Wilbur Smith – The Seventh Scroll-part 7

part 7

The doors were locked. Nogo rattled the ancient padlock impatiently.

“Open this immediately, you old crow!” he shouted at ali Hora who still

lay in a bundle, moaning and sobbing.

“He is too far gone in senility,” the lieutenant shook his head. “His

mind has gone, colonel. He does not understand the command.”

“Break it open, then,” Nogo ordered, “No, don’t waste any more time.

Shoot the lock away. The wood is rotten.”

Obediently the lieutenant stepped up to the door, and gestured his men

to stand well clear. He aimed his AK-47 into the wood of the door lintel

and fired a long, continuous burst.

Dust and chips of wood and stone flew in a cloud, and fresh yellow

splinters splattered the paving. The noise of gunfire and the whine of

ricochets was deafening in the echoing hall of the qiddist, and the

monks wailed and howled and covered their ears and their eyes where they

knelt. The lieutenant stepped back from the shattered door. The black

wrought-iron hasp and staple hung at an angle, the supporting woodwork

almost shot through.

“Break it down now!” Nogo ordered, and five of his men ran forward and

put their shoulders to the sagging door. At their combined thrust there

was a crackling, rending sound, and now the monks were screaming’ Some

of them had covered their heads with the skirts of their shammas so as

not to have to witness this sacrilege;,others were tearing at their

faces with their fingernails, leaving long bloody gouges down their own

cheeks.

“Again!” roared Nogo, and his men rushed the door once more, using their

shoulders in unison. The lock was ripped away from its fastenings, and

they pushed the massive door fully open and peered into the dim recesses

of I the maqdas beyond. The chamber was lit only by a few smoky oil

lamps.

Now suddenly even these non-Christians were reluctant to cross that

threshold into the holy place. They all hung back, even Tuma Nogo,

despite his defiant Protestations of non-belief.

“Nahoot!” He looked back over his shoulder at the bedraggled and still

sweating Egyptian. “This is your job now. Herr von Schiller has ordered

you to find the things we want. Come here.”

As Nahoot came forward, Nogo seized his arm and thrust him. through the

doorway. “Get in there, oh follower of the Prophet. The Trinity of

Christian gods cannot harm you.

He stepped into the maqdas immediately after Nahoot and shone his torch

around the low chamber. The beam of light danced over the shelves of

votive offerings, sparkling on the glass and precious stones, on the

brass and gold and silver. It stopped on the high cedarwood altar,

lighting the Epiphany crown and the chalices, reflected from the

communion plate and the tall silver Coptic cross.

“Beyond the altar,” Nahoot cried out with excitement.

“The barred gateway! This is the place where the Polaroids were taken.”

He broke away from the group in the doorway and ran wildly across the

chamber. Gripping the bars of the gate in his clenched fists, he peered

between them like a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment.

“This is the tomb. Bring the light! His voice was a high-pitched and

frantic scream.

Nogo ran to join him, brushing past the damaskcovered tabot stone. He

shone the torch through the bars of the gate.

“By the sweet compassion of God, and the eternal breath of his Prophet,’

Nahoot’s voice sank from a scream to a whisper, “these are the murals of

the ancient scribe.

This is the work of the slave Taita.” As Royan had done, he recognized

the style and the execution immediately.

Taita’s brush was so distinctive, and his talent had outlasted the ages.

“Open this gate!” Nahoot’s tone rose again, becoming strident and

impatient

“Here, you men!” Nogo responded, and they crowded around the ancient

structure, trying at first to rip it from the cavern wall by main

strength. Almost at once it became apparent that this was a futile

effort, and Nogo stopped them.

“Search the monks’ quarters!” he ordered his lieutenant. “Find me tools

to do the job.”

The junior officer hurried from the chamber, taking most of the troopers

with him. Nogo turned from the gate and studied the rest of the interior

of the maqdas.

The stele!” he rasped. “Herr von Schiller wants the stone above

everything else.” He played the torch beam, around the chamber. “From

what angle was the Polaroid taken-‘

He broke Off abruptly, and held the light on the damask-covered tabot

stone,- on which the velvet-cloaked tabernacle stood.

“Yes,” cried Nahoot at his shoulder. “That is it.”

Tuma Nogo crossed to the pillar with half a dozen strides and seized the

gold-tasselled border of the tabernacle cloth. He pulled it away. The

tabernacle was a simple chest carved from olive wood, glowing with the

patina that priestly hands had imparted to the wood over the centuries.

“Primitive superstitions,” Nogo muttered contemptuously and, picking it

up in both hands, hurled it against the cavern wall. The wood splintered

and the lid of the chest burst open. A stack of inscribed clay tablets

spilled out on to the cavern paving slabs, but neither Nogo nor Nahoot

took any notice of these sacred items.

“Uncover it,” Nahoot encouraged him. “Uncover the stone.”

Nogo tugged at the corner of the damask cloth, but it caught on the

angle of the pillar beneath it. Impatiently he heaved at it with all his

strength, and the old and rotten material tore with a soft ripping

sound.

Taita’s stone testament, the carved stele, was revealed.

Even Nogo was impressed by the discovery. He backed away from it with

the torn covering cloth in his hand.

“It is the stone in the photograph,” he whispered. “This is what Herr

von Schiller ordered us to find. We are rich men., His words of avarice

broke the spell. Nahoot ran forward, and threw himself on his knees in

front of the stele. He clasped it with both arms, like a lover too long

deprived. He sobbed softly, and with amazement Nogo saw tears streaming

unashamedly down his cheeks. Nogo himself had considered only the value

of the reward that it would bring. He had never thought that any man

could long so deeply for an inanimate object, especially something so

mundane as this pillar of ordinary stone.

They were still posed like this, Nahoot kneeling at the stele like a

worshipper and Nogo standing silently behind him, when the lieutenant

ran back into the cavern.

Somewhere he had found a rusty mattock with a raw timber handle.

His arrival roused both men from their trance, and Nogo ordered him,

“Break open the gate!’

Although the gate was antique and the wood brittle, it took the efforts

of several men working in relays to rip the stanchions out of. their

foundations in the rock of the cavern wall.

At last, however, the heavy gate sagged forward. As the workers jumped

aside it fell with a shattering crash to the slabs, raising a mist of

red dust that dimmed the light of the lamps and the electric torch.

Nahoot was the first one into the tomb. He ran through the veil of

swirling dust and once again threw himself to his knees beside the

ancient crumbling wooden coffin.

“Bring the light, he shouted impatiently. Nogo stepped up behind him and

shone the torchlight on the coffin.

The portraits of the man were three dimensional, not only on the sides,

but on the lid too. Clearly the artist was the same as the one who had

executed the murals. The upper portrait was in excellent condition. It

depicted a man in the prime of life with a strong, proud face, that of a

farmer or a soldier with a calm and unruffled gaze. He was a handsome

man, with thick blond tresses, skilfully painted as if by someone who

had known him’well and loved him.

The artist seemed to have captured his character, and then eulogized his

salient virtues.

Nahoot looked up from the portrait to the inscription on the wall of the

tomb above it. He read it aloud, and then, with tears still backing up

behind his eyelids, he looked down again at the coffin and read the

cartouche that was painted below the portrait of the blond general.

Tanus, Lord Harrab.” His voice choked up with emotion, and he swallowed

noisily and cleared his throat.

This follows exactly the description in the seventh scroll.

We have the stele and the coffin. They are , great and priceless

treasures. Herr von Schiller will be delighted.”

“I wish I could believe what you say,” Nogo told him dubiously. “Herr

von Schiller is a dangerous man.”

“You have done well so far,” Nahoot assured him. “It remains only for

you to move the stele and the coffin out of this monastery to where the

helicopter can fly them to the Pegasus camp. If you can do that, you

will be a very rich man. Richer than you ever believed was possible.”

This spur was enough for Nogo. He stood over his men as they laboured

around the base of the stele, digging in clouds of dust, levering the

paving slabs out of their mooring. Finally they freed the foundation of

the stele and between them lifted the stone out of the position in which

it had stood for nearly four thousand years.

Only once it was free did they realize the weight of the stone. Although

slender, it was a solid half-ton weight.

Nahoot went back into the qiddist and, ignoring the rows of squatting

monks, pulled down a dozen of the thick woollen tapestries from the

walls and had the troopers carry them back into the maqdas.

He wrapped both the stele and the coffin in the heavy folds of

coarse-spun wool. It was tough as canvas, and afforded the men who were

to carry it a secure handhold.

Ten of the burly troopers were able to lift and carry the stele, while

three men were able to handle the wooden coffin and its desiccated

contents. This left seven armed men free to provide an escort. Then the

heavily burdened procession moved out through the ruined doorway of the

Holy of Holies into the crowded central qiddist, As soon as the

assembled monks realized what they were carrying away with them, a

shocked babble Of voices, of lamentations and exhortations, rose from

the squatting ranks of holy men.

“Quied’ Nogo roared. “Silence! Keep these fools quiet.”

The guards waded forward into the mass of humanity, clearing a passage

for the treasures they were plundering, laying about them with boot and

rifle butt, shouting at the monks to give way and to let the staggering

porters through.

The hubbub rose louder, the monks encouraging each other with their

howls of protest, whipping themselves into a frenzy of religious

outrage. Some of them leaped to their feet, defying the commands

bellowed at them to remain seated. They crowded closer and closer to the

armed troopers, clutching at their uniforms, chanting and whirling about

them in a challenging display of mounting hostility.

In the midst of this uproar, suddenly the spectral figure of Jali Hora

reappeared. His beard and robes were stained with blood, his eyes were

crazy, bloodshot and staring.

>From his battered lips and ruined mouth issued a long, sustained

shriek. The ranks of dancing monks opened to let him through, and he

rushed like an animated scarecrow with his skirts flapping around his

thin legs straight at Colonel Nogo.

“Get back, you old maniac!” Nogo warned him, and lifted the muzzle of

his assault rifle to fend him away.

Jali Hora was far past any earthly restraint. He did not even check, but

ran straight on to the point of the bayonet that Nogo was aiming at his

belly.

The needle’pointed steel stabbed through his gaudy robes and ran into

the flesh beneath them as easily as a gaff into the body of a struggling

fish. The point of the bayonet emerged from the middle of his back,

pricking through the velvet cloak, all pinkly smeared with the old man’s

blood.

Spitted upon the steel, Jali Hora wriggled and contorted, a dreadful

squeal bursting from his bloody lips.

Nogo tried to pull the bayonet free, but the wet clinging suction of the

abbot’s guts held the steel fast, and when Nogo jerked harder, Jah Hora

was tossed about like a puppet, his arms flapping and his legs kicking

and. dancing comically.

There was only one way to free the blade of a bayonet that was trapped

like this., Nogo slipped the rate-of-fire selector on the AK-47 to

“Single Shot’. He fired once.

The detonation of the shot was muffled by Jali Hora’s body, but was yet

so thunderous that for a moment it stilled the outcry of the monks. The

high-velocity bullet tore down the entry track of the blade. It was

moving at three times the speed of sound, creating a wave of hydrostatic

shock behind it that turned the old man’s bowels to jelly and liquidized

his flesh. The suction that had held the bayonet was broken, and the

blast of shot hurled Jah Hora’s carcass off the point of the blade,

flinging it into the arms of the monks who were crowding close behind

him.”

For a moment longer the strained, unnatural silence persisted, and then

it was shattered by a higher, more angry chorus of horror from the

monks. It was as though they were compelled by a single mind, a single

instinct. Like a flock of white birds they flew at the band of armed men

in their midst and descended upon them, intent on retribution for

murder. They counted no cost to themselves, but with their bare hands

they tore at them, hooked fingers clawing for their eyes, seizing the

barrels of the levelled rifles. Some of them even grasped the blades of

the bayonets with their naked hands, and the razor steel sliced through

-flesh and tendons.

For a short while it seemed that the soldiers would be overwhelmed and

smothered by the sheer weight of numbers, but then those troopers

carrying the stele and the coffin dropped their loads and unslung their

weapons, The monks crowded them too closely for them to swing the

rifles, and they were forced to hack and stab with the bayonets to clear

a space around them in which to do their work. They did not need much

room, for the AK47 has a short barrel and compact action. Their first

burst of fully automatic fire, aimed into the monks at belly height and

point-blank range, scythed a windrow- through them.

