Wilbur Smith – The Seventh Scroll part-6

part-6

that they had been alerted and were about to escape.

Yet they were not clear – they were about to catch the peripheral force

of the landslide that was developing above them. Still holding Royan,

Nicholas stared up the falling cliff face and made a desperate

calculation.

He watched in petrified fascination as the vast tide of falling rock

swept over the trail ahead of him, picking up men and mules and carrying

them with it over the edge and down into the river bed. It swallowed

them, lapping them up like the tongue of some fearsome monster and

chewing them to pulp with razor fangs of red rock. Even above the

rumbling roar of the rock tide he heard the terrified screams of men and

animals as they were ploughed under.

The wave of destruction spread towards where he and Royan stood upon the

trail. If they had been directly under the explosion they would have

stood as little chance as those others, but as it ran down the cliff its

destructive momentum was dissipating. On the other hand, Nicholas

realized that there was no hope that they would be able to outrun it,

and what was about to fall upon them would still be devastating.

There was no time to explain to Royan what they had to do – he had only

seconds left in which to act. Sweeping her up in his arms, he leaped

over the bank towards the river. He lost his footing almost immediately

and they went down together, rolling end over end, but thirty feet down

there was a spur of rock the size of a house. As they came up against

the upper side of it, it broke their fall.

They were half-sturined, but Nicholas dragged Royan to her feet and

guided her into the lee of the rock wall.

“Mere was a cut-back here, and they crept into it and crouched flat.

Pressing themselves hard against the wall, they both held their breath

as the first chunk of cliff came bounding and bouncing down towards them

like a gigantic rubber ball, picking up speed with gravity, until it

smashed in to their shelter with a force that made the solid rock

against which they were cringing vibrate and resound like a cathedral

bell, and the hurtling missile leaped high over their heads, spinning

massively in flight before it dropped into the river. It raised a tidal

wave from the surface that broke like storm surf on both banks.

This was merely the forerunner of the maelstrom that now poured over

them. It seemed that half the mountain was falling upon them. As each

slab crashed into their shelter daggers and splinters burst from its

leading edges, filling the air they breathed with fine white dust and

the sulphurous stink of sparking flint. This immense cascade flew over

their heads or piled up in front of their shelter, and loose chips and

pebbles rained down upon them.

Nicholas crawled over the top of Royan, and covered her with his body. A

stone struck the side of his head a lancing blow that made his ears

ring, but he gritted his teeth and fought the impulse to lift his head

and look up.

He felt something warm and ticklish snaking through the short hairs

behind his right ear. It crept down his cheek like a living thing, and

it was only when it reached the corner of his mouth and he tasted the

metallic salt that he realized it was a trickle of blood.

The fine talcum dust powdered them and irritated their throats, so that

they coughed and choked in the uproar.

The dust seeped into their eyes, and they were forced to clench their

lids and keep them tightly shut.

One mass of rock the size of a wagon sprang high in the air and then

fell back close beside where they lay. The impact made the earth jump so

violently that Royan, with Nicholas’s weight on top of her, was struck

in the belly and diaphragm with a force that drove the wind from her

lungs, and she thought that her ribs had been crushed.

Then gradually the downpouring of earth and rock began to subside. The

breath-stopping impact of great boulders into their shelter became less

frequent: The fine dust they were breathing began to settle. The

rumbling and roaring let up gradually, until the only sound was the slip

and slide of settling earth and rock and the burble of the river below

them.

Warily, Nicholas at last lifted his head and tried to blink the dust off

his eyelashes. Royan stiffed under him, and he crawled back to let her

sit up. They stared at each other. Their faces were caked into kabuki

masks with the antimony-white dust, and their hair was powdered like the

wigs of eighteenth-century French aristocrats.

“You are bleeding,” Royan whispered, her voice husky with dust and

terror.

Nicholas lifted his hand to his face and it came away covered with a

paste of dust and blood. “It’s just a nick,” he said. “How are you!’

“I think I may have twisted my knee. I felt something give when we fell.

I don’t think it’s serious. There is very little pain.”

“Men we have both been ridiculously lucky,” he told her. “Nobody

deserved to survive that.”

She made an effort to stand, but he restrained her with a hand on her

shoulder. “Wait! The entire slope above us is broken and unstable. Give

it time. There will be loose rocks coming down for a while yet.” He

untied the Paisley bandana from around his throat and handed it to her.

“Besides which, we don’t want-‘ But he changed his mind and did not

finish his sentence, While she wiped her face she asked shakily, “You

were going to say, besides which-?”

don’t want to give those bastards

“Besides which, we up there any idea that we have survived their little

party.

Otherwise we will have them down here finishing the job, cutting

throats. Much better they believe that we snuffed it, as intended.”

“Do you think- they are still up She stared at him.

there, watching us?”

“Count on it,” he answered grimly. “They must be pretty chuffed with the

fact that they have at last succeeded in getting rid of you. We don’t

want to pop our heads up right now and spoil it for them.”

“How did you know what was going to happen?” she asked. “If you hadn’t

grabbed me-‘ Her voice petered out.

In a few words he explained about the scrap of gelignite wrapping.

“Simplest thing in the world to pick one of the narrowest sections of

the trail and mine the cliff-‘ He broke Off as, faintly but

unmistakably, there came the sound of an aircraft engine and the flutter

of rotors in fully fine pitch for takeoffs

“Quickly,” he snapped at her. “Get in as close as you can to the

overhang.” He pushed her back against the sheltering boulder. “Lie flad’

When she obeyed without question, he lay beside her and piled loose

rubble over them both.

“Lie still. Don’t move, whatever you do.”

They lay and listened to the sound of the helicopter approaching, and

circling overhead. It moved up and down the valley, flying a few feet

above the surface of the river.

At one point it was directly above the ledge on which they lay, and they

were buffeted by the down-draught of the rotors.

“Looking for survivors,” said Nicholas grimly. “Don’t move. They haven’t

spotted us yet.”

“If they were watching us before the blast, they should have been able

to come directly to where we are,” she whispered. They seem confused.”

“They must have lost us in the dust of the avalanche and the break-up of

the cliff face. They aren’t sure where we are lying.” The sound of the

helicopter moved off slowly along the river, and Nicholas told her, “I

am going to risk a peep, to make sure it’s the Pegasus job – not that

there can be many other choppers in this area. Keep your head down!’

He lifted his head slowly and cautiously, and one glance was sufficient

to confirm all his speculations. Half a mile upstream, the Pegasus jet

Ranger hovered over the river. It was moving slowly away from him, so

that from this angle Nicholas was unable to see through the windscreen

into the cockpit. But at that moment the engine beat changed as the

pilot changed pitch and pulled on the collective.

As the aircraft rose vertically and turned northwards, Nicholas caught a

glimpse of the passengers. Jake Helm sat in the front seat beside the

pilot, and Colonel Nogo was in the seat behind him. They were both

staring down into the river valley, but in seconds the helicopter lifted

them away and the machine disappeared beyond the ridge, flying in the

direction of the escarpment, and the sound of its engines dwindled into

silence. Nicholas crawled out from beneath the boulder and pulled Royan

to her feet.

“No more doubts. We know who we are dealing with now. That was Helm and

No in the chopper. Helm 9 almost certainly laid the gelly, and Nogo

probably led the men who hit our camp last night. Each of them doing the

job he does best,” Nicholas told her. “So that confirms it.

Whoever owns Pegasus is the ugly behind all this. Helm and Nogo are

merely the stooges.”

“But Nogo is an officer in the Ethiopian army,” she protested.

“Welcome to Africa.” He did not smile as he said it.

“Here everything is for sale at a price, including government officials

and army officers.” Now he scowled so that the caked dust on his face

was dislodged and filtered down in a fine powdering. “Now, however, our

main concern is to get out of the gorge and back to civilization.”

He looked up the slope. The trail above them had been obliterated

beneath the rock fall. “We can’t get back that way,” he told her, and

took her hand. But when he lifted her to her feet she gasped and quickly

shifted her weight to her right leg.

My knee!” Then she smiled bravely. “It will be all right.)

However, she was limping heavily as they scrambled down to the rivet,

terrified that their movements would set off another rock slide. They

ended up waist’deep in the water under the bank.

Royan stood behind Nicholas and washed the blood and dust from the wound

in his scalp. “Not too bad,” she told him. “Doesn’t need a stitch.”

“I have a tube of Betadyne in my pack,” he said. He fished it out, and

she smeared the wound with the yellow brown ointment before binding it

up with the Paisley bandana.

“That will do.” She patted his shoulder.

“Thank the Lord for my burn-bag,’Nicholas remarked as he zipped it

closed. “At least we have a few essentials with us. Now our next job is

to look for any other survivors.”

“Tamte!’she exclaimed.

They floundered along the bank. The river was clogged with loose rock

and earth that had fallen from the cliff. In the deeper places they were

forced in up to their armpits, and Nicholas carried his pack at arm’s

length above his head. The loose rock was treacherous, and gave way

under them when they tried to scramble out of the water to search for

the other members of the caravan.

They found the bodies of two of the monks, both of them crushed and

half-buried. They did not even attempt to dig them free. One of the

mules lay with one leg in the air and the rest of its body completely

covered with broken rock. The pack that it had carried had burst open

and the contents were scattered about. The rolled skin and trophies of

the dik-dik had been churned into the muck. Nicholas rescued them and

strapped them on to his burn-bag.

“More to carry,’Royan warned him.

“Only a pound or two, but worth it,” he replied.

They made their way towards the point below the itail where they had

last seen Tamre and Aly. But though they searched for almost an hour

they found no sign of either of them. The slope above them was

devastated: raw ravaged earth, great rocks shattered, bushes and trees

uprooted and smashed to kindling.

Royan climbed as high as her injured leg enabled her, then cupped her

hands around her mbuth and shouted, “Tamre I Tamre! Tamre!” The echoes

took her cry and flung it from’ all to valley wall.

“I think he is done for. The poor little devil has been buried,’

Nicholas called up to her. “We have been at it an hour now. We cannot

afford more time, if we are to get out ourselves. We will have to leave

him.”

She ignored him and worked her way along the rockslide, loose scree

rolling under her feet, and he could see that the knee was giving her

pain.

“Tamre! Answer me,” she called in Arabic. “Tamre!

Where are you?”

“Royan! That’s enough. You are going to damage that knee even more. You

are putting both of us at risk now.

Give it up!’

At that moment they both heard a soft groan from higher up the slope.

Royan scrambled up towards the sound, slipping and sliding back almost

as far as she climbed, but at last she gave a cry of horror. Nicholas

dumped his pack and went up after her. When he reached her side, he too

dropped to his knees.

Tam-re was pinned down in the rubble. His face was barely recognizable.

It was torn and lacerated, with half the skin ripped off. Royan had

lifted his head into her lap, and was using her sleeve to wipe the filth

out of his nostrils to allow him to breathe more freely. Blood was

oozing from the corner of his mouth, and when he groaned again it welled

up in a fresh flood. Royan dabbed at it, smearing it across his chin.

His lower body was buried, and Nicholas tried to clear the broken rock;

but almost immediately he realized the futility of it. A lump of raw

rock the size of a billiard table lay across him. It weighed many tons,

and must certainly have crushed his spine and pelvis. No single man

would be able to move that massive weight unaided. Even if it were

ossible, the grinding action of any movement would inevitably aggravate

the terrible injuries that Tamre had already sustained.

“Do something, icky,” Royan whispered. “We have to do something for

him.”

Nicholas looked at her and shook his head. Royan’s eyes flooded with

tears, and they broke over her lower lids and scattered like raindrops

into Tamre’s upturned face, diluting the blood to the pink of ros6 wine.

“We can’t just sit here and let him die,” she Protested, and at the

sound of her voice Tamre opened his eyes and looked into her face.

He smiled through the blood, and that smile lit his dusty, broken face.

“Ummee!” he whispered. “You are my mother. You are so kind. I love you,

my mother.”

The words were bitten off and a spasm stiffened his body. His face

contorted with agony and he gave a soft, strangled cry, and then

slumped. The rigidity went out of his shoulders and his head rolled to

one side.

