of a second Nicholas saw a flash of steel’rimmed

spectacles under a maroon beret, and realized that the man nearest the

top of the cliff was Tuma Nogo.

Then Nogo succeeded in reaching the top of the scaffolding and

disappeared over the top of the cliff. That one glance was all Nicholas

had time for before his log was plunged into the water-chute, gathering

speed until it was tearing downwards at a steeply canted angle. The

point dug in as it hit the surface of the pool at the bottom, and the

log almost pole-vaulted end over end, but Nicholas clung on to his

handholds, and gradually it righted itself.

For a few moments the log was stalled in the vortex below the falls, but

almost at once, the current grabbed it again and it gathered speed,

bearing away down the length of Taita’s pool as ponderously as a wooden

man-‘-war.

Nicholas had a second of respite in which to look around the basin of

Taita’s pool. He saw at once that the entrance tunnel to the tomb was

entirely submerged and, judging by the water level up the cliff wall, it

was already fifty feet or more beneath the surface. He felt a leap of

triumph. The tomb was once more protected from the depredations of any

other grave-robber.

Then he looked up the battered remnants of the bamboo scaffolding skewed

down the cliff, torn half away from the ancient niches in the rock, -and

he saw the other man still clinging to the wreckage. He was twenty feet

above the water level, and seemed frozen there like a cat in the high

branches of a windswept tree.

At that moment Nicholas realized that his log was swinging in the grip

of the river, curling in towards the dangling scaffold. He was about to

try to steer it clear, when the man on the framework high above him

turned his head and looked down at him. Nicholas saw that he was a white

man, his face a pale blob in the gloom of the canyon, and a moment later

he recognized him with a stab of hatred through the chest.

“Helm!the exclaimed.”Jake Helm.”

He had an image of Tamre, the epileptic boy, crushed beneath the

rockfalls and of Tessay’s burned and battered face. His outrage and

hatred surged. Instead of steering the log away from the scaffold, he

reversed his thrust and swung in towards the cliff. There was a

breathless interval when Nicholas thought he might miss, but at the last

moment the leading end of the log swung sharply and the point of it

crashed into the trailing end of the bamboo, hooking-on to it.

The log’s weight and momentum were irresistible. The bamboo poles

crackled and snapped like dry kindling, and then the whole rickety

structure tore loose from the wall and came crashing down over the log.

Helm swung out overhead, then released his grip and dropped feet first

into the water close alongside the log. He went deep below the surface.

While he was under, Nicholas pulled himself up to sit astride the log

and grabbed a length of bamboo pole that had broken off the scaffolding

and was floating alongside.his perch.

The log was trapped in a back eddy of the swollen river, and now it

began to spin slowly in the slack water outside the main current.

Nicholas was still riding high on the log. He hefted the bamboo,

swinging it back and forth like a baseball bat, to get the feel of it.

Then he cocked it over his shoulder and waited for Helm to show himself.

A second later the Texan’s head broke out, streaming water. His eyes

were screwed closed, and he let out a gasp Of water and air and tried to

suck in a breath. Nicholas aimed the pole at his head and swung with all

his strength, but just at that moment Helm opened his eyes and saw the

blow coming.

He was as quick as a water snake, rolling his head under the swinging

club so that it merely touched the side of his cropped blond head and

then glanced away. Nicholas was thrown off balance by his own swing, and

before he could recover Helm had drawn a quick breath and ducked below

the surface again.

Nicholas poised the club, ready to strike a second time, peering down

into the murky water, muttering angrily at himself for having missed the

first blow while he still had the advantage of surprise. He had no

illusions about what he was in for, now that Helm had been warned.

The seconds drew out with no sign of his adversary reappearing, and

Nicholas looked behind him anxiously, trying to anticipate where he

would come up again. For a long minute nothing happened. He lowered the

club nervously, and changed his grip so as to be ready to stab in any

direction with the sharp broken tip.

Suddenly his left ankle was seized in a crushing grip below the water

and, before he could grab a handhold to resist, Nicholas was jerked from

his seat on the log and went over backwards into the river. As he

plunged beneath the water he felt Helm’s fingers clawing at his face. He

grabbed one of the fingers and wrenched it back, feeling it snap in his

grasp as he forced it back towards its own wrist.

But Helm was galvanized by the agony of the dislocated joint, and one of

his long muscular arms whipped around Nicholas’s neck like the tentacles

of an octopus.

The two of them came to the surface for a moment, both of them drew one

quick, harsh breath, then Helm forced Nicholas’s head backwards and

water flooded into his open mouth. The lock on his neck tightened, and

he felt the tension on his vertebrae. It was a killer grip. If Helm had

only had a solid purchase he could have exerted the last ounce of

pressure which would have snapped his spine. But Nicholas kept rolling

back in the direction of the thrust, giving with it, and preventing Helm

from bringing all his strength to bear. As he went over he saw Helm’s

face in front of his, magnified and distorted through the tainted grey

water. He looked monstrous and evil.

As Helm rolled over the top of him Nicholas locked both hands around his

waist to hold him firmly, then brought up his right knee between Helm’s

legs, hard into his crotch, and felt the bone of his kneecap make

contact.

The bunch of genitals was full and rubbery; Helm contorted and his lock

on Nicholas’s neck eased. Nicholas used the slack to reach down and grab

a handful of Helm’s damaged testicles and twist them savagely. He saw

the man’s face inches in front of his own twist into a rictus of pain

and Helm pulled away from him, releasing his lock on Nicholas’s throat

and reaching down to grab his wrist with both hands.

Again they came to the surface close alongside the floating log, and

Nicholas realized that the current had taken hold of them again and was

carrying them away through the outlet of Taita’s pool into the full

stream of the river. Nicholas released his grip on Helm’s balls and with

his other hand aimed a punch at his face, but they were too close to

each other and the blow lacked power. It glanced off Helm’s cheek, and

Nicholas tried to lock his extended arm around his neck, going for a

headlock himself Helm hunched his head down on his shoulders slipping

under the hold. Then suddenly he reached for-ward fast as a striking

adder and sank his teeth into Nicholas’s chin.

The surprise was complete, and the pain was excruciating as his teeth

locked into the flesh. Nicholas shouted and clawed at Helm’s face, going

for his eyes, trying to drive his fingernails through the lids. But Helm

squeezed his eyes tight closed and his teeth cut in ever deeper, so that

Nicholas’s blood welled up and oozed from the corners of Helm’s mouth.

The log was still floating beside them, inches from the back of Helm’s

head. Nicholas seized his ears, one in each hand, and twisted him around

in the water. He could see over the top of Helm’s head, while Helm’s

vision was blocked. There was a nub of raw wood sticking out of the tree

trunk where an axe had hacked away a, ride branch.

The cut was at an angle, leaving a sharp spike. Through tears of agony

Nicholas lined up the spike with the back of Helm’s head. He could feel

Helm’s teeth almost meeting in the flesh of his face. They had cut

through the lower lip so that blood was starting to fill Nicholas’s

mouth. Helm was worrying him like a pit’bull in the arena, wrenching his

head from side to side. Soon he would come away with a bloody mouthful

of Nicholas’s flesh.

With all the strength of pain and desperation, Nicholas hurled himself

forward, and, using his upper body and his grip on the sides of Helm’s

head, drove him on to the sharp wooden spike. The point found the joint

between the vertebrae of the spine and the base of Helm’s skull, going

in like a nail and partially severing the spinal cord.

Helm’s jaws sprang open as he went into spasm. Nicholas pulled away from

him with a flap of loose flesh hanging from his chin, and blood

streaming and spurting from the deep ragged wound.

Helm was impaled upon the spike, like a carcass on a butcher’s hook. His

limbs twitched and the muscles of his face convulsed, his eyelids

shivered and jumped like those of an epileptic, and his eyeballs rolled

back into his skull so that only the whites showed, flashing grotesquely

in the gloom of the chasm.

Nicholas pulled himself up on to the tog beside the Texan’s body, and

hung there panting and bleeding in gouts down his chin on to his chest.

Slowly the log revolved un er the eccentric weight distribution, and

Helm began to slide off the spike. His skin tore with a sound like silk

parting, and the vertebrae of his spine grated on wood.

Then the corpse, at last quiescent, flopped face down into the water and

began to sink.

Nicholas would not let him go so easily. “Let’s make sure of you, dear

boy,” he grated through his swollen, bleeding mouth. He spat out a

mouthful of blood and saliva as he stretched out and grabbed the back of

Helm’s collar, holding him face down in the water under the log. They

icked up speed rapidly down the last stretch of the canyon, but

Nicholas held on doggedly, drowning any last spark of life from Helm’s

carcass, until at last it was torn. from his grip by the current and he

watched it sink away into the grey, roiling waters.

“I’ll give your love to Tessay,” Nicholas called after him as he

disappeared. Then he gave all his concentration to balancing the log and

staying aboard for the ride through the tumbling, racing current. At

last he was spewed out -AL

through the pink rock portals into the bottom reach of the DandeTa

river. As he was swept beneath the rope suspension bridge he slid off

the log and struck out for the western bank, very much aware of the

terrible drop into the Nile that lay half a mile downstream.

Sitting on the bank, he tore a strip from the tail of his shirt. Then he

bound up his wounded chin as best he could, strapping it around the back

of his head. The blood soaked through the thin wet cotton, but he

knotted it tighter and it began to staunch the flow.

He stood up unsteadily and pushed his way through the strip of thick

river in bush which bounded the river, until at last he struck the trail

that led down to the monastery and hobbled down it on his bare feet. He

only stopped once, and that was when he heard the sound of the

helicopter taking off from the top of the cliff above the chasm far

behind him.

He looked back. “Sounds as though Tuma Nogo made it out of there, more’s

the pity. I wonder what happened to von Schiller and the Egyptian,” he

muttered grimly, fingering his injured face. “At least none of them are

going to get into the tomb, not unless they dam the river again.”

Suddenly a thought occurred to him.

“My God, what if von Schiller was already in there when the river hit!”

He began to chuckle, and then shook his head. “Too much to hope for.

justice is never that neat.” He shook his head again, but the movement

started his wound aching brutally. He clutched his bandaged jaw with one

hand and started down the trail again, breaking into a trot as he

reached the paved causeway that led down to the monastery.

ahoot Guddabi ran full into von Schiller around a corner of the maze,

and in a peculiar way the old man’s presence, even thoug he was of no

conceivable value in this crisis, steadied him and kept at bay the panic

that threatened at any moment to boil over and overwhelm him. Without

Hansith the maze was a weird and lonely place. Any human company was a

blessing. For a moment the two of them clung together like children lost

in the forest.

Von Schiller still carried part of the treasure that they had been

examining when Hansith had panicked and run.

He had Pharaoh’s golden crook in one hand and the ceremonial flail in

the other.

“Where is the monk?” he screamed at Guddabi. “Why did you run off and

leave me? We have to find the way out of these tunnels, you idiot. Don’t

you realize the danger?”

“How do you expect me to know the way-‘ Nahoot began furiously, and then

broke off as he noticed the chalk notations on the wall behind von

Schiller’s shoulder, and for the first time realized their significance.

“That’s it!’ he exclaimed with relief. “Harper or the Al Simma woman

have marked it out for us. Come on!” He started down the tunnel,

following the signposting. However, by the time they came out on the

central staircase almost an hour had passed since Hansith had left them.

As they hurried down the staircase into the long gallery the sound of

the river rose to a pervading hiss, like the breathing of a sleeping

dragon, Nahoot broke into a run and von Schiller staggered along behind

him, his aged legs weakening with fear.

“Wait!” he shouted after Nahoot, who ignored his plea and ducked out

through the opening in the plaster-sealed doorway. On the landing the

generator was still running smoothly, and Nahoot did not even glance at

it as he hurried down the inclined shaft in the bright dazzle of the

light bulbs along the roof.

He turned the corner still at a run, and stopped dead 41, as he realized

that the tunnel below him was flooded, right back up to the level of the

ancient high-water mark on the masonry blocks of the walls. There was no

sign of the sinkhole or the pontoon bridge. They were submerged under

fifty feet or more of water.

The Dandera river, guardian of the tomb down all the ages, had resumed

its duty. Dark and implacable, it sealed the entrance to the tomb as it

had done these four thousand years past.

“Allah!” whispered ahoot. “Allah have mercy on us.” Von Schiller came

around the corner of the tunnel and stopped beside Nahoot. The two of

them stared in horror at the flooded shaft. Then slowly von Schiller

sagged against the side wall.

“We are trapped,” he whispered, and at those words Nahoot whimpered

softly and sank to his knees. He began to pray in a high, nasal

sing-song. The sound infuriated on Schiller.