Every bullet told, and the full metal jacket ball whipped through one

man’s torso with almost no check, going on to kill the man behind him.

By now all the troopers were firing from the hip, traversing back and

forth, spraying the packed ranks of monks like gardeners hosing a bed of

white pansies. As one magazine of twenty-eight rounds emptied they

snapped it off and replaced it with another, fully loaded.

Nahoot cowered behind the fallen pillar, using it as a shield. The roar

of gunfire deafened and confused him. He stared around him and could not

credit the’carnage he was witnessing. At such close range the 7.62 round

is a terrible missile, which can blow off an arm or a leg as efficiently

as an axe-stroke, but more messily. Taken in the belly, it can gut a man

like a fish.

Nahoot saw one of the monks hit in the forehead. His skull’erupted in a

cloud of blood and brain tissue, and the gunman who had shot him laughed

as he fired. They were all caught up in the madness of the moment. Like

a pack of wild dogs that had run down their prey, they kept on firing

and reloading and firing again.

The monks in the front rows turned to flee and ran into those behind.

They struggled together, howling with agony and terror, until the storm

of bullets swept over them, killing and maiming, and they fell upon the

heaps of dead and dying. The floor of the chamber was carpeted with the

dead and the wounded. Trying to escape the hail of bullets the monks

blocked the doorway, plugging it tight with their struggling white-clad

bodies, and now the troopers standing clear in the centre of the qiddist

turned their guns upon this trapped mass of humanity. The bullets socked

into them and they heaved and tossed like the trees of the forest in a

gale of wind. Now there was very little screaming; the guns were the

only voices that still clamoured.

It was some minutes before the guns stuttered into silence, and then the

only sound was the groans and the weeping of the wounded. The chamber

was filled with a blue mist of gunsmoke and the stink of burned powder.

Even the laughter of the soldiers was silenced as they stared around

them, and realized the enormity of the slaughter.

The entire floor was carpeted with bodies, their shammas splashed

and-speckled with gouts of scarlet, and the stone paving beneath them

was awash with sheets of fresh blood in which the empty brass cartridge

cases sparkled like jewels.

“Cease firing!” Nogo gave the belated order. “Shoulder arms! Pick up the

load! Forward march!’

His voice roused them, and they slung their weapons and stooped to lift

their heavy, tapestry-wrapped burdens.

Then they staggered forward, their boots squelching in the blood,

tripping over the corpses,. stepping on bodies that either convulsed or

lay inert. Gagging in the stench of gunsmoke and blood, of bowels and

guts ripped wide open by the bullets, they crossed the chamber.

When they reached the doorway and staggered down the steps into the

deserted outer chamber of the church, Nahoot saw the relief on the faces

of even these battle hardened veterans as they escaped from the reeking

charnel-house. For Nahoot it was too much. Never in his worst nightmares

had he seen sights such as these.

He tottered to the side wall of the chamber and clung to one of the

woollen hangings for support; then, heaving and retching, he brought up

a mouthful of bitter bile.

When he looked around him again, he was alone except for a wounded monk

who was dragging himself across the flags towards him, his spine shot

through and his paralysed legs slithering behind him, leaving a slimy

snail’s trail of blood across the stone floor.

Nahoot screamed and backed away from the wounded monk, then whirled and

fled from the church, along the cloisters above the gorge of the Nile,

following the group of soldiers as they ffarried their burdens up the

stone staircase. He was so wild with horror that he did not even hear

the approach of the helicopter until it was hovering directly overhead

on the glistening silver disc of its spinning rotor.

otthold von Schiller stood outside the front door of the Quonset hut,

with Utte Kemper waiting a pace behind him. The pilot had radioed ahead

while the jet Ranger was in flight, so all was in readiness to receive

the precious cargo it was carrying.

The helicopter raised a cloud of pale dust from the landing circle as it

sank down to the earth. The long tapestry covered load it carried had

not been able to fit into the cabin, and was strapped across the landing

skids of the aircraft. The instant that the skids kissed the ground and

the pilot cut back the throttle, Jake Helm led out a team of a dozen men

to loosen the nylon retaining straps and lift the heavy bundle down.

Between them the gang of overallclad workers carried the stele to the

hut and eased it through the door. Helm hovered close at hand, issuing

terse orders.

A space had been cleared in the centre of the conference room, the long

table pushed back against the wall.

With extreme care the stele was laid there, and minutes later the coffin

of Tanus, the Great Lion of Egypt, was laid beside it.

Brusquely Helm dismissed the gang and closed and bolted the door behind

them as they left. Only the four of them remained in the room. Nahoot’

and Helm crouched beside the stele, ready to unwrap the woollen

tapestry. Von Schiller stood at the head of it, with Utte at his side.

“Shall we begin?” Helm asked softly, watching von Schiller’s face the

way a faithful dog watches its master.

“Carefully,” von Schiller warned him in strangled tones.

“Do not damage anything.” He was sweating in a sheen across his

forehead, and his face was very pale. Utte edged rotectively closer to

him,, but he did not glance in her direction. He was staring fixedly at

the treasure that lay at his feet.

Helm opened his clasp-knife and cut away the tasselled cords that

secured the covering. As he watched, von Schiller’s breathing became

louder. It rasped in his throat like a man in the terminal stages of

emphysema.

“Yes,” he whispered hoarsely, tthat’s the way to do it.” Utte Kemper

watched his face. He was always like this when he made another

significant addition to his collection of antiquities. He seemed on the

verge of a seizure, of a massive heart attack, but she knew he had the

heart of an OX.

Helm came to the top end of the pillar and carefully opened a small slit

in the cloth. He eased the point of the blade into this opening, and

then ran it slowly down towards the base, like a zip fastener. The blade

was razor sharp and the cloth fell away to reveal the inscribed stone

beneath it.

The sweat burst out like a heavy dew on von Schiller’s skin. It dripped

from his chin on to the front of his khaki bush jacket. He made a small

moaning sound as he saw the carved hieroglyphics. Utte watched him, her

own excitement mounting. She knew what to expect of him, when he was

caught up in this paroxysm of emotion.

“See here, Herr von Schiller.” Nahoot knelt beside the obelisk and

traced the outline of a broken’winged hawk with his finger. “This is the

signature of the slave, Taita.”

“Is it genuine?” Von Schiller’s voice was that of a very sick man,

wheezing and gusty.

“It is genuine. I will guarantee it with my life.”

“It may come to that,” von Schiller warned him. His eyes were glittering

with the hard brilliance of pate sapphires.

This column was carved nearly four thousand years ago,” Nahoot repeated

stoutly. “This is the veritable seal of the scribe.” He translated

glibly and easily from the blocks of figures, his face shining with an

almost religious rapture: “‘Anubis, the jackal-headed, the god of the

cemeteries, holds in his paws the blood and the viscera, the bones and

the lungs and the heart that are my separate parts. He moves them like

the stones of the bao board, my limbs serve him as counters, my head is

the great bull of the long board’!–‘

“Enough!” von Schiller commanded. There will be time for more later. Go

now. Leave me alone. Do not return until I send for you.”

Nahoot looked startled and scrambled to his feet uncertainly. He had not

expected to be dismissed so abruptly in the moment of his triumph. Helm

beckoned him, and the two of them went quickly to the door of the hut.

“Helm,” von Schiller called thickly after him, “make certain that nobody

disturbs me.”

“Of course, Herr von Schiller.” He glanced enquiringly at Utte Kemper.

“No,” said von Schiller. “She stay The two men left the room, and Helm

shut the door carefully behind them, Utte crossed the room and turned

the key. Then she faced von Schiller with her hands behind her and her

back pressed to the door.

Her breasts were thrust forward firm and pointed The nipples showed

clearly through the thin cotton blouse, hard as marbles.

“The costume?” she asked. “Do you want the costume Her own voice was

tight and strained. She enjoyed this game almost as much as he did.

“Yes, the costume,” he whispered.

She crossed the room and disappeared through the door into his private

quarters. As soon as she was gone von Schiller began to undress. When he

stood mother-naked in the centre of the room, he threw his clothing in a

heap into one corner and turned to face the door through which she would

return.

Suddenly she stood in the doorway, and he gasped at the transformation.

She wore the wig of tight Egyptian braids and over it the uraeus, the

golden circlet with the hooded cobra standing erect above her forehead.

The crown was genuine, as old as the ages – von Schiller had paid five

million Deutschmarks for it.

“I am the reincarnation of the ancient Egyptian Queen Lostris,” she

puffed. “My soul is immortal. My flesh is incorruptible.” She wore

golden sandals from the tomb of a princess, and bracelets and finger

rings and earrings from the same tomb. All were authentic royal relics.

“Yes.” His voice was choking, his face as pale as death.

“Nothing can destroy me. I will live for ever,” she said.

Her skirt was diaphanous yellow silk, belted with gold and precious

stones.

“For ever,” he repeated She was naked above the waist. Her breasts were

big and white as milk. She cupped them in her own hands.

“These have been young and smooth for four thousand years,” she purred.

“I offer them to you.”

She stepped out of the open golden sandals and her feet were slim and

neat. She parted the frontal split in the yellow skirts and held it so

that her lower body was exposed.

All her movements were slow and calculated. She was a clever actress.

“This- is the promise of eternal life.” She placed her right hand on her

dense honey-coloured pubic bush. “I offer it to you.

He groaned softly and blinked the streaming sweat out of his eyes,

watching her avidly.

She undulated her hips, slowly and lewdly as an uncoiling cobra. She

moved her feet apart and opened her thighs. With her fingers she spread

the lips of her vulva.

“This is the gateway to eternity. I open it for you., Von Schiller

groaned aloud. No matter how often repeated, the ritual never failed.

Like a man in a trance he moved towards her. His body was thin, dried

out like a thousand-year-old mummy. His chest hair was a silver fuzz,

the skin of his sunken belly was folded and wrinkled, but his pubic hair

was dark and thick as the hair on his head.

His penis was huge, out of all proportion to the skinny old frame from

which it dangled. As she moved slowly to meet him it filled out and hung

at a different angle, and of its own accord the wizened foreskin peeled

back to reveal the massive purple head beneath it.

“On the stele,” he grunted. “Quickly! On the stone.”

She turned her back to him and knelt upon the stone, watching him over

her shoulder as he came up behind her.

Her buttocks were round and white as a pair of ostrich eggs.

elm and his men worked late that night in the Pegasus workshop, making

the wooden crates to house both the stele and the coffin securely. At

dawn the next day they were loaded on to one of the heavy trucks,

cushioned with thick “rubber matting and strapped down on to specially

fitted cradles.

At his own suggestion Nahoot rode in the back of the truck, which would

take just over thirty hours to cover the long and arduous journey to

Addis Ababa. The Pegasus Falcon was standing on the airport tarmac when

the dusty truck trundled out through the security gates and parked

beside it.

Von Schiller and Utte Kemper had made the journey in the company

helicopter. General Obeid was with them. He had come to wish them all

revoir and Godspeed.

While the wooden crates were loaded into the jet, Obeid spoke to the

waiting Customs officer. He stamped the documents clearing the two cases

of “Geological Samples’ for export, and then discreetly retired.

“Loaded and ready to start engines, Herr von Schiller,” said the

uniformed Pegasus chief pilot, saluting.

Von Schiller shook hands with Obeid and clambered up the boarding

ladder. Utte an& Nahoot Guddabi followed him. The rings under Nahoot’s

eyes were even darker and deeper than usual. The journey had come close

to exhausting him entirely, but he would not let the wooden cases out of

his sight.

The Falcon climbed up into a bright clear sky over the mountains and

headed northwards. A few moments after the pilot extinguished the Seat

Belt panel, Utte Kemper thrust her lovely blonde head through the

cockpit door and asked the chief pilot, “Herr von Schiller would like to

know our ETA.”

“I expect to touch down at Frankfurt at 2100 hours.

Please inform Herr von Schiller that I have already radioed head office

to give instructions for transport to be awaiting our arrival at the

airport.”

The Falcon landed a few minutes ahead of schedule and taxied to the

private hangar. The senior Customs and Immigration officials who were

waiting for them were old acquaintances who were always on hand when the

Falcon carried a special cargo. After they had completed the formalities

they drank a schnapps with Gotthold von Schiller at the Falcon’s tiny

fitted bar, and discreetly pocketed the envelopes that lay on the bar

counter beside each crystal glass.