Royan sat for long time holding his head and weeping softly, but

bitterly, until Nicholas touched her hand and said EentIv. “He is dead,

Royan.”

She nodded. “I know. He held on just long enough to say goodbye to me.”

He let her mourn a little longer, and then he told her softly, “We must

go, my dear.”

“You are right. But it is so hard to leave him here. He never had

anybody. He was so alone. He called me mother.

I think he truly loved me.”

“I know he did,” Nicholas assured her, lifting the boy’s dead head from

her lap and helping her to her feet. “Go wait for me. I will cover him

the best I can.” down an Nicholas crossed Tamre’s hands upon his chest,

and folded his fingers around the silver crucifix that hung around his

neck. Then he piled loose rock carefully over him, covering his head so

that the crows and vultures could not reach him.

He slid down to where she waited in the water, and slung his pack over

one shoulder.

“We must go on,” he told Royan.

She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and nodded. “I am

ready now.”

They waded upstream, pushing hard against the current. The rock-slide

had blocked half the river bed and the waters squeezed through the gap

that was left. When at last they reached the point on the bank above the

avalanche, they climbed out of the river and picked their way up the

steep bank until at last they could crawl out on to the intact section

of the pathway.

They took a moment to recover and looked back. The river below the

rock-slide was running red-brown with mud. Even if the monks at the

monastery downstream had not heard the explosions, they would be alarmed

by that flood of discoloured water and would come to investigate.

They would find the bodies and take them down for decent burial. That

thought comforted Royan a little as they struck out along the trail,

with two days’ hard travel still ahead of them.

Royan was limping heavily now, but each time Nichoto help her she

brushed his hand away. “I am all right. It’s just a bit stiff.” She

would not allow him to inspect the knee, but kept on stubbornly along

the trail ahead of him.

They marched mostly in silence for the rest of that day. Nicholas

respected her grief and was grateful for her reticence. This ability to

be quiet and yet not give out a sense of alienation and withdrawal to

those around her was one of the qualities he admired in her. They spoke

briefly late that afternoon while they paused to rest beside the path.

“The only consolation is that now Pegasus will believe that we are

safely buried under the rock-slide and they won’t bother to come looking

for us again. We can push on without wasting time scouting the trail

ahead,” Nicholas told her.

They camped that night below the escarpment, just before the path began

the climb up the vertical wall.

Nicholas led her well off the path, into a heavily wooded gully, and

built a small screened fire that could not be seen from the trail.

Here at last she relented and allowed him to examine her knee. It was

bruised and swollen, and hot to the touch.

“You shouldn’t be walking on this,” he told her.

“Do I have any option?” she asked, and he had no reply. He wetted his

bandana from the water bottle and bound up her leg As tightly as he

dared without cutting Off the circulation. Then he found a phial of

Brufen in his burn-bag and made her take two of these anti,

inflaminatories.

“It feels better already,” she told him.

They shared the last bar of survival -rations from his pack, sitting

hunched up over the fire and talking quietly, still subdued and shaken

by their experiences.

“What will happen when we reach the top?” Royan asked. “Will the trucks

still be parked where we left them?

Will the men that Boris left to guard them still be there?

What will happen if we run into the men from Pegasus again?”

“I can’t give you any answers. We will just have to face each problem as

it comes up.”

“One thing I am looking forward to when we reach Addis Ababa – reporting

the massacre of Tamre and the others to the Ethiopian police. I want

Helm and his gang to pay for what they have done.”

He was quiet for a while before he replied. “I don’t know if that is the

wisest thing to do,” he ventured at last.

“What do you mean? We. were witnesses to murder.

We cannot let them get away with it.”

“Just remember that we want to return to Ethiopia. If we make a huge

fuss now, we will have the entire valley swarming with troops and

police. It may put an end to our further attempts to solve Taita’s

riddle, and to trace the tomb of Marnose.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said thoughtfully. “But still, it was

murder, and Tamre-‘

“I know, I know,” he soothed her. “But there are more certain ways of

wreaking vengeance on Pegasus than trying to turn them over to Ethiopian

justice. Consider for the moment the fact that Nogo is working with

Helm. We saw him in the helicopter. If Pegasus have an army colonel in

their pay, who else is working for them? The police? The head of the

army? Members of the cabinet? We just don’t know at this stage.”

“I hadn’t thought about that either,” she admitted.

“Let’s begin to think African from here on, and take a leaf out of

Taita’s scrolls. Like him we must be devious and cunning. We don’t go

rushing in shouting accusations. If we could just sneak out of the

country, leaving everybody to believe that we are buried under the

avalanche, that might be ideal. It would make our return to the gorge

that much easier. Unfortunately I don’t think we will be able to get

away with that. But from now on, we should be as cagey and careful as

circumstances permit.”

She stared into the dancing flames for a long while, then sighed and

asked, “You said there is a better vengeance to he had on Pegasus. What

did you have in mind?”

“Why, simply whisking Marnose’s treasure out from under their noses.”

She laughed for the first time that long cruel day. “You are right, of

course. Whoever owns Pegasus wants it desperately enough to kill for it.

We must hope that depriving him of it will hurt him almost as badly as

he has hurt us.”

Both of them were so tired that it was already half-light’when they woke

the next morning.

As soon as Royan tried to stand she groaned and sank back. He went to

her immediately, and she made no protest when he placed her bare leg

across his lap.

He unwrapped the bandana, and frowned as he saw the knee. It was nearly

twice its normal girth, and the bruising was plum and ripe grape. He wet

the bandana again, and rewrapped the knee. He made her take the last two

Brufen from the phial, and then helped her to her feet.

“How does it feel?” he asked anxiously, and she hobbled a few paces and

smiled at him bravely.

“It will be all right as soon as I walk the stiffness out of it, I’

sure.”

He looked up the escarpment. So close in under the wall, the height was

foreshortened, but he recalled every tortuous step of the way. It had

taken them a full day to come down.

“Of course it will.” He smiled encouragement at her, and took her arm.

“Lean on me. It’ll be a stroll in the park.

They toiled upwards all that morning. The trail seemed to rise more

steeply with every pace they took. She never complained, but she was

ashen pate and sweating with the pain. By midday they had not yet

reached the waterfall, and Nicholas made her stop to rest. They had

nothing to eat, but she drank thirstily from the water bottle. He did

not try to ration her, but limited himself to a single mouthful.

When she tried to rise, and go on, she gasped and staggered so violently

that she might have fallen if he had not steadied her.

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” she swore bitterly. “It’s stiffened up on me.”

“Never mind,” he said cheerfully, and stripped his bumbag of all but the

most crucial items of equipment. He kept the dik-dik skin, however,

rolling it into a tight ball and stuffing it into the bag. Then he

rebuckled it around his waist, and grinned at her cheerfully. “Skinny

little thing like you. Hop on my back.”

“You can’t carry me up there.” She looked up the trail, steep as a

ladderway, and was aghast.

“It’s the only train leaving from this station,” he told her, and

offered her his back. She crawled up on to’ it.

“Don’t you think you should dump the dik-dik skin?” she asked.

“Perish the thought!” he said, and started up.

It was slow and heavy-going. After a while he had nothing left over for

talking, and he trudge’ upwards in dogged silence. Sweat drenched his

shirt, but she found neither the wet warmth of it that permeated her

blouse on to her own skin, nor the strong masculine odour of it

offensive. Instead, it was comforting and reassuring.

Every half hour he stopped until his breathing became regular and even

again. Then he opened his eyes and grinned at her.

“Hi ho, Silver!” He pushed himself to his feet, and bowed his back for

her to scramble aboard.

As the day wore on, his jokes became more forced and feeble. By late

afternoon the pace was down to an exhausted plod, and at the more

difficult places he had to pause and gather himself before stepping up.

She tried to help him by climbing down from his back, and supporting

herself on his shoulder as they struggled over the more arduous pitches,

but even with this respite she knew that he was burning up the very last

of his strength.

Neither of them could truly credit their achievement when they reeled

around another corner of the track and saw before them the waterfall,

spilling down like a white lacy curtain across the trail. Nicholas

staggered into the cavern behind the sheet of falling water and lowered

her to the floor. Then he collapsed and lay like a dead man.

It was dark when he had at last recovered sufficiently to open his eyes

and sit up. While he was resting Royan had gathered’some wood from the

monks’ stockpile and managed to get a small fire going.

“Good girl,” he told her. “If ever you want a job as a housekeeper-

“Don’t tempt me.” She hobbled over to him, and examined the cut in his

scalp. “Nice healthy scab,” she told him, and then suddenly and

impulsively she hugged his head to her bosom and stroked his dusty,

sweat-stiff hair off his forehead.

“Oh, Nicky! How can I ever repay you for what you did for me today?”

A flippant reply rose to his lips, but even in his weakened state he had

the good sense to bite it back. He was in no state to attempt any

further intimacy. So he lay in her embrace, enjoying the feel of her

body against his, but not taking the risk of scaring her off with a move

of his own.

At last she released him gently, and sat back. “I very much regret, sir,

that the housekeeper cannot offer you smoked salmon and champagne for

your dinner. How about a mug of mountain water, pure and nourishing?”

“I think we can do better than that.” He took the drycell torch from his

burn’bag, and by its beam selected a round, fist-sized stone from the

floor of the cavern. With this in his right hand he turned the light

upwards, and played it over the cavern roof. Immediately there was a

rustling of wings and the alarmed cooing of the rock pigeons that were

roosting on the ledges. Nicholas manoeuvred into position below them,

dazzling them with the torch beam.

With his first throw he brought down a brace of them, fluttering and

squawking to the cavern floor, while the rest of the flock exploded out

into the night in a great clattering uproar of frantic wings. Nicholas

pounced on the downed birds and with a practised flick of the wrist

wrung their necks.

“How do you fancy a juicy slice of roast pigeon?” he asked her.

She lay propped on one elbow, and he sat cross-legged facing her, each

of them plucking the vinous-maroon and grey feathers from one of the

pigeon carcasses. Even when it came to drawing the bird, she was not

squeamish, as many other women might have been faced with the same task.

This, together with her stoical performance during the day’s struggle up

the mountain, enhanced his opinion of her. She had repeatedly proved to

him how game and plucky she was. His feelings towards her were

strengthening and maturing every day.

Concentrating on removing the fine bristles from the puckered breast

skin of the bird, she said, “It is beyond all doubt now that the

material stolen in the raid on our camp is in Pegasus hands.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Nicholas nodded, “and we know from the

antennae at their base camp above the falls that they have satellite

communications. We can place a pretty certain bet that Jake Helm has

already telefaxed it through to the big man, whoever he may be.”

“So he has all the details of the stele in Tanus’s tomb.

We know that he already has the seventh scroll in his possession. If he

isn’t an expert Egyptologist himself, he must have somebody in his pay

who is. Wouldn’t you agree with that?”

I would guess that he can read hieroglyphics himself.

I would think that he must be an avid collector. I know the type. It is

an obsession with them.”

“I know the type as well.” She smiled at him. “There is one sitting not

a thousand miles away from me at this very moment.”

“ToucV’ he laughed, and held up his hands in surrender. “But I have only

been lightly bitten by the bug, compared to others I could name. Those

other two on Duraid’s list, for instance.”

“Peter Walsh and Gotthold von Schiller,” she reeled off the names.

“Those two are homicidal collectors,,” he confirmed. “I -am sure neither

of them would hesitate to kill for the chance of having Pharaoh Mamose’s

treasure to themselves.”

“But from what I know about them, both of them are billionaires, at

least in dollar terms.”

“Money has nothing to do with it, don’t you see. If they laid hands upon

it, they would never ever dream of selling a single artefact from the

hoard. They would lock it all away in some deep vault, and not let

another living soul la eyes upon it. They would gloat on it in private –

it’s a bizarre, masturbatory passion.”

“What an odd word to describe it,” she protested.

“But accurate, I assure you. It’s a sexual thing a compulsion, like that

of a serial killer.”

“I love all things Egyptian, but I don’t think I can even imagine a

craving that intense.”