“That will not help us. Stop it!” He swung the golden flail in his right

hand across Nahoot’s bowed back. Nahoot cried out at the pain and

crawled away from von Schiller.

“We must find a way out of here.” Von Schiller’s voice steadied. He was

accustomed to command, and now he took charge.

“There must be another way out of here,” he decided.

(We will search. If there is an opening to the outside then we should

feel a draught of air.” His voice became firmer and more confident.

“Yes! That’s what we will do. Switch off that fan, and we will try to

detect any movement of air.”

Nahoot responded eagerly to his tone and authority, and hurried back to

switch off the electric fan.

“You have your cigarette lighter,” von Schiller told him. “We will light

tapers from these.” He pointed at the papers and photographs that Royan

had left lying on the trestle table by the doorway. “We will use the

smoke to detect any draught.”

For the next two hours they moved through all levels of the tomb,

holding aloft the burning tapers, watching the movement of the smoke. At

no point could they detect even the faintest movement of air in the

tunnels, and in the end they came back to the flooded shaft and stared

despairingly at the pool of still black water that blocked it.

“That is the only way out,” von Schiller whispered.

11 wonder if the monk escaped that way,” said Nahoot as he slumped down

the wall.

“There is no other way.”

They were silent for a while; it -was difficult to judge the passage of

time in the tomb. Now that the river had found its own level there was

no movement of water in the shaft, and the faint and distant sound of

the current running through the sink-hole seemed merely to enhance the

silence. In it they could hear their own breathing.

Nahoot spoke at last. “The fuel in the generator. It must be running

low. I did not see any reserves-‘

They thought about what would happen when the small fuel tank ran dry.

They thought about the darkness to come.

Suddenly von Schiller screamed, “You have to go out through the shaft to

fetch help. I order you to do it., Nahoot stared at him in disbelief.

“It’s over a hundred yards back through the tunnel to the outside, and

the river is in flood.”

Von Schiller sprang to his feet and stood over Nahoot threateningly.

“The monk escaped that way. It’s the only way. You must swim through the

tunnel and reach Helm and Nogo. Helm will know what to do. He will make

a plan to get me out of here.”

“You are mad.” Nahoot backed away from him, but’von Schiller followed

him.

“I order you to do id’

“You crazy old man!” Nahoot tried to scramble to his feet, but von

Schiller swung the heavy golden flail, a sudden unexpected blow in

Nahoot’s face that knocked him over backwards, splitting his lips and

breaking off two of his front teeth.

“You are rnad!” he wailed. “You can’t do this-‘ but von Schiller swung

again and again, lacerating his face and Is of the whip cutting

shoulders, the heavy golden tai through the thin cotton of his shirt.

“I will kill you,” von Schiller screamed, raining blows on him. “If you

don’t obey me I will kill you.”

“Stop!, Nahoot whined. “No, please, stop. I will do it, only stop.”

He crawled away from von Schiller, dragging himself along the floor of

the tunnel until he sat waist-deep in the water.

AZT’,, “Give me time to prepare he pleaded.

“Go now!” Von Schiller menaced him, lifting the whip high. “Very likely

you will find air trapped in the tunnel.

You will find your way through. Go!’

Nahoot scooped a double handful of water and dashed it into his own

face, washing away the blood that poured from one of the deep cuts in

his cheek.

“I have to take off my clothes, my shoes,” he whimpered, pleading for

time, but von Schiller would not allow him to leave the water.

Do it where you are standing, he ordered, brandishing the heavy whip. In

his other hand he held the heavy golden crook. Nahoot realized that a

blow from that weapon cou Id crack his skull.

Standing knee-deep “at the water’s edge, Nahoot hopped on one foot as he

pulled off his shoes. Then, slowly and reluctantly, he stripped to his

underpants. His shoulders were deeply scored by the lash of the flail,

fresh blood welling up and slithering like scarlet serpents down his

back.

“He knew that he had to placate this crazy old madman.

He would duck under the surface and swim a short way down the tunnel,

hold on to the side wall down there for as long as his breath lasted,

and then swim back again.

“Go!” von Schiller shouted at him. “You are wasting time. Don’t think

that I will let you get out of this,, Nah6ot waded deeper into the shaft

until the water covered his chest. He paused there for a few minutes as

he drew a series of deep breaths. Then at last he held his breath and

ducked below the surfAce. Von Schiller stood waiting at the edge of the

pool, staring down into it but unable to see anything beneath the black

and ominous surface. In the lamplight Nahoot’s blood stained the

surface.

A minute passed slowly, and then suddenly there was a heavy swirl

beneath the waters, and a human arm rose through the dark surface, hand

and fingers extended as though in supplication. Then slowly it sank out

of sight again.

Von Schiller craned forward, “GuddabW he called

“I -. “What are you playing at?” angrily There was another swirl below

the water, and something flashed like a mirror in the depths.

“Guddabi !’von Schiller’s voice rose petulantly.

Almost as if in response to the summons, Nahoot’s head broke out through

the surface. His skin was.waxen yellow, drained of all blood, and his

mouth gaped open in a dreadful, silent scream. The water around him

boiled as though a shoal of great fish were feeding below. As von

Schiller stared in incomprehension, a dark tide rose up around Nahoot’s

head and stained the surface a rose-petal red. For a moment von Schiller

did not realize that it was Nahoot’s blood.

T

Then he saw the long, sinuous shapes darting and twisting beneath the

surface, surrounding Nahoot, feeding upon his flesh. Nahoot lifted his

hand again and extended it towards von Schiller, pleadingly. The arm was

halfdevoured, mutilated by deep half-moon wounds where the flesh had

been bitten away in chunks.

Von Schiller screamed in horror, backing away from the pool. Nahoot’s

eyes were huge and dark and accusing.

He stared at von Schiller and a wild cawing sound that was not human

issued from his straining throat.

Even as von Schiller watched, one of the giant tropical ee Is thrust its

head through the surface and its teeth gleamed like broken glass as it

gaped wide, and then locked its jaws on to Nahoot’s throat. Nahoot made

no effort to tear the creature away. He was too far gone. He stated at

von Schiller all the while that the eel, twisting and rolling into a

gleaming ball of slimy coils, still hung from his throat.

Slowly Nahoot’s head sank below the surface again.

For long minutes the pool was agitated by the movements in its depth and

the occasional gleam of one of the serpentine fish. Then gradually the

surface settled as still and serene as a sheet of black glass.

Von Schiller turned and ran, back up the incline shaft, past the landing

on which the generator still puttered quietly, blindly trying to get as

far away as he could from that dreadful pool. He did not know where he

was going, but followed any passageway that opened in front of him.

At the foot of the central stairway he ran into the corner Of the wall

and stunned himself, falling to the agate tiles and lying there

blubbering as a large purple lump rose on his forehead.

After a while he dragged himself to his feet and lurched up the stairs.

He was confused and disorientated, his mind starting to break up -in

delirium, driven over the edge of

652 it’s sanity by horror and fear. He fell again, and crawled along the

tunnel on his hands and knees to the next corner of . Only the was he

able to regain his feet to the maz stagger onwards.

The steep shaft leading down into Taita’s gas trap opened under his feet

without him seeing it. He fell down the steps, jarring and bruising his

legs and chest. Then he was on his feet again, reeling across the store

room past the ranks of amphorae, up the far staircase and into the

painted arcade that led to the torrib of Pharaoh Mamose.

He had tottered dowh half the length of it, dishevelled and wild’eyed

and demented, when suddenly the lights dimmed for a moment, fading to a

yellow glow. Then they brightened again as the generator sucked the last

drops of fuel from the bottom of the tank. Von Schiller stopped in the

centre of the arcade and looked up at the lights with despair. He knew

what was coming. For another few minutes the bulbs burned on, bright and

cheerfully, and then again they dimmed and faded.

The darkness settled over him like the heavy velvet folds of a funeral

pall. It was so intense and complete that it seemed to have a physical

weight and texture. He could taste the darkness in his mouth as it

seemed to force its way into his body and suffocate him.

He ran again, wildly and blindly, losing all sense of direction in the

blackness. He crashed headlong into stone and fell again, stunned. He

could feel the warm tickle of blood running down his face, and he could

not breathe. He whimpered and gasped and slowly, lying on his side, he

curled himself into a ball like a foetus in the womb.

He wondered how long it would take him to die, and his soul quailed as

he knew that it might take days and even weeks. He moved slightly,

cuddling in closer to the stone object with which he had collided. In

the darkness he had no way of telling that it was the great sarcophagus

of Mamose that sheltered him. Thus he lay in the darkness of the tomb,

surrounded by the funeral treasures of an emperor, and waited for his

own slow but inexorable death.

he monastery of St. Frumentius was deserted.

The monks had heard the gunfire and the sounds of battle echoing down

the gorge, and had gathered up their treasures and fled.

Nicholas ran down the long, empty cloister, pausing to catch his breath

at the head of the staircase that led down to the level of the Nile and

the Epiphany shrine where he had stored the boats. Panting, he searched

the gloom of the deep basin below him into which the sunlight se! Clom

reached, but the moving clouds of silver spray from the twin waterfalls

screened the depths. He had no way of telling if Sapper and Royan were

down there waiting for him, or if they had run into trouble on the

trail.

He adjusted the tattered and bloodstained bandage around his chin, and

then started down. Then he heard her voice in the silver mist below him,

calling his name, and she came pelting up the slippery, slime-covered

stairs towards him.

“Nicholas! Oh, thank God! I thought you weren’t coming.” She would have

rushed into his embrace, but then she saw his bandaged and blood-smeared

face, and she stopped and stared at him, appalled.

Sweet Mary!” she whispered. “What happened to you, Nickyr

“A little tiff with Jake Helm. Just a scratch, but I am 4, not much good

at kissing right now,” he mumbled, trying to grin around the bandage,

“You will have to wait for later.”

He put one arm around her shoulders, almost swinging her off her feet,

as he turned her to face down the stairs again.

“Where are the others?” He hurried her down.

“They are all here,” she told him. “Sapper and Mek are pumping the boats

and loading.”

“Tessay?”

“She’s safe.”

They scrambled down the last flight of steps on to the jetty below the

Epiphany shrine. The Nile had risen ten feet since Nicholas had last

stood there. The river was full and angry, muddy and swift. He could

barely make out the cliffs on the far bank through the drifting clouds

of spray.

The five Avon boats were drawn up at the edge. Four of them were already

fully inflated, and the last one was billowing and swelling as the air

was released into it from the compressed air cylinder. Mek and Sapper

were packing the ammunition crates into the ready boats and strapping

them down under green nylon cargo nets.

Sapper looked up at Nicholas and a comical expression of astonishment

spread over his bluff features, “What the blue bleeding blazes happened

to your face?”

“Tell you about it one day,” Nicholas promised, and turned to embrace

Mek.

“Thank you, old friend,” he said sincerely, “Your men fought well, and

you waited for me.” Nicholas glanced at the row of wounded guerrillas

that lay against the foot of the cliff. “How many casualties?”

“Three dead, and these six wounded. It could have been much worse if

Nogo’s men had pushed us harder.”

“Still, it’s too many,” said Nicholas.

“Even one is too many,” Mek agreed gruffly.

“Where are the rest of your men?”

(on the run for the border. Kept just enough of them with me to handle

the boats.” Mek stripped the filthy bandage from Nicholas’s chin. Royan

gasped when she saw the injury, but Mek grinned.

“Looks as though you were chewed by a shark.”

“That’s right, I was,’Nicholas agreed.

WI BE, Mek shrugged. “It needs at least a dozen stitches.” He shouted

for one of his men to bring his pack.

Sorry, no anaesthetic,” -he warned Nicholas as he forced him to sit on

the transom of one of the boats and poured antiseptic straight from the

bottle.

Nicholas let out a gasp of pain. “Burns, doesn’t it?” Mek agreed

complacently. “But just wait until I start sewing.”

“This kindness will be written down against your name in the golden

book,” Nicholas told him, and with an evil leer Mek broke the seal on a

suture pack.

As Mek worked on the wound, pulling the edges together and tugging the

thread tight, he spoke quietly so that Nicholas alone could hear. “Nogo,

has at least a full company of men guarding the river downstream. My

scouts tell me that he has placed them to cover the trails on both

banks.”

“He doesn’t know that we have boats to run the river, does he?” Nicholas

asked through gritted teeth.

“I think it is unlikely, but he knows a great deal about our movements.

Perhaps he had an informer amongst your workmen.” Mek paused as he

pricked the needle into Nicholas’s flesh, and then went on, “And Nogo

still has the helicopter. He will spot us on the river as soon as this

cloud breaks.”

The river is our only escape route. Let’s pray that the weather stays

socked in, like this.”

By the time Mek had tied off the last knot and covered Nicholas’s chin

with a Steri-Strip plaster, Sapper had finished inflating and loading

the last boat.

