the air reflected the light and cast over them a luminous net that had
an ethereal, dreamlike quality.
Inscriptions covered every inch of space upon the walls and the high
roof. There were long quotations from all the mystical writings, from
the Book of Breathings, the Book of the Pylons and the Book of Wisdom.
Other blocks of hieroglyphics recited the history of Pharaoh Mamose’s
existence on this earth, and extolled those virtues that made the gods
Further along they came to the first of eight shrines set into the walls
of the long funeral gallery. This one was the shrine of Osiris. It was a
circular chamber, the curved wall decorated with texts in praise of the
god, and in its niche a small statue of Osiris in his tall feathered
head-dress, with eyes of onyx and rock crystal which stared at them so
lacably that Royan shivered. Nicholas reached out and gently touched the
foot of the god.
He said one word, “Gold!’
Then he looked up at the towering mural that covered the wall and half
the domed ceiling above and around the shrine. It was another gigantic
figure of the father Osiris, god of the Underworld, with his green face
and false beard, his arms crossed upon his chest, holding the flail and
the crook, wearing his tall feathered head-dress and with the erect
cobra on his brow. They gazed up at him with a sense of awe. As the
lamplight wavered in the shifting dust cloud LEI the god seemed to
become imbued with life, and to move and sway before their eyes.
They did not linger at the first shrine, for beyond it the gallery ran
on, straight as the flight of an arrow to its target. They followed it.
The next shrine set into the wall was dedicated to the goddess. The
golden figure of Isis sat in her niche, upon the throne that was her
symbol. The infant Horus suckled at her breast. Her eyes were ivory and
blue lapis lazuli.
Her murals covered the walls around her niche. There she was, the mother
with great kohl-lined eyes as black as night, wearing the sun disc and
the horns of the sacred cow pon her head. All around her, hieroglyphic
symbols covered the wall, so bright that they glowed like a cloud of
fireflies; for she possessed a hundred diverse names.
Amongst these were Ast and Net and Bast. She was also Ptah and Seker and
Mersekert and Rennut. Each of these names was a word of power, for her
sanctity and her benevolent aura had lived on where most of the old gods
had withered away for lack of worshippers to repeat and keep alive these
In ancient Byzantium and later in Christian Egypt they had bestowed the
old goddess’s virtues and attributes upon the Virgin Mary. The image of
her suckling the infant Horus had been perpetuated in the icons of the
Madonna and child. Thus Royan responded to the goddess in all her
entities, the mingled blood of Royan’s forefathers in her veins
acknowledging both Isis and Mary, heresy and truth mingling inextricably
in her heart, so that she felt at once both guilt and religious elation.
In the next shrine was a golden figure of Horus, the falcon-headed, the
last of the holy trinity. In his right hand he held the war-bow and in
his left the ankh, for life and death were his to dispense. His eyes
were red carrielians.
Portraits of his other entities surrounded the statue: Horus the infant,
suckling at the breast of Isis, Horus as the divine youth Harpocrates,
proud and lithe and beautiful, one finger touching his chin in the
ritual gesture, striding out on sandalled feet under his short, stiff
Then Horus the falcon-headed, sometimes with the body of a lion and then
with the body of a young warrior, wearing the great crown of the south
and the north united.
Beneath him was the inscription: “Great God and Lord of Heaven, of
nunifest power, Mighty one anwngst all the gods, whose strength has
vanqUished the foes of his divine father, Osiris.”
the fourth shrine stood Seth, the arch-fiend, the god of violence and
discord. His body was gold, but his head was the head of a black hyena.
In the fifth shrine stood the god of the dead and of the cemeteries,
Anubis the jackal-headed. It was he who officiated at the embalming, and
whose duty it was to examine the tongue of the great balance when the
heart of the eceased was weighed. If the beam of the scales were
exactly horizontal, then the dead man was declared worthy, but if the
balance tipped against him Anubis threw the heart to the crocodile
monster and it was devoured.
The sixth shrine was dedicated to the god of writing, Thoth. He had the
head of a sacred this and his stylus was in his hand. In the seventh
shrine the sacred cow Had stood squarely on all four hooves, her piebald
body spotted black and white, her face benignly human but with huge,
trumpet-shaped ears, The eighth shrine was the largest and most splendid
of all, for it belonged to Amon-Ra, father of all creation. He was the
sun, an enormous golden disc from which the slanting golden rays
emanated, Nicholas paused here and looked back down the long gallery.