“You must remember that these are not ordinary men whom we are

considering. Their wealth allows’them to pander to any appetite’. All

the normal, natural human appetites soon become jaded and satiated. They

can have anything they want. Any man or any woman. Any thing, any

perversion, whether legal or not. In the end they have to find something

that no one else can ever have. It’s the only thing that can still give

them the old thrill.”

“So in whoever is behind Pegasus we are dealing with a madman?” she

asked softly.

“Much more than that,” he corrected her. “We are enormously wealthy and

powerful dealing with an maniac, who in his disease will stop at

nothing.”

They picked the cold carcasses of the roasted pigeons for their

breakfast. Then, while the other one tactfully went to the back of the

cavern an averted his or her gaze, they took turns to strip naked and

bathe under the waterfall.

After the heat of the gorge the water was icy cold. It battered them

with the force of a fire hose. Royan hopped on her good leg, gasping and

whimpering under the torrent, and emerged covered in goose-pimples and

shuddering blue with cold. However, it refreshed her, and even in her

filthy, sweat-stinking clothes it gave her heart to start out on the

last bitter climb to the summit.

Before leaving the cavern they examined each other’s injuries again.

Nicholas’s scalp wound was heating cleanly, but Royan’s knee was no

better than the previous day. The bruises were starting to turn a

virulent puce, the colour of decomposing liver, and the swelling was

unabated. There was very little he could do for it, other than strapping

it again with the bandana.

At last Nicholas admitted defeat, and abandoned his burn-bag and the

roll of dik’dik skin. He knew that he was reaching the limit of his

physical reserves, and he realized that, light as these items were,

every extra pound that he carried today might mean the difference

between reaching the summit or breaking down on the trail. He retained

only the three rolls of undeveloped film, each in its plastic capsule.

These were their only record of the hieroglyphics’ on the stele in

Tanus’s tomb. He dared not risk losing them, so he buttoned them into

the breast pocket of his khaki shirt. He tucked both the bag and the

skin into a crack in the wall at the back of the cavern, determined to

retrieve them at some later date.

And so they started out on the last but most onerous leg of the trail.

To begin with Royan was on her own two feet, but leaning heavily on his

shoulder. However, before the first hour was over her knee could no

longer take the strain, and she subsided on to a rock on the edge of the

pathway.

“I am being an awful nuisance, aren’t I?

“Come on board, lady. Always room for a small one.” With Royan perched

on Nicholas’s back, her injured leg sticking out stiffly in front of

her, they toiled upwards, but their progress was even slower than it had

been the day before. Nicholas was forced to pause and rest at shorter

and shorter intervals. On the easier pitches she dismounted and hopped

along on one leg beside him, steadying herself with one hand on his

shoulder. Then she would collapse, and he had to lift her to her feet

and pull her up on to his back once again.

The journey descended into nightmare, and both of them lost all sense of

the passage of time. Hours blended with hours into a single unremitting

agony. At one stage they lay beside each other on the path, sick and

nauseated with thirst and exhaustion and pain. They had emptied the

water bottle an hour ago, and there was no more on this section of the

path – nothing to drink until they reached the summit and were reunited

with the Dandera river.

“Go on and leave me here, she whispered hoarsely.

He sat up immediately and stared at her. “Don’t be silly. I need you for

ballast.”

“It can’t be much further to the top,” she insisted. “You can come back

with some of Boris’s men to help carry me.”

“If they are still there, and if Pegasus doesn’t find you first.” He

stood up a little unsteadily. “Forget it. You are coming along on this

ride, all the way.”And he hoisted her to her feet.

He made her count aloud every step he took, and at every hundredth he

paused and rested. Then he started the next hundred, with her counting

softly in his ear, clinging with both arms around his neck. The whole

universe seemed to shrink in upon them to the ground directly at his

feet. They no longer saw the rock cliff on one side nor the deep void of

space on the other. When he lurched or jolted her and the pain shot

through her knee, she closed her eyes and tried not to let her voice

betray it to him as she kept counting.

When he rested, he had to lean against the cliff face, not trusting his

legs to get him up again if he lay down. He dared not lower her to the

ground. The effort of lifting her again would be too much. He no longer

had the strength for it.

“It’s almost dark,” she whispered in his ear. “You must stop here for

the night. It’s enough for one day. You are killing yourself, Nicky.”

“Another hundred, he mumbled.

“No, Nicky. Put me down!’

For answer he pushed off from the rock wall with his shoulder and

staggered on upwards.

“Cound’ he ordered.

“Fifty-one, fifty-two,” she obeyed. Suddenly the gradient altered so

sharply under his feet that he almost fell.

The path had levelled out, and like a drunkard he reached up for a step

that wasn’t there.

He staggered and then caught his balance. He stood teetering on the

brink of the precipice and peered into the dusk ahead of him, at first

unable to credit what he was seeing. There were lights in the gloom, and

he thought that he had begun to hallucinate. Then he heard men’s voices,

and he shook his head to clear it and bring himself back to reality.

“Oh, dear God. You have made it. We are at the top$ Nicky. There are the

vehicles. You did it, Nicky. You did it.

He tried to speak, but his throat had closed up and no words came. He

reeled forward towards the lights, and Royan cried out weakly on his

back.

“Help us here. Please help us.” First in English and then in Arabic.

“Please help us.”

There were startled cries and the sounds of running men. Nicholas sank

down slowly into the fine highland grass and let Royan slide off his

back. Dark figures gathered around them, chattering in Amharic, and

friendly hands seized them and half-carried, half-dragged them towards

the lights. Then a torch was shone into Nicholas’s face and a very

English voice said, “Hello, Nicky. Nice surprise. I came down from Addis

to look for your corpse. Heard you were dead. Bit premature, what?”

“Hello, Geoffrey. Good of you to take the trouble.”

“I dare say you could use a cup of tea. You look a bit done in,” said

Geoffrey Tennant. “Never realized that your beard had ginger and grey

bits in it. Designer stubble.

Fashionable. Suits you actually.”

Nicholas realized what a picture he must present, ragged and unshaven,

filthy and haggard with exhaustion.

“You remember Dr Al Simma? She has a bit of a dicky knee. Wonder if you

would mind taking care of her?”

Then his legs gave way under him, and Geoffrey Tennant caught him before

he fell.

“Steady on, old boy.” He led him to a canvas-backed camp chair, and

seated him solicitously. Another chair was brought for Royan.

“Letta chai hqPa!” Geoffrey gave the universal call of an Englishman in

Africa, and minutes later thrust mugs of steaming over-sweetened tea

into their hands.

Nicholas saluted Royan with his mug. “Here’s to us.

There’s none like us!’

They both drank deeply, scalding their tongues, but the caffeine and

sugar hit their bloodstreams like a charge of electricity.

“Now I know I am going to live,’Nicholas sighed.

“Don’t want to be pushy, Nicky, but do you mind telling me what the hell

is going on here?” Geoffrey asked.

“Why don’t you tell me?” Nicholas countered. He needed time to evaluate

the situation. What did Geoffrey know and who had told him? Geoffrey

obliged immediately.

“First thing we heard was that white hunter chappie of yours, Boris, had

been fished out of the river near the Sudanese border, absolutely

riddled with bullet holes. The crocs and catfish had snacked on his

face, so the border police identified him by the documents in his money

belt.”

Nicholas glanced across at Royan and cautioned her with a frown.

“Last time we saw him, he went off on a scouting expedition onhis own,’

Nicholas explained. “He probably ran into the same bunch of shufta who

raided our camp four nights ago.”

“Yes, we heard about that too. Colonel Nogo here radioed in a report to

Addis.”

Neither of them had recognized Nogo in the crowd of men. It was only

when he stepped forward into the light of the camp lanterns that Royan

stiffened, and such an expression of loathing flashed across her face

that Nicholas reached across surreptitiously and took her hand to

restrain her from any indiscretion. After a moment she relaxed and

composed her features.

“I am very relieved to see you, Sir Quenton-Harper.

You have given us all a very worrying few days,” said Nogo.

“I do apologize,” said Nicholas smoothly.

Please, sir, I meant no offence. It is just that we had a report from

the Pegasus Exploration Company that you and Dr Al Simma had been caught

up in a blasting accident. I was present when Mr Helm of the exploration

company warned you that they were conducting blasting in the gorge.”

“But you-‘ Royan flared bitterly, and Nicholas squeezed her hand hard to

stop her going on.

It was probably our own carelessness, as you suggest.

Nevertheless, Dr Al Simma has been injured and we are I both badly

shaken up by the accident. More important than that, however, is the

fact that a number of other people, camp’staff and monks from the

monastery have been killed in the shufta raid and in the blasting

accident.

As soon as we get back to Addis I will make a full statement to the

authorities.”

“I do hope that you don’t think any blame attaches Nogo started, but

Nicholas cut him short.

“Of course not. Not your fault at all. You warned us about the danger of

shufta in the gorge. You were not present, so what could you have done

to prevent any of this? I would say that you have done your duty in the

most exemplary fashion.”

Nogo looked relieved. “You are most gracious to say so, Sir

Quenton-Harper.”

Nicholas studied him for a moment longer. He seemed the most amiable of

young men behind the metal-rimmed spectacles, so concerned and eager to

please. For a moment Nicholas almost believed that he had been mistaken,

and that it had been somebody else that he had seen in the jet Ranger,

hovering over the avalanche site like a vulture searching for their dead

bodies.

Nicholas forced himself to smile in his most friendly manner. “I would

be most grateful if you could do me a favour, Colonel.”

“Of course,’Nogo agreed readily. “Anything at all.”

“I left a bag and one of my hunting trophies in the cavern under the

Dandera waterfall. The bag contains our passports and travellers’

cheques. Very grateful if you could send one of your men down to bring

it up for me.”

While giving Nogo directions on how to find his possessions, he derived

a perverse enjoyment from sending his would-be assassin on such a

trivial errand. Then he turned back to his friend so that Nogo would not

pick up the vindictive glint in his eyes. “How did you get here,

Geoffrey?”

“Light plane to Debra Maryam. There is an emergency landing field there.

Colonel Nogo met us, and brought us -the rest of the way by army jeep,”

Geoffrey explained. “The pilot and the aircraft are waiting for us at

Debra Maryam.”

Geoffrey broke off and spoke to the camp staff in execrable Amharic,

before turning back to Nicholas. “I have just arranged a hot bath for

you and Dr Al Simma.

After that, a meal and a good night’s sleep should work wonders.

Tomorrow we can fly back to Addis. No reason why we shouldn’t be there

by tomorrow evening at the latest.”

He patted Royan’s shoulder, disguising his carnal interest in her behind

a benign avuncular smile. “I must say I am rather pleased not to have to

go traipsing down into the Abbay gorge looking for the pair of you. I

hear that it’s a pretty beastly part of the world.”

explained to chase the goats off the emergency airfield at Debra Maryam.

In the meantime Nicholas was stuffing the roll of dik-dik skin under the

rear passenger seat. One of Nogo’s sergeants you mind, Dr Al Simma, if

I sit in front?

Terribly rude of me, but I am inclined to suffer from malde air. Ha ha!”

Geoffrey Royan as they waited for three small boys to had made a night

descent of the escarpment, and had delivered both his bag and the skin

while they were breakfasting that morning.

Nogo gave them a smart salute as they taxied out in a cloud of dust.

Nicholas waved and smiled at him through the side window, murmuring,

“Screw you, Nogo, screw you very much indeed.”

When at last the pilot lifted the little Cessna 260 off the rough grass

strip, the horizon over the Abbay gorge resembled a field of cosmic

mushrooms, vast thunderheads reaching up into the stratosphere. The air

beneath them i was turbulent as a storm sea and they were thrown about

mercilessly in the rear seats. Up in front Geoffrey seemed to be faring

no better. He was very quiet and took no interest in their conversation.

There had been no opportunity for them to talk privately the previous

evening, what with either Geoffrey or Nogo hovering within earshot at

all times. Now with their heads close together, the engine beat covering

their voices and Geoffrey occupied with his own queasy thoughts, they

were able to concoct their story.