Four of Mek’s men carried Tessay’s litter to one of the boats. Mek

helped her aboard and settled her on the deck, making sure that she had

one of the safety straps close at hand. Then he left her and hurried to

where his wounded men lay in order to help them into the boats too. Most

of them could walk, but two had to be carried.

After that he came back to Nicholas. “I see you have found your radio,”

he said, as he glanced at the fibreglass case that Nicholas had slung

over his shoulder on its carrying strap.

“Without it we would be in big trouble.” Nicholas patted the case

affectionately.

“I will take command of that boat, with Tessay.”

“Good!” Nicholas agreed. “Royan will 90 with me in the lead boat.”

“You had better let me lead,’Mek said.

“What do you know about river running?” Nicholas asked him. “I am the

only one of us who has ever shot this river before.”

“That was twenty years ago,” Mek pointed out.

“I am an even better man now than I was then,” Nicholas grinned. “Don’t

argue, Mek. You come next, and Sapper in the one behind you. Are there

any of your men who know the river to command the other two boats?”

“All my men know the river,” Mek told him, and shouted his orders. Each

of them hurried to the Avon he had been allocated. Nicholas gave Royan a

boost over the gunwale of their boat, and then helped his men launch her

down the rocky bank. As soon as the hull floated free they scrambled

aboard and each man grabbed a paddle.

As they bent to their paddles, Nicholas Saw at once that every man of

his crew was indeed a riverman, as Mek had boasted. They pulled strongly

but smoothly, and the light inflatable craft shot out into the main

stream of the Nile.

The Avons were designed to accommodate sixteen, and were lightly loaded.

The ammunition cases that held the grave goods from the tomb were bulky

but weighed little, and there were not more than a dozen people in any

one boat. They all floated high and handled well.

“Bad water ahead,” Nicholas told Royan grimly. “All the way to the

Sudanese border.” He stood at the steering sweep in the stem, from where

he had a good forward view.

Royan crouched at his feet, clinging to on of the safety straps and

trying to keep out of the way of the oarsmen.

They cut across the current that was scouring the great stone basin

below the falls, and Nicholas lined up for the narrow heads through

which the river was escaping to the West. He looked up at the sky and

saw through the spray that the rain clouds were low and purple. They

seemed to sag down upon the tops of the tall cliffs.

“Luck starting to run our way,” he told Royan. “Even with the helicopter

they won’t be able to find us in this Weather.”

He glanced at his Rolex and the spray was heading the glass. “Couple of

hours until nightfall. We should be able to put a few miles of river

behind us before we are forced to stop for the night.”

He looked back over his stem and saw the rest of the little flotilla

bobbing along behind him. The Avons were reflective yellow in colour and

stood out brilliantly even in the mist and murk of the gorge. He lifted

his clenched fist high in the signal to advance, and from the following

boat Mek repeated the gesture and grinned at him through his beard.

The river grabbed them and they shot through its portals into the

narrow, twisted gut of the Nile. The men at the oars stopped paddling,

and let the river take them.

All they could do now was to help Nicholas to steer her through any

desperate moments, and they crouched ready along the gunwales.

The high water in the gorge had covered many of the reefs of rock, but

their presence below the surface was clearly marked by the waters that

humped up in standing waves or foamed white in the narrows between them.

The flood reached up high on either bank, dashing against the cliffs of

the sub-gorge. If an Avon overturned, or even if a crew member were

thrown overboard there would be no place on this river to heave-to and

pick up survivors.

658 95, Nicholas stood high and craned ahead. He had to pick his route

well in advance, and once committed he had to steer her through. It all

depended on his ability to read the river and judge her mods. He was out

of practice, and he had that tight, hard cannonball of fear in the pit

of his belly as he put the long sweep over and steered for the first run

of fast green water. They went swooping down it, Nicholas holding their

bows into it with delicate touches of the sweep, and came out into the

bottom of it with all the other boats following them down in sequence.

“Nothing to it!” Royan laughed up at him.

Don’t say itV Nicholas pleaded with her. The bad angel is listening.”

And he lined up for the head of the next set of rapids that raced

towards them with terrifying speed.

Nicholas steered through the gap between two outcrops of rock and they

shot the barrel, gaining speed down the chute. It was only when they

were halfway down that he saw the tall standing wave below them over

which the river leaped. He put the sweep across and tried to steer round

it, but the river had them firmly in its grip.

Like a hunter taking a fence they shot up the front of the standing

wave, and then with a sickening lurch plummeted down the far side into

the deep trough. The Avon folded across the middle, the bows almost

touching the stem as she tried to pull through the hole in the river

surface.

The crew were tumbled over each other and Nicholas would have been

catapulted overside if it had not been for his body line and his grip on

the steering sweep. Royan flung herself flat on the deck and hung on to

the safety strap with all her strength as the Avon’s buoyancy exerted

itself and the boat bounded high in the air, whipping back elastically

into its original shape, then hovered a moment and almost capsized

before it crashed back, right side up.

One of the crew had been hurled overboard and was floundering alongside,

carried along at the same speed as the flying Avon, so his comrades were

able to lean out and haul him back on board. The cargo of ammunition

crates had tumbled and shifted, but the nets had prevented any of them

from being lost over the side.

“What did you do that for?” Royan yelled at him. “Just when I was

beginning to trust you.”

“Just testing’he yelled back. “Wanted to see how tough you really are.”

“I admit it, I am a sissy,” she assured him. “You really don’t need to

do it again.”

Looking back, Nicholas saw Mek’s boat crash through the trough just as

they had, but the following craft had enough warning to steer clear and

slip through the sides of the run.

He looked ahead again, and his whole existence became the wild waters of

the river. His universe was contained within the tall cliffs of the

sub-gorge as he battled to bring the racing Avon through. He did not

know whether it was spray or rain that stung his cheeks and his wounded

chin, and that flew horizontally into his eyes and half-blinded him. At

times it was a mixture of the two.

An hour later Nicholas misjudged the rapids again, and they went in

sideways and almost capsized. Two of his crew were hurled overboard.

Steering fine and leaning outboard they managed to pull one of them from

the river, but the other man struck a rock before they could reach him.

He went under and did not rise again. None of them spoke or mourned him,

for they were all too busy staying alive themselves.

Once Royan shouted up at Nicholas through the rattling spray and the

thunder of the river all around them, “Helicopter! Can you hear it?”

Half-deafened, he looked up at the lowering grey belly of the clouds

that hung at the level of the cliffs, and faintly made out the whistle

and flutter of the rotors.

“Above the cloud!” he shouted back, wiping the rain and the spray from

his eyes with the back of his hand.

“They will never spot us in this.”

The onset of the African night was sped upon them by the low cloud. In

the gathering darkness another hazard leaped upon them with no warning

at all. One instant they were running hard and clear down a smooth

stretch of the river, and the next the waters opened ahead of them and

they were hurled out into space. It seemed that they fell for ever,

although it was a drop of not more than thirty feet, before they hit the

bottom and found themselves floating in a tangle of men and boats in the

pool below the falls. Here the river was stalled for a moment, revolving

upon itself while it gathered its strength for the next mad charge down

the gorge.

One of the Avons had capsized and was floating belly up – even its

highly stable hull had not been able to weather the down the falls,

The crews of the other ro boats gathered themselves and then paddled

across to drag the survivors from the water and to salvage the oars and

other floating equipment. It took the combined efforts of all of them to

right the overturned Avon, and then it was almost completely dark by the

time they had it back on even keel, “Count the crates!” Nicholas

ordered. “How many have we lost?”

He could hardly credit his good fortune when Sapper shouted back,

“Eleven still on board. All present and correct.” The cargo nets were

holding well. But all of them, men and women, were exhausted and soaked

through and shivering with the cold., Any attempt to go on in darkness

would be suicidal. Nicholas looked across at Mek in the nearest boat and

shook his head.

“There is a bit of slack water in the angle of the cliff.” Mek pointed

towards the tail of the pool. “We might be able to find moorings for the

night.”

him-

There was a stunted but tough little tree growing out of the vertical

fissure in the rock, and they used this as a bollard and made a line

fast to it. Then they lashed all the Avons together in a line down the

cliff and settled in for the night. There was no chance of hot food or

drink, and they had to make do with some cold tinned rations eaten off

the blade of a bayonet, and a few chunks of soggy injera bread.

Mek scrambled over from his own boat and huddled down close beside

Nicholas with one arm over his shoulder and his lips close to his ear.

“I have made a roll call. Another man missing when we went over the

falls. We won’t find him now.”

“I am not doing too well,” Nicholas admitted. “Perhaps you should lead

tomorrow.”

“Not your fault.” Mek squeezed his shoulders. “Nobody could have done

better. It was this last waterfall-‘ he broke off and they listened to

it thundering away in the darkness.

“How far have we come?” Nicholas asked. “And’how much further to go?”

“It’s almost impossible to tell, but I guess we are halfway to the

border. Should reach there some time tomorrow afternoon.”

They were silent for a while, and then Mek asked, “What is the date

today? I have lost count of the days.”

“So have Nicholas tilted his wrist-watch so that he could read the

luminous dial in the last of the light. “Good God! It’s the thirtieth

already,” he said.

“Your pick-up aircraft is due at Roseires airstrip the day after

tomorrow.”

“The first of April,’Nicholas agreed. “Will we make it?”

“You answer that question for me.” Mek grinned in the night without

humour. “What, chances of your fat friend being late?”

jannie is a pro. He is never late,” said Nicholas. Again a silence fell,

and then Nicholas asked, “When we reach Roseires, what do you want me to

do with your share of the booty?” Nicholas kicked one of the ammunition

crates.

“Do you want to take it with you?”

“After we see you off on the plane with your fat friend, we are going to

be doing some hot-footed running from Nogo. I don’t want to be carrying

any extra luggage. You take my share with you. Sell it for me – I need

the money to keep fighting here.”

“You trust me?”

“You are my friend.”

“Friends are the easiest to cheat – they never expect it,” Nicholas told

him, and Mek punched his shoulder and chuckled.

“Get some sleep. We will have to do some hard paddling tomorrow.” Mek

stood up in the Avon as she pitched and rolled gently to the push of the

current. “Sleep well, old friend,” he said, and climbed across to the

boat alongside, where Tessay waited for him.

Nicholas braced his back against the soft pneumatic gunwale of the Avon

and took Royan in his arms. She sat between his knees and leaned back

against his chest, shivering in her sodden clothes.

After a while her shivering abated, and she murmured, “You make a very

good hot’water bottle.”

“That’s one reason for keeping me around on a permanent basis,” he said,

and stroked her wet hair. She did not answer him, but snuggled closer,

and a short while after, wards her breathing slowed as she fell into an

exhausted sleep.

Although he was cold and stiff and his shoulders ached and his palms

were blistered from wrestling with the steering oar, he could not find

sleep as readily as she had.

Now that the prospect of reaching the airstrip at Roseires loomed

closer, he was troubled by problems other than those of simply

navigating the river and battling his way Wot through Nogo’s men. Those

were enemies he could recognize and fight; but there was something more

than that which he would soon have to face.

Royan stirred in his arrns and muttered something he could not catch.

She was dreaming and talking in her sleep.

He held her gently and she settled down. again. He had started to drift

off himself when she spoke again, this time quite clearly. “I am sorry,

Nicky. Don’t hate me for it.

I couldn’t let you-‘ her words slurred and he could make no sense of the

rest of it.

He was fully awake now, her words aggravating his doubts and misgivings.

During the rest of that night he slept only intermittently, and his rest

was troubled by dreams as distressing as hers must have been to hern the

pre-dawn darkness he shook Royan gently.

She moaned and came awake slowly and reluctantly.

They bolted down a few mouthfuls of the cold rations that remained from

the previous night. Then, as dawn lit the gorge just enough for them to

see the surface of the river and the obstacles ahead, they pushed off

from their moorings and the yellow boats strung out down the current.

The battle against the river began all over again.

The cloud cover was still low and unbroken, and the rain squalls swept

over them at intervals. They kept going all that morning, and slowly the

mood of the river began to ameliorate. The current was not so swift and

treacherous, and the banks not so high and rugged.

It was midafternoon and the clouds were still closed in solidly overhead

as they entered a stretch where the river threaded itself through a

series of bluffs and headlands, and they came upon another set of

rapids. Perhaps Nicholas was more expert in his technique by now, for

they swept through them without mishap, and it seemed to him that each

stretch of white water was progressively less severe than the last.

“I think we are through the worst of it now,” he told Royan as she sat

on the deck below him. “The gradient and the fall of the river are

definitely more gentle now. I think it is flattening out as we approach

the plains of the Sudan.”

“How much further to Roseires?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but the border can’t be too far ahead now.”