The drive up into the mountains took most of the rest of the night. Von

Schiller’s chauffeur followed the covered Pegasus truck along the icy

winding mountain road, never letting it and its cargo out of sight. At

five in the morning they drove through the stone gate of the Schloss,

where the snow lay half a metre deep in the deer park. The castle

itself, with its dark stone battlements and arrow-slit windows, looked

like something from Bram Stoker’s novel.

However, even at this hour the butler and all his staff were on hand to

welcome the master.

Herr Reeper, the custodian of von Schiller’s collection, and his most

trusted assistants were also waiting, ready to move the two wooden cases

down into the vault. Reverently they loaded them on to the forklift and

rode down with them in the specially installed elevator.

While they unpacked the crates, von Schiller returned to his suite in

the north tower. He bathed and ate a light breakfast, prepared by the

Chinese chef. When he had eaten, he went to his wife’s bedroom. She was

even frailer than she had been when last he had seen her. Her hair was

now completely white, her face pinched and waxy. He sent the nurse away,

and kissed his wife’s forehead tenderly.

The cancer was eating her away slowly, but she was the mother of his two

sons, and in his own peculiar way he still loved her.

He spent an hour with her, and then went to his own bedroom and slept

for four hours. At his age he never needed more sleep than that, no

matter how tired he might be. He worked until midafternoon with Utte and

two other secretaries, and then the custodian called on the house

intercom to tell him that they were ready for him in the vault.

Von Schiller and Utte rode down together in the elevator, and when the

door slid open both Herr Reeper and Nahoot were waiting for them. One

look at their faces told von Schiller that they were beside themselves

with excitement, bubbling over with news for him.

“Are the -rays completed?” von Schiller demanded as they hurried after

him down the subterranean passageway to the vault.

“The technicians have completed their work,” Reeper told him. “They have

done a fine job. The plates are wonderful. Ja, wunderbar!’

Von Schiller had endowed the clinic, so any request of his was treated

as a royal command. The director had sent down his most modern portable

-ray equipment and two technicians to photograph the mummy of Lord

Harrab, and a senior radiologist to interpret the plates.

Reeper inserted his plastic pass card into the lock of the steel vault

door, and with a soft pneumatic hiss it slid open. They all stood aside

for von Schiller to enter first.

He paused in the doorway, and looked around the great vault. The

pleasure never palled. On the contrary, it seemed to grow more intense

every time he entered this place.

The walls were enclosed in two metres of steel and concrete, and were

guarded by every electronic device that genius could devise. But this

was not apparent.when he viewed the softly lit and elegantly appointed

main display room. It had been planned and decorated by one of Europe’s

foremost interior designers. The theme colour was blue. Each item of the

collection was housed in its own case, and each of these was cunningly

arranged to show it to its best advantage.

Everywhere was the soft glimmer of gold and precious gems nestling on

midnight-blue velvet cushions. Artfully concealed spotlights illuminated

the lustre of lovingly polished alabaster and stone, the glow of ivory

and obsidian. There were marvelous statues. The pantheon of the old gods

were here assembled: Thoth and Anubis, Hapi and Seth, and the glorious

trinity of Osiris and Isis and Horus, the son. They gazed out with those

inscrutable eyes which had looked upon the procession of the ages.

On its temporary plinth in the centre of the room, in pride of place,

stood the latest addition to this extraordinary hoard, the tall,

graceful stone testament of Taita. Von Schiller stopped beside it to

caress the polished stone before he passed on into the second room.

Here the coffin of Tanus, Lord Harrab, lay across a pair of trestles. A

white-coated radiologist hovered over her back-lit display board on

which the ,ray plates were clipped, Von Schiller went directly to the

display and peered at the shadowy pictures upon it. Within the outline

of the wooden coffin, the reclining human shape with hands crossed over

its chest was very clear. It reminded him of a carved effigy atop the

sarcophagus of an old knight in the precincts of a medieval cathedral.

“What can you tell me about this body?” he asked the radiologist without

looking at her.

“Male,” she said crisply. “Late middle age. Over fifty and under

sixty-five at death. Short stature.” All the listeners winced and

glanced at von Schiller. He seemed not to have noticed this solecism.

“Five teeth missing. One front upper, one eye too and three molars.

Wisdom teeth impacted. Extensive caries in most surviving teeth.

Evidence of chronic bilharzia infection. Possible poliomyelitis in

infancy, withering in left leg.” She recited her findings for five

minutes, and then ended, “Probable cause of death was a puncture wound

in upper right thorax. Lance or arrow. Extrapolating from the entry

angle, the head of the lance or arrow would have transfixed the right

lung.”

“Anything else?” von Schiller asked when she fell silent. The

radiologist hesitated, and then went on.

“Herr von Schiller, you will recall that I have examined several mummies

for you. In this instance, the incisions through which the viscera were

removed appear to have been made with more skill and finesse than those

of the other cadavers. The operator seems to have been a trained

physician.”

“Thank you.” Von Schiller turned from her to Nahoot.

“Do you have any comments, at this stage?”

“Only that these descriptions do not fit those given in the seventh

scroll for Tanus, Lord Harrah, at the time of his death.”

“In what way?”

“Tanus was a tall man. Much younger. See the portraits on the coffin

lid.”

“Go on,’von Schiller invited.

Nahoot stepped up to the display of -ray plates and pointed out several

solid dark objects, all of them with clean outlines, that adorned the

body.

“Jewellery,” he said. “Amulets. Bracelets. Pectorals.

Several necklaces. Rings and earrings. But, most significant,” Nahoot

touched the dark circle around the dead brow, “the uraeus crown. The

outline of the sacred serpent is quite unmistakable, beneath the

bandages.”

“What does that indicate?” Von Schiller was puzzled.

“This was not the body of a commoner, or even of a noble. The extent of

ornamentation is too extensive. But most significant, the uraeus crown.

The sacred cobra. That was only worn by royalty, I believe that what we

have here is a royal mummy.”

“Impossible,” snapped von Schiller. “Look at the inscription on the

coffin. Those that were painted on the walls of the tomb. Clearly this

is the mummy of an Egyptian general.”

“With respect, Herr von Schiller. There is a possible explanation. In

the book written by the Englishman, River God, there is an interesting

suggestion that the slave Taita swopped the two mummies, that of Pharaoh

Mamose and his good friend, Tanus.”

“For what earthly reason would he do that?” Von Schiller looked

incredulous.

“Not for any earthly reason, but for a spiritual and supernat urat

reason. Taita wished his -friend to have the use and ownership of all

Pharaoh’s treasure in the afterworld. It was his last gift to a friend.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I do not disbelieve it. There is one other fact that tends to support

this theory. It is quite obvious from the Xrays that the coffin is too

large for the body within. TO me, it seems obvious that it was designed

to accommodate a larger man. Yes, Herr von Schiller, I do believe that

there is an excellent chance that this is a royal mummy.”

Von Schiller had gone ashen pale as he listened. Sweat headed upon his

forehead, and his voice was hoarse and chesty as he asked, “A -royal

mummy?”

“It may very well be so.”

Slowly von Schiller moved closer to the sealed coffin on its trestle,

until he was staring down at the portrait of the dead man upon its lid.

“The golden uraeus of Mamose. The personal jewellery of a pharaoh.” His

hand was shaking as he laid it on the coffin lid. “If that is so, then

this find exceeds our most extravagant hopes.”

Von Schiller drew a deep steadying breath. “Open the coffin. Unwrap the

mummy of the Pharaoh Mamose.”

It was painstaking work. Nahoot had performed the same task many times

before, yet never on the earthly remains of such an illustrious

personage as an Egyptian pharaoh.

Nahoot first had to establish where the joint of the lid lay beneath the

paint. Once he had done this, he could whittle away at the ancient

varnish and glues that secured the lid in place. Great care had to be

taken to inflict as little damage as possible: the fragile coffin in

itself was a priceless treasure. This work took the greater part of two

days.

When the lid was free and ready to be lifted, Nahoot sent a message to

von Schiller, who was in an executive meeting with his sons and the

other ‘ directors of his company in the library upstairs. Von Schiller

had refused to go into the city for this meeting: he could not bear to

be separated from his latest treasure. Immediately he heard from Nahoot

he adjourned the meeting until the following Monday, and dismissed his

directors and his offspring unceremoniously, Then, without waiting to

see them into their waiting limousines, he hurried down to the vaults.

Nahoot and Reeper had rigged a light scaffold over the coffin, from

which hung two sets of block and tackle. As soon as von Schiller entered

the vault, Reeper sent away his assistants. Only the three of them would

be present to witness the opening of the coffin.

Reeper brought him the carpet-covered block for him to stand on

and’positioned it at the head of the coffin, so that von Schiller would

be able to see inside as they worked. From this eminence the old man

nodded to them to proceed. The ratchets of the two blocks clicked, one

pawl at a time, as both Reeper and Nahoot gently put pressure on the

tackle. There was a faint crackling and tearing sound, at which von

Schiller winced.

“It is only the last shreds of glue holding the lid,” Nahoot reassured

him.

“Go on!” von Schiller ordered, and they lifted the lid er six inches

until it hung suspended over the body anoth of the coffin. The

scaffolding was on nylon castors which rolled smoothly over the tiled

floor. They wheeled away the entire structure, with the coffin lid still

suspended from it.

Von Schiller peered into the open coffin. His expression changed to one

of astonishment. He had expected to see the neatly swathed human form

lying serenely in the traditional funereal pose. Instead, the interior

of the coffin was stuffed untidily with loose linen bandages that

entirely hid the body from view.

“What on earth-‘ von Schiller exclaimed with astonishment. He reached

out to take a handful of the old discoloured wrappings, but Nahoot

stopped him.

“No! Don’t touch it,” he cried out excitedly, and then immediately

apologetic. “Forgive me, Herr von Schiller, was im but this is

fascinating. It strongly supports the theory of an exchange of bodies. I

think we should study it, before we proceed with the unwrapping. With

your permission of Herr von Schiller.”

course, Von Schiller hesitated. He was anxious to discover what lay

beneath this rat’s nest of old rags, but he realized the virtue of

caution and prudence now. A hasty move might do irreparable damage. He

straightened up and stepped down from his block.

“Very well,” he grunted. He pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket

of his dark blue doublebreasted suit jacket, and mopped the heavy sweat

from his face. His voice was shaky as he asked, “Is it possible? Could

this be Mamose himself?”

Stuffing the handkerchief back into his trouser pocket, he discovered

with mild surprise that he had a painful erection. With his hand in his

pocket he rearranged it to lie flat against his stomach. “Remove the

loose wrapp

“With your permission, Herr von Schiller, we should take the photographs

first,” Reeper suggested tactfully.

Of course,” von Schiller agreed at once. “We are scientists,

archaeologists, not common looters, Take the photographs.”

They worked slowly, and von Schiller found the delay tantalizing. There

was no sense of the passage of time down here in the vault, but at one

stage von Schiller, now in his shirtsleeves, glanced at his gold

wrist-watch and was surprised to see’ that it was past nine ‘clock at

night. He unknotted his necktie, threw it on the bench where his jacket

already lay, and reapplied himself to the task.

Gradually the shape of a human body emerged from under the compacted

mass of ancient bindings, but it was after midnight when at last Nahoot

teased away the last untidy clump of old cloth from the mummy’s torso.

They blinked at the glimpse of gold just visible through the neat layers

of bandages laid upon the corpse by the meticulous and skilful hands of

the embalmers.

“Originally, of course, there would have been several massive outer

coffins. These are missing, as are the masks.

Those must still be in Pharaoh’s original sarcophagus, covering the body

of Tanus in the royal -tomb that still awaits discovery. What we have

left here is only the inner dressing of the royal mummy.”

With long forceps he peeled away the top layer of bandage asVon

Schiller, perched on his block, grunted and shuffled his feet.

“The pectoral medallion of the royal house of Mamose,” Nahoot whispered

reverently. The great jewel blazed under the arc light. Resplendent in

blue lapis lazuli and red carrielian and gold, it covered the entire

chest of the mummy. The central motif was of a vulture in flight,

soaring on wide pinions, and in its talons it clutched the golden

cartouche of the king. The craftsmanship was marvelous, the design

splendid.