Those eight -sacred statues comprised a treasure that matched anything
that Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon had discovered in the tomb of
He felt in his heart that it was crass even to consider their monetary
value. However, the simple truth was that even one of these
extraordinary works of art would be sufficient to pay off all his debts
many times over. But he thrust the thought aside and turned once more to
face the commodious chamber at the far end of the gallery.
“The burial chamber,” Royan murmured with awe. “The tomb.”
As they walked towards it the shadows retreated before A them, like the
ghost of the long-dead pharaoh scurrying back to its final resting
place. Now they could see into the tomb, Its walls were aflame with
still more magnificent murals. Though they had gazed upon so many of
these already, their eyes and their senses were not yet jaded or wearied
by such profusion.
A single elongated figure rose up the far wall, and then stooped across
the ceiling. It was the supple, sinuous body the goddess Nut, giving
birth to the sun. The gold
en rays poured forth from her open womb, suffusing the sarcophagus of
the pharaoh and endowing the dead king with new life.
The royal sarcophagus stood in the centre of the chamber, a massive
coffin hewn from a solid granite block.
How many slaves must have laboured to bring this mass of stone along the
subterranean passages, Nicholas wondered.
He could imagine their sweating bodies gleaming in the lamplight, and
hear the grating squeal of the wooden rollers under the immense weight
of the coffin.
, Then Nicholas looked down into the coffin, and felt the plunge of his
spirits as he realized that the sarcophagus was empty. The massive
granite lid had been lifted from its seat, and flung aside with such
violence that it had cracked across its width and now lay in two pieces
on the floor beside the coffin.
They moved forward slowly, the bitter taste of disappointment mingling
with the dust upon their tongues, until they could look down into the
open sarcophagus. It contained only the shattered fragments of the four
canopic jars. These vessels had been carved from alabaster to contain
the entrails, liver and other internal organs of the king. The broken
lids were decorated with the heads of gods and fabulous creatures from
beyond the grave.
“Empty!” whispered Royan. “The body of the king has gone.”
Over the following days, while they photographed the murals and packed
the statues of the eight gods and goddesses from the funeral gallery,
Royan and Nicholas discussed and argued the disappearance of the royal
mummy from its sarcophagus.
“The seals on the gate of the tomb were intact,” Royan pointed out
“There is probably an explanation for that,” Nicholas told her. “Taita
himself might have removed the treasure and the body. Many times in the
writing of the seventh scroll he laments the waste of such treasure. He
points out that it could have been much better spent in protecting and
nurturing the nation and its people.”
“No, it does not make sense,” Royan argued, “to go to such length as to
dam the river and tunnel under the pool, to build this elaborate tomb,
and then to remove and destroy the king’s mummy. Taita was always a
logical person. In his own way he revered the gods of Egypt. It shows in
all his writings. He would never have flouted the religious traditions
in which he believed so strongly. Some thing about this tomb does not
ring true for me – the mysterious and almost offhanded disappearance of
the body, even the paintings and the inscriptions up on the walls.”
“I agree with you about the missing corpse, but what do you find
illogical about the decorations?” Nicholas wanted to know.
“Well, the paintings first.” She indicated the image of Isis with a wave
of her hand. “They are lovely, and they are the work of a competent
classical artist, but they are hackneyed and stylized in form and choice
of colour. The figures are stiff and wooden – they do not move and
They lack that spark of genius that we were shown in the tomb of Queen
Lostris where the original scrolls in their alabaster jars were hidden.”
Nicholas considered the murals thoughtfully. I see what you mean. Even
the murals in the tomb of Tanus at the monastery are in a different
class from these.”
“Exactly! she said forcefully. “Those were the paintings of Taita
himself These are not. They were done by one of his hacks.” , “What
else is there about the inscriptions that you don’t like?”
“Have you ever heard of another tomb that did not have the text of the
Book of the Dead inscribed upon its walls, or that did not depict the
dead person’s journey through the seven pylons to reach the paradise
Nicholas looked startled; he had never considered that it fact. Without
replying he left her and went back down the long gallery, ostensibly to
supervise the packing of the sacred statues, but in reality to give
himself more time to consider what she had said.