Nicholas and Mek were keeping the flotilla closed up in line astern, so

that orders could be shouted across the gaps between them and all the

boats kept under their command.

Nicholas steered for the deeper water on the outside of the next wide

bend, and as he came through it he saw that the stretch of river ahead

seemed open and altogether free of rapids or shoals. He relaxed and

smiled at Royan.

“How about lunch at the Dorchester grill next Sunday?

Best roast beef trolley in London.”

He thought he saw a shadow pass across her eyes before she smiled

brightly and replied, “Sounds good to me., “And afterwards we can go

back home and curl up in front of the telly and watch Match of the Day,

or play our 01″ little match.”

“You are rude,” she laughed, “but it does sound tempting.”

He was about to stoop over her, and kiss her for the pleasure of

watching her blush again, when he saw the dance of tiny white fountains

spurting up ftorn the surface of the river ahead of their bows, coming

swiftly towards, them. Then, moments later, he heard the crackle of

automatic fire, the distinctive sound of a Soviet RPD.

He threw himself down over the top of Royan, covering her with his own

body, and heard Mek bellowing from the boat behind them.

‘411111%awOv .AL.

“Return fire! Keep their heads down.”

His men threw down their paddles and seized their weapons. They blazed

away towards the inner curve of the bank from where the attack was

coming.

The attackers were completely concealed amongst the rocks and scrub, and

there was no definite target to shoot at. However, in an ambush like

this it was essential to lay down as heavy a covering fire as possible,

to keep the attackers’ heads down and to upset their aim.

A bullet tore through the nylon skin of the Avon close to Royan’s head

and went on to lam into one of the metal offered ammunition crates. The

sides of their craft 0 protection at all from the heavy fusillade that

lashed them.

One of their crew was hit in the head. The bullet cut the top off his

skull like the shell of a soft’boiled egg, and he was flung over the

side. Royan screamed more with horro.

than with fear, while Nicholas snatched up the assault rifle that the

dead man had dropped and emptied the magazine towards the bank, firing

short taps of three and raking the scrub that concealed their attackers.

The Avon still raced downstream on the current, spiralling aimlessly as

she lost direction without the steering oar. It took them less than’ a

minute to be carried past the ambush and around the next bend of the

river.

Nicholas dropped the empty rifle and shouted across at Mek, “Are you all

right?”

“One man hit here,” Mek yelled back. “Not too bad.” Each of the boats

reported their casualties: a total of one dead and three wounded. None

of the wounded was in a serious condition, and although three of the

boats had been holed, the hulls were made up of watertight compartments

and were all still floating high.

Mek steered his Avon alongside Nicholas’s and called across. “I was

beginning to think we had given Nogo the slip.”

“We got off lightly that time,” Nicholas called back.

“We probably took them by surprise. They weren’t expecting us to be on

the water.”

“Well, no more surprises for him now. You can bet they are on the radio

already. Nogo knows exactly where we are and where we are headed.” He

looked up at the cloud. “We can only hope the cloud stays thick and

low.”

“How much further to the Sudanese border?”

“Not sure, but it can’t be more than another couple of hours.”

“Is the crossing guarded?” Nicholas asked.

“No. Nothing there. Just empty bush on both sides.”

“Let’s hope it stays empty,” Nicholas muttered.

Within thirty minutes of the fire-fight, they heard the helicopter

again. It was flying above the clouds, and as they listened it passed

overhead, but out of sight, and headed on downstream. Twenty minutes

later they heard it again, coming back in the opposite direction, and

shortly after that it flew downstream again, still above the cloud.

“What the hell is Nogo playing at?” Mek called across to Nicholas.

“Sounds as though he is patrolling the river, but he can’t get under the

cloud.”

“My guess is that he is ferrying men downstream to cut us off. Now he

knows we are using boats, he also knows that we can only head in one

direction. Nogo isn’t one to worry about international borders. He may

even have realized by now that we are heading for Roseires. It’s the

nearest unmanned airstrip along the river. He could be waiting for us

when we try to land., Mek steered his Avon closer and passed a line

across, tying the two boats together so that they could talk in normal

tones.

“I don’t like it, Nicholas. We are going to walk right into them again.

What do you suggest?”

Nicholas pondered for a long minute. “Don’t you recognize this part of

the river? Don’t you know precisely where we are yet?”

Mek shook his head. “I always keep well away from the river when we

cross the border, but I will recognize the old sugar’mill at Roseires

when we get there. It’s about three miles upstream from the airstrip.”

“DesertedT Nicholas asked.

“Yes. Abandoned ever since the war began twenty years ago.”

“With this cloud cover, it will be dark in an hour,” Nicholas said. “The

river is slower now and not so dangerous. We can take a chance and keep

on going after dark.

Perhaps Nogo won’t expect that. We might be able to give him the slip in

the dark.”

“Is that the best you can do?” Mek chuckled. “As a plan it sounds to me

a bit like closing your eyes and hoping for the best.”

“Well, if somebody could tell me where the hell we are, and what time

Jannie will arrive tomorrow, I might be able to come up with something a

bit more specific.” Nicholas grinned back at him. “Until that happens, I

am flying by the seat of my pants.”

All of them were tense with strung-out nerves as they paddled on into

the premature dusk beneath the thick blanket of cloud and rain. Even in

the gathering darkness the crew kept their weapons cocked and locked,

trained on either bank of the river, ready to return fire instantly.

“We must have crossed the border an hour ago,” Mek called to Nicholas.

“The old sugar mill can’t be far ahead.”

“In the dark, how will you find it?”

“There is the remains of an old stone jetty on the bank, from which the

riverboats taking the sugar down to Khartoum used to load.”

Night came down upon them abruptly, and Nicholas felt a sense of relief

as the river banks receded into the murk and the darkness hid them from

hostile eyes ashore.

As soon as it was fully dark they lashed the boats -together to prevent

them becoming separated and then let the river carry them on silently,

keeping so close in to the right hand bank that they ran aground more

than once, and some of the men had to slip over the side and push them

out into deeper water.

The stone piers of the jetty at Roseires sprang out at them

unexpectedly, and Nicholas’s leading Avon slammed into them before he

could steer clear. However, the crew were ready and they jumped over the

side into chest-deep water and dragged the boat to the bank. Immediately

Mek leaped ashore and, with twenty of his men, spread out into the

overgrown canefields along the bank to secure the area and prevent a

surprise attack by Nogo’s men.

There was confusion and more noise than Nicholas felt was safe as the

rest of the flotilla beached, and they began to bring the wounded ashore

and unload the cargo of ammunition cases. Nicholas piggybacked Royan to

the bank and then waded back to fetch Tessay. She was much stronger by

now. The enforced rest during the voyage down river had given her a

chance to recover, and she stood up unaided in the Avon and climbed on

to Nicholas’s shoulders to be brought ashore.

Once on dry ground he let her slide down on to her own feet and asked

her quietly, “How are you feeling?”

“I will be all right now, thank you, Nicholas,” He supported her for a

moment while she recovered her balance and said quickly, “I did not have

a chance to ask earlier. What about Royan’s message that she asked you

to telephone from Debra Maryam? Did you get it through for her?

“Yes, of course,” Tessay replied guilelessly. “I told Royan that I had

given her message to Moussad at the Egyptian Embassy. Didn’t she tell

you?”

Nicholas winced as though he had taken a low punch, but he smiled and

kept his tone casual. “It must have slipped her mind. Not important,

anyway. But thanks nevertheless, Tessay.”

PM-Om At that moment Mek came striding out of the darkness and spoke in

a harsh whisper. “This sounds like a camel market. Nogo will hear us

from five miles away.” Quickly 3. he took command and started to

organize the shore party Once the last of the ammunition crates were

unloaded, they dragged the boats into the canefields and unscrewed the

valves that deflated the pontoons. Then they piled cane trash over them.

Still working in the dark they distributed the cargo of ammunition

crates amongst Mck’s men. Sapper took a case under each arm. Nicholas

slung the radio over one shoulder and his emergency pack over the other,

and balanced on his head the case that contained Pharaoh’s golden

death-mask and the Taita ushabti.

Mek sent his scouts forward to sweep the route out to the airstrip and

make certain that they did not run into an ambush. Then he took the

point and the rest of them strung out in Indian file along the rough,

overgrown track behind him. Before they had covered a mile the clouds

suddenly opened overhead, and the crescent moon and the stars showed

through and gave them enough light to make out the chimneystack of the

ruined mill against the night sky.

But even with this moonlight their progress was slow and broken ses, by

long pau for the stretcher-bearers carrying the wounded had difficulty

keeping up. By the time they reached the airstrip it was after three in

the morning and the moon had set. They stacked the ammunition cases in

the same grove of acacia trees at the end of the runway where they had

cached the pallets of dam-building equipment and the yellow tractor on

the inward journey.

Although they were all exhausted by this time, Mek set out his pickets

around the camp. The two women tended the wounded, working by the light

of a small screened fire as they used up the last of Mek’s medical

supplies.

Sapper used the one electric torch whose batteries still held a charge,

and he gave Nicholas a discreet screened light while he set up the radio

and strung the aerial.

Nicholas’s relief was intense when he opened the fibreglass case and

found that, despite its dunking in the Nile, the rubber gasket that

seated the lid had kept the radio dry.

When he switched on the power, the pilot light lit up. He tuned in to

the shortwave frequency and picked up the early morning commercial

transmission of Radio Nairobi.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka was singing; he liked her voice and her style. But he

quickly switched off the set so as to conserve the battery, and settled

back against the hole of the acacia tree to try and get a little rest

before daylight broke. However, sleep eluded him – his sense of betrayal

and anger were too strong.

uma Nogo watched the sun push its great fiery head out of the surface of

the Nile ahead of them. They were flying only feet above the water to

keep under the Sudanese military radar trans missions. He knew there was

a radar station at Khartoum that might be able to pick them up, even at

this range.

Relations with the Sudanese were strained, and he could expect a quick

and savage response if they discovered that he had violated their

border.

Nogo was a confused and worried man. Since the d6bdcle in the gorge of

the Dandera river everything had run strongly against him. He had lost

all his allies. Until they were gone he had not realized how heavily he

had come to rely on both Helm and von Schiller. Now he was on his own

and he had already made many mistakes.

But despite all this he was determined to pursue the fugitives, and to

run them down no matter how far he had to intrude into Sudanese

territory. Over the past weeks it had gradually dawned’upon Nogo, mostly

by eavesdropping on the conversations of von Schiller and the jr

Egyptian, that Harper and Mek Nimmur were in possession of treasure of

immense value. His imagination could barely asp the enormity of it, but

he had heard others speak of gr tens of millions of dollars. Even a

million dollars was a sum so vast that his mind had difficulty

assimilating it, but he I i had a vague inkling as to what it might mean

in earthly terms, of the possessions and women and luxuries it could

buy.

Equally slowly it had dawned upon him that, now that Von Schiller and

Helm were gone, this treasure could be his alone; there was no longer

any other person to stand in his way, other than the fleeing shufta led

by Mek Nimmur and the Englishman. And he had overwhelming force on his

side and the helicopter at his command.

if only he could pin the fugitives down, Nogo was certain he could wipe

them out. There must be no survivors, no one to carry tales to Addis.

After Mek and the Englishman and all their followers were dead it would

be a simple matter to spirit his booty out of the country in the

helicopter. There was a man in Nairobi and another in Khartoum whom he

had dealt with before; they had bought contraband ivory and hashish from

him. They would know how to market the booty to best advantage, although

they were both devious men. He had already decided that he would not

trust it all to one person but would spread the risk, so that even if

one of them betrayed and cheated him His mind raced off on another tack,

and he savoured the thought of great riches and what they could buy for

him. He would have fine clothes and motor cars, land and cattle and

women – white women and black and brown, all the women he could use, a

new one for every day of his life. He broke off his greedy daydreams.

First he had to find where the runaways had vanished to.

He had not realized that Harper and Mek Nimmur had inflatable boats

hidden somewhere near the monastery.

Hansith had not informed him of that fact. He and Helm had expected them

to try to escape on foot, and all the plans to head them off before they

could reach the Sudanese border had been based on that assumption. On

Helm’s orders, he had even set up a reserve fuel dump near the border

where they expected Mek Nimmur to cross, from which they could refuel

the helicopter. Without those supplies of fuel he would long ago have

been forced to give up the chase.

Nogo had placed his men to cover the trails leading along the river bank

towards the west, and he had not even considered guarding the river

itself. It was quite by chance that one of his patrols had been in a

position to spot the flotilla of yellow boats as they came racing

downstream. However, there had not been enough warning to enable them to

set up an effective ambush, and they had been able to fire on the boats

only briefly before they escaped. They had not inflicted serious damage

on any of the boats – at least, not enough to stop them getting through.