“There is no doubt now,” von Schiller whispered. “This proves the

identity of the body.” cartOUc xt they unwrapped the king’s hands,

clasped over the the great medallion. The fingers were long and

sensitive, each of them loaded with circle after circle of magnificent

rings. Clasped in his dead hands were the flail and sceptre of majesty,

and Nahoot exulted when they saw them.

“The symbols of kingship. Proof on proof that this is Mamose the Eighth,

ruler of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of ancient Egypt.”

He moved up to the king’s still veiled head, but von Schiller stopped

him. “Leave that until last!” he ordered. “I am not yet ready to look

upon the face of Pharaoh.”

So Nahoot and Reeper transferred their attention to the king’s lower

body. As they lifted away each layer of linen, so were revealed scores

of amulets that the embalmers had placed beneath the bandages as charms

to protect the dead man. They were of gold and carved jewels and ceramic

in glowing colours and marvelous shapes – all the birds of the air and

the creatures of the land and the fish of the Nile waters. They

photographed each amulet in situ before working it free and placing it

into a numbered slot in the trays that had been set out upon the

workbench.

Pharaoh’s feet were as small and delicate as his hands, and each toe was

laden with precious rings. Only his head was still covered, and both men

looked enquiringly at von Schiller. “It is very late, Herr von

Schiller,” Reeper said, if you wish to rest-‘

“Continue!” he ordered brusquely. So they moved up each side of the

mummy’s head, while von Schiller on remained on his stand between them.

Gradually the king’s face was exposed to the light, for the first time

in nearly four thousand years. His hair was thin and wispy, still red

with the henna dye he had used in his lifetime. His skin had been cured

with aromatic resins until it was hard as polished amber. His nose was

thin and beaked. His lips were drawn back in a soft, almost dreamy smile

which exposed the gap in his front teeth.

The resin coated his eyelashes, so that they seemed wet with tears and

the lids only half-shut. Life seemed to gleam there still, and only when

von Schiller leaned closer did he realize that the light in those

ancient sockets was the reflection from the white porcelain discs that

the undertakers had placed in the empty sockets during the embalming.

On his brow the Pharaoh wore the sacred uraeus crown. Every detail of

the cobra head was still perfect, There was no wearing or abrading of

the soft metal. The I serpent fangs were sharp and recurved, and the

long forked tongue curled between them. The eyes were of shining blue

glass. On the band of gold beneath the hooded asp was engraved the royal

cartouche of Mamose.

“I want that crown.” Von Schiller’s voice was choking with passion.

“Remove it, so that I can hold it in my own hands.”

“We may not be able to lift it without damaging the head of the royal

mummy,” Nahoot protested.

“Do not argue with me. Do as I tell you.”

“Immediately, Herr von Schiller,” Nahoot capitulated.

“But it will take time to free it. If Herr von Schiller wishes to rest

now, we will inform you when we have loosened the crown and have it

ready for you.”

The circle of gold had adhered to the resin-soaked skin of the king’s

forehead. In order to remove it Nahoot and Reeper first had to lift the

complete body out of the coffin and lay it on the stainless steel

mortuary stretcher which already waited to receive it. Then the resin

had to be softened and removed with specially prepared solvents.

The whole process took as long as Nahoot had predicted, but finally it

was completed.

They laid the golden uraeus upon a blue velvet cushion, as if for a

coronation ceremony. They dimmed all the other lights in the main

chamber of the vault, anded a single spot to fall upon the crown. Then

they arrang both went upstairs to inform von Schiller.

He would not let the two archaeologists accompany him when he returned

to the vaults to view the crown.

Only Utte Kemper was with him when he keyed the lock to the armoured

door of the vault, and the heavy door slid open.

The first thing that caught von Schiller’s eye as he entered the vault

was the glittering crown in its velvet nest.

immediately he began to wheeze for air like an asthmatic, and he seized

her hand and squeezed until her knuckles crackled with the pressure and

she whimpered with pain. But the pain excited her. Von Schiller

undressed her, placed the golden crown upon her head and laid her naked

in the open coffin.

“I am the promise of life,” she whispered from the ancient coffin. “Mine

is the shining face of immortality.” He did not touch her. Naked, he

stood over the coffin with his inflamed and swollen rod thrusting from

the base of his belly like a creature with separate life.

She ran her hands slowly down her own body, and as they reached her mons

Veneris, she intoned gravely, “May you live for ever!’

The wondrous efficacy of the crown of Mamose was proven beyond any

doubt. Nothing before had produced this effect upon Gotthold von

Schiller. For at her words, the purple head of his penis erupted of its

own accord and glistening silver strings of his semen dribbled down and

splattered upon her soft white belly.

In the open coffin Utte Kemper arched her back, and writhed in her own

consuming orgasm.

It seemed to Royan that she had been away from Egypt for years instead

of weeks. She realized just -how much she had missed the crowded and

bustling streets of the city, the wondrous smells of spices and food and

perfume in the bazaars, and the wailing voice of the muezzin calling the

faithful to prayer from the turrets of the mosques.

That very first morning she left her flat in Giza while it was still

dark, and since her injured knee was still swollen and painful she used

her stick as she limped along the banks of the Nile. She watched the

dawn cobble the river waters with a pathway of gold and copper and set

the triangular sails of the feluccas ablaze.

This was a different Nile from the one she had encountered in Ethiopia.

This was not the Abbay, but the true Nile. It was broader and slower,

and the muddy stink of it was familiar and well beloved. This was her

river and her land. She found that her resolve to do what she had come

home to do was reinforced. Her doubts were set at rest, her conscience

soothed. As she turned away from it she felt strong and sure of herself

and the course that she must take.

She visited Duraid’s family. She had to make amends to them for her

sudden departure and her long, unexplained absence. At first her

brother-in-law was cool and stiff towards her; but after his wife had

wept and embraced Royan and the children had clambered all over her –

she was always their favourite ammah – he warmed to her and relented

sufficiently to offer to drive her out to the oasis.

When she explained that she wanted to be alone when she visited the

cemetery, he unbent so far as to lend her his beloved Citron.

As she stood beside Duraid’s grave the smell of the , desert filled her

nostrils and the hot breeze rid’eted with her hair. Duraid had loved the

desert. She was glad for him that from now onwards he would always be

close to it. The headstone was simple and traditional: just his name and

dates, under the outline of the cross. She knelt beside it and tidied

the grave, renewing the wilted and dried bouquets of flowers with those

that she had brought with her from Cairo.

Then she sat quietly beside him for a long while. She made no rehearsed

speeches, but ” imply ran over in her mind so many of the good quiet

times they had passed together. She remembered his kindness and his

understanding, and the security and warmth of his love for her. She

regretted that she had never been able to return it in the same measure,

but she knew that he had accepted and understood that.

She hoped that he also understood why she had come back now. This was a

leave-taking. She had come to say goodbye. She had mourned him and,

although she would always remember him and he would always be a part of

her, it was time for -her to move on. It was time for him to let her go.

When at last she left the cemetery, she walked away without looking

back.

She took the long road around the south side of the lake to avoid having

to pass the burnt-out villa; she did not wish to be reminded of that

night of horror on which Duraid had died there. It was therefore after

dark when she, returned to the city, and the family were relieved to see

her. Her brother-in-law walked three times around the Citron, checking

for damage to the paintwork, before ushering her into the house where

his wife had set a feast for them.

‘an Abou Sin, the minister whom Royan had Come specifically to see, was

out of Cairo on an official visit to Paris. She had three days to wait

for his return, and because she knew that Nahoot Guddabi was no longer

in Cairo, she felt safe and able to spend much of that time at the

museum. She had many friends there, and they were delighted to see her

and to bring her up to date with all that had happened during the time

that she had been away.

The rest of the time she spent in the museum reading room, going over

the microfilm of the Taita scrolls, searching for any clues that she

might have missed in her previous readings. There was a section of the

second scroll which she read carefully and from which she made extensive

notes. Now that the prospect of finding the tomb of Pharaoh Mamose

intact had become real and credible, her interest in what that tomb

might contain had been stimulated.

The section of the scroll upon which she concentrated was a description

that the scribe, Taita, had given of a’ royal visit by the Pharaoh to

the workshops of the necropolis, where his funerary treasure was being

manufactured and assembled within the walls of the great temple that he

had built for his own embalming. According to Taita they had visited the

separate workshops, first the armoury with its collection of

accoutrements of the battlefield and the chase, and then the furniture

workshop, home of exquisite workmanship. In the studio of the sculptors,

Taita.

described the work on the statues of the gods and the lifesized images

of the king in every different activity of his life that would line the

long causeway from the necropolis to the tomb in the Valley of the

Kings. In this.workshop the masons were also-hard at work on the massive

granite sarcophagus which would house the king’s mummy over the ages.

However, according to Taita’s later account history had cheated Pharaoh

Mamose of this part of his treasure, and all these heavy and unwieldy

items of stone had been abandoned and left behind in the Valley of the

Kings when the Egyptians fled south along the Nile to the land they

called Cush, to escape the Hyksos invasion that overwhelmed their

homeland.

As Royan turned with more attention to the scribe’s description of the

studio of the goldsmiths, the phrase which he used to describe the

golden deathmask of the Pharaoh struck her forcibly. “This was the peak

and the zenith. All the Unborn ages might one day marvel at its

splen&ur.” Royan looked up dreamily from the micro film and wondered if

those words of the ancient scribe were not prophetic. Was she destined

to be one of those who would marvel at the splendour of the golden

deathmask? Might she be, the first to do so in almost four thousand

years? Might she touch this wonder, take itup in her hands and at last

do with it as her conscience dictated?

Reading Taita’s account left Royan with a sense of ancient suffering,

and a feeling of compassion for the people of those times. They were,

after all – no matter how far removed in time – her own people. As a

Coptic Egyptian, she was one of their direct descendants. Perhaps this

empathy was the main reason why, even as a child, she had originally

determined to make her life’s work a study of these people and the old

ways.

However, she had much else to think of during those days of waiting for

the return of Atalan Abou Sin. Not least of these were her feelings for

Nicholas Quenton Harper. Since she had visited the little cemetery at

the oasis and made her peace with Duraid’s memory, her thoughts of

Nicholas had’taken on a new poignancy. There was so much she was still

uncertain of, and there were so many difficult choices to make. It was

not possible to fulfill all her plans and desires without sacrificing

others almost equally demanding.

When at last the hour of her appointment to see Atalan came around, she

had difficulty bringing herself to go to him. Like somebody in a trance

she limped through the bazaars, using her stick to protect her injured

knee, hardly hearing the merchants calling their wares to her.

>From her skin tone and European clothing they presumed she must be a

tourist.

She hesitated so long over taking this irrevocable step that she was

almost an hour late for the appointment.

Fortunately this was Egypt, and Atalan was an Arab to whom time did not

have the same significance as it did to the Western part of Royan’s

make-up.

He, was his usual urbane and charming self. Today, in the-privacy of his

own office, he was comfortably dressed in a white dishdasha and a

headcloth. He shook hands with her warmly. If this had been London he

might have kissed her cheek, but not here in the East where a man never

kissed any woman but his wife and then only in the privacy of their

home.

He led her through to his private sitting room, where his male secretary

served them small cups of tar-thick coffee and lingered to preserve the

propriety of this meeting. After an exchange of compliments and the

obligatory interval of polite small-talk, Royan could come obliquely to

the main reason for her visit.

“I have spent much of the last few days at the museum, working in the

reading room. I managed to see many of my old colleagues there, and I

was surprised to hear that Nahoot had withdrawn his application for the

post of director.”

Atalan sighed, “My nephew is a headstrong boy at times. The job was his,

but at the very last moment he came to tell me that he had been offered

another in Germany. I tried to dissuade him. I told him that he would

not enjoy the northern climate after being brought up in the Nile

valley. I told him that there are many things in life such as country

and family that no amount of money can recompense. But-‘ Atalan spread

his hands in an eloquent gesture.

“So who have you chosen to fill the post of director?” she asked with an

innocence that did not deceive him.

“We have not yet made any permanent appointment.

Nobody automatically comes to mind, now that Nahoot has withdrawn.

Perhaps we will be forced to advertise internationally. I for one would

be very sad to see it go to a foreigner, no matter how well qualified.”

our excellency, may I speak to you in private?” Royan asked, and glanced

significantly at the male secretary hovering at the doorway. Atalan

hesitated only a moment.