Before leaving England Nicholas had seen to it that all of the more
vulnerable and breakable equipment that they had air-freighted into the
gorge had been packed in sturdy metal ammunition crates. All these
crates had waterproof rubber seals and strong lever fastenings. The
original contents had been padded and protected with olystyrene packing.
When they left Ethiopia the equipP
ment would be abandoned, but the crates, together with the packing
material, had been carefully preserved for iA transporting the treasures
that they might find in the tomb.
While six of the sacred statues fitted neatly into the crates, the
images of Hathor the cow and satanic Seth were too large. However,
Nicholas discovered that these had been carved in separate parts. The
heads were detachable, and the hoofed legs of Hathor were held into the
body by wooden pins that were rotted to dust. Broken down into their
separate parts, even these two larger statues could also be packed into
the metal cases.
Nicholas watched Hansith packing Seth’s ferocious head of ebony and
black resin into one of the crates. Then after a while he went back to
where Royan was working on the inscriptions on the wall above the empty
“Very well. I agree. You are right about the lack of inscriptions from
the Book of the Dead. It does seem strange.
But what can we do about it, other than accepting it as a mystery which
we can never unravel?”
“Nicky, there is something more here. This is not everything. I feel it
in every fibre of my being. We are missing something.”
“Who am I, a mere male, to question the veracity of a woman’s
“Stop being superior,” she snapped. “How long do I have to work over the
inscriptions from the stele?”
“A week or two at the most. I have to set up an RV with Jannie. We have
to be there at Roseires airstrip when he comes in to pick us up. That’s
one date we dare not reak., “Good Lord. I thought you would have
arranged that long ago. How will you contact Jannie from here?”
“Quite simple really.” Nicholas smiled. “There is a public telephone at
the post office in Debra Maryam, Tessay can move freely anywhere in the
Goiam. She will go up the escarpment with an escort of monks and
telephone Geoffrey Tennant at the British Embassy in Addis. I have
already arranged it with Geoffrey. He will relay a message on to
“Will Tessay do it for you?”
He nodded. “She has agreed to go up to Debra Maryam tomorrow. Jannie
must have as much notice as possible to get himself prepared for the
flight out from Malta. It’s going to need some firte timing for all of
us to arrive at the airstrip simultaneously. It will be asking for
trouble for one party to sit around waiting at Roseires for the others
awn on the first of April,” Nicholas gave Tessay the message. “Tell
Jannie . we will be there on April Fools’ Day! A nice easy one to
They watched Tessay set off along the trail with her escort of monks and
Royan asked Mek Nimmur quietly, “Don’t you worry about her going off
like this on her own?”
“She is a very competent person, and she is well known and liked
throughout the Gojam- She is as safe as any person can be in a dangerous
land.” Mek watched Tessay’s slim figure in shamnw and jodhpur pants
becoming smaller with distance. “I wish I could go with her, but-‘ Mek
Suddenly Royan exclaimed, “There is something that I forgot to ask her.”
She left Nicholas and Mek standing, and ran down the trail calling after
the other woman. Her voice floated back to where Nicholas stood watching
“Tessay! Wait! Come back!’
Tessay turned and waited for Royan to catch up with her. While the two
women stood talking together, Nicholas lost interest and turned to study
the distant silhouette of the escarpment-With a sinking feeling in the
pit of his stomach he saw that the thunderheads on the mountain tops
were denser and more ominous than they had been only days before. The
rains were building up swiftly now.
He wondered if they really had as long as they hoed before the dam was
threatened and they were driven out of the gorge by the rising waters.
All, He looked back down the path just in time to see Royan pass
something to Tessay, who nodded and pushed it into the pocket of her
jodhpurs. Then at last the two women embraced warmly, and Tessay turned
away. Royan stood in the middle of the trail, watching until a bend in
the valley hid Tessay from her. Then she walked slowly back to where
“What was all that about?”he wanted to know, and she smiled
“Girls’ secrets. There are some things that it’s best you brutish
males’don’t know about.” But when Nicholas raised an eyebrow at her, she
relented and told him, “Tessay will ask Geoffrey Tennant to send a
message to Mummy, just to let her know that I am all right. I don’t want
her to worry about me.”
As they climbed back down the scaffolding to where the fly camp had been
set up on the rock ledge beside Taita’s pool, Nicholas thought how
fortuitous it was that Royan had her mother’s phone number already
written down to hand to Tessay, and he wondered at this sudden
(I urge of Royan’s to report her whereabouts to her mother.
wonder what she is really up to?” he mused. “I will try and wheedle it
out of Tessay when she returns.”