Geoffrey had made it clear that the British Ambassador in Addis was less

than delighted with the inconvenience they had caused him. Apparently

there had been a string of faxes from Whitehall since they had been

reported missing. Added to that, the Ethiopian Commissioner of Police

was anxious to question them. They had to make sure that they did not

implicate Mek Nimmur in the killing of Boris Brusilov, and at the same

time they must not alert or alarm Pegasus in any way. They realized that

the reaction from that quarter would be swift and probably lethal if

they gave the least suspicion that they knew who the other players were

in Taita’s game.

Most of all they must avoid antagonizing the Ethiopian authorities, or

give them any cause to cancel their visas and declare them to be

undesirable immigrants. They agreed to feign ignorance and play the role

of innocents caught up in affairs which they had not precipitated and

which they did not understand.

By the time that they landed at Addis Ababa they had prepared their

story and rehearsed it thoroughly. As soon as the Cessna pulled on to

the hardstand in front of the airport buildings and the pilot cut the

engine, Geoffrey came back to life again, only a little green around the

gills, and handed Royan down the aircraft steps with a flourish.

“Of course, you will stay at the residence,” he told them. “The hotels

in town are too dreadful to contemplate, and HE has a half-decent chef

and a passable wine cellar. I will rustle up some togs for both of you.

My missus is about the same size as you, Dr Al Simma, and Nicky will fit

into my gear at a pinch. Thank God, I have a spare dinner jacket. HE is

a bit of a stickler for form.”

The British Ambassador’s residence had been built during the reign of

the old Emperor, Haile Selassie, before Mussolini’s invasion in the

1930s. Set on the outskirts of the town, it was an example of the better

colonial architecture, with a thatched roof and wide verandas. The

lawns, tended by. a host of gardeners, were wide and green, contrasting

with the brilliant crimson of the poinsettia. The mansion had survived

both the revolution and the war of liberation that followed.

At the front entrance Geoffrey handed them over to an Ethiopian butler

in a long, spotlessly white shamnw, who showed them to adjoining

bedrooms on the second floor. Nicholas heard the bathwater running in

Royan’s suite next door as he lay in his own brimming bath, sipping a

whisky and soda and twiddling the taps with his big toe.

Then there was the murmur of the doctor’s voice from next door as he

attended to Royan’s knee.

Geoffrey’s dinner jacket was loose round his waist and too short in the

arms and legs, and his shoes pinched, added to which Nicholas was in

need of a haircut, he realized, as he surveyed himself in the mirror.

“No help for it, now, he decided with resignation, and went to knock on

Royan’s door.

“I say!” he exclaimed as she opened it. Sylvia Tennant had loaned her a

lime’green cocktail dress that set off Royan’s olive skin marvellously

well, Royan had washed her hair and left it loose on her shoulders. He

felt his pulse accelerate like a teenager on his first date, and laughed

at himself.

“You look absolutely scrumptious,” he told her, and meant it.

“Thank you, sir,” she laughed back at him, “and you look very dashing

yourself May I take your arm?”

“I was hoping to carry you. Addictive activity.”

“Those days are over,” she told him, and brandished the carved ebony

walking-stick with which the butler had provided her. She used it on her

bad side. As they started down the long corridor, she asked in a

whisper, “What is the name of our host?”

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador, Sir Oliver Bradford KCMG.”

“Which stands for Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George,

right?” she asked.

“No,” he corrected her, “it stands for Kindly Call Me God.”

“You are impossible!” She giggled, and then became serious. “Did you

manage to send-the fax to Mrs. Street?”

“It went through at the first attempt and she acknowledged. Sends you

her salaams, and promises to have some information about Pegasus double

pronto.” It was a mild evening and Sir Oliver was waiting to greet them

on the veranda. Geoffrey hurried forward to make the introductions. The

Ambassadot-bad a bush of white hair and a red face. Geoffrey had warned

them about him and his view on troublesome tourists, but his hostile

frown started to fade as soon as he laid eyes on Royan.

There were a dozen other guests for dinner apart from Geoffrey and

Sylvia Tennant, and Sir Oliver took Royan’s arm and led her around the

group introducing her. Nicholas trailed along behind them, resigned by

now to the fact that Royan had that effect on most men.

“May I present General Obeid, the Commissioner of Police,” Sir Oliver

said. The head of the Ethiopian police force was tall and very

dark-complexioned, suave and elegant in his blue mess uniform. He bowed

over Royan’s hand.

believe that we have an appointment to meet tomorrow morning. I look

forward to that with the keenest pleasure.”

Royan glanced at Sir Oliver uncertainly. She had been told nothing of

this.

“General Obeid wants to know from you and Sir Nichola a little more

about this business in, the Abbay gorge,” Sir Oliver explained. “I took

the liberty of having my secretary make the appointment.”

“Just a routine interview, I assure you both, Dr Al Simma and Sir

Nicholas. I will take up very little of your time, I promise you that.”

“Of course we will do everything that we can to assist you” Nicholas

told him politely. “What time are we coming to see you?”

“I believe we are meeting at eleven in the morning, if that suits you.”

“A most civilized hour,’Nicholas agreed.

“My driver will pick you up at ten-thirty, and take you down to police

headquarters,” Sir Oliver promised.

At the dinner table Royan was seated between Sir Oliver and General

Obeid. She was pretty and charming, and both men were attentive.

Nicholas realized that he would have to become accustomed to sharing her

company with other men; he had had her to himself for much too long.

For his own part, Nicholas found Lady Bradford at the other end of the

table rather heavy-going. She was a second wife, thirty years younger

than her husband, with a pronounced London accent and an even more

pronounced common streak, with a mane of dyed blonde hair and an

improbable bust which overflowed her sequined cleavage.

An old man’s folly, Nicholas concluded. It appeared that she had made

herself an expert on the genealogy of the English aristocracy – in other

words she was an arrant snob.

She questioned him closely on his antecedents, insisting on going back

several generations.

In the end she called to her husband down the table, “Sir Nicholas owns

Quenton Park. Did you know that, dear?” And then she turned back to

Nicholas. “My husband is a very keen shot.”

Sir Oliver looked suitably impressed by his wife’s intelligence.

“Quenton Park, hey? I read an article in the Shooting Times the other

day. You have a drive there called the “High Beeches”. Is that right?”

“The “High Larches”,’Nicholas corrected him.

“Some of the best birds in Britain. That’s what they said,” Sir Oliver

enthused, looking eager and expectant.

“I don’t know about that,’Nicholas protested modestly.

“But we are rather proud of them. You must come and have a shot at them

next time you are home – as my guest, Of course.”

From that moment Sir Oliver’s attitude towards Nicholas altered

dramatically. He became affable and solicitous, even going so far as to

send the butler to fetch a bottle of the 1954 Lafite.

“You have made a good impression,” Geoffrey murmured wryly. “HE doesn’t

waste the 1954 on anybody but the chosen few.”

It was after midnight when Nicholas was at last able to escape from his

hostess and rescue Royan from Sir Oliver and General Obeid. He led her

away, supporting her as she limped along fetchingly at his side,

avoiding Geoffrey Tennant’s knowing and speculative gaze until they had

negotiated the first landing of the staircase.

“Well, you were definitely the star of the evening,” he told her.

“You had Lady Bradford purring like a cat,” she counterattacked, and he

was delighted to hear the faint tone of possessive jealousy in her

voice. He had not been the only one.

At her door she solved any problems by offering him her cheek, and he

kissed it chastely.

“Those bosoms!” she murmured. “Don’t have nightmares about them.” And

she closed the door behind her.

He felt quite jaunty as he went to his own room, but as he opened the

door he saw the envelope lying at the threshold. During dinner, one of

the servants must have pushed it under the door. Quickly he tore open

the flap of the envelope and unfolded the pages that it contained. His

expression changed as he scanned through them, and he left the bedroom

and went back to tap on Royan’s door.

After a moment she opened it a crack, and peeped out at him. He saw the

confusion in her eyes, and he hurried to allay her suspicions.

“Reply to my fax.” He showed her the sheaf of papers.

“Are you decent?”

“One moment.” She closed the door, and opened it again only seconds

later. “Come in, she said.

She indicated the decanter on the cabinet. “Would you like a nightcap?”

“I think I need one. We know who runs Pegasus now.”

“Tell me!” she ordered, but he took his time pouring a Scotch, and then

smiled at her over his shoulder. “How about a soda water for you?”

“Damn you, Nicholas Quenton-Harper.” She stamped her stockinged foot.

“Don’t you dare torment me. Who is it?, “When I first met you, you were

a dutiful little Arab girl. One who realized the superiority of the mate

species.

Listen to you now. I think I have spoiled you.”

“I think I should warn you that you are flirting with disaster.” She

tried to suppress her smile. “Tell me, please, Nicky.”

“Sit down,” he ordered, and took the armchair facing her. He unfolded

the fax and then looked up at her. “Mrs. Street has worked fast. In my

fax, I suggested that she rang my stockbroker in the city. We are three

hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, so it seems that she must have

caught him before he left his office. Anyway, she has all the

information I asked for.”

“Stop it, Nicky, or I will tear my bodice and scream and cause a

scandal. Tell me!’

He rustled the pages, and then read. “Pegasus Exploration is registered

on the Sydney Stock Exchange in Australia with a share capital of twenty

million-‘

“Don’t go through all the details,” she pleaded. “Just name the man.”

“Sixty-five percent of the shares in Pe asus are owned by Valhalla

Mining Company,” he continued imperturbably, “and the remaining

thirty-five percent are owned by Anaconda Metals of Austria.”

She had given up pleading with him and sat forward in her chair,

watching him with a fixed gaze.

“Both Valhalla and Anaconda are fully-owned subsidiaries of HMI, Hamburg

Manufacturing Industries. All the shares in HMI are owned by the von

Schiller family trust, the sole trustees of which are Gotthold Ernst von

Schiller and his wife, Ingemar.”

“Von Schiller,” she repeated softly, still staring at him.

“Duraid had him on his list of possible sponsors. He must have read the

Wilbur Smith book – I know it has been translated into German. He

probably contacted Duraid just the way that you did. But he was not put

off as easily as you were by Duraid’s denials.”

“That’s the way I read it also, Nicholas nodded. “It would have been

easy to sniff around the Cairo museum, and find that Duraid and you were

working on something big. The rest of it we know only too well.”

“But how did he move Pegasus into Ethiopia so quickly?”she demanded.

“That must have been a stroke of luck on von Schiller’s side – the luck

of the devil. Geoffrey tells me that Pegasus obtained a concession to

prospect for copper from President Mengistu five years ago, just before

he was ousted. Von Schiller was already in place, even before he heard

about the scrolls. All it involved was moving the base camp down from

the north where they were working and relocating it on the escarpment of

the Abbay gorge, to be ready to take advantage of any fresh

developments. We will probably find his dirty tricks that Jake Helm is

one of his heavies, specialist that he sends to any of his trouble spots

around the world. It’s apparent that he has Nogo in his pocket.

We waltzed right into their arms.”

Royan looked thoughtful. “It all makes sense. As soon as Helm reported

our arrival to his master, von Schiller must have ordered him to set up

the shufta raid on our camp. Oh, sweet heaven, I hate him. I have never

laid eyes on him, but I hate him more than I thought I was capable of

hating anything or anybody.”

“Well, at least we know now who we are dealing with.”

“Not altogether,” she demurred. “Von Schiller must have had a man in

Cairo. Somebody on the inside there.”

“What is the name of your minister?” Nicholas wanted to know.

“No,” she denied it instantly. “Not Atalan Abou Sin. I have known him

all my life. He is a tower of integrity.”

“It’s amazing what effect a bribe of a hundred thousand dollars or so

can have on the foundations of even the best constructed tower,”

Nicholas observed quietly, and she looked stricken.

They were the only two at breakfast. Sir Oliver had left for his office

an hour earlier, and Lady Bradford had not yet risen to greet the clear,

cool highland morning, “I hardly slept last night, thinking about

Atalan. Oh, Nicky, I can’t bear even the suspicion that he might be

involved in Duraid’s murder.”