Immediately the company commander had radioed his report of this contact

with Mek Nimmur, Nogo had started ferrying men downstream to the

Sudanese border to cut off the flotilla. Unfortunately, the Jet Ranger

could carry no more than six fully armed men at a time, and transporting

them had been a time-consuming business. He had only succeeded in

bringing sixty of his men into position before night had fallen.

During the night he fretted that the flotilla was slipping past him, and

with the dawn they were in the air again. Fortunately the cloud had

broken up during the night. There was still some high cumulus overhead,

but they were now able to fly low along the river and search for any

sign of Mek Nimmur’s flotilla.

They had first flown back along the river on the Ethiopian side of the

border, as far as the point where Mek Nimmur and Harper had been fired

upon. They had picked up no sign of the boats, so Nogo had forced the

pilot to turn back, cross the border and search the Sudanese stretch the

Nile. But Nogo had only been able to persuade his pilot to penetrate

sixty nautical miles along the Nile into the Sudan before the man had

rebelled. Despite the Tokarev pistol that Nogo held to his head, he had

banked the jet Ranger into a 180-degree turn and headed back low along

the river.

By now Nogo knew he had been defeated and ourwitd. He brooded unhappily

in the front seat of the helicopter ter beside the pilot, trying to

fathom out what had happened to his quarry. He saw the tall smokestack

of the abandoned sugar-mill at Roseires poking up into the early morning

sky, and he glowered at it angrily. They had passed the mill only a

short while before on their way downstream.

“Turn in towards the north bank,” he ordered the pilot, and the man

hesitated and glanced at him before he obeyed..

They passed directly over the building, flying lower than the chimney.

The factory was roofless and the windows were empty rectangles in the

broken walls. The boilers and machinery had been removed twenty years

previously, and Nogo could look into the empty shell. The pilot hovered

the aircraft while Nogo peered down, but there was no place where anyone

could hide, and Nogo shook his head.

“Nothing! We have lost them. Head back upstream.” The pilot lifted the

machine’s nose and turned away towards the river, obeying the order with

alacrity. As the aircraft banked steeply, Nogo was looking down directly

into the overgrown canefields verging the river when a flash of bright

yellow caught his eye.

“Waid’ he shouted into his mike. “There is something 9 there. Go back!’

The helicopter hovered over the field, and Nogo gestured urgently

downwards. “Down! Put us down.”

As soon as the skids touched the earth, the stick of six heavily armed

troopers dived out of the rear cabin and raced out to take up defensive

positions. Nogo clambered out of the front door and ran into the

overgrown bed of tall cane. One look was all he needed. The yellow boats

had been deflated and folded and hastily covered. The earth around them

had been churned up by booted feet.

The tracks led away inland. The men who had made them had been heavily

laden, for they had trodden deeply into the soft, sandy earth.

Nogo ran back to the helicopter and thrust his head in through the open

cabin door. “Is there an airstrip near here?” he shouted at the pilot,

who shook his head.

“There is nothing shown on the chart,, “There must have been one. The

sugar’mill would have had a strip.”

“If there was one, it must have been decommissioned years ago.

“We will find it,’Nogo declared. “Mek Nimmur’s tracks will lead us to

it.” He sobered immediately. “But I will have to bring up more men.

judging by his spoor, Mek Nimmur has at least fifty of his shufta with

him.”

He left his men at the sugar-mill and flew back to the border with an

empty rear cabin to pick up the first load of reinforcements.

‘nDig Dolly! Come in, Big Dolly. This is Pharaoh.

Do you read?” Nicholas put out his first call an MD hour before sunrise.

“If I know the way jannie’s mind works, and I should, he would plan to

make his approach flight in darkness and arrive here as soon as there is

enough light to pick up the strip and land.”

7L 111.7- 7 -7

“If the Fat Man comes,” Mek Nimmur qualified.

“He will come,” said Nicholas confidently. “Jannie has never let me down

yet.” He thumbed the microphone and called again: “Big Dolly! Come in,

Big Dolly.”

The static hummed softly, and Nicholas retuned the set carefully. He

called again every fifteen minutes as they huddled around the set in the

dark under the acacia trees.

Suddenly Royan started to her feet and exclaimed excitedly, “There he

is. I can hear Big Dolly’s engines.

Listen!’

Nicholas and Mek ran out into the open, and turned their faces upwards,

looking into the north.

Nicholas exclaimed sud

“That’s not the Hercules, denly. “That’s another machine.” He turned and

faced southwards, towards the river. “Anyway, it’s coming from the wrong

direction.”

“You are right,” Mek agreed. “That’s a single engine, and it’s not a

fixed wing. You can hear the rotors.”

“The Pegasus helicopter!” Nicholas exclaimed bitterly.

“They are on to us again.”

As they listened, the sound of the rotors faded.

Nicholas looked relieved. “They missed us. They can’t have IR spotted

the Avons.”

They trooped back under the cover of the acacias, and Nicholas called

again on the radio, but there was no reply from Jannie.

Twenty minutes later they heard the sound of the jet Ranger returning,

and they monitored it anxiously.

“Gone again,” said Nicholas after a while, but then twenty minutes later

they heard it yet again.

“Nogo is up to something out there,’Mek said uneasily.

“What do you think it is?” Nicholas was infected by his mood. When Mek

worried, there was usually a damned good reason to worry.

“I don’t know,” Mek admitted. “Perhaps Nogo has spotted the Avbns and is

bringing up more men before he comes after us.” He went out into the

open and listened intently, then came back to where Nicholas crouched

over the radio.

“Keep calling,” he said. “I am going out to the perimeter to make

certain my men are ready to hold Nogo off if he comes., The helicopter

moved up and down the Nile at’short intervals during the next three

hours, but the lack of any further developments lulled them, and

Nicholas barely looked up from the radio each time they heard the

distant beat of the rotors. Suddenly the radio crackled, and Nicholas

started violently at the shock.

“Pharaoh! This is Big Dolly. Do you read?”

Nicholas’s voice bubbled over with relief as he replied, “This is

Pharaoh. Speak sweet words to me, Big Dolly.”

“ETA your position one hour thirty minutes.” jannie’s accent was

unmistakable.

“You will be very welcome!” Nicholas promised him fervently.

He hung up the microphone and beamed at the two women, “Jannie is on his

way, and he will-‘

He broke off and his smile shrivelled to an expression of dismay. From

the direction of the river came the unmistakable rattle of AK-47 rapid

fire, followed a few seconds later by the crump of an exploding grenade.

“Oh, dammit to hell!” he groaned. “I thought it was too good to last.

Nogo has arrived.”

He picked up the mike again and spoke into it expressionlessly. “Big

Dolly! The uglies have arrived on the scene. It’s going to have to be a

hot extraction.”

“Hang on to your crown, Pharaoh!” jannie’s voice floated back. “I am on

my way.”

During the next half-hour the sounds of the fighting along the river

intensified until the rattle of small-arms fire was almost continuous,

and gradually it crept closer to the far end of the airstrip. It was

clear that Mek’s men, spread , out thinly along the river end of the

strip, were falling back before the thrust of Nogo’s men. And every

twenty minutes or so there was’the sound of the returning helicopter, as

it ferried another stick of men to increase the pressure on Mek’s scanty

defence.

Nicholas and Sapper were the only ablebodied men left in the acacia

grove, for all the others had gone out to defend the perimeter. The two

of them moved the ammunition crates to the edge of the trees, where they

could be loaded in haste once the Hercules landed.

Nicholas sorted out the cargo, reading the contents of each crate from

the notations on the lids in Royan’s handwriting. The crate containing

the death -mask and the Taita ushabd would be the first to go aboard,

followed by the three crowns- the blue war crown, the Nemes crown and

the red and white crown of the united kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt.

The value of those three crates probably exceeded that of all the rest

of the treasure combined.

Once the cargo had been taken care of, Nicholas went down the row of

wounded men and spoke to each of them in turn. First, he thanked them

for their help and sacrifice, red to take them out on the Hercules to

and then offed where they could receive proper medical attention. He

mised each of them that, if they accepted the offer, he pro would see to

it . -lat once they had recovered from their wounds they could return to

Ethiopia.

Seven of them – those who were less seriously wounded and were able to

walk – refused to leave Mek Nimmur.

Their loyalty was a touching demonstration of the high regard in which

Mek was held by his men. The others reluctantly agreed to be evacuated,

but only after Tessay had intervened and added her assurances to

Nicholas’s.

Then he and Sapper carried them to the point at the edge of the grove

where jannie would halt Big Dolly for the pick’up.

“What about you?” Nicholas asked Tessay. “Are you coming out with us?

You are still in pretty bad shape.”

Tessay laughed. “While I can still stand on my two feet, I will never

leave Mek Nimmur.”

“I can’t understand what you see in that old rogue,” Nicholas laughed

with her. “I have -spoken to Mek. He wants me to take his share of the

booty with me. He won’t be able to carry any extra luggage at the

moment.”

“Yes, I know. Mek and I discussed it. We need the money to continue the

struggle here.”

She broke off and ducked involuntarily, as a stunning explosion cracked

in their eardrums and a tall column of dust leaped into the air close to

the edge of the grove.

Shrapnel whistled over their heads and twigs and leaves rained down on

them.

sweet Mary! What was that?” Tessay cried.

“Two-inch mortar,’said Nicholas. He had not moved, nor made any attempt

to take cover. “More bark than bite.

Nogo must have brought it in with his last flight.”

“When will the Hercules get here?”

“I’ll give jannie a call, and ask him.”

As Nicholas sauntered over to the radio set Tessay whispered to Royan,

“Are you English always so cooV

“Don’t Ask me – I’ mostly Egyptian, and I am terrified.” Royan smiled

easily and put her arm around Tessay. “I am going to miss you, Lady

Sun.”

“Perhaps we will meet again in happier times.” Tessay turned her head

and kissed her impulsively, and Royan hugged her hard.

“I hope so. I hope so with all my heart.”

Nicholas spoke into the microphone. “Big Dolly, this is Pharaoh. “What

is your position now?”

“Pharaoh, we are twenty minutes out, and hurrying.

Did you have baked beans for dinner or is that mortar fire I hear in the

background?”

“With your wit you should have gone on the stage,’

Nicholas told him. “The uglies have control of the south end of the

strip. Make your approach from the north. The wind is wester rly at

about five knots. So any way you come in, it will be cross-wirid.

“Roger, Pharaoh. How many passengers and cargo do YOU have for me?”

“Passengers are six cas-evac plus three, Cargo is fifty-two crates,

about a quarter of a ton weight.”

“Hardly worth coming all this way for so little, Pharaoh.”

“Big Dolly. Be advised, there is another aircraft in the circuit. A jet

Ranger helter. Colour green and red. It 1cop is a hostile, but unarmed.”

“Roger, Pharaoh. I will call again on finals.”

the two women were Nicholas went back to where waiting with the wounded.

“Not long now,” he told them cheerfully. He had to raise his voice to

make himself heard above the din of mortar bursts and rapid small’arms

fire.

“Just enough time for a cup of tea,” he said. He pushed a few twigs into

the embers of the previous night’s fire, then rummaged in his small

emergency pack for the last of his tea bags while Sapper placed the

smoke-blackened billycan back on the burgeoning flames.

They only had one mug between them. “Girls first,” said Nicholas,

passing it to Royan. She took a swallow and scalded her lips.

Good!, she sighed, and then cocked her head. “This time it is definitely

Big Dolly I can hear.”

Nicholas listened and then nodded. “I think you are right.” He stood up

and went to the radio. “Big Dolly. You are audible.”

“Five minutes to landing, Pharaoh.”

From where he stood, Nicholas looked down the long strip. Mek’s men were

retreating, flitting like smoke through the thorn scrub and firing back

in the direction of the river. Nogo was pushing them hard now.

“Hurry along, Jannie he murmured, and then adjusted his expression as

he turned back to the two women. “Plenty of time to finish your tea.

Don’t waste it.”

The rumble of Big Dolly’s engines was louder than the sound of gunfire

now. Then suddenly she was in sight, coming in so low that she seemed to

brush the tops of the thorn trees. She was enormous, Her wingspan

reached from one side of the narrow overgrown strip to the other. Jannie

touched her down short, and she blew out a long rolling cloud of brown

dust behind her as he put the engines into reverse thrust.

Big Dolly went barrelling past the clump of acacia, and Jannie waved to

them from the high cockpit. The moment he had bled off enough speed, he

stood on his footbrakes and rudder bar. Big Dolly spun around in her own

length and came roaring back down the strip towards them, her loading

ramp beginning to drop open even before she reached them.