“Of course.” He gestured to the secretary to leave the room, and when he

had withdrawn and closed the door behind him Atalan leaned towards her

and dropped his voice slightly. “What is it that you wish to discuss, my

dear lady?”

It was an hour later that Royan left him. He walked with her as far as

the lift outside his suite of offices.

As he shook hands his voice was low and mellifluous “We will meet again

soon, inshallah.”

hen the Egyptair flight landed at Heath, row and Royan left the airport

arrivals hall for a place in the queue at the taxi rank outside, it

seemed that the temperature difference from Cairo was at least fifteen

degrees. Her train arrived at York in the damp misty cold of late

afternoon. From the railway station she phoned the number that Nicholas

had given her.

“You silly girl,” he scolded her. “Why didn’t you let me know you were

on your way? I would have met you at the airport.”

She was surprised at how pleased she was to see him, and at how much she

had missed him, as she watched him step out of the Range Rover and come

striding towards her on those long legs. He was bare-headed and

obviously had not subjected himself to a haircut since she had last seen

him. His dark hair was rumpled and wind-tossed and the silver wings

fluffed over his ears.

“How’s the knee?” he greeted her. “Do you still need to be carried?”

“Almost better now. Nearly time to throw away the stick.” She felt a

sudden urge to throw her arms around his neck, but at the last moment

she prevented herself from making a display and merely offered him a

cold, rosy brown cheek to kiss. He smelt good – of leather and some

spicy aftershave, and of clean virile manhood.

In the driver’s seat he delayed starting the engine for a moment, and

studied her face in the street light that streamed in through the side

window.

“You look mighty pleased with yourself, madam. Cat been at the cream?”

“Just pleased to see old friends,” she smiled, “but I must admit Cairo

is always a tonic.”

“No supper laid on. Thought we would stop at a pub.

Do you fancy steak and kidney pud?”

“I want to see my mother. I feel so guilty. I don’t even know how her

leg is mending.”

“Popped in to see her day before yesterday. She’s doing fine. Loving the

new puppy. Named it Taita, would you believe?”

“You are really a very kind person – I mean, taking the trouble to visit

her.”

“I like her. One of the good old ones. They don’t build them like that

any more. I suggest we have a bite to eat, and then I will pick up a

bottle of Laphroaig and we will go and see her.”

It was after midnight when they left Georgina’s cottage. She had

dispensed rough frontier justice to the malt whisky that Nicholas had

brought and now she waved them off, standing in the kitchen doorway,

clutching her new puppy to her ample bosom and teetering slightly on her

plaster-cast leg.

“You are a bad influence on my mother,” Royan told him.

“Who’s a bad influence on whom?” he protested. “Some of those jokes of

hers turned the Stilton a richer shade of blue.”

“You should have let me stay with her.”

“She has Taita to keep her company now. Besides, I need you close at

hand. Plenty of work to do. I can’t wait to show you what I have been up

to since you went swanning off to Egypt.”

The Quenton Park housekeeper had repared her a bedroom in the flat in

the lanes behind York Minster.

As Nicholas carried her bags up the stairs ripsaw snoring came from

behind the door of the bedroom on the second landing, and she looked at

Nicholas enquiringly.

“Sapper Webb,” he told her. “Latest addition to the team. Our own

engineer. You will meet him tomorrow, and I think you will like him. He

is a fisherman.”

“What’s that got to do with me liking him?”

“All the best people are fishermen.”

“Present company excluded,” she laughed. “Are you staying at Quenton

Park?”

“Giving the house a wide berth, for the time being.” He shook his head.

“Don’t want it bruited about that I amback in England. There are some

fellows from Lloyd’s that I would rather not speak to at the moment. I

will be in the small bedroom on the top floor. Call if you need me.”

When she was alone she looked around the tiny chintzy room with its own

doll’s house bathroom, and the double bed that took up most of the floor

area. She remembered his remark about calling if she needed him, and she

looked up at the ceiling just as she heard him drop one of his shoes on

the floor.

“Don’t tempt me,” she whispered. The smell of him lingered in her

nostrils, and she remembered the feel of his lean hard body, moist with

sweat, pressed against hers as he had carried her up out of the Abbay

gorge. Hunger and eed were two words she had not thought of for many

years. They were starting to loom too large in her existence.

“Enough of that, my girl,” she chided herself, and went to run a bath.

Nicholas pounded on her door the next morning on his way downstairs.

“Come along, Royan. Life is real. Life is urgent.”

It was still pitch dark outside, and she groaned softly and asked, “What

time is it?” But he was gone, and faintly she could hear him whistling

“The Big Rock Candy Mountain’somewhere downstairs.

She checked her watch and groaned again. “Whistling at six-thirty, after

what he and Mummy did to the Laphroaig last night. I don’t believe it.

The man is truly a monster.”

Twenty minutes later she found him in a dark blue fisherman’s sweater

and jeans and a butcher’s apron, working in the kitchen.

“Slice toast for three, there’s a love.” He gestured towards the brown

loaf that lay beside the electric toaster.

“Omelettes coming up’in five minutes.”

She looked at the other man in the room. He was middle-aged, with wide

shoulders and sleeves rolled up high around muscular biceps, and he was

as bald as a cannonball.

“Hello,” she said, “I am Royan Al Sirnma.”

“Sorry.” Nicholas waved the egg-whisk. “This is Danny Daniel Webb, known

as Sapper to his friends.”

Danny stood up with a cup of coffee in his big competent-looking fist.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Al Simma. May I pour you a cup of coffee?”

The top of his head was’freckled, and she noticed how blue his eyes

were.

“Dr Al Simma,’Nicholas corrected him.

“But please call me Royan,” she cut in quickly, “and yes, I’ love a

cup.”

There was no mention of Ethiopia or Taita’s game during breakfast, and

Royan ate her omelette and listened respectfully to a passionate

dissertation on how to catch sail fish on a fly rod from Sapper, while

Nicholas heckled him mercilessly, calling into question almost every

statement he made. Very obviously they had a good relationship, and she

supposed she would become accustomed to all the angling jargon.

As soon as breakfast was over, Nicholas stood up with the coffee pot in

one hand. “Bring your mugs, and follow me., He led Royan to the front

sitting room. “I have a surprise for you. My people up at the museum

worked round the clock to get it ready for you.”

He threw open the door of the sitting room, with an imitation of a

trumpet flourish, “Tarantara!’

On the centre table stood a fully mounted model of the striped dik-dik,

crowned with the pricked horns and clad in the skin that Nicholas had

smuggled back from Africa. It was so realistic that for a moment she

expected it to leap off the table and dash away as she walked towards

it.

“Oh, Nicky. It’s beautifully done!” She circled it appraisingly. “The

artist has captured it exactly.”

The model brought back to her vividly the heat and smell of the bush in

the gorge, and she felt a twinge of nostalgia and sadness for the

delicate, beautiful creature.

Its glass eyes were deceptively lifelike and bright, and the end of its

proboscis looked wet and gleaming as though it was about to wiggle it

and sniff the air.

“I think it’s splendid. Glad you agree with me.” He stroked the soft,

smooth hide. She felt this was not the moment to spoil his boyish

pleasure. “As soon as we have Ir sorted out Taita’s puzzle, I intend

writing a paper on it for the Natural History Museum, the same lads that

called Great-grandpapa a liar. Restore the family honour.” He laughed

and spread a dust-sheet over the model. Carefully he lifted it down from

the table and placed it safely in a corner of the room where it was out

of harm’s way.

“That was the first surprise I had saved up for you. But now for the big

one.” He pointed to a sofa against one wall.

“Take a seat. I don’t want you to be bowled over by this.” She smiled at

his nonsense, but went obediently to the furthest end of the sofa afid

curled her legs under her as she settled there. Sapper Webb came to sit

awkwardly at the other end, obviously uncomfortable at being so close to

her.

“Let’s talk about how we are going to get into the chasm on the Dandera

river,” Nicholas suggested. “Sapper and I have talked about nothing else

the whole time that you have been away.”

“That and catching fish, I’ll warrant.” She grinned at him, and he

looked guilty.

“Well, both subjects involve water. That is my justification.” His

expression became serious. “You recall that we discussed the idea of

exploring the depths of Taita’s pool with scuba gear, and I explained

the difficulties.”

“I remember,” she agreed. “You said the pressure into the underwater

opening was too great, and that we would have to find another method of

getting in there.”

“Correct.” Nicholas smiled mysteriously. “Well, Sapper here has already

earned the exorbitant fee that I have promised him – promised, I

emphasize, not yet paid. He has come up with the alternative method.”

Now she too became serious and unfolded her legs.

She placed both feet on the floor and leaned forward attentively, with

her elbows on her knees and her chin cupped in her hands.

“It must have been all those brains of his that pushed out his hair. I

mean, it’s very neat thinking. Although it was staring us both in the

face, neither you nor I thought of it.”

Stop it, Nicky,” she told him ominously, “you are doing it again.”

“I am going to give you a clue.” He ignored the warning and went on

teasing her blithely. “Sometimes the old ways are the best. That’s the

‘if you are so clever, how come you aren’t famous?” she began, and then

broke off as the solution occurred to her.

“The old ways? You mean, the same way as Taita did it?

The same way he reached the bottom of the pool without the benefit of

diving equipment?”

“By George! I think she’s got itV Nicholas put on a convincing Rex

Harrison imitation.

“A dam.” Royan clapped her hands. “You propose to redam. the river at

the same place where Taita built his dam four thousand years ago.”

“She’s got it Nicholas laughed. “No flies on our girl!

Show her your drawings, Sapper.”

Sapper Webb made no attempt to disguise his selfsatisfaction as he went

to the board that stood against the facing wall. Royan had noticed it,

but had paid no attention to it, until now he pulled away the cover and

proudly displayed the illustrations that were pegged to it.

She recognized immediately the enlargements of the photographs that

Nicholas had taken at the putative site of Taita’s.dam on the Dandera

river, and others that he had taken in the ancient quarry that Tamre had

shown them. These had been liberally adorned with calculations and lines

in thick black marker pen.

“The major has provided me with estimates of the dimensions of the river

bed at this point, and he has also calculated the height that we will

have to raise the wall to induce a flow down the former course. I have,

of course, allowed for errors in these calculations. Even if these

errors are in the region of thirty percent, I believe that the project

is still feasible with the very limited equipment we will have available

to us.”

“If the ancient Egyptians could do it, it will be a breeze for you,

Sapper.”

“Kind of you to say so, major, but “breeze” is not the word I would have

chosen.”

He turned to the drawings pegged beside the photographs on the board,

and Royan saw that they were plans and elevations of the project based

upon the photographs and Nicholas’s estimates.

“There are a number of different methods of dam construction, but these

days most of them presuppose the availability of reinforced concrete and

heavy earth-moving Al.

equipment. I understand that we will not have the benefit of these

modern aids.”

“Remember Taita,” Nicholas exhorted him. “He did it without bulldozers.”

“On the other hand, the Egyptians probably had unlimited numbers of

slaves at their disposal.”

“Slaves I can promise you. Or the modern equivalent thereof. Unlimited

numbers? Well, perhaps not.”

“The more tabour you can provide, the sooner I can divert the flow of

the river for you. We are agreed that this has to be done before the

onset of the rainy season.”

“We have two months at the most.” Nicholas dropped his flippant

attitude. “As regards the provision of tabour, I will be relying on

enlisting the aid of the monastic community at St. Frumentius. I am

still working out a sound theological reason that might convince them to

take part in the building of the dam. I don’t think they will fall for

the idea that we have discovered the site of the Holy Sepulchre in

Ethiopia and not in Jerusalem.”

“You find me the tabour, and I will build your dam,” Sapper grunted. “As

you said earlier, the old ways are the best. It is almost certain that

the ancients would have used a system of gabions and coffer dams to lay

the foundations of the original dam.”

“Sorry,” Royan interrupted. “Gabions? I don’t have an engineering

degree.”

“I am the one who must apologize.” Sapper made a clumsy attempt at

chivalry. “Let me show you my drawings.” He turned to the board. “What

this fellow Taita probably did was to weave huge bamboo baskets, which

he placed in the river and filled with rock and stone. These are what we

call gabions.” He indicated the plans on the board. “After that he would

have used rough-cut timber to build circular walls between the gabions –

the coffer dams. These he would also have filled with stone and earth.”