“Sorry if I gave you a rough night, but we have to consider all the

angles,” he tried to soothe her, and then changed the subject. “We have

wasted enough time here.

Pegasus have got a clear run of the field at the moment. I want to get

back home, and start putting together our own expeditionary force for

the return.”

“Would you like me to get on to the airline and make our reservations?”

She stood up immediately. “I will go off and find a phone.”

“Finish your breakfast first.”

“I have had all I want.” She made for the door, and he called after her.

“No wonder you are so skinny- They tell me anorexia nervosa is a rotten

way to go.” And he helped himself to another slice of toast and

marmalade.

She was back within fifteen minutes. “Tomorrow afternoon at

three-thirty. Kenya Airways to Nairobi, connecting the same evening with

British Airways to Heathrow.”

“Well done.” He wiped his mouth on his napkin, and stood up. “Our car is

waiting to take us down to police headquarters to speak to your new

admirer, General Obeid.

Let’s go.”

There was a police officer waiting to meet them and usher them into the

headquarters building, through the private entrance. He introduced

himself as Inspector Galla and treated them with the greatest deference

as he led them through to the Commissioner’s suite.

General Obeid rose to his feet as soon as they entered his office, and

came around his desk to greet them. He was charming and affable, fussing

over Royan as he led them through to his private sitting room. Once they

were seated, Inspector Galla poured the inevitable tiny bowls of bitter

black coffee.

After a polite interval of small talk the general came directly to the

business in hand. “As I promised, I won’t detain you longer than is

absolutely necessary. Inspector Galla here will be recording your

statements. Firstly I would like to deal with the disappearance and

death of Major Brusilov. I presume you are aware that he was formerly an

officer in the Russian KGB?”

The interview lasted much longer than they had expected. General Obeid

was thorough, but unfailingly polite. Finally he had their statements

typed out by a police stenographer, and after they had read and signed

them, the general walked with them as far as the entrance where their

car was waiting. Nicholas recognized this as a mark of special favour.

“If there is anything I can do for you, anything that need, please do

not hesitate to call upon me. It has you been a great pleasure meeting

you, Dr Al Simma. You must come back to Ethiopia and visit us again

soon.”

“Despite our little misadventure, I have thoroughly enjoyed your

beautiful country” she told him sweetly. “You may see us again sooner

than you expect.”

“What a charming man,” she remarked, as they settled into the back seat

of Sir Oliver’s Rolls. “I really like him.”

“It would seem to be mutual,’said Nicholas.

yan’s words were prophetic. There were idenical envelopes addressed to

each of them lying at their places on the dining-room table the next

morning when they came down to breakfast.

Nicholas opened his as he ordered coffee from the waiter in his

ankle-length shamnia, and his expression changed as he read the note.

“Hello!” he exclaimed. “We made an even bigger impression on the boys in

blue than we realized. General Obeid wants to see me again.”He read

aloud from the note, “You are ordered to present yourself at police

headquarters at or before noon.”‘ Nicholas whistled softly. “Strong

language. No please or thank you.”

“Mine is identical.” Royan glanced at the note on an official police

letterhead. “What on earth do you suppose it means?”

“We will find out soon enough,” Nicholas promised her. “But it sounds a

little ominous. Methinks the love affair is over.”

This morning, when they arrived at police head, quarters, there was no

reception committee to welcome them. The guard at the private entrance

sent them around to the general charge office, where they were involved

in a long, confused discussion with the desk officer, who had only a

rudimentary knowledge of English. From previous experience in Africa

Nicholas knew better than to lose his temper, or even to let his

irritation show. Finally the desk officer held a long whispered

telephone conversation with some unknown person, at the end of which he

waved them airily towards a hard wooden bench against the far wall.

“You wait. Man come soon.” fill For the next forty minutes they shared

their seat with a colourful selection of other supplicants, applicants,

complainants and petty criminals. One or two of them were bleeding

copiously from assault by persons unknown, and yet others were in

manacles.

“It seems our star is on the wane,” Nicholas remarked as he held a

handkerchief to his nose. It was obvious that some of his neighbours had

not had a close acquaintance with soap and water for some time. “No more

VIP treatment.” At the end of forty minutes Inspector Galla, he who so

deferentially the day before, looked had treated them over the partition

and beckoned to them in a high-handed fashion.

He ignored Nicholas’s outstretched right hand and led them through to

one of the back rooms. There he did not offer them a seat but addressed

Nicholas coldly. “You are responsible for the loss of a firearm that was

in your possession.”

“That is correct. As I explained to you in my statement yesterday-‘

Inspector Galla cut him off. “The loss of a firearm due to negligence is

a very serious offence,” he said severely.

“There was no negligence on my part,” Nicholas denied.

“You left the firearm unguarded. You made no attempt to lock it in a

steel safe. That is negligence.”

“With respect,- Inspector, there is a notable dearth of steel safes in

the Abbay gorge.”

“Negligence,” Galla repeated. “Criminal negligence.

How are we to know that the weapon has not fallen into the hands of

elements opposed to the government?”

“You mean some unknown person may overthrow the government with a 275

Rigby?”Nicholas smiled.

Inspector Galla ignored the sally, and produced two documents from the

drawer of his desk. “It is my duty to ation orders on both you and Dr Al

serve these deport Simma. You have twenty-four hours to leave Ethiopia,

and thereafter you will be considered to be prohibited immigrants, both

of you.”

“Dr Al Simma has not lost any weapons,” Nicholas pointed out mildly. “In

fact as far as I am aware, she has never been even mildly negligent in

her entire life.” And again his comment was ignored.

“Please sign here to acknowledge that you have received and understood

the orders.”

“I would like to speak to General Obeid, the Commissioner of Police,’

said Nicholas.

“General Obeid left this morning for an inspection tour of the northern

frontier districts. He will not return to Addis Ababa for some weeks.”

“By which time we will be safely back in England?”

“Exactly.” Inspector Galla smiled for the first time, a thin, wintry

smirk. “Please sign here, and.here.”

“What happened?” Royan demanded, as the driver opened the door of the

Rolls for her and she settled into the seat beside Nicholas. “It was all

so sudden and unexpected. One moment everybody loved us, and the next we

are being booted down the stairs.”

“Do you want my guess?” Nicholas asked, and then went on without waiting

for her reply. “Nogo is not the only one in Pegasus’s back pocket.

Overnight Obeid has been in contact with von Schiller, and received his

orders.”

“Do you realize what this means, Nicky? It means that we will not be

able to return to Ethiopia. That puts the tomb of Mamose beyond our

grasp.” She stared at him with large dark eyes full of dismay.

“When Duraid and I visited Iraq and Libya, neither of us had letters of

invitation from either Saddam or Gadaffi, as I recall.”

“You look delighted at the prospect of breaking the law,” she accused.

“You are smirking all over your face.”

“After all, it is only Ethiopian law,” he pointed out virtuously. “Not

to be taken too seriously.”

“And it will be an Ethiopian prison they toss you into.

That you can take seriously.”

“You too,” he grinned, “if they catch us.”

You can be certain that HE has already registered a formal complaint

with the President’s office,” Geoffrey told them as he drove them to the

airport the next day. “He is most upset at the whole business, I can

tell you. Deportation orders and all that rot.

Never heard the likes.”

“Don’t fuss yourself, old boy,” Nicholas told him. “As it is, neither of

us intends coming back here again. No harm done.”

“It’s the principle of the thing. Prominent British subject being

treated like a common criminal. No respect shown.” He sighed. “Sometimes

I wish I had been born a hundred years ago. We wouldn’t have to put up

with this sort of nonsense. just send a gunboat.”

“Quite so, Geoffrey, but please don’t let it upset you.” Geoffrey

hovered around them like a cat with kittens while they checked in at the

Kenya Airways counter. They had only their hand luggage, two small cheap

nylon holdalls that they had bought that morning at a street market.

Nicholas had rolled his dik’dik skin into a ball and wrapped it in an

embroidered shamma that he had purchased in the same market.

Geoffrey waited with them until their flight was called and waved to

them after they passed through the barrier, aiming this affectionate

display more at Royan than Nicholas.

They had been allocated seats behind the wing, and Royan was beside the

window. The Kenya Airways plane started its engines and began to taxi

slowly past the airport buildings. Nicholas was arguing with a

stewardess who wanted him to stow his precious dik-dik skin in its

purple nylon bag in the overhead locker, while Royan peered out of the

porthole beside her for her last glimpse of Addis during takeoffs

Suddenly Royan stiffened in her seat, and while still gazing out of the

window reached across and seized Nicholas’s arm.

“Look!” she hissed with such venom in her tone that he leaned across her

to see what had excited her.

“Pegasus!” she exclaimed, and pointed to the Falco executive jet that

had just taxied in and parked at the far end of the airport buildings.

The small, sleek aircraft was painted grpen and on its tall tail fill

the scarlet horse reared on its hind legs in that stylized pose. While

they watched through the window, the door in the fuselage of the green I

Falcon was lowered, and a small reception committee waiting on the

tarmac pressed forward expectantly to greet the passengers as they

appeared in the doorway of the jet.

The first of these was a small man, neatly dressed in a cream tropical

suit and a white panama straw hat. Despite his size he exuded an air of

confidence and command, that special aura of power. His face was pale,

as though he had come from a northern winter, and it looked incongruous

“in this setting. His jaw was firm and stubborn, his nose I prominent

and his gaze beneath dark beetling eyebrows penetrating.

Nicholas’recognized him immediately. He had seen him often enough on the

auction floors at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. This man was not the type of

person whom anyone would forget in a hurry.

“Von Schiller!” he exclaimed, as the German surveyed with an imperial

gaze the men who waited on the tarmac below him.

“He looks like a bantam rooster,” Royan murmured, “or Thai’) a standing

cobra.”

Von Schiller raised his panama hat and ran down the steps of the Falcon

with a light, athletic tread, and Nicholas said quietly, “You wouldn’t

think that he is almost seventy.” moves like a man of forty,” Royan

agreed. “He “He must dye his hair and eyebrows – see how dark they are.”

“My oath!” Nicholas was startled. “Look who is here to greet him.”

There was the glint of sunlight on decorations and regimental insignia.

A tall figure in blue uniform detached itself from the welcoming group

and touched the shiny patent-leather brim of his cap in a respectful

salute, before taking von Schiller’s hand and shaking it cordially.

“Your erstwhile admirer, General Obeid. No wonder he could not meet us

yesterday. He was much too busy.”

“Look, Nicky,” Royan gasped. She was no longer watching the pair at the

foot of the steps, who were still clasping hands as they chatted with

animation. Her whole attention was focused on the top of the steps of

the Falcon jet, where another, younger, man had appeared. He was

bareheaded, and Nicholas had the impression of sallow skin and dense,

dark, wavy hair.

“Never seen him in my life before. Who is he?” Nicholas asked her.

“Nahoot Guddabi. Duraid’s assistant from the museum.

The man who now has his job.”

As Nahoot started down the steps of the Falcon their own aircraft

trundled on down the -tarmac, then swung out on to the main taxi-way and

blocked any further view of the gathering beside the Pegasus jet. Both

of them fell back in their seats and stared at each other for a long

moment.

Nicholas recovered his voice first.

“A witches’ sabbath. A convocation of the ugly ones.

We were lucky to witness it. There are no more secrets now. We know very

clearly who the opposition is.”

“Von Schiller is the puppet-master,” she agreed, breathless with anger

and horror. “But Nahoot Guddabi is his

,Bell hunting dog. Nahoot must be the one- who hired the killers in

Cairo and turned them loose on us. Oh God, Nicky, you it’s should have

heard him at the funeral, going on about how much he admired and

respected Duraid. The filthy, murib derous hypocrite!’

They were both silent until the aircraft had taken off and climbed to

cruise altitude, then Royan said quietly, “Of course, you were right

about Obeid. He is deep in von Schiller’s pocket also.”

“He may simply have been acting as the representative of the Ethiopian

government, paying respect to a major foreign concession-holder,

somebody who they hope is going to discover fabulous copper deposits in

their poverty stricken country and make them all rich.”