Fred was waiting in the open hatchway, and he ran down to’help Sapper

and Nicholas with the wounded men on the litters. It took only a few

minutes to carry them up the ramp, and then they started loading the

ammunition crates. Even Royan gave a hand, staggering up the ramp with

one of the lighter crates clutched to her chest.

A mortar shell exploded a hundred and fifty yards beyond the parked

Hercules, and then half a minute later a second shell fell a hundred

yards short.

“Ranging shots,” Nicholas grunted, picking up a crate under each arm and

running up the ramp.

“They have us in their sights now,” Fred shouted. “We have to get out of

here. Leave the rest of the cargo. Let’s go, GoV

There were only four crates still lying under the NMI-, MOrJL

spreading branches of the acacia, and both Nicholas and Sapper ignored

the order and ran back down the ramp.

and raced back.

They snatched up a crate under each arm “Me ramp was starting to rise

and Big Dolly’s engines roared as she began to taxi out. They hurled the

crates over the tailboard of the rising ramp and then jumped up to grab

a handhold and pull themselves aboard. Nicholas was the first up and

reached down to haul Sapper in.

When he looked back, Tessay was a small, lonely figure under the

acacias.

“Give Mek my love and thanks,” he bellowed at her.

CY

ou know how to contact us,” she screamed back.

“Goodbye, Tessay’ Royan’s voice was lost in the blast of the great

engines, and the dust blew back in a sheet over Tessay so that she was

forced to cover her face and turn away. The ramp hissed closed on its

hydraulic. rams, and cut out their last glimpse of her.

Nicholas put an arm around Royan’s shoulders and hustled her down the

length of the cavernous cargo hold and into one of the jum seats at the

entrance to the cockpit.

“Strap yourself in!” he ordered, and ran up the steps to the cockpit.

“Thought you had decided to stay behind,” Jannie greeted him mildly,

without looking up from his controls.

“Hold tight! Here we go.”

Nicholas clung on to the back of the pilot’s seat as bank of Jannie and

Fred between them pushed forward the throttle levers to full power, and

Big Dolly built up speed until she was careering down the strip.

Looking over Jannie’s shoulder” Nicholas saw the vague shapes of men in

camouflage battledre.ss amongst . Some of them the thorn scrub at the

end of the runwa raced tow huge aircraft as it ards were firing at the

them.

“Those popguns aren’t going to hurt her much,” Jannie . “Big Dolly is a

tough old lady.” And – lifted her grunted into the air.

They flashed over the heads of the enemy troops on the ground, and

Jannie set her nose high in the climb attitude.

“Welcome aboard! folks, thank you for flying Africair.

Next stop Malta,” Jannie drawled, and then his voice rose sharply, “Oh,

oh! Where did this little piss-cat come from?”

Directly ahead of them the Jet Ranger rose out of the thick scrub on the

banks of the Nile. The angle of the helicopter’s climb meant that the

approaching Hercules was hidden from the pilot’s view, and he continued

to rise directly into their path.

“Only five hundred feet and a hundred and ten knots on the clock,” Fred

shouted a warning at his father from the right’hand seat. “Too low to

turn.”

The jet Ranger was so close that Nicholas could clearly see Tuma Nogo in

the front seat, his spectacles reflecting the sunlight like the eyes of

a blind man, and his face freezing into a rictus of terror as he

suddenly saw the great machine bearing down on them. At the last

possible moment the pilot put his aircraft over in a wild dive to try to

ear It nose of the approaching Hercules. It seemed impossible to avoid

the collision, but he managed to bank, the lighter, more manoeuvrable

machine over until it rolled almost on to its back. It slipped under the

belly of the Hercules, and the men in the cockpit of Jannie’s plane

barely felt the light kiss of the two fuselages.

However, the helicopter was flung over on to its nose by the impact,

until it was pointing straight down at the earth only four hundred feet

below, While Big Dolly flew on, climbing away steadily on an even keel,

the pilot of the et Ranger struggled to control his crazily plummeting

machine. Two hundred feet above the earth the turbulence thrown out

astern by the massive T56,A-15 turbo-prop engines of the Hercules, each

rated at 4900 horsepower, struck the helicopter with the force of an

avalanche.

Like a dead leaf in an autumn gale she was swept away, spinning end over

end, and when she struck the ground her own engines were still squealing

at full power. On impact the fuselage crumpled like a sheet of aluminium

cooking foil, and Nogo was dead even before the fuel tanks exploded and

a fireball engulfed the jet Ranger.

As soon as Jannie reached safe manoeuvring altitude he brought Big Dolly

around on her northerly heading, and they could look back over the wing

at the Roseires airstrip falling away behind them. The column of black

smoke from the burning helicopter was tar-thick as it drifted away on

the light westerly wind.

“You did say they were the uglies?” Jannie asked. “So rather them than

us, then?”

nce Jannie had settled Big Dolly on her sailing low northerly heading,

and they were over the open deserted Sudanese plains, Nicholas went back

into the main hold.

“Let’s get the wounded settled down comfortably , he an unbuckled their

safety belts suggested. Sapper and Roy and went back with him to attend

to the men lying where haste of the their litters had been dumped during

the getaway from Roseires.

After a while Nicholas left them to it and went forward flight deck. He

to the small, well-stocked galley behind the soup and sliced hunks of

fresh bread opened some canned from the loaves he found in the

refrigerator. While the tea water boiled, he found his small emergency

pack, and took from it.the nylon wallet which contained his medicines

and drugs. From one of the vials he shook five white tablets into the

palm of his hand.

In the galley he crushed the tablets to powder, and when he poured tea

into two of the mugs he stiffed the powder in with it. Royan had enough

English blood in her veins never to be able to refuse a mug of hot tea.

After they had served soup and buttered toast to the wounded men, Royan

accepted her mug from Nicholas gratefully. While she and Sapper sipped

their tea, Nicholas went back to the flight deck and leaned over the

back of Jannie’s seat.

“What is our flying time to the Egyptian border?” he asked.

“Four hours twenty minutes,’Jannic told him.

“Is there any way that we can avoid flying into Egyptian air

space?”Nicholas wanted to know.

Jannie swivelled around in his seat and stared at him with astonishment.

“I suppose we could make a turn out to the west, through Gadaffi-land.

Of course, it would mean an extra seven hours’ flying time, and we would

probably run out of fuel and end up making a forced landing somewhere

out there in the Sahara.” He lifted an eyebrow at Nicholas. “Tell me, my

boy, what inspired that stupid question?”

“It was just a rare thought,’Nicholas said.

“Let it be not merely rare, but extinct,” Jannie advised.

“I don’t want to hear it asked again, ever.”

Nicholas slapped his shoulder. “Put it out of your mind.” When he went

back into the main hold, Sapper and Royan were sitting on two of the

fold-down bunks that were bolted to the main bulkhead. Royan’s empty tea

mug stood on the deck at her feet. Nicholas sat down beside her, and she

reached up and touched the bloodstained dressing that covered his chin.

“You had better let me see to that.” Her fingers were deft and cool on

his hot inflamed skin as she cleaned the T

stitches with an alcohol swab and then placed a fresh plaster over them.

Nicholas felt a strong twinge of guilt as he submitted to her

ministrations.

However, it was Sapper who was the first to show the effects of the

doped tea. He lay back gently and closed his eyes, then a soft snore

vibrated his lips. Minutes later Royan sagged drowsily against

Nicholas’s shoulder. When she was fast asleep, he let her down gently

and lifted her feet up on to the bunk. He spread a rug over her. She did

not even stir, and he had a moment’s doubt about the strength of the

tablets.

Then he kissed her forehead softly. “How could I ever hate you?” he

asked her softly. “Whatever you did.”

He went into the lavatory and locked the door. He had plenty of time.

Sapper and Royan wouldn ot wake for hours yet, and Jannie and Fred were

happily ensconced on the flight’deck, listening to Dolly Parton tapes on

the audio system.

When at last he had finished, Nicholas glanced at his wrist-watch and

realized that it had taken him almost two hours, He closed the toilet

seat and washed his hands carefully. Then he took one last careful took

around the tiny cabin and unlocked the door.

Sapper and Royan were still fast asleep on the folddown bunks. He went

forward to the flight-deck, and Fred pulled his earphones down around

his neck and grinned at him.

“Nile water. It’s poisonous. You have been locked in the loo for the

last couple of hours. Surprised that there is anything left of you.”

Nicholas ignored the jibe and leaned over Jannie’s seat back. “Where are

we?”

With a thick forefinger Jannie stabbed the chart that he was balancing

on his protruding belly. “Almost in the clear,” he said complacently.

“Egyptian border in one hour twelve minutes.”

Nicholas remained standing behind his seat until Jannie grunted and

lifted the microphone. “Time to go into my act.”

“Hallo, Abu Simbel Approach!” he said in a Gulf States accent. “This is

Zulu Whiskey Uniform Five Zero Zero.”

There was a long silence from the Egyptian controller.

Jannie grunted. “He probably has’a hint in the tower with him. Got to

give him time to get his pants back on.”

Abu Simbel Control answered on his fifth call. Jannie launched into his

tried and tested routine, feigning ignorance in fluent colloquial

Arabic.

After five minutes, Abu Simbel cleared him to continue on northwards,

with an instruction to “call again abeam Aswan’.

They flew on serenely for another hour, but Nicholas nerves were

screwing up tighter every minute.

Suddenly, without the least warning, there was a silvery flash ahead of

them as a fighter interceptor, coming from below them, pulled up steeply

across their bows.

Jannie shouted with surprise and an eras another two 9 warplanes

rocketed up from under them, so close that they were buffeted by the

turbulence of their jet trails.

They all recognized the type. They were MiG21 “fishheads’ sporting the

Egyptian air force livery, and with air-to-air missiles hanging in

menacing pods under their swept-back wings.

“Unidentified aircraft! Jannie yelled into his mouthpiece. “You are on

collision course. State your call sign!” They all craned their necks and

stared up through -he Perspex canopy over the flight-deck. High above

them they could see the three MiG fighters in formation circling against

the blue of the African sky.

“ZVVU 500. This is Red Leader of the Egyptian people’s air force. You

will conform to my orders.”

Jannie looked back at Nicholas, his expression forlorn.

low, A

something has gone wrong here. How the hell did they tumble to us?”

“You’ better do what the man says, Dad,” Fred advised miserably,

‘otherwise he is going to blow us all over the sky.”

Jarnie shrugged helplessly, and then spoke into his microphone

mournfully. “Red Leader, This is ZVVU 500.

We will cooperate. Please state your intentions.”

“Your new heading is 053. Execute immediately!” Jannie brought Big Dolly

around into the east and then glanced at his chart.

“Aswan!” he said dolefully. “The Gyppos are taking us to Aswan. What the

hell, I might as well warn Aswan tower that we have wounded on board.”

Nicholas went back to Royans bunk and shook her awake. She was groggy

and unsteady on her feet from the effects of the drug as she staggered

to the lavatory. However, when she emerged again ten minutes later her

hair was combed and she seemed alert and recovered from the mild draught

that she had drunk in her tea. – here was the Nile ahead of them once

more, 6.. and the town of Aswan on both banks, nestling below the first

cataract and the impounded waters of the High Dam. Kitchener’s Island

swam like a green fish in the middle of the stream.

As the voice of the military controller at the Aswan irfield gave Jannie

his orders, Big Dolly settled with unruffled dignity and lined up for

the straight-in approach to the tarmac runway. The MiG fighters which

had shepherded them in from the desert were no longer visible, but their

presence high above was betrayed by their terse radio transmissions as

they handed over their captive to the ground control.

Big Dolly sailed in over the perimeter fence and touched down, and the

voice of the controller ordered them, “Turn first taxi-way right.”

Jannie obeyed, and as he turned off the main runway there was a small

vehicle with a sign on its roof which read, in both English and Arabic,

“FOLLOW ME’.

The vehicle led them to a row of camouflaged concrete hangars in front

of which a ground crew in khaki overalls signalled them with paddles

into a parking stand. As soon as Jannie applied his brakes and brought

Big Dolly to a halt, a file of four armoured half-tracks raced out and

surrounded the huge aircraft, training their turret weapons upon her.

Obedient to the instructions radioed7by control, Jannie shut down his

engines and lowered the tail ramp of the aircraft. No one on the

flight-deck had spoken since they had landed. They stood crowded

together, looking unhappy, peering out of the cockpit windows.

Suddenly a white Cadillac with an escort of armed motorcyclists,

followed by a military ambulance and a three-ton transport truck, drove

through the gate of the perimeter fence and came directly to the foot of

the cargo ramp of the Hercules. The chauffeur jumped out and opened the

door, and his passenger stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine. He

was clearly a person of authority, dignified and composed. He wore a

light tropical suit and white shoes, a panama hat and dark glasses. As

he came up the ramp to where the five of them waited, he was followed by

two male secretaries.

