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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“It is only the last shreds of glue holding the lid,” Nahoot reassured
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“Dr Al Simma,’Nicholas corrected him.
“But please call me Royan,” she cut in quickly, “and yes, I’ love a
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“By George! I think she’s got itV Nicholas put on a convincing Rex
“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
“If the ancient Egyptians could do it, it will be a breeze for you,
“Kind of you to say so, major, but “breeze” is not the word I would have
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
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
“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
“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
“The same people who murdered Duraid, and made three attempts to wipe
“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.
“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
“We were late leaving Heathrow. Strike by French air traffic control.
The joys of international travel,” Nicholas told him, and then
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
Looking forward through the windshield there was no landmark ahead of
them – just the vast brown savannah, speckled with the black dots of
“Ten minutes to go,” Jannie intoned. “Anyone see anything?” There was no
reply, and they all stared ahead.
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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 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
“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.