She shook her head firmly.

“If it was as simple as that, it would be one of the cabinet ministers

meeting him, not the chief of police, No, Obeid has the stink of

treachery on him, just the same as Nahoot.” kIN Seeing her husband’s

killers in the flesh had reopened the half-healed wounds of Royan’s

grief and mourning.

These bitter emotions were a flame that was burning he up ee, like the

bushfire in the trunk of a hollow forest tr consuming her from within.

Nicholas knew that he, could not quench that flame, that he could only

hope to distract her for a while. He talked to her quietly, turning her

dark thoughts away from death and vengeance to the challenge of Taita’s

game and the riddle of the lost tomb.

By the time that they had changed planes at Nairobi and landed at

Heathrow the following morning, the two of them had sketched out a plan

of action for their return to the Nile gorge and the exploration of

Taita’spool in the chasm. But although now Royan appeared on the surface

to be her usual calm and cheerful self once again, Nicholas knew that

the pain of her loss was still there beneath the surface.

They landed at Heathrow so early that they walked through the

immigration gates without running into a queue, and since they had no

bags in the hold they did not have to play the customary game of

roulette at the luggage carousel – will they arrive or won’t they?

carrying the dik-dik skin in the nylon bag under his arm, and with Royan

limping on her cane on his other arm, Nicholas sauntered through the

green channel of HM Customs, as innocent as a cherub from the roof of

the Sistine Chapel.

“You are so brazen,” she whispered to him once they were through and

clear. “If you can lie so convincingly to Customs, how can I ever trust

you again?”

Their luck held. There was no queue at the taxi rank, and in a little

over an hour after touch-down the taxi deposited them on the pavement

outside Nicholas’s town house in Knightsbridge. It was only eight-thirty

on a Monday morning.

While Royan showered, Nicholas went down to the corner shop under an

umbrella to fetch some groceries Then they shared the task of cooking

breakfast, Royan taking care of the toast while Nicholas whipped up his

speciality, a herb omelette.

“Surely you’re going to need expert help when we go back to the Abbay

gorge?” Royan observed, as she let the butter melt into the hot toast.

I already have the right man in mind. I have worked before,” he told

her. “Ex-Royal Engineers. Expert with hi in diving and underwater

construction. Retired and living in a little cottage in Devon. I suspect

he is a little short of the ready, and bored out of his considerable

mind. I expect him to jump at any opportunity to alleviate either

condition.”

As soon as they had finished breakfast, Nicholas told her, “I will do

the dishes. You take the films of the stele to be developed. There is a

one-hour service at the branch of Boots opposite Harrods.”

“That’s what I call a fair distribution of labour,” she remarked with a

long-suffering air. “You have a dishwasher, and it’s raining again

outside.”

“All right,” he laughed. “To sweeten the pill, I’ll lend you my

raincoat. While you are waiting for the films to be developed you can go

shopping to replace the togs you lost in the rockfalls I have some

crucial phone calls to make.”

As soon as she had left, Nicholas settled at his desk with a notepad at

one hand and the telephone at the other.

His first call was to Quenton Park, where Mrs. Street tried not to show

how delighted she was to have him home.

“Your desk is about two feet deep with mail awaiting your return. It’s

mostly bills.”

“Cheerful, aren’t we?”

“The lawyers have been pestering me, and Mr Markham from Lloyd’s has

been ringing every day.”

“Don’t tell any of them that I am back, there’s a good girl.” Nicholas

knew exactly what they wanted from him the same thing that persistent

callers always wanted, money. In this case it was not simply five

hundred guineas for an overdue tailor’s bill, but two and a half million

pounds. “It’s probably better if I stay in York, rather than at

Quenton,” he told Mrs. Street. “They won’t be able to find me at the

flat.”

He pushed his debts to the back of his mind, and concentrated on the

task at hand. “Have you got your pencil and notepad ready? All right,

here’s what I want you to do.”

It took him ten minutes to finish his dictation, and then Mrs. Street

read it back to him. “Okay. Get on with it, will you. We’ll be back this

evening. Dr Al Simma will be staying indefinitely. Ask the housekeeper

to prepare the second bedroom for her at the flat.”

Next he rang the number in Devon, and while the phone rang he imagined

the converted coast guard’s cottage of the cliffs overlooking a, grey,

storm-whipped on top winter sea. Daniel Webb was probably in his

workshop in the back garden, either tinkering with his 1935 Jaguar, the

great love of his life, or tying salmon flies. Fishing was his other

passion, the one that had originally brought them together.

“Hello?” Daniel’s voice was guarded and suspicious.

Nicholas could imagine him, his bald head freckled like a plover’s egg,

gripping the telephone with a hairy, workscarred fist.

ave a job for you. Are you a starter?”

“Sapper, I

“Where are we headed, Major?” Although it had been three years, he

recognized Nicholas’s voice instantly.

“Sunny climes and dancing girls. Same pay as the’last time.

“I’ a starter. Where do we meet?”

“At the flat. You remember it from last time.

bring your slide rule.” Nicholas knew that Tomorrow. Danny put no store

by these newfangled pocket computers.

“The jag is still in good nick. I’ll leave early and be there for lunch

tomorrow.”

Nicholas hung up, and then made two more calls: one to his Jersey bank,

and the other to the Cayman Islands.

The funds in both his emergency accounts were running low. His budget

for the expedition that he hadmorked out with Royan on the flight was

two hundred and thirty thousand. Like all budgets, he knew that it was

optimistic.

“Always add fifty percent,” he warned himself “Which that the cupboard

will be bare by the time we are mean finished. Let’s hope and pray that

you are not pulling our legs, Taita.”

He gave the passwords to the respective bank account ants and instructed

them to make transfers into his holding accounts, ready to draw on

immediately.

There were two more calls he had to make before they left for York. The

fate of all their plans hung on them, and the contacts that he had for

both of them were at the best tenuous, and at the worst chimerical.

The first number was engaged. He rang it five times more, and on each

occasion got- the irritating high-pitched busy tone in his ear. He tried

one last time and was answered by a reassuring west country accent.

“Good afternoon. British Embassy. How may I help you?, Nicholas glanced

at his wrist-watch. There was a three-hour time difference. Of course,

it would be afternoon in Addis.

“This is Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper calling from the UK. Is Mr Geoffrey

Tennant, your military attache, available, please Geoffrey came on the

line almost immediately. “My dear boy. So you made it all the way home.

Lucky you.”

“Just thought I would set your mind at rest. Knew you would be losing

sleep.”

“How is the charming Dr Al Simma?”

“She sends her love.”

“I wish I could believe you.” Geoffrey sighed dramatically.

“Big favour, Geoff. Do you know a Colonel Maryam Kidane at the Ministry

of Defence?”

“First-rate chap,” Geoffrey affirmed immediately. “Know him well. Played

tennis with him last Saturday, actually.

Demon backhand.”

“Please ask him to contact me urgently.” He gave Geoffrey the telephone

number of the flat in York. “Tell him it’s in connection with a rare

breed of Ethiopian swallow for the museum collection.”

(up to your shenanigans again, Nicky. Not enough that you get slung out

of Ethiopia on your ear. Now you are trading in rare birds. Probably

CITES Schedule One.

Endangered species.)

“Will you do it for me, Geoff?”

“Of course. Serve to Lead, old boy. Always the sucker.”

“I owe you one.”

“More than one. Half a dozen, more like it.” He had less success with

his next call. International Enquiries gave him a number in Matta. On

his first attempt he received an encouraging ri riging tone.

me,” he pleaded in a whisper, but on

“Pick it up, Jan the sixth ring an answering machine cut in.

“You have reached the head office of Africair Services.

There is nobody available to take your call at the moment.

Please leave your name and number and a short message after the tone. We

will get back to you as soon as possible.

Thank you.”Jannie Badenhorst’s rich South African accent was

unmistakable.

“Jannie. This is Nicholas Quenton-Harper. Is that broken-down old Herc

of yours still airworthy? This job should be a lark. What’s more, the

money is good. Call me at the flat in the UK. No hurry. Yesterday, or

the’ day before, will do just fine.”

Royan rang the doorbell a minute after he finished the last call, and he

ran down the stairs.

“Your timing is impeccable,” he told her as she came in with the end of

her nose pink with cold, shaking the raindrops off the coat he had lent

her. “Did you get the films developed?”

She pulled the yellow packet out of the coat pocket and brandished it

triumphantly.

“You are a master photographer,” she told him. “They have turned out

perfectly. I can read every character on the stele with the naked eye.

We are back in Taita’s game again.”

They spread the glossy photographs across his desktop and gloated over

them.

“You have had duplicates made? A set for each of us.

Excellent,” Nicholas approved. “The negatives will go into the safe

deposit box at my bank. We won’t take a chance on losing them the second

time around.”

Using his large magnifying glass, Royan studied each of the prints in

turn, and she picked out the clearest shot of each of the four sides of

the stele.

“These will be our working copies. I don’t think we are really going to

miss the rubbings that we lifted from the stone. These should suffice.”

She read aloud a snippet from one of the blocks of hieroglyphics. “‘The

cobra uncoils and lifts his jewelled hood. The stars of morning shine

within his eyes. Three times his black and slippery tongue kisses the

air.”‘ She was flushed with excitement. “I wonder what Taita is telling

us with that verse. Oh, Nicky, it’s so exciting to be unravelling the

mysteries again!’

“Leave it alone now he ordered sternly. “I know you.

Once you start, we’ll be here all night. Let’s get the Range Rover

packed up. It’s a long, hard haul up to York, and there is an AA warning

of black ice on the motorway. A bit of a change from the weather in the

Abbay gorge.”

She straightened up and shuffled the prints into a neat pile. “You are

right. Sometimes I do tend to get carried away.” She stood up. “Before

we go, may I make a phone call home?”

“By home, I take it that you mean Cairo?”

“Sorry. Yes, to Cairo. Duraid’s farnily7-‘

“Please! No need to explain. There is the phone. Help yourself I’ll be

waiting downstairs in the kitchen when you are finished. We both need a

cup of tea before we get going.”

She came down into the kitchen half an hour later looking guilty, and

told him directly, “I am afraid that I am going to be a nuisance again.

I have a confession to make.”

“Spit it out, he invited.

“I have to go back home – to Cairo,” she said, and he looked at her

startled. “Just for a few days,” she qualified hurriedly. “I was

speaking to Duraid’s brother. There are some of Duraid’s affairs that I

have to see to.”

I don’t like you going back there on your own,” he shook his head,

‘after your last experiences.”

“If our theory is correct, and Nahoot Guddabi was the danger, then he is

in Ethiopia now. I should be quite safe.”

“Still, I don’t like it. You are the key to Taita’s game.”

“Thank you kindly, Sir” she said with mock outrage. “Is that the only

reason you don’t want me bumped off?”

if forced into a corner, I may admit that I have also wn rather partial

to having you around.”

I’ll be back before you know I’ve even gone. Besides which, you will

have plenty to keep you busy while I am away.”

“I don’t suppose that I can stop you,” he grumbled.

When do you plan to leave?”

There’s a flight at eight this evening.”

(A bit sudden. I mean, we have only just arrived.” He made one last

feeble protest, then capitulated. “I will run you out to the airport.”

“No, Nicky. Heathrow is out of your way. I can catch the train.”

“I insist.”

On a Monday evening the traffic was reasonably light and, once they had

cleared the main built-up area, they made good time. The journey was

further lightened by their animated discussion as he related the

contents of the phone calls he had made in her absence.

“Through Maryam Kidane, I hope to be in contact with Mek Nimmur again

pretty soon. Mek is the kingpin of the whole plan Without him we cant

even make the first move on Taita’s bao board.”

He dropped her off at the departures entrance at Heathrow. “Phone me

tomorrow morning from Cairo to let me know you are all right, and when

you are coming back.

I’ll be at the flat.”

“Reversed charges,” she warned him as she offered him her cheek to kiss.

Then she slid across the seat and slammed the door behind her.