He removed his dark glasses and tucked them into his breast pocket. As

he recognized Royan he smiled and lifted his hat, “Dr Al Simma – Royan!

You did it. Congratulations!” He took her hand and shook it warmly, not

relinquishing his grip as he looked directly at Nicholas.

“You must be Sir Nicholas Quenton Harper. I have been looking forward to

meeting you immensely. Won’t you please introduce us, Royan?”

Royan could not meet Nicholas’s accusing scrutiny as she said, “May I

present His Excellency, Atalan Abou Sin, Minister of Culture and Tourism

in the Egyptian government.”

“You may indeed,” said Nicholas coldly. “What an unexpected

pleasure,’Minister.”

“I would like to express the thanks of the President and the people of

Egypt for returning to this country these recious relics of our ancient

but glorious history.” He made a gesture that encompassed the stack of

ammunition crates.

“Please, think nothing of it,” said Nicholas, but he never took his eyes

off Royan. She kept her face turned half-away from him.

“On the contrary, we think the world of what you have done, Sir

Nicholas.” Abou Sin’s smile was charming and urbane. “We are fully aware

of the expense to which you have been put, and we would not want you to

be out of pocket in this extraordinarily generous gesture of yours. Dr

Al Simma tells me that the expedition to recover these treasures for us

has cost you a quarter of a million sterling.” He took an envelope from

his inside pocket, and proffered it to Nicholas.

“This is a banker’s draft drawn on the Central Bank of Egypt. It is

irrevocable, and payable anywhere in the world.

It is for the sum of 1250,000.1

“Very generous of you, Your Excellency.” Nicholas’s voice was heavy with

irony as he slipped the envelope into his top pocket. “I presume this

was Dr Al Simma’s suggestion?”

“Of course,” beamed Abou Sin. “Royan holds you in the very highest

regard.”

“Does she, now?” Nicholas murmured, still staring at her

expressionlessly.

“However, this other small token of our appreciation was the suggestion

of the President himself.” The minister snapped his fingers and one of

his secretaries stepped forward with a leather-covered medal case, which

he opened before he isented it to Abou Sin.

re On a bed of red velvet nestled a magnificent decoration, a star

encrusted with seed pearls and tiny pay6 diamonds. In the Centre of the

star was a golden lion rampant.

Abou Sin lifted the star from its case and advanced on Nicholas. “The

Order of the Great Lion of Egypt, First Class, he announced, placing the

scarlet ribbon over his head. The star hung resplendent on Nicholas’s

grubby shirt-front, heavily stained with sweat and dust and Nile mud.

Then the minister stood aside and made a gesture to the army colonel who

was standing to attention at the foot of the ramp. Immediately there was

an orderly rush of uniformed men up the ramp. The detachment of soldiers

obviously had their orders. First they picked up the litters on which

the wounded Ethiopians lay.

“I am glad that your pilot had the good Sense to radio ahead that you

had wounded men on board. Rest assured that they will receive the best

care available,” Atalan Abou Sin promised as they were carried down to

the waiting ambulance.

Then the soldiers returned and began carrying the ammunition cases down

the ramp. They were loaded neatly into the three-tonner. Within ten

minutes Big Dolly’s hold was bare and empty. A tarpaulin cover was roped

down securely over the back of the loaded truck. An escort of heavily

armed motorcyclists fell into formation around it, and then, with sirens

wailing, the little convoy roared away.

“Well, Sir Nicholas.” Abou Sin held out his hand Courteously, and

Nicholas took it with an air of resignation.

am sorry to have taken you out of your way like this. I BMW

know that you will be anxious to continue on your journey, so I will not

detain you further. Is there anything I can do for you before you leave?

Do you have sufficient fueV

Nicholas glanced at Jannie, and he shrugged. “We have plenty of juice,

Thank you, sir.”

Abou Sin turned back to Nicholas, “We are planning to build a special

annexe to the museum at Luxor to house these artefacts of Pharaoh Mamose

that you have returned to Egypt. In due course you will be receiving a

personal slid invitation from President Mubarak to attend, as an

honoured guest, the opening of that museum. Dr Al Simma, whom I am sure

you know has been appointed the new Director of the Department of

Antiquities, will be in charge of the museum. I am sure she will be

delighted to review the exhibits with you when you come back.” He bowed

to Sapper and the two pilots.

“Go with God,” he said, and went down the ramp.

Royan began to follow him, but Nicholas called softly after her.

“Royanl’ She froze, and then turned her head slowly and reluctantly to

meet his eyes for the first time since they hadlanded.

“I didn’t deserve that,” he said, and then with a stab of emotion he

realized that she was weeping softly. Her lips quivered and the tears

ran slowly down her cheeks.

“I am sorry, Nicky,” she whispered, “but you must have known that I am

not a thief. It belongs to Egypt, not to US.”

“So everything that I thought there was between us was a lie?” he

demanded remorselessly.

“No!” she said. “I-‘ and then she broke off without finishing what she

was going to say. She ran down the ramp into the sunlight to where the

chauffeur was holding the back door of the limousine open for her. She

slipped on to the seat beside Abou Sin without looking back, and the

Cadillac pulled away and drove through the gate.

“Let’s get the hell out of here, before these Gyppos change their

minds,” said Jannie.

“What a splendid idea,’said Nicholas bitterly.

nce they were airborne again, Aswan Control cleared them for a direct

flight northwards to the Mediterranean coast. The four of them, Jannie

and Fred, Sapper and Nicholas, stayed together on the flight-deck and

watched the long green snake of the Nile crawl along their right

wingtip.

They spoke very little during this long leg of the flight.

Once Jannie said quietly, “So I can kiss my fee goodbye, I suppose?”

“I didn’t really come along for the money,” said Sapper, “but it would

have been nice to be paid. Baby needs new shoes.”

Does anybody want a cup of tea?” Nicholas asked, as though he had not

heard.

“That would be nice,” said Jannie. “Not as nice as the sixty grand that

you owe me, but nice anyway.”

They flew over the battlefield of El Alamein, and even from. twenty

thousand feet they could pick out the twin monuments to the Allied and

German dead. Then the blue of the sea stretched ahead of them.

Nicholas waited until the Egyptian coast receded behind them and then he

let out a long, soft sigh.

“, ye of little faith,” he accused them, “\’hen did I ever let you down?

Everybody gets paid in full., They all stared at him long and hard, and

then Jannie voiced their doubts. “How?” he asked.

“Give me a hand, Sapper,” Nicholas invited, and started down the

staircase. Jannie could not control his curiosity and handed over the

controls to Fred. He followed the two Englishmen down to the lavatory on

the main deck.

Sapper and Jannie watched from the doorway as Nicholas took the

Leatherman tool from his pocket and lifted the cover of the chemical

toilet. Jannie grinned as Nicholas started to work on the screws,

holding the hidden panel in place. Big Dolly was a smugglers’ aircraft,

and these little modifications were evidence of the pains that Jannie

and Fred had taken to adapt her to that role. There were a number of

these hidey-holes cunningly uilt into the engine housings and other

parts of the fuselage.

lj When they had flown back from Libya, the Hannibal bronzes had reposed

in the secret compartment behind this panel. The location of the panel

in the back of the toilet made it highly unlikely that any follower of

Islam would want to investigate such an unclean area.

“So that’s what you were doing in here for so long,” Jannie laughed as

Nicholas lifted out the panel. His grin faded as Nicholas reached into

the space beyond and carefully drew out an extraordinary object. “My

God, what is that?”

“The blue war crown of ancient Egypt,” said Nicholas.

He handed it to Sapper. “Lay it on the bunk, but treat it carefully.”

He reached into the compartment again, “And this is the Nemes crown.” He

handed it to Jannie.

“And this is the red and white crown of the two kingdoms. And this is

the death-mask of Pharaoh Mamose.

Last but not least, this is the ushabd of the scribe Taita.” The relics

lay on the fold-down bunk, and they stood and stared at them reverently.

“I have helped you bring out stone friezes and little bronze statues,’

said Jannie softly. “But notlTing like this before.”

“But,” Sapper shook his head, “the ammunition crates the Gyppos

offloaded at Aswan? What was in them?”

“Five one’gallon bottles of chemical for the toilet,” said Nicholas,

“Plus half a dozen spare oxygen cylinders, just to make up weight.”

“You switched them.” Sapper beamed at him. “But how the hell did you

know that Royan was going to scupper us?”

“She was right when she said I must have known she was no thief. The

whole lark was out of character for her.

She is,” he searched for the correct description, ( much too upright and

honest. Not at all like the present company.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” said Jannie drily, “but she must have given

you more reason than that to make you suspicious.”

“Yes, of course.” Nicholas turned to him. “The first real inkling I had

was when we came back from Ethiopia the first time, and she immediately

pushed off to Cairo. I guessed she was up to something. But I was

absolutely certain only when I learned that she had passed a message,

through Tessay, to the Egyptian Embassy in Addis. It was clear then that

she had alerted them to our return flight.”

“The perfidious little bitch,’Jannie guffawed.

“Careful there!” said Nicholas stiffly. “She is a decent, honest and

patriotic young woman, warm-hearted and-‘ “Well, well!” Jannie winked at

Sapper. “Please excuse my slip.”

nly two of the great crowns of ancient Egypt were set out on the

polished walnut conference table. Nicholas had placed them on the heads

of two genuine Roman marble busts that he had borrowed from a dealer

with whom he did regular business here in Zurich. He had drawn the

blinds over the tenth story windows, and arranged the lighting to show

the crowns to the best effect. The private conference room that he had

hired for the occasion was in the Bank Leu building on Bahnhofstrasse.

FT

While he waited alone for the arrival of his invited guest, he reviewed

his preparations and could find no fault with them. He went to the

full-length mirror on one wall and tightened the knot of his old

Sandhurst tie. The stitches had been removed from his chin. Mek Nimmur

had done a first-rate . oh, and the scar was neat and clean.

His suit had been made by his tailor in Savile Row, so it was in a muted

chalk stripe and had been worn enough to have acquired just the right

degree of casual bagginess. The only shiny items of his dress were the

hand-made shoes from Lobb of St. James’s Street.

The intercom buzzed softly and Nicholas lifted the handset.

“There is a Mr Walsh to see you, Sir Nicholas,” said the receptionist at

the desk in the bank lobby downstairs.

“Please ask him to come up.”

Nicholas opened the door at the first ring and Walsh glowered at him

from the threshold.

“I hope you are not wasting my time, Harper. I have flown all the way

from Fort Worth.” It was only thirty hours since Nicholas had telephoned

him at his ranch in Texas.

Walsh must have jumped into his executive jet almost immediately to have

got here so soon.

“Not Harper. Quenton-Harper,’said Nicholas.

“Okay then, Quenton-Harper. But cut the crap,’Walsh said angrily. “What

have you got for me?”

“I am also delighted to see you again, Mr Walsh.” Nicholas stood aside.

“Do come in.”

Walsh strode into the room. He was tall and roundshouldered, his jowls

drooping and wrinkled and his nose beaky. With his hands clasped behind

his back.he looked like a buzzard on a fence pole. Forbes magazine

listed his net worth at 1.7 billion dollars.

Two men followed him into the room, and Nicholas recognized both of

them. The antiquarian world was very small and incestuous. One of them

was the professor of

ancient history at Dallas University. Walsh had endowed the chair. The

other was one of the most respected and knowledgeable antiques dealers

in the United States.

Walsh stopped so suddenly that they both ran into him from behind, but

he did not seem to notice.

“Son of a gun!” he said softly, and his eyes lit with the flames of

fanaticism. “Are those fakes?”

“As fake as the Hannibal bronzes and the Hammurabi has-relief you bought

from me,” said Nicholas.

Walsh approached the exhibits as though they were the cathedral

communion plate and he the archbishop.

“These must be fresh,” he whispered. “Otherwise I would have known about

them.”

“Fresh out of the ground,” Nicholas confirmed. “You are the first one to

have seen them.”

“Mamose!” Walsh read the cartouche on the uraeus of the Nemes crown.

“Then the rumours are true. You have opened a new tomb.”

“If you can call nearly four thousand years old new.” Walsh and his

advisers gathered around the table, pale and speechless with shock.

“Leave us, Harper,’said Walsh. “I will call you when I am ready to talk

to you again.”

“Sir Nicholas,” he prompted the American. Nicholas knew that he had the

upper hand now.

“Please leave us, Sir Nicholas,” Walsh pleaded.

An hour later Nicholas sauntered back into the conference room. The

three men were seated around the table as though they could not bear to

be parted from the two great crowns. Walsh nodded at his minions and

they stood up and obediently but reluctantly filed from the room.

As soon as the door closed, Walsh asked brusquely, “How much?”