“I get the general idea,” Royan said, sounding dubious, “but then it is

not really necessary for me to understand all the details.”

“Right you are!” Sapper agreed heartily. “Although the major assures me

that there is all the timber we will need on the site, I plan to use

wire mesh for the construction of the abions and human tabour for the

filling of the mesh 9 nets with stone and aggregate.”

“Wire mesh?” Royan demanded. “Where do you hope to find that in the

Abbay valley?”

Sapper began to reply, but Nicholas forestalled him.”

will come to that in a moment. Let Sapper finish his lecture. Don’t

spoil his fun. Tell Royan about the stone from the quarry. She will

enjoy that.”

“Although I have designed the dam as a temporary Structure, we have to

make certain that it is capable of holding back the river long enough to

enable the members of our team to enter the underwater tunnel in the

downstream pool Safely-‘

“We call it Taita’s pool,’Nicholas told him, and Sapper nodded.

“We have to make sure that the dam does not burst while people are in

there. You can imagine the consequences, should that happen.”

He was silent for a moment while he let them dwell upon the possibility.

Royan shuddered slightly and hugged her own arms.

“Not very pleasant,” Nicholas agreed. “So you plan to use the blocks?”

he prompted Sapper.

“That’s right. I have studied the photographs taken in the quarry. I

have picked out over a hundred and fifty granite blocks lying there

completed or almost completed, and I calculate that if we use these in

combination with the steel mesh gabions and the timber coffer walls,

this would give us a firm foundation for the main dam wall.”

“Those blocks must weigh many tons each,” Royan pointed out. “How will

you move them?” Then, as Sapper opened his mouth to explain, she changed

her mind. “No!

don’t tell me. If you say it’s possible, I will take your word for it.”

“It’s possible,” Sapper assured her.

“Taita did it,” Nicholas said. “We will be doing it all his way. That

should please you. After all, he is a relative of yours.”

“You know, you are right. In a strange sort of way, it does give me

pleasure.” She smiled at him. I think it’s a good omen. When does all

this happen?”.

“It’s happening already,” Nicholas told her. “Sapper and I have already

ordered all the stores and equipment that we will be taking with us.

Even the mesh for the gabions has been precut to size by a small

engineering firm near here. Thanks to the recession, they had machines

standing idle.”

“I have been down there at their workshop every day, supervising the

cutting and packing,” Sapper butted in.

“Half the shipment is already on its way. The rest of it will follow

before the weekend.”

Sapper is leaving this afternoon to take charge and get it all loaded.

You and I have some last-minute arrangements to see to, and then we will

follow him at the end of the week. You must remember I was not expecting

you back from Cairo so soon,’Nicholas said. “If I had known, I could

have arranged for us all to fly down to Valletta together.”

“Valletta?” Royan looked mystified. “As in Malta? I thought we were

going to Ethiopia.”

“Malta is where Jannie Badenhorst has his base.”

“Jannie who?”

“Badenhorst. Africair.”

“Now you have really lost me.”

“Africair is an air transport company that owns one old ex-RAF Hercules,

flown by Jannie and his son Fred. They use Malta as their base. It’s a

stable and pragmatic little no country African politics, no corruption –

and yet it is the door to most of the destinations in the Middle East

and in the northern half of Africa where Jannie and Fred do most of

their work. His main employment is smuggling booze into the Islamic

countries, where of course it is prohibited. He’s the Al Capone of the

Mediterranean.

Bootlegging is big business in that part of the world, but he does take

on other work. Duraid and I flew into Libya from there with Jannie on

our little jaunt to the Tibesti Massif.

Jannie will be taking us down to the Abbay.”

“Nicky, I don’t want to be a killjoy, but you and I are now undesirable

immigrants to Ethiopia. Had you over looked that little fact? How do you

propose to get back in there?”

“Through the back door,” Nicholas grinned, “and my old pal Mek Nimmur is

the gatekeeper.”

“You have been in contact with Mek?”

“With Tessay. It seems that she is now his go’between.

I imagine it’s very convenient for Mek to have her on board. She has all

the right connections, and she can slip in and out of Khartoum or Addis

or places where it might be awkward or even dangerous for him to be

seen.”

“Well, well!” Royan looked impressed. “You have been busy.”

“Not all of us can afford a holiday in Cairo whenever the fancy takes

us,” he told her tartly.

“One more little question.” She ignored the jibe, although she realized

that despite his easy smile her absence must have irked him. “Does Mek

know about Taita’s game?”

“Not in detail.” Nicholas shook his head. “But he has some suspicions,

and anyway I know I can rely on him.” He hesitated, and then went on.

“Tessay was very cagey when I spoke to her on the phone, but it seems

that there has been some sort of attack on St. Frumentius monastery. Jah

Hora. and thirty or forty of his monks were massacred, and most of the

sacred relics from the church were stolen.”

“Oh, dear God, no!” Royan looked stricken. “Who would do a thing like

that?”

“The same people who murdered Duraid, and made three attempts to wipe

you out.”

“Pegasus.”

“Von Schiller,” he agreed.

“Then we are directly responsible,” Royan whispered.

“We led them to the monastery. The Polaroids they captured from us when

they raided our camp would have shown them the stele and the tomb of

Tanus. Von Schiller wouldn’t have to be a clairvoyant to guess where we

had taken them. Now there is more blood on our hands.”

“Hell, Royan, how can you take responsibility for von Schiller’s

madness? I am not going to let you punish yourself for that.” Nicholas’s

tone was sharp and angry.

“We started this whole thing.”

“I don’t agree with that, but I admit that von, Schiller is the one who

must have cleaned out the maqdas of St. Frumentius and that the stele

and the coffin are now almost certainly part of his collection.”

“Oh, Nicky, I feel so guilty. I never realized what a danger we were to

those simple devout Christians.”

“Do you want to call off the whole thing?” he asked cruelly.

She thought about it seriously for a while, then shook her head.

“No. Perhaps when we go back we will be able to compensate the monks for

their losses with what we find in the bottom of Taita’s pool.”

“I hope so,” he agreed fervently. “I do hope so.”

The giant Hercules -Mkl four-engined turbo, prop aircraft was painted a

dusty nondescript brown, and the identification lettering on the

fuselage was faded and indistinct. There was no Afticair legend

displayed anywhere on the machine, and it had a tired and scruffy

appearance that spoke eloquently of the fact that it was almost forty

years old and had flown well over half a million hours even before it

had fallen into Jannie Badenhorst’s hands.

“Does that thing still fly?” Royan asked, as she looked at it standing

forlornly in a back corner of the Valletta airfield. Its drooping belly

gave it the air of a sad old streetwalker who had been put out of

business by an unexpected and unlooked-for pregnancy.

Jannie keeps it looking that way deliberately,” Nicholas assured her.

“The places that he flies to, it’s best not to draw envious eyes.”

“He certainly succeeds.”

“But both Jannie and Fred are first-rate aero-engineers, Between them

they keep Big Dolly perfect under her engine cowlings.

“Big Dolly?”

“Dolly Parton. Jannie is an avid fan.” The taxi dropped them and their

meagre luggage outside the side door of the hangar, and Nicholas paid

the driver while Royan thrust her hands -into the pockets of her anorak

and shivered in the cold wind off the Mediterranean.

“There’s Jannie now.” Nicholas pointed to the bulky figure in greasy

brown overalls coming down the loading ramp of the Hercules. He saw them

and jumped down off the ramp.

“Hello, man! I was beginning to give up on you,” he said as he came

shambling across the tarmac. He looked like a rugby player, as he had

been in his youth, and the slight limp was from an old playing-field

injury.

“We were late leaving Heathrow. Strike by French air traffic control.

The joys of international travel,” Nicholas told him, and then

introduced Royan.

“Come and meet my new secretary,” Jannie invited.

She may even give you a cup of coffee.”

He led them through a wicket in the main hangar door and into the

cavernous interior. There was a small office cubicle beside the entrance

with a sign over the door saying Africair’ and the company logo of a

winged battleaxe.

Mara, Jannie’s new secretary, was a Maltese lady only a few years

younger than himself. What she lacked in youth and beauty she fully made

up for across the chest.

“Jannie likes them mature and with plenty of top hamper,” Nicholas

murmured to Royan from the side of his mouth.

Mara gave them coffee, while Jannie went over his flight plan with

Nicholas.

“It’s a little complicated,” he apologized. “As you can imagine, we will

have to do a bit of ducking and diving.

Muammar Gadaffi is not wallowing in affection for me at the moment, so

I’ rather not overfly any of his territory.

We will be going in through Egypt, but without landing there.” He

pointed out their flight path on the maps spread over his desk.

“Bit of a problem over the Sudan. They are having a little civil war

there.” He winked at Nicholas. I However, the northern government are

not equipped with the most up-to’date radar in the world. Lot of old

Russian reject stuff. It’s an enormous bit of country, and Fred and I

have worked out their blank spots. We will be keeping well clear of

their main military installations.”

“What’s our flying time?” Nicholas wanted to know.

Jannio pulled a face. “Big Dolly is no sprinter, and as I have just told

you we will not be taking any short-cuts.”

“How long?”Nicholas insisted.

“Fred and I have rigged up bunks and a kitchen, so that during the

flight you will have all the comforts of home.” He lifted his cap and

scratched his head before he admitted, “Fifteen hours.”

“Has Big Dolly got that sort of endurance?” Nicholas wanted to know.

“Extra tanks. Seventy-one thousand kilos of fuel. Even with the load you

have given us, we can get there and back without refuelling.” He was

interrupted by the huge hangar doors rolling open, and a heavy truck

being driven through. “That will be Fred and Sapper now.” Jannie swigged

the last of his coffee and hugged Mara. She giggled, and her bosom

quivered like a snowfield on the point of an avalanche.

The truck parked at the far end of the hangar, where. an array of

equipment and stores was already neatly stacked, ready for loading. When

Fred climbed down from the cab, Jannie introduced him to Royan. He was a

younger version of the father, already beginning to spread around the

waist, and with an open bucolic face, more like a Karroo sheep farmer

than a commercial pilot.

“That’s the last truckload.” Sapper came around the front of the truck

and shook Nicholas’s hand. “All set to begin loading.”

“I want to take off before four ‘clock tomorrow morning. That will get

us into our rendezvous at the optimum time tomorrow evening,’Jannie cut

in. “We have a bit of work to do, if we are going to get some sleep

before we leave.” He gestured to the pallets waiting to be loaded.

I wanted to get some of the local lads to give a hand with the loading,

but Sapper wouldn’t hear of it.”

“Quite right,” Nicholas agreed, “The fewer who are in on this, the

merrier. Let’s get cracking.”

The cargo had been prepacked on the steel pallets, secured with heavy

nylon strapping and covered with cargo netting. There were thirty-six

loaded pallets, and the canvas packs containing the parachutes formed an

integral part of each load. This huge Cargo would require two separate

flights to ferry it all across to Africa.

Royan called out the contents of each pallet from the typed manifest,

while Nicholas checkd it against the actual load. Nicholas and Sapper

had worked out the loads carefully to ensure that the items that would

be required first were on the initial flight. Only when he was Certain

that each pallet was complete in every detail id he signal to Fred, who

was operating the forklift. Fred ran the arms into the slots of the

pallet and lifted it, then he drove it out of the hangar and up the ramp

of the Hercules.

In the hold of the enormous aircraft, jannie and Sapper helped Fred to

position each pallet precisely on the rollers and then strap it down

securely. The last part of the cargo to go aboard was the small

front-end-loading tractor.

Sapper had found this in a secondhand yard in York, and after testing it

exhaustively declared it to be a “steal’. Now he drove this up the ramp

under its own power, and lovingly strapped it down to the rollers.

The -tractor made up almost a third of the total weight of the entire

shipment, but it was the one item that Sapper considered essential if

they were to complete the earthworks for the dam in the time that

Nicholas had stipulated.

He had calculated that it would require a cluster of five cargo

parachutes to get the heavy tractor back to earth without damage. Fuel

for it would of course present a problem, and the bulk of the second

cargo would be made up of dieseline in special nylon tanks that could

withstand the impact of an airdrop.

it was after midnight before the aircraft was loaded with the first

shipment. The remaining pallets were still stacked against the hangar

wall awaiting Big Dolly’s return for the second flight. Now they could

turn their full attention to the farewell banquet of island specialities

that Mara had laid out for the ‘ in the tiny Africair office.