He watched her waiflike figure in the rear-view mirror as he pulled

away, and he was filled with melancholy and a sense of loss. Then quite

suddenly he was aware of a new sensation of disquiet. His early-warning

bells were jangling. Something unpleasant was afoot. Something ing nasty

was about to happen when she reached Egypt.

Another dangerous beast had escaped from ” its cage and was prowling the

darkness waiting its opportunity to pounce, but it was still too early

for him to discern its colour or shape.

“Please don’t let anything happen to her,” he spoke aloud, but he did

not know to whom his plea was addressed. He thought of turning back and

making her stay with him, but he had no rights in the matter, and he

knew she would not obey him. Short of physical force, there was no way

he could impose his will upon her. He had to let her go.

“But I don’t like it one little bit,” he reaffirmed.

His private secretary, and the other men who worked for him, knew

exactly what he expected of them. Everything was as he required it.

Gotthold von Schiller looked around the interior of the Quonset hut with

approval. Heim had done well in the time that he had been given to

prepare the base for his boss’s arrival.

His own private quarters occupied half the long portable building. They

were spartan, but sterilely clean and neat. His clothes hung in the

cupboard and his cosmetics and medicines were set out in the bathroom

cabinet. His private kitchen was fully equipped and stocked with

provisions. His own Chinese chef had flown out in the Falcon with him,

bringing everything with him that he needed to provide the meals that

his master demanded.

Von Schiller was a vegetarian, a non-smoker and a teetotaller. Twenty

years ago he had been a famous trencherman who loved the hearty food of

the Black Forest, the wines of the Rhine valley and the rich dark

tobaccos of Cuba. In those days he had been obese, with rolls of chin

sagging over his collar. Now, despite his age, he was as lean and fit

and vital as a racing greyhound.

In the autumn of his life, the pleasures were of the mind and the

emotions, more than of the physical senses.

He placed a higher value on inanimate objects than on living creatures,

either human or animal. A piece of stone carved by masons who had been

dead for thousands of years could excite him more than the soft warm

body of the most lovely young woman. He loved order and control.

Power over men and events sustained him more than did the taste of food.

Power and the possession of beautiful and unique objects were his

passions, now that his body was running down and his animal appetites

were losing their zest.

Every item of all that vast and priceless, collection of ancient

treasures that he had already assembled had been discovered by other

men. This was his chance, his last chance to make his own discovery, to

break the seals on the door of a Pharaoh’s tomb and be the first man in

four thousand years to gaze upon the contents. Perhaps that Was his real

hope for immortality, and there was no price in gold and human life he

was not fully prepared to pay for it.

Already men had died in this passion of his, and he cared not that there

would be other sacrifices. No price was too high.

He checked his image in the full-length mirror that hung on the wall

opposite his bed. He smoothed the thick, coarse, dark hair. Of course it

was dyed, but that was one of his few remaining conceits. Then he

crossed the uncarpeted wooden floor of his own quarters, and opened the

door into the long conference room which would be his headquarters over

the days to come.

The persons seated there rose to their feet immedi.

lately, their attitudes servile and their expressions obsequious. Von

Schiller strode to the head of the long table and stepped up on to the

block of wood covered with carpeting that his private secretary had

placed there for him. This block went everywhere with him. It was nine

inches high. From this elevation von Schiller looked down upon the men

and one woman who waited for him. He looked them over unhurriedly,

letting them stand a while.

>From the vantage point of his block, he was taller than any of them.

First he looked at Helm. The Texan had worked for him for over a decade.

Completely reliable he was strong both physically and mentally and would

follow orders without question or qualms. Von Schiller had come to rely

on him. He could send him anywhere in the world, from Zaire to

Queensland, from the Arctic Circle to the steaming equatorial forests,

and Helm would get the job done with the minimum of fuss and with very

few unpleasant consequences. He was ruthless but discreet, and like a

good hunting dog he knew his master.

From Helm he looked at the woman. butte Kemper was his private

secretary. She ordered and directed the details of his life, from his

food to his block, from his medicine to his social calendar, No man or

woman was ever received into his presence without her prior arrangement.

She was also his communications expert. The mass of electronic equipment

that occupied one wall of the hut was her preserve. He was able to find

her way through the ether with the- infallible instinct of a homing

pigeon. From the archaic art of the keyboard and Morse code ‘to burst

transmissions and random switching he had never known another person,

male or female, who could match her wizardry. She was at that perfect

age for a woman, forty, slim and blonde, with slanting green eyes over

high cheekbones, resembling the young Dietrich.

Von Schiller’s own wife, Ingemar, had been an invalid for the last

twenty years, and Utte Kemper had stepped into the void she had left in

his life. Yet she was more than either secretary or wife to him.

When he had first met Utte, she had been holding a very senior position

in the technical section of the German national telecommunications

network, and moonlighting as a pornographic actress – not for the money

but for love of the job. Copies of the videos she had made at that time

were amongst von Schiller’s most precious possessions, after his

collection of Egyptian antiquities. Like Helm, she had no qualms. There

was nothing she would not do to him, or allow him to do to her, to

fulfill his most bizarre fantasies. When he watched her videos and she

did some of these things to him, she was the only woman who could still

bring him to orgasm. Yet even this happened less frequently with every

month that passed, and each time the spasms of sexual release she could

evoke from his aging body were less intense.

Utte had her recording equipment set up before her on the table. It was

part of her multifarious duties to keep, accurate and complete records

of every meeting and conversation. Then von Schiller looked past these

two trusted employees to the two other men standing at the table.

Colonel Nogo he had met for the first time that morning, as he stepped

down from the Jet Ranger helicopter that had flown them down from Addis

Ababa to the base camp here on the summit of the escarpment of the Nile

gorge. He knew very little about him, except that Helm had selected him,

and was so far satisfied with his performance. Von Schiller himself was

not equally impressed. There had already been some bungling. Nogo had

allowed Quenton Harper and the Egyptian woman to slip through his

clutches. After a lifetime of operating in Africa, von Schiller placed

little trust or store in blacks and preferred to work with Europeans.

However, he realized that for the time being Nogo’s services were

indispensable.

He was, after all, the military commander of the southern Gojam. No

doubt once he had served his purpose he could be taken care of Helm

would see to that. He would not have to bother himself with the details.

Von Schiller looked now at the last man at the table. Here was another

who was indispensable for the time being. Nahoot Guddabi was the one who

had brought the existence of the seventh scroll to his attention.

Apparently some English author had written a fictionalized version of

the scrolls, but von Schiller never read fiction of any sort, either in

German or in any of the four foreign languages in which he was fluent.

Without Nahoot bringing the existence of the Taita scrolls to his

notice, he might have overlooked this opportunity of his lifetime.

The Egyptian had come to him as soon as the original translation of the

scrolls had been completed by Duraid Al Simma, and the existence of an

unrecorded Pharaoh and his tomb had been mooted. Since then they had

been in constant contact, and when the time.came that Al Simma and his

wife had started to make too much headway with their investigations, von

Schiller had employed Nahoot to get rid of them and to bring the seventh

scroll to him.

The scroll was now the shining star of his collection, safely housed

with his other ancient treasures in the steel and concrete vaults below

the Schloss in the mountains that was his private retreat, his Eagle’s

Nest.

Despite this, the choice of Nahoot to under-take the more sensitive work

of ridding him of Al Simma and his wife had proved to be a mistake. He

should have.. sent a professional to take care of them, but Nahoot had

argued that he was capable of seeing it through, and he had been well

paid for the work that he had mismanaged so ineptly.

He “too would be disposable in time, but right now von Schiller still

needed him.

There was no question that Nahoot’s understanding of Egyptology and

hieroglyphics was far in advance of von Schiller’s own. After all,

Nahoot had spent most of his life studying them, while von Schiller was

an amateur and only a comparatively recent enthusiast. Nahoot was able

to read the scrolls and this new material that they had acquired as

though they were letters from a friend, whereas von Schiller was obliged

to puzzle over each symbol and resort frequently to his reference books.

Even then, he was not capable of picking up the finer nuances of meaning

in the text.

Without Nahoot’s assistance he could not hope to solve the riddles which

confronted him in the search for Mamose’s tomb.

This was the team who were now assembled beneath him, waiting for him to

start the proceedings. “Sit down, please, Fr5ulein Kemper,” he said at

last. “You too, gentlemen. Let us get started.”

Von Schiller remained standing on his block at the head of the table. He

enjoyed the feeling of superior height.

His short stature had been a source of humiliation ever since his

school-days when he had been nicknamed Tippa’ by his peers.

“Fr-dulein Kemper will be recording everything which is said here this

afternoon. She will also issue each of you with a folder of documents

which she will collect from you again at the end of this meeting. I want

to make it very clear that none of this material will ever leave this

room.

It is of the most confidential nature, and belongs to me alone. I will

take a most stringent view of any breach of this instruction.”

As Utte handed out the folders, von Schiller looked at each recipient in

turn. His expression made it clear what the penalty would be for any

contravention of his instructions.

Then von Schiller opened the dossier that lay on the tabletop in front

of him. He stood over it, leaning forward on his bunched fists.

“In your folders you will find copies of the Polaroid photographs that

were recovered from Quenton-Harper’s camp. Please look at these now.”

Each of them opened their own folder.

“Since our arrival Dr Nahoot has had an opportunity to study these, and

he is of the opinion that they are genuine, and that the stele in the

photographs is an authentic artefect of ancient Egyptian origin, almost

certainly dating from the Second Intermediate Period, circa 1790 BC. Is

there anything you wish to add to that, Doctor?”

“Thank you Herr von Schiller.” Nahoot smiled eaginously, but his dark

eyes weren nervous. There was something cold and dispassionate about the

old German that terrified him. He had displayed ro emotion whatsoever as

he ordered Nahoot to arrange the death of Duraid Al Simma and his wife.

Nahoot knew that he would be equally unmoved if he were- to order

Nahoot’s own murder. He realized that he was riding the tiger’s back. “I

would just like to qualify that statement. I said that the stele

pictured in these prints appeared to be genuine. Of course I would not

be able to give you a definite opinion until I was able to examine the

actual stone at first hand.”

“I note your qualificatioq,” von Schiller nodded, “and we are assembled

here to find the means to obtain the stele for your examination and

verdict.” He picked up the glossy print that Utte had made from the

original that morning in the laboratory darkroom in the adjoining hut.

Photography was not the least of her many talents and skills and she had

done a very competent job. The copies of the Polaroids that Helm had

transmitted to him in Hamburg had been blurred and distorted, but still

they had been sufficient to bring him rushing across the continents in

all this haste. Now he held these clear likenesses in full colour, and

his excitement threatened to suffocate him.

While they were all silent, he caressed the print as lovingly as if it

had been the actual object that it portrayed.

If this were genuine, as he knew instinctively that it was, then it

alone would be well worth the considerable cost in time and money and

human life that he had already paid.

It was a marvelous treasure, to match even the original seventh scroll

which was already in his collection. The condition and state of

preservation of the stele after four thousand years seemed to be

extraordinary. He lusted for it as he had for few things in his long

life. It required an effort to set aside this pervasive longing, and to

apply his mind to the task ahead of him.

If, however, the stele is genuine, Doctor, can you tell us, or rather,

can you suggest to us where it may be situated, and where we should

direct our search?”

“I believe that we should not consider the stele in isolation, Herr von

Schiller. We should look at the other Polaroids that Colonel Nogo was

able to recover for us, and which Frdulein Kemper has so ingeniously

copied.” Nahoot set aside the one print and selected another from the

pile in the folder in front of him. “This one, for example.”

The others riffled through their own folders and selected the same print

as he was displaying.

“If you study the background of this copy, you will see that in the

shadows behind the stele there appears to be the wall of some type of

cave or cavern.” He looked up at von Schiller, who nodded encouragement.

“There also appears to be some type of barred doorway.”Nahoot set the

print aside and selected another. “Now, see here. This is a photograph

taken of another subject. It is, I believe, of a mural decoration

painted upon either a plastered wall or the bare rock of a cave,

possibly an excavated tomb, It seems to have been taken through the

grille of the gate which I pointed out to you in the first photograph of

the stele. This mural is almost certainly Egyptian in style and

influence. In fact it very strongly reminds me of those murals that

decorated the tomb of Queen Lostris in Upper Egypt in which the original

Taita scrolls were uncovered.”