Royan would have preferred to camp in the tomb itself, so as to be in
the midst of the inscriptions on which she was working, but Nicholas had
insisted that they sleep in the open air, and the ledge was as close as
they could get to their workplace. “The musty air in the tomb is very
probably unhealthy,” he told her. “Cave disease is a real danger in
these old enclosed places. They say that is what killed some of Howard
Carter’s people working in the tomb of Tutankhamen.”
“The fungus spores that cause cave disease breed in bat dung,” she
pointed out. “There are no bats in Mamose’s tomb. Taita sealed it up too
“Humour me,” he begged. “You cannot work in there for days on end. I
want you at least to get out of the tomb for a few hours each day.”
She shrugged. “Only as a special favour to you,” she agreed, but as they
reached the foot of the scaffolding she gave her new sleeping quarters
only a perfunctory glance and then headed for the coffer dam and the
entrance to the approach tunnel.
They had converted the landing at the top of the staircase, outside the
plaster-seated entrance to the tomb, into their workshop. Royan spread
her drawings and photographs and reference books on the rough table of
handhewn planks that Hansith made for her. Sapper had placed one of the
floodlamps above this crude desk so that she had good light to work by.
Against one wall of the landing they had stacked the ammunition crates
which contained the eight sacred statues. Nicholas had insisted on
storing all their discoveries where he could safeguard them adequately.
Mek’s armed men still kept a twenty-four-hour guard on the causeway over
While Nicholas completed his photographic record of the walls of the
long gallery and the empty burial chamber, Royan sat at her table and
pored over her papers for hours at a time, scribbling notes and
calculations from them into her notebooks. Now and then she would jump
up from her desk and dart through the hatch in the white plaster doorway
into the long gallery to study a detail on the decorated walls.
Whenever this happened, Nicholas straightened up from his camera tripod
and watched her with a fond and indulgent expression. So intent was she
that she seemed completely oblivious of him and everybody else about
Nicholas had never seen her in this mood, and the depth of her powers of
concentration impressed him.
When she had worked for fifteen hours without a break he went out on to
the landing to rescue her and to lead her, protesting, back down the
tunnel to the pool where there was a hot meal waiting for them. After
she had eaten he led her to her hut and insisted that she lie down on
her inflatable mattress.
“You are going to sleep now, Royan,” he ordered.
He woke to hear her creeping stealthily out of the hut next door to his,
back along the ledge to the entrance to the tomb. He checked his watch
and grunted with disbelief when he realized that they had slept for only
three and a half hours. He shaved quickly and bolted back a slab of
toasted injera bread and a cup of tea before following her into the
He found her standing in the long gallery before the empty niche in the
shrine where the statuette of Osiris had stood. She was so preoccupied
that she did not hear him come up behind her, and she started violently
when he touched her arm.
“You startled me,” she scolded him.
“What are you staring at?” he asked. “What have you discovered?”
“Nothing,” she denied swiftly, and then after a moment, “I don’t know.
It’s just an idea.”
“Come on! What are you up to?”
“It’s easier for me to show you.” She led him back to her table on the
stone landing, and rearranged her notebooks carefully before she spoke
“What I have been doing these last few days is going through the
material on the stele of Tanus’s tomb, picking out all the quotations
that I recognize from the classical books of mystery, the Book of
Breathings, the Book of the Pylons and -the Book of Thoth, and setting
those on one side.” She showed him fifteen pages in her neat small
“All this is ancient material, none of it original compositions by
Taita. I have discarded it for the time being.”
She set the first notebook aside and picked up the next. “All this is
from the fourth face of the stele. It’s nothing that I recognize, but
seems to be only long lists of numbers and figures. Some sort of code,
perhaps? I am not sure, but I do have some ideas on it that I will come
Now this here,” she showed him the next book, “this is all fresh
material that I don’t remember reading in any of the ancient classics.
Much of it, if not all of it, must be original Taita writings. If he has
left any more clues for us, I believe they will be here, in these
He grinned, “Like that marvelous quotation describing the pink and
private parts of the goddess. Is that what you are referring to?”