“Yes,” Jannie assured them, I she’s also a good cook,” and gave Mara a

loving squeeze as she rested her bosom on his shoulder, leaning over him

to refill his plate with calamari.

“Happy landings!” Nicholas gave them the toast in red Chianti.

“Eight hours between the throttle and the bottle,” jannie apologized, as

he drank the toast in Coca-Cola.

They lay down their clothes to get a few hours’ sleep on the bunks

bolted to the bulkhead behind the flight deck, but it seemed to Royan

that she was woken only a few minutes later by the quiet voices of the

two pilots completing their pre-take-off checks, and the whine of the

starters on the huge turbo-prop engines. As Jannie spoke on the radio to

the control tower, and Fred taxied out to the holding point, the three

passengers climbed out of their bunks and strapped themselves into the

folding seats down the side of the main cabin. Big Dolly climbed into

the night sky and the lights of the island dwindled and were swiftly

lost behind them. Then there was only the dark sea below and the bright

pricking of the stars above. Royan turned her head to smile at Nicholas

in the dim overhead lights of the cabin.

“Well, Taita, we are back on court for the final set.” Her voice was

tight with excitement.

“The one good thing about being forced to sneak about like this is that

Pegasus may take a while to find out that we are back in the Abbay

gorge.” Nicholas looked complacent.

“Let’s hope that you are right.” Royan held up her right hand and

crossed her fingers. “We will have enough to worry about with what Taita

has in store for us, without Pegasus muscling in on us again just yet.”

They are on their way back to Ethiopia,” said von Schiller with utter

certainty.

“How can we be certain of that, Herr von Schiller?” Nahoot asked.

Von Schiller glared at him. The Egyptian irritated him intensely, and he

was beginning to regret having employed him. Nahoot had made very little

headway in deciphering the meaning of the engravings on the stele that

they had taken from the monastery.

The actual translation had offered no insurmountable problems. Von

Schiller was convinced that he could have done this work himself,

without Nahoot’s assistance, given time and the use of his extensive

library of reference works.

It comprised, for the most part, nonsensical rhymes and extraneous

couplets out of place and context. One face of the stele was almost

completely covered by columns of letters and figures that bore no

relation whatsoever to the text on the other three faces of the column.

But although Nahoot would not admit it, it was clear that the underlying

meaning behind most of this had eluded him. Von Schiller’s patience was

almost exhausted.

He was tired of listening to Nahoot’s excuses, and to promises that were

never fulfilled. Everything about him, from his oily ingratiating tone

of voice to his sad eyes in their deep lined sockets, had begun to annoy

him. But especially he had come to detest his exasperating habit of

questioning the statements that he, Gotthold von Schiller, made.

“General Obeid was able to inform me of their exact flight arrangements

when they left Addis Ababa. It was very simple to have my security men

at the airport when they arrived in England. Neither Harper nor the

woman are the kind of people that are easily overlooked, even in a

crowd. My men followed the woman to Cairo-‘

“Excuse me, Herr von Schiller, but why did you not have her taken care

of if you were aware of her movements?”

“Dummkopf!” von Schiller snapped at him. “Because it now seems that she

is much more likely to lead me to the tomb than you are.”

“But, sir, I have done-‘ Nahoot protested.

you have done nothing but make up excuses for your ilure. Thanks to you,

the stele is still an enigma,’

own fa von Schiller interrupted him contemptuously.

“It is very difficult-‘

“Of course it is difficult. That’s why I am paying you a great deal of

money. If it were easy I would have done it myself. If it is indeed the

instruction to find the tomb of Mamose, then the scribe Taita meant it

to be difficult.”

“If I am allowed a little more time, I think I am very near to

establishing the key-‘

“You have no more time. Did you not hear what I have just told you?

Harper is on his way back to the Abbay gorge. They flew from Malta last

night in a chartered aircraft that was heavily loaded with cargo. My men

were not able to establish the nature of that cargo, except that it

included some earth-moving equipment, a front-endloading tractor. To me,

this can mean only one thing.

They have located the tomb, and they are returning to begin excavating

it.”

“You will be able to get rid of them as soon as they reach the

monastery.” Nahoot relished the thought.

“Colonel Nogo will-‘

“Why do I have to keep repeating myself?” Von Schiller’s voice turned

shrill and he slapped his hand down on the tabletop. “They are now our

best chance of finding the tomb of Mamose. The very last thing that I

want to happen is that any harm should come to them.” He glared at

Nahoot. “I am sending you back to Ethiopia immediately.

Perhaps you will be of some use to me there. You are certainly no use

here.”

Nahoot looked disgruntled, but he had better sense than to argue again.

He sat sullenly as von Schiller went on, “You will go to the base camp

and place yourself under the command of Helm. You will take your orders

from him.

Treat them as if they come directly from me. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Herr von Schiller,” Nahoot muttered sulkily.

“Do not interfere in any way with Harper and the woman. They must not

even know that you are at the base camp. The Pegasus geological team

will carry on its normal duties.” He paused and smiled bleakly, then

went on, “It is most fortunate that Helm has actually discovered very

promising evidence of large deposits of galena, which as you may know is

the ore from which lead is obtained. He will continue the exploratory

work on-these deposits, and if they bear out their promise they will

make the entire operation highly profitable.”

“What exactly will be my duties?” Nahoot wanted to know.

“You will be playing the waiting game. I want you there ready to take

advantage of any progress- that Harper makes. However, you are to give

him plenty of elbow room.

You will not alert him by any overflights with the helicopter, or by

approaching his camp. No more midnight raids.

Every move that you make must be cleared with me before, I repeat

before, you take any action.”

“If I am to operate under these restrictions, how will I know if Harper

and the woman have made any progress?”

“Colonel Nogo already has a reliable man, a spy, in the monastery. He

will inform us of every move that Harper makes.”

“But what about me? What will be my work?”

“You will evaluate the intelligence that Nogo collects.

You are familiar with archaeological methods. You will be able to judge

what Harper is trying to achieve, and you will be able to tell what

success he is enjoying.”

“I see,’Nahoot muttered.

“If it were possible I would have gone back to the Abbay gorge myself.

-However, this is not possible. It may take time, months perhaps, before

Harper makes any important progress. You know as well as anybody that

these things take time.”

“Howard Carter worked for ten years at Thebes before he found the tomb

of Tutankhamen,” Nahoot pointed out maliciously.

“I hope that it will not take that long,” said von Schiller coldly. “If

it does, it is very unlikely that you will still be involved with the

search. As for myself, I have a series of very important negotiations

coming up here in Germany, as well as the annual general meeting of the

company. These I cannot miss.”

“You will not be coming back to Ethiopia at all, then?” Nahoot perked up

at the prospect of escaping from von Schiller’s malignant influence.

“I will come as soon as there is something for me there.

I will be relying on you to decide when my presence is needed.”

“What about the stele! I should-‘

“You will continue to work on the translation.” Von Schiller forestalled

his objections. “You will take a full set of photographs with you to

Ethiopia, and you will continue your work while you are there. I shall

expect you to report to me by satellite, at least once a week, on your

progress.”

“When do you want me to leave?”

ly, “Immediately. Today if that is possible. Speak to Frulein Kemper.

She will make your travel arrangements.” For the first time during the

interview Nahoot looked happy.

Dolly droned on steadily southeastwards, ig and there was very little to

relieve the boredom of the flight. The dawn was just breaking when they

crossed the African coast at a remote and lonely desert beach that

Jannie had chosen for just this reason.

Once they were over the land there was as little of interest to see as

there had been over the sea. The desert stretched away, bleak and brown

and featureless in every direction.

At irregular intervals they heard Jannie in the cockpit speaking to air

traffic control, but as they were able to hear only half the

conversation they had no idea as to- the identity or the nationality of

the station. Occasionally Jannie dropped the heavily accented English he

was affecting and broke into Arabic. Royan was surprised by Jannie’s

fluency in the language, but then as an Afrikaner the guttural sounds

came naturally to him. He was even able to mimic the different accents

and dialects of Libyan and Egyptian convincingly as he tied his way

across the desert.

For the first few hours Sapper pored over his dam drawings; then, unable

to proceed further until he had the exact measurements of the site, he

curled up on his bunk with a paperback novel. The unfortunate author was

unable to hold his attention for long. The open book sagged down over

his face, and the pages fluttered every time he emitted a long grinding

snore.

Nicholas and Royan huddled on her bunk with the chessboard between them,

until hunger overtook them and they moved to the makeshift galley. Here

Royan took the subservient role of bread’sticer and coffee-maker, while

Nicholas demonstrated his artistry in creating a range of Dagwood

sandwiches. They shared the food with Jannie and Fred, perched up behind

the pilots’ seats in the cockpit.

“Are we still over Egyptian territory?” Royan asked.

With his mouth full, Jannie pointed out over the port wingtip of Big

Dolly. “Fifty nautical miles out there is Wadi Halfia. My father was

killed there in 1943. He was with the Sixth South African Division. They

called it Wadi Hellfire.” He took another monstrous bite of sandwich. “I

never knew the old man. Fred and I landed there once.

Tried to find his grave.” He shrugged eloquently. “It’s a hell of a big

piece of country. Lots of graves. Very few of- them marked.”

Nobody spoke for a while. They chewed their sandwiches, thinking their

own thoughts. Nicholas’s father had also fought in the desert against

Rommel. He had been more fortunate than Jannie’s father.

Nicholas glanced across at Royan. She was staring out of the window at

her homeland, and there was something so passionate and fraught in her

gaze that Nicholas was startled. The temptation to think of her as an

English girl, like her mother, was at most times irresistible. It was

only in odd moments such as these that he became intensely aware of the

other facets of her being.

She seemed unaware of his scrutiny. Her occupation was total. He

wondered what she was thinking what dark and mysterious thoughts were

smouldering there.

He remembered how she had seized the very first opportunity on their

return from Ethiopia to hurry back to Cairo, and once again a feeling of

disquiet came over him. He wondered if other emotional ties of which he

was unaware might not transcend those loyalties which he had taken for

granted. He realized with something of a shock that they had been

together for only a few short weeks, and despite the strong attraction

that she exerted over him he knew very little about her.

processor’ Alost POPU

At that moment she started and looked round at him quickly. Crowded as

they were at the portside window, they stared into each other’s eyes

from a distance of only a foot or so. It was only for a few seconds but

what he saw in her eyes, the dark shadows of guilt or some other

emotion, did nothing to allay his misgivings.

She turned back to Jannie, leaning over his shoulder to ask, “When will

we cross the Nile?”

“On the other side of the border. The Sudanese government concentrate

all their attentions on the rebels in the far south. There are some

stretches of the river here in the north that are completely deserted.

Pretty soon now we will be going down right on the deck, to get under

the radar pings from the Sudanese stations around Khartoum.

We will slip through one of the gaps.”

jannie lifted the aeronautical map on its clipboard from his lap, and

held it so she could see it. With one thick, stubby finger he showed

Royan their intended route.

it was drawn in with blue wax pencil, “Big Dolly has taken this route so

often that she could fly it without my hands on the stick, couldn’t you,

old girl?” He patted the instrument panel affectionately.

Two hours later, when Nicholas and Royan were back at the chess board in

the main cabin, Janrfie called them on the PA, “Okay, folks. No need to

panic. We are going to lose some altitude now. Come up front and watch

the show.”

Strapped into fold-down seats in the back of the flight deck, they were

treated to a superb exhibition of low flying by Fred. The descent was so

rapid that Royan felt they were about to fall out of the sky, and that

she had left her stomach back there somewhere at thirty thousand feet.

Fred levelled Big Dolly out only feet above the desert floor, so low

that it was like riding in a high-speed bus rather than flying. Fred

lifted her delicately over each undulation of the tawny, sun’scorched

terrain, skimming the black rock ridges and standing on a wingtip to

swerve around the occasional wind-blasted hill.

“Nile crossing in seven and a half minutes.” jannie punched, the

stopwatch fixed to the control wheel in front of him. “And unless my

navigation has gone all to hell there should be an island shaped like a

shark directly under us as we cross.”