“Yes. Yes. Go only’ von Schiller encouraged him.

“Very well, then. Using the barred gate as the connecting factor, there

is every reason to believe that both stele and murals are located in the

same cave or tomb

“If that is so, what indications do we have as to where Quenton-Harper

photographed these Polaroids7′ Von still frowning angrily as he looked

at each of Schiller was jl them in turn. They all tried to avoid his

blue, penetrating scrutiny.

Colonel Nogo,” von Schiller singled him out, “this is your country, You

know the terrain intimately. Let’s hear our thoughts on the subject.”

Colonel Nogo shook his head. “This man, this Egyptian-‘ he used the

epithet disparagingly, “is mistaken. This is not an Egyptian tomb in the

photographs.”

“Why do you say that?” Nahoot challenged him angrily.

“What do you know about Egyptology? I have spent twenty five years-I

“Wait,” von Schiller silenced him peremptorily. “Let him finish.” He

looked at Nogo. “Go on, colonel.”

“I agree that I don’t know anything about Egyptian tombs, but these

photographs were taken in a Christian church.”

“What makes you so sure? Nahoot demanded bitterly, his authority

challenged.

“Let me explain to you that I was ordained as a priest fifteen years

ago. Later, I became disillusioned with Christianity and all other

religions, and left the Church to may believe become a soldier. I tell

you this so that you that I know what I am talking about.” He smiled

with ilious malice at Nahoot, before going on. “Look at superc and you

will be able to make out on this first print again, the wall in the

background, near the corner of the grille gate, the outline of a human

hand and the stylized picture mbols of the Coptic Church. You can see

-of a fish. Those are sy see them reproduced in any church or cathedral

in the land.” Each of them peered at their own copy of the same of them

ventured an opinion until von print, but none Schiller had given his,

“You are right,” von Schiller said softly. “There is, as you say, the

hand and the fish.”

“But I assure you the hieroglyphics on the stele and the murals and the

wooden coffin are all Egyptian,” Nahoot . “I would stake my life on it.”

defended himself stoutly Nogo shook his head, and began to argue. “I

know what I am saying-‘

Von Schiller held up his hand to silence them both while he considered

the problem. At last he came to some decision.

“Colonel Nogo, show me on the satellite photograph the site of

Quenton-Harper’s camp where you obtained these Polaroids-‘

Nogo stood up, and came around the table to stand beside von Schiller.

He leaned over the atellite photograph and prodded his forefinger at the

spot near where the Dandera river joined the Nile. The photograph had

once been in the possession of Quenton Harper, and had been captured in

the raid on his camp. There were numerous markings in coloured marker

pen on the copy, which Nogo presumed had been placed there by the

Englishman.

“It was here, sir. You can see that Quenton-Harper has marked the spot

with a green circle.”

“Now show me where the nearest Coptic church is situated.”

“Why, Herr von Schiller, it’s right here. Again Quenton-Harper has

marked it with red ink. It is situated only a mile from the campsite.

The monastery of St. Frumentius.”

“There is your answer, then.” Von Schiller was still frowning “Coptic

and Egyptian symbols together. The monastery.”

They stared at him, none of them daring to question his conclusion.

“I want that monastery searched,” he said softly. “I want every room and

every inch of every wall examined.” He turned back to Nogo. “Can you get

your men in there?”

“Of course, Herr von Schiller. I already have one of my reliable men in

the monastery – one of the monks is in my pay. Added to that, there is

still martial law in force here in Gojam. I am the military commander. I

am fully mpowered to search for rebels and dissidents and bandits

wherever I suspect they may be sheltering.”

“Will your men enter a church to perform their duty?” Helm wanted to

know. “Do you personally have any religious scruples? It may be

necessary to – how can I put it desecrate hallowed premises.”

I have already’explained to you that I have renounced religion for other

more worldly beliefs. I would take pleasure in destroying such

superstitious and dangerous symbols as will certainly be found in the

monastery of St. Frumentius. As for my men, I will select only Moslems

or Animists who are hostile to the cross, and all it stands for.

I will lead them personally. I assure you that there will be no

difficulty in that respect.”

“How will you explain this to your superiors in Addis Ababa? I do not

want to be associated in any way with your actions at the monastery,’

von Schiller said.

I have been ordered by the high command in Addis to take all possible

steps against the dissident rebels that are operating in the Abbay

gorge. I will be completely able to justify any search of the

monastery.”

“I want that stele. I want it at any cost. Do you understand me,

colonel?”

i understand you perfectly, Herr von Schiller.”

“As you already know, I am a generous man to those who serve me well.

Bring it to me in good condition and you will be well rewarded. You may

call on Mr Helm for any assistance that he can give you, including the

use of Pegasus equipment and personnel.”

“If we are able to use your helicopter, it will save a great deal of

time. I can take my men there tomorrow, and if the stone is in the

monastery I will be able to deliver it to you by tomorrow evening.”

“Excellent. You will take Dr Guddabi with you. He must search the area

for other valuables and translate any inscriptions or engravings that

you find in the monastery.

Please provide him with military uniform. He must appear to be one of

your troopers. I do not want to become involved in recriminations at a

later date.”

“We will leave as soon as it is light enough to take off tomorrow

morning. I will commence the arrangements immediately.” Turna Nogo

saluted von Schiller and strode eagerly from the hut.

hough Colonel Nogo had never entered either the qiddist or the maqdas,

he had often visited the monastery of St. Frumentius. He was therefore

fully aware of the magnitude of the task ahead of him, and the likely

reaction of the monks and the congregation to his forced entry to their

premises. In addition, he was familiar with numerous similar rock

cathedrals in other parts of the country. In fact he had been ordained

in the famous cathedral of Lalibelela, so he knew just how labyrinthine

one of these subterranean warrens could be.

He estimated that he would need at least twenty men to secure and search

the monastery, and to fend off the outraged retaliation of the abbot and

his monks. He selected his best men personally. None of them was

squeamish.

Two hours before dawn he paraded them within the security of the Pegasus

compound, under the glare of the floodlights, and briefed them

carefully. At the end of the briefing he made each man step from the

ranks in turn and recite his orders to ensure there was no

misunderstanding.

Then he inspected their arms and equipment meticulously.

Tuma Nogo was painfully conscious of his own culpability in allowing the

Englishman and the Egyptian woman to escape, and he could sense the

danger in Herr von Schiller’s attitude towards him. He had few illusions

about the consequences if he were to fail again. In the short time since

he had made the acquaintance of Gotthold von Schiller, Nogo had come to

fear him as he had never feared God or the Devil in the days of his

priesthood. He realized that this raid was an opportunity to reinstate

himself with the formidable little German.

The jet Ranger was standing by, the pilot at the controls, the engines

running and the rotors turning lazily, but it could not carry such a

large number of fully equipped men. It would need four round trips to

ferry them all down to the asse4bly point in the gorge. Nogo flew with

the first flight, and took Nahoot Guddabi with him. The helicopter

dropped them three miles from the monastery, in a clearing on the banks

of the Dandera river, the same drop area as they had used for the raid

on Quenton-Harper’s camp.

The drop area was just far enough from the monastery for the engine

noise of the jet Ranger not to alarm the monks. Even if they did hear

it, Nogo was banking on the probability that they were by this time

thoroughly conditioned to the frequent sorties of the machine, and would

not associate it with any threat to themselves.

The men waited in the darkness, warned to silence and not even allowed

by Nogo to smoke, while the jet Ranger ferried in the remaining

troopers. When the last flight came in Nogo ordered his detachment to

fall in, and led them in single file down the path beside the river.

They were all trained bush fighters in top physical condition, and they

moved swiftly and purposefully through the night.

Only Nahoot was a soft urbanite, and within half a mile he was wheezing

and whining for a chance to rest. Nogo smiled vindictively to himself as

he listened to Nahoot’s pathetic whispered pleas for mercy as he was

prodded along by the men behind him.

Nogo had timed his arrival at the monastery to coincide with the hour of

matins and lauds, the break of day. He led his contingent down the cliff

staircase at a trot.

Their weapons were at high port, all the equipment was carefully muted

so as not to clatter or creak, and their rubber-soled paratrooper boots

made little noise on the stone paving as they hurried along the deserted

cloisters to the entrance of the underground cathedral.

From the interior echoed the monotonous chanting and drumming of the

ceremony, punctuated at intervals by the higher treble descant of the

abbot leading the service.

Colonel Nogo paused outside the doors, and his men drew LA up in double

ranks behind him. There was no need for orders for his briefing had

covered every aspect of the raid.

He looked the men over for a moment, then nodded at his lieutenant.

The outer chamber of the church was empty, as the monks were gathered in

the middle chamber, the qiddist.

Nogo crossed the outer nave swiftly, with his detachment moving up close

behind him. Then he ran up the steps to the wooden doors of the qiddist,

which stood open. As he entered, his men fanned out in two files behind

him and swiftly took up their positions along the side walls of the

qiddist, their assault rifles cocked and locked, and with bayonets

fixed, ing cover the kneeling congregation.

and swiftly that it was some it was done so silently minutes before the

monks gradually became aware of this alien presence in their holy place.

The chanting and drumming died away, and the dark faces turned

apprehensively towards the ranks of armed men. Only Jah Hora, the and

happen ancient abbot, was unaware of anything untow ing. Completely

absorbed in his devotions, he continued kneeling before re the doors of

the maqdas, the Holy of Holies, his quavering voice the lonely cry of a

lost soul.

In the silence Co nel Nogo marched down the centre of the nave kicking

the kneeling monks out of his way.

When he came up behind Jah Hora he seized him by his skinny black

shoulder and threw him roughly to the ground. The tinsel crown flew from

his silvered pate and rolled across the slabs with a brassy clatter.

Nogo, left him sprawling and turned to face the rows Of monks in their

white shammw, addressing them imperioUsly in Amharic.

“I am here to search this church and the or-her buildings of this

monastery, on suspicion that there are dissident other bandits harboured

here.” He paused and rebels and surveyed the cowering holy men haughtily

and threateningly. “I must warn you that any attempt to prevent my men

performing their duties will be regarded as an act of banditry and

provocation. It will be met with force.”

JaIi Hora crawled to his knees and then, using one of the embroidered

hangings for support, Slowly hoisted himself to his feet. Still clinging

to the tapestry of the Virgin and child, he gathered himself with an

effort.

“These are hallowed precincts,” he cried, in a surprisingly clear and

strong voice. “We are dedicated to the service and worship of almighty

God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

“silence? Nogo bellowed at him. He unbuckled the flap of the webbing

holster on his hip and placed his hand threateningly on the grip of the

Tokarev pistol it contained.

at. “We are holy men in a

)a1i Hora ignored the thre place of God. There are no shufta here. There

are no lawthe most high, I breakers amongst US. In the name of God leave

us to our prayers and our call upon you to be gone) to worship, and not

to desecrate Nogo drew the pistol and in the same movement swung the

black steel barrel into the abbot’s face with a outh burst open vicious

back-handed blow. jah Hora’s like the rind of a ripe pomegranate; the

red juice burst from front of his tattered his crushed lips and flooded

down the velvet vestments. A low moan of horror went up from the ranks

of squatting monks.

Still clinging to the tapestry, Jah Hora kept his feet, but he was

swaying and teetering wildly. He opened his shattered mouth to speak

again, but the only sound that came from it was a high-pitched cawing,

like that of a dying crow, and the blood splattered in bright droplets

from his lips.

Nogo laughed and kicked his legs from under him. Jah Hora. collapsed

like a heap of dirty laundry and lay on the paving, groaning in his own

blood and Spittle.

“Where is your God now, you old baboon? Bleat to him as loud as you

will, and he will never answer you,’

Nogo, chuckled.

With the pistol he gestured to his lieutenant across the church. He left

six of his men guarding the monks, four at the doorway and one at each

side wall. The others bunched up and followed him to the entrance to the

maqdas.

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