“Trust you not to forget that.” She flushed lightly and refused to look
up from her notebook. “Look at this quotation from the head of the third
face of the stele, the side Taita has headed “autumn”. It’s the very
first one that caught my attention.”
Nicholas leaned forward and read the hieroglyphics aloud: “‘The great
god Osiris makes the opening coup with deference to the protocol of the
four bulls. At the first pylon he bears full testimony to the immutable
law of the board.”‘ He looked up at her. “Yes, I remember that
quotation. Taita is referring to bao, the game that the old devil loved
“That’s right.” Royan looked slightly embarrassed. “But do you also
remember that I told you about a dream that I had in which I saw Du raid
again in one of the chambers of the tomb?”
“I remember.” He chuckled at her discomfort. “He said I of the four
4 something to you about the protoco we are going in to the, realm of
divination by dreams, are we?”
She looked annoyed by his levity. “All I am suggesting is that my
subconscious had been -digesting the quotation and come up with an
answer, which it put into the mouth of Duraid in the dream. Can’t you be
serious just for one moment?
“Sorry.” He was contrite. “Remind me what you heard Duraid say.”
“In the dream he told me, “Remember the protocol of the four bulls –
Start at the beginning.”‘
“I am no expert on the game of bao. What did he mean?”
“The rules and subtleties of the game have been lost in the mists of
antiquity. But as you know, we have found examples of the bao board
amongst the grave goods in the tombs of the eleventh to the seventeenth
dynasties, and we can only guess that it was an early form of chess.”
She began to sketch for him on one of the blank pages at the back of her
“The wooden board was laid out like a chessboard, eight rows of cups
wide and eight rows deep. Like this.” She drew it in with quick, deft
strokes of her ballpoint pen.
“The pieces were coloured stones that moved in a prescribed fashion. I
won’t go into all the details, but the protocol of the four bulls was an
opening gambit in the game favoured by grand masters of Taita’s calibre.
It consisted of making sacrifices to mass the highest-ranking stones in
the first cup from where they could dominate the important centraffiles
of the board.”
“I am not sure where we are going, but lead on. I am listening.”Nicholas
tried not to look too mystified.
“The first cup of the board.” She indicated it on her sketch, as though
instructing a backward child. “The beginning, Duraid said, “Start at the
beginning” Taita said, “The great god Osiris makes the opening coup.”‘
“I still don’t follow you. “Nicholas shook his head.
“Come with me.” Carrying the notebooks, she led him through the hatch in
the white plaster doorway and stood beside him at the shrine of Osiris.
“The opening coup. The beginning.”
She turned and faced down the gallery. “This is the first shrine. How
many shrines are there altogetherr
“Three for the trinity, then Seth, Thoth, Anubis, Hathor and Ra,” he
listed. “Eight altogether.”
“Glory be!” She laughed. “The lad can count! How many cups in the files
of the bao board?”
“Eight across, and eight down-‘ he broke off and stated at her, “You
She did not answer, but opened the notebook. “All of these numbers and
extraneous symbols – they spell no coherent words. They do not relate to
each other in any way, except that no number in the list is greater than
eight., “I thought I had caught up with you, but I just lost you again.”
“If somebody were to read the notations of a game of T, chess four
thousand years from now, what would he make of it?” she asked. “Wouldn’t
it just be lists of numbers and extraneous symbols to him? You really
are being extremely dense, aren’t you? This is like pulling teeth.”
“Oh, Lordy, Lordy!” His face cleared. “You clever lady!
Taita is playing the game of bao with us.”
“And this is the first pylon, where it starts.” She gestured to the
shrine. “This is where the great god Osiris makes the opening coup. This
is where we must start at the beginning of the sacred bao board. This is
where we counter his opening move.”
They both looked around the shrine for a while, studying the curved
walls and the high domed roof, and then Nicholas broke the silence. “At
the risk of being called extremely dense and having my teeth pulled, may
I ask a question? How the hell do we play a game when we don’t even know
olonel Nogo exuded confidence and self, importance as he swaggered into
the conference room to answer von Schiller’s summons.
Nahoot Guddabi bustled along behind him, determined not to be excluded
from any of the proceedings. He too tried to look confident and
important, but in truth he felt his position was very insecure and that
he needed to justify himself to his master, Von Schiller was dictating
correspondence to Utte Kemper, but as soon as they entered the room he
stood quickly and stepped on to the carpeted block.
“You promised that you would have a report for me yesterday,” he snapped
at Nogo, ignoring Nahoot. “Have you not heard anything from this
informer of yours in the gorge?”
“I apologize for keeping you waiting like this, Herr von Schiller.” Nogo
was immediately deflated by this sharp attack, and he became restless
and uneasy. The German frightened him. “The women were a day late
returning from Harper’s camp. They are very unreliable, these country
people. Time means very little to them.”
“Yes, yes.” Von Schiller was impatient. “I know the failings of your
black brethren, and I might add you are not completely innocent of these
yourself, Nogo. But tell me what news you have for me.”
“Harper finished work on the dam seven days ago, and immediately he
moved his camp downstream, to a new place on the hills above the ravine.
He then built some sort of bamboo ladder down into the ravine. My
informer tells me that they are clearing a hole at the bottom of the
“A hole? What kind of hole?” Von Schiller turned pale as he listened,
and began sweating in a light sheen across his forehead.
“Are you all right, Herr von Schiller?” Nogo was alarmed. The German
looked very ill, as if he were about to collapse.
“I am perfectly well,” von Schiller shouted at him.
“What hole was this? Describe it to me.”
“The woman bringing the message is a stupid peas ant.” Nogo was
uncomfortable, squirming under von Schiller’s grilling. “She says only
that when the river water fell, there was a hole in the bottom that was
filled with rock and rubbish and that they have cleared this out.”
“A tunnel!” Nahoot could contain himself no longer.
“It must be the entrance tunnel to the tomb.”
“Be quied’ Von Schiller turned on him furiously. “You have no facts to
back up that supposition. Let Nogo finish.” He turned back to the
colonel. “Go on. Give me the rest of it.”
“The woman says that there is a cave at the end of the hole. Like a rock
shrine, with pictures on the walls-‘ “Pictures? “What pictures?”
“The woman said they were pictures of the saints.” Nogo made a
deprecating gesture. “She is a very uneducated woman. Stupid
“Christian saints?” von Schiller demanded.
Nahoot interjected, “That is not possible, Herr von Schiller. I tell you
that Harper has discovered the tomb of Mamose. You must act swiftly
“I will not warn you again, you miserable little man,” von Schiller
snarled at him. “Keep quiet.”
He turned back to Nogo. “Was there anything else in the cavern? Tell me
everything the woman said.”
“Pictures and statues of the saints.” Nogo spread his hands. “I am
sorry, Herr von Schiller, that’s what she said.
I know this is all nonsense, but that is what the woman told me.”
“I will judge what is and what is not nonsense,” von Schiller told him.
“What did she say happened to these statues of the saints?”
“Harper has packed them in boxes.”
“Has he removed them from the shrine?”
“I do not know, Herr von Schiller. The woman did not say.
Von Schiller stepped down from his block. He began to pace up and down
the length of the hut, muttering to himself distractedly.
“Herr von Schiller-‘ Nahoot began, but the German waved him to silence.
At last he stopped in front of Nogo and stared up at him.
“Did they find a mummy, a body, in the- shrine?” he demanded.
do not know, Herr von Schiller. The woman did not say.
“Where is she?” Von Schiller was so agitated that he clutched the front
of Nogo’s uniform jacket and stood on tiptoe to thrust his face up close
to his. “Where is this woman? Have you let her go?” Tiny droplets of
spittle flew into Nogo’s face and he blinked and tried to duck, but von
Schiller had him in a death grip.
“No, sir. She is still here. I did not want to bring her to you-, “You
fool. All you are telling me is secondhand.
Bring her in here immediately. I want to question her face to face.” He
shoved Nogo away from him. “Go and fetch her.”
Nogo returned minutes later dragging the woman into the room by one arm.
She was young, and despite the blue tattoos across her cheeks and chin
she was pretty. She wore the long black robes and head-covering of a
married woman, and carried an infant on her hip.
As soon as Nogo released her arm she sank to the floor and whimpered
with terror. The child she carried whined in sympathy. Its nostrils were
plugged with white crusts of dried snot. The woman opened the top of her
robe with a shaking hand, fished out one of her milk-swollen breasts and
thrust the nipple into the child’s mouth. Infant and mother stared at
von Schiller with terrified eyes.
“Ask her if there was a coffin or body of the saint in the shrine,” von
Schiller ordered, eyeing the woman with distaste.