“Fifteen million US dollars,’Nicholas replied.

“That’s seven and a half mill each.”

“No, that’s fifteen mill each. Thirty million the two’.

Walsh reeled in his chair. “Are you crazy, or something?”

“There are those who think so,’Nicholas smiled.

“Split the difference,” said Walsh. “Twenty-two and a half.”

Nicholas shook his head. “Not negotiable.”

“Be reasonable, Harper!’ “Reasonability has never been one of my vices.

Sorry Walsh stood up. “I am sorry too. Perhaps next time, Harper.”

He clasped his hands behind his back and stalked to the door. As he

opened it, Nicholas called after him.

“Mr Walsh!’

He turned back eagerly. “Yes?”

“Next time you may call me Nicholas, and I shall call you Peter, as old

friends.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

“Of course. What else is there?” Nicholas looked puzzled.

“Damn you,” said Walsh, and came back to the table.

He dropped into his chair. “Damn you to hell and back!” He sighed and

pursed his lips, and then asked, “Okay.

How do you want it?”

“Two irrevocable bank drafts. Each for fifteen million.” Walsh picked up

the intercom, and spoke into it.

“Please ask Monsieur Montfleuri, your chief accountant, to come up here”

he ordered dolefully.

Nicholas sat at his desk in his study at Quenton Park. He stared at the

panelling that covered the wall facing him. Although the panelling had

originally come from one of the Catholic abbeys dissolved by Henry VIII

in 1536 and had been bought by his grandfather almost a hundred years

ago, it was newly installed in this setting.

He reached under the top of his desk and pressed the hidden button of

the electronic control. A section of the panelling slid smoothly and

silently aside to reveal the armoured plate glass of the display cabinet

built into the wall behind it. At the same time the spotlights in the

ceiling lit automatically, and their beams fell on the contents of the

cabinet. The spots had been placed so that there was no reflection from

the glass window to distract the eye, and the beams brought out the full

glory of the double crown and the golden death-mask of Mamose.

He poured whisky into a crystal glass, and while he sipped it he

savoured the thrill of ownership. But after a while he knew there was

something missing. He picked up the Taita ushabd from the desk in front

of him, and spoke to it as though he were addressing the subject

himself.

“You knew the real meaning of loneliness, didn’t you?” he asked softly.

“You knew what it was like to love someone you could never have.”

He set down the statuette and picked up the telephone. He dialled an

international number and it rang three times before a man answered in

Arabic.

“This is the office of the Director of Antiquities. How may I help you?”

“Is Dr Al Simma available?” he asked in the same language.

“Please hold the line. I am putting you through!

“Dr Al Simma.” Her voice sent an electric thrill down his spine.

“Royan,” he said, and he could sense her shock in the long silence that

followed.

“You!” she whispered. 11 did not think I would ever hear from you

again.”

“I just rang to congratulate you on your appointment.”

“You cheated me,” she said. “You switched the contents of three of the

crates.”

“As a wise man once said, friends are the easiest to cheat they don’t

expect it. You, of all people, should know the truth of that, Royan.”

“You have sold them, of course. I have heard a rumour that Peter Walsh

paid twenty million.” 4- “Thirty million,” Nicholas corrected her. “But

only for the blue and the Nemes. Even as I speak to you, the red and

white crown and the death-mask repose before me.”

“So now you can pay off your Lloyd’s insurance losses.

You must be very relieved.”

“You won’t believe this, but the Lloyd’s syndicate on which I am a Name

has come up with much better results than were forecast. I wasn’t really

broke after all.”

“As my mother would say, “Bully for you.”‘ “Half of it has already gone

to Mek Nimmur and Tessay.”

“At least that is a good cause.” Her tone tingled with hostility. “Is

that all you called to tell me?”

“No. There’s something else that might amuse you.

Your favourite author, Wilbur Smith, has agreed to write the story of

our discovery of the tomb. He is calling the book The Seventh ScroU. It

should be published early next year. I will send you a signed copy.”

“I hope he gets his facts straight this time,” she said drily.

They were both silent for a while, before Royan broke it “I have a

mountain of work in front of me. If there is nothing else on your mind-‘

“As a matter of fact there is.”

“Yes?”

“I would like you to marry me.”

He heard her draw breath sharply, and then after a long pause she asked

softly, “Why would you want anything so unlikely?”

“Because I have come to realize how much I love you.” She was silent

again, and then she said in a small voice, “All right.”

“What do you mean, “All right’T

“I mean, all right, I will marry you.”

“Why would you agree to anything so unlikely?” he asked.

“Because I have come to realize, despite everything, how much I love you

back.”

“There is an Air Egypt flight from Heathrow at 5.30 this afternoon. If I

drive like fury, I may just make it. But it gets me into Cairo rather

late.”

“I will be waiting at the airport, no matter how late.”

“I am on my way!” Nicholas hung up, and went to the door, but suddenly

he turned back and picked up the the Taita ushabti from the desk.

“Come on, you old rogue.” He laughed triumphantly.

“You are going home, as a wedding gift.”

EPILOGUE

which, -in the mauve evening.

They strolled along the corn Below them the Nile ran on eternally green

and slow and inscrutable, disposing of the secrets of the ages. At the

bank, below the ruins of the temple of point on the river once the great

barge of Pharaoh Ramesses at Luxor, where Mamose had docked with Taita

and his beloved mistress upon her prow, they paused for a while and

leaned upon ining wall. They gazed out to the coping of the stone reta

the darkening hills across the river. the funerary temple Time had long

since obliterated other’ kings had and the great causeway of Mamose, and

ver the foundations. No man built their own monuments red the tomb that

he had never occupied, had ever discover ted close to the secret opening

but it must have been situa gh which Duraid Al Simma. had entered in the

rock thrOu ered there the scrolls of Taita the tomb of Lostris and

discover in their alabaster jars.

silent in the gathering dusk, the’

All four of them were firm friendship. They watched a cruise shared

silence the tourists clustered upon boat pass coming upriver wi her

decks, still agog after ten days of voyaging from Cairo on these

enigmatic waters, pointing out to each other the great pylons and

engraved walls of Ramesses temple, their ntial in the hush of th all and

inconseque excited voices sm desert evening slipped her arm through

Tessay’s and Then Royan alked on ahead. They made a lovely pair, the two

women wand honey-skinned, their laughter gay slim and young ads ruffling

in the sultry Puffs Of and sweet, their dark he and Mek immur Saharan

air off the desert. Nichola followed them, each watching his own woman

fondly as they bantered.

“So now you are one of the fatcats, in Addis, you, the hard man, the

bush fighter, you are now a politician. I can hardly believe it, mek.,

“There is a time to fight and a time to make peace.” Mek was serious for

a moment, but Nicholas mocked him ” 11 lightly.

“I see that now that you are a politician you have to practise your

cliches and your platitudes.” Nicholas punched his arm lightly. “But how

did you swing it, Mek?

>From dirty shufta bandit to Minister of Defence in one mighty bound.”

“The money from the sale of the blue crown helped a little. It gave me

the clout I needed,” Mek admitted, “but they knew they could never hold

a democratic election without me as a candidate. In the end they were

eager to have me on board.”

“The only quibble I have with the deal is that you handed all that

lovely hard-won lolly over to them,” Nicholas mourned. “Hell, Mek,

fifteen million iron men don’t come along every day.”

“I didn’t hand it to them,” Mek corrected him. “It was paid into the

state coffers, where I can keep an eye on what eventually happens to it.”

“Still, fifteen mill is a lot of bread,” Nicholas sighed.

“Try as I might, I cannot approve of such extravagance, but I must admit

-Lat I do approve of your choice of running mate in your bid for the

Presidency in the coming elections.”

They both looked at Tessay’s slim back and bush of springing black curls

as she strode along ahead of them on shapely brown legs under the white

skirt.

“I may not approve of you as Minister of Defence, but I can see that she

makes a very charming Minister of Culture and Tourism in the interim

government.”

“She will make an even more impressive Vice-President when we win next

August,” Mek predicted easily, and at that moment Royan looked back over

her shoulder at them.

“We’ll cross the road here,” she called. Nicholas had been so engrossed

that he had not realized they had come up opposite to the new annexe to

the Luxor Museum of Antiquities. The two women waited for them to catch

up and then they separated and each of them took the arm of her own

husband.

As they crossed the wide boulevard, threading their way between the slow

clip-clopping horse-drawn gharries, Nicholas leaned down and brushed her

cheek with his lips. “You are really quite delectable, Lady Quenton

Harper.”

“You make me blush, Sir Nicky,” she giggled. “You know that I am still

not used to being called that.”

They reached the other side of the thoroughfare and paused before the

entrance to the museum annexe. The sloping roof was supported by tall

hypostyle columns, miniature copies of those at the temple of Karnak.

The walls were made of massive blocks of yellow sandstone, and the lines

of the building were clean and simple. It was very impressive.

Royan led them to the entrance doors of the museum, which was not yet

open to the public. The President was flying up on Monday for the

official opening, and Mek and Tessay were to be the official

representatives of the Ethiopian government at the opening ceremony. The

guards at the door saluted Royan respectfully and hurried to open the

heavy brass-bound doors to let them pass.

The interior was hushed and cool, the air conditioning arefully

regulated to preserve the ancient exhibits.

The display cases were built into the sandstone walls, and the lighting

was subtle and artful. it showed off the wondrous treasures of the

Mamose funerary hoard to full advantage. The exhibits, arranged in

ascending order of beauty and archaeological importance, sparkled and

glowed in their nests of blue satin, the royal blue of the Pharaoh

Mamose.

The four visitors were quiet and reverential as they passed, their

voices soft and subdued as they asked questions of Royan. Wonder and

amazement held them enthralled. They paused at the entrance of the final

chamber, the one that housed the most extraordinary and valuable items

in this glittering collection.

“To think that this is only a small part of what treasure still remains

in Mamose’s tomb, sealed by the waters of the Dandera river,” whispered

Tessay. “It’s so exciting that I can hardly wait for the adventure to

continue.”

“I forgot to tell you!” Mek exclaimed, and it was clear from his

triumphant grin that he had not forgotten at all, but had been merely

waiting for the appropriate moment to impart his news. “The Smithsonian

have confirmed their grant to redarn the Dandera and reopen the tomb. It

will be a joint venture between the Institution and the governments of

our two countries, Egypt and Ethiopia.”

“That is wonderful news,” Royan exclaimed delightedly.

“The tomb itself will be one of the great archaeological sites of the

world, and a huge source of tourist revenue for Ethiopia-‘

“Not so fast,” Mek interrupted her. “There is one condition that they

stipulate.”

Royan looked crestfallen. “What is their condition?”

“They insist that you, Royan, take’on the job of director of the

project.”

She clapped her hands with delight, and then put on a mock-serious

expression. “However, I have my own condition before I accept,” she

said.

“And what is that?” Mek demanded.

“That I am able to appoint my own assistant on the dig-‘ MW

Mek let out a roar of laughter. “We all know who that will be.” And he

clapped Nicholas on the back. “Just make sure that none of the artefacts

cling to his sticky little fingers!” he warned.

Royan hugged Nicholas around the waist. “He has completely reformed, I

will now give you final proof of that.” Still clinging to her husband,

she led them into the last chamber.

Mek and Tessay stopped in the entrance, silent with awe as they stared

at the contents of the free-standing display case of annoured glass in

the centre of the room, The red and white crown of the united kingdoms

of upper and lower Egypt stood side by side with the glistening golden

death-mask of Pharaoh Mamose in the brilliant light of the overhead

spotlights.

At last Mek Nimmur recovered from the shock.

Advancing slowly to the front panel of the display case, he stooped to

read aloud the brass plate fixed to the front of it: “‘The Permanent

loan of Sir Nicholas and Lady Quenton, Harper.”‘

He turned back to stare at Nicholas incredulously.

“And you were the one who picked on me for turning over the money from

the sale of the blue crown!” he accused him. “How could you bring

yourself to give up your share of the loot, Nicholas?”

“It wasn’t easy,” Nicholas admitted with a sigh, “but I was faced with a

delicate ultimatum from a certain party who is not standing a million

miles away from us at this very moment.”

“Don’t feel too sorry for the poor boy,” Royan laughed.

“He still has a big lump of Peter Walsh’s money tucked away in

Switzerland, the proceeds of the sale of the Nemes crown. I was unable

to talk him into handing everything over.”

“Enough of these public disclosures of my domestic affairs, said

Nicholas firmly. “The sun is long gone, and it’s whisky time. I think I

saw a bottle of Laphroaig behind the bar at the hotel, Let’s go and find

out if I was mistaken.” He took Royan’s arm and led her away, and the

other two followed closely, laughing delightedly at his discomfort.

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