As the needle of the stopwatch came up to the mark, the broad,

glittering expanse of the river flashed beneath them. Royan caught a

brief glimpse of a green island with a few thatched huts on the tip, and

a dozen dugout canoes lying on the narrow beach.

“Well, the old man hasn’t lost his touch yet,” Fred remarked. “Still

good for a few thousand miles before we trade him in.”

“Not so much of the old man stuff, you little squirt. I have some tricks

up my sleeve that I haven’t even used yet.”

“Ask Mara.” Fred grinned affectionately at his father as he banked on to

a new southwesterly heading, and with his wingtip so close to the ground

that he scattered a herd of camels feeding in the sparse thorn scrub.

They lumbered away across the plain, each trailing a wisp of white dust

like a wedding train.

“Another three hours’ flying time to the rendezvous.” Jannie looked up

from the map. “Spot on! We should land forty minutes before sunset.

Couldn’t be better,’

“I’ better go back and change into my hiking gear, then.” Royan went

back into the main cabin, pulled her bag from under the bunk and

disappeared into the lavatory. When’ she emerged twenty minutes later

she wore khaki culottes and a cotton top.

“These boots were made for walking.” She stamped them on the deck.

“That’s fine.” Nicholas watched her from the bunk.

“But how about that knee?”

t vopuiuj ProcesV

“It will get me there,” she said, defensively.

“You mean I am to be deprived of the pleasure of back acking you again?”

The Ethiopian mountains came up so subtly on the eastern horizon that

Royan was not aware of them until Nicholas pointed out to her the faint

blue outline against the brighter blue of the African sky.

“Almost there.” He glanced at his wrist-watch. “Let’s go up to the

flight deck.”

Looking forward through the windshield there was no landmark ahead of

them – just the vast brown savannah, speckled with the black dots of

acacia trees.

“Ten minutes to go,” Jannie intoned. “Anyone see anything?” There was no

reply, and they all stared ahead.

“Five minutes.”

“Over there!” Nicholas pointed over his shoulder.

4 “That’s the course of the Blue Nile.” A denser grove of thorn trees

formed a dark line far ahead. “And there is the smokestack of the

derelict sugar’mill on the river bank.

Mek Nimmur says that the airstrip is about three miles from the mill.”

“Well, if it is, it’s not shown, on the chart,” Jannie grumbled. “One

minute before we are on the coordinates.”

The minute ticked off slowly on the stopwatch.

“Still nothing-‘ Fred broke off as a red flare shot up from the earth

directly ahead and flashed past Big Dolly’s JI nose. Everyone in the

cockpit smiled and relaxed with relief.

“Right on the nose.” Nicholas patted Jannie’s shoulder in

congratulations. “Couldn’t have done better myself.”

Fred climbed a few hundred feet and came round in a one-eighty turn. Now

there were two signa I fires burning out there on the plain – one with

black smoke,, the other sending a column of white straight up into the

still evening sky. It was only when they were a kilometer out that they

were able to make out the faint outline of the overgrown and

long’disused landing strip. Roseires airstrip had been built twenty

years before by a company that tried to grow sugar cane under irrigation

from the Blue Nile. But Africa had won again and the company had passed

into oblivion, leaving this feeble scrape mark on the plain as its

epitaph.

Mek Nimmur had chosen this remote and deserted place for the rendezvous.

“No sign of a reception committee,” Jannie grunted.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Continue your approach,” Nicholas told him. “There should be another

flare – ah, there it is!” The ball of fire shot up from a clump of thorn

trees at the far end -of the runway, and for the first time they were

able to make out human figures in the bleak landscape. They had stayed

hidden until the very last moment.

“That’s Mek, all right! Go ahead and land.”

As Big Dolly finished her roll-out and the end of the rough and pitted

runway came up ahead, a figure in camouflage fatigues popped up ahead of

them. With a pair of paddles it signalled them to taxi into the space

between two of the tallest thorn trees.

Jannie cut the engines and grinned at them over his shoulder. “Well,

boys and girls, looks like we pulled off another lucky one!’

Then from the height of Big Dolly’s-cockpit there was no mistaking the

commanding figure of Mek Nimmur as he emerged from the cover of the

clump of acacia trees. Only now did they realize that the trees had been

shrouded with camouflage netting; this was why they had not been able to

spot any sign of human presence from the air. As soon as the loading

ramp was lowered, Mek Nimmur came striding up it.

“Nicholas! They embraced and, after Mek had kissed him noisily on each

cheek, he held Nicholas at arm’s was proce Wolrlc, length and studied

his face, delighted to see him again. “So I was right! You are up to

your old tricks. Not simply a dikdik shoot, was it?”

“How can I lie to an old friend?”Nicholas shrugged.

Hell’ “It always came easy to you,” Mek laughed, “but I am lad we are

going to have some fun together. Life has been very boring recently.”

“I bet!’Nicholas punched his shoulder affectionately.

A slim, graceful figure followed Mek up the ramp. In the olive-green

fatigues Nicholas hardly recognized Tessay until she spoke. She wore

canvas para boots and a cloth cap that made her look like a boy.

“Nicholas! Royan! Welcome back!” Tessay cried. The two women embraced as

enthusiastically as the men had done.

“Come on, you Ous!” Jannie protested. “This isn’t Woodstock. I have to

get back to Malta tonight. I want to take off before dark.”

Swiftly Mek took charge of the offloading. His men swarmed aboard and

manhandled the pallets forward on the rollers, while Sapper started up

his beloved front-end loader and used it to run the cargo down the ramp

and stack it in the acacia grove under the camouflage netting.

With so many hands to help it went swiftly, and Big Dolly’s hold was

emptied just as the sun settled wearily on to the horizon, and the short

African twilight bled all colour from the landscape.

Jannie and Nicholas had one last hurried discussion in the cockpit while

Fred completed his flight checks. They went over the plans and radio

procedures one last time.

Four days from today,” Jannie agreed, as they shook hands briefly.

“Let the man go, Nicholas,” Mek bellowed from below.

“We must get across the border before dawn.”

They watched Big Dolly taxi down to the end of the strip and swing

around. The engine beat crescendoed as she came tearing back in a long

rolling shroud of dust and lifted off over their heads. Jannie waggled

his wings in farewell and, without navigation lights showing, the great

aircraft blended like a black bat into the darkening sky and disappeared

almost immediately.

“Come here.” Nicholas led Royan to a seat under the acacia. “I don’t

want that knee to play up again.” He pushed her culottes halfway up. her

thigh and strapped the knee wit han elastic bandage, trying not to make

his pleasure in this task too apparent. He was pleased to see that the

bruising had almost faded and there was no longer any swelling.

He palpated it gently. Her skin was velvety and the flesh beneath it

firm and warm to the touch. He looked up, and from the expression on her

face realized that she was enjoying this intimacy as much’as he was. As

he caught her eye she flushed slightly, and quickly smoothed down her

culottes.

She jumped up and said, “Tessay and I have a lot of catching up to do,’

and hurried across to join her.

I am leaving a full combat platoon to guard your stores here,” Mek

explained to Nicholas as Tessay led Royan away. “We will travel in a

very small party as far as the border. I don’t expect any trouble. There

is very little enemy activity this sector at the moment. Lots of

fighting in the south, but we are quiet here. That is why I chose this

rendezvous.”

“How far to the Ethiopian border?”Nicholas wanted to know.

“Five hours’ march,” Mek told him. “We will slip through one of our

pipelines after the moon has set. The rest of my men are waiting in the

entrance to the Abbay gorge. We should rendezvous with them before dawn

tomorrow.”

“And from there to the monastery?”

“Another two days’ march,” Mek replied. “We will be there just in time

to receive the drop from your fat friend in the fat plane.”

He turned away and gave his last orders to the platoon commander who

would remain at Roseires to guard the stores. Then he assembled the

party of six men who would form their escort across the border. Mek

divided up the loads between them. The most important single item was

the radio, a modern military lightweight model which Nicholas carried

himself.

“Those bags of yours are too difficult to carry. You will have to repack

them,” Mek told Nicholas and Royan. So they emptied their bags and

stuffed the contents into the two canvas haversacks that Mek had ready

for them. Two of his men slung the haversacks over their shoulders and

disappeared into the darkness.

“He is not taking thatV Mek stared aghast at the bulky legs of the

theodolite that Sapper had retrieved from one of the pallets. Sapper

spoke no Arabic, so Nicholas had to translate.

“Sapper says that it is a delicate instrument. He cannot allow it to be

dropped from the aircraft. He says that if it is damaged he will not be

able to do the work he was hired for.”

“Who is going to carry it?” Mek demanded. “My men will mutiny if I try

to make them do it.”

“Tell the cantankerous bugger that I will carry it myself.” Sapper drew

himself up with dignity. “I wouldn’t let one of his great clumsy oafs

lay a finger on it.” He picked up the bundle, placed it over his

shoulder and stalked away with “a stiff back.

Mek let the advance guard have a five-minute start, and then he nodded.

“We can go now.”

Thirty minutes after Big Dolly had taken off, they left the airfield and

set out across the dark and silent plain, headed into the east. Mek set

a hard pace. He and Nicholas seemed to have the eyes of a pair of cats,

Royan thought, as she followed close behind them. They could see in the

darkness, and only a whispered warning from one of them prevented her

falling into a hole or tripping over a pile of rocks in the darkness.

When she did stumble, Nicholas seemed always to be there, reaching back

to steady her with a strong, firm grip.

They marched in complete and disciplined silence. It was only every

hour, when they rested for five minutes, that Nicholas and Mek sat close

together, and from the few quiet words she picked up Royan realized that

Nicholas was explaining to him the full reasons for their return to the

Abbay gorge. She heard Nicholas repeat the names “Mamose’ and “Taita’

often, and Mek’s deep voice questioning him at length. Then they would

be up again and moving forward in the night.

After a while she lost all sense of the distance they had travelled.

Only the hourly rest periods orientated her to the passage of time.

Fatigue crept over her slowly, until it required an effort to lift her

foot for each pace. Despite her boast, her knee was beginning to ache.

Now and then she felt Nicholas touch her arm, guiding her over the rough

places. At other times they would stop abruptly at some whispered

warning from up front. Then they would stand quietly waiting in the

darkness, nerves tensed, until at another whisper they would move on

again at the same pressing pace. Once she smelt the cool muddy effluvium

of the river on the dry warm night air, and she knew that they must be

very close to the Nile. Without a word being spoken she sensed the

nervous tension in the men ahead of her, and was aware of the alertness

in the way they carried themselves and their weapons.

“Crossing the border now,” Nicholas breathed close to her face, and the

tension was infectious. She forgot her tiredness, and heard her pulse

beating in her own ears.

This time they did not stop for the usual rest break, but continued for

another hour until slowly she felt the mood of the men changing. Someone

laughed softly, and there was a tightness in their pace as they swung on

towards the luminescence in the eastern sky. Abruptly the moon thrust

its crescent horns above the dark silhouette of faroff mountain ranges.

“All clear. We are through,” Nicholas told her in his normal voice.

“Welcome back to Ethiopia. How are you feeling?”

“I’ okay.”

“I am tired too.” He grinned at her in the moonlight.

“Pretty soon we will camp and rest. Not much further.”

He was lying, of course- the march went on and on until she wanted to

weep. And then suddenly she heard the sound of the river again, the soft

rushing flow of the Nile in the dawn. Up ahead she heard Mek talking to

the men who were waiting for them, and then Nicholas guided her off the

path and made her sit while he knelt in front of her and unlaced her

boots.

“You did well. I am proud of you,” he told her, as he stripped off her

socks and examined her feet for blisters.

Then he unbandaged the knee. It was slightly swollen, and he massaged it

with a skilled and tender touch.

She sighed softly, “Don’t stop. That feels good.”

“I’ll give you a Brufen for the inflammation.” He dug the pills out of

his pack and then spread his padded jacket AI for her to lie on. “Sorry,

the sleeping bags are with our other gear. Have to rough it until Jannie

makes his air drop.”

He passed her the water bottle, and while she swallowed the pill he

pulled the tab on a pack of emergency rations. “Not exactly gourmet fare

He sniffed the contents.

“In the army we call them rat packs.” She fell asleep with her mouth

still halffilled with tasteless meat loaf and plastic cheese.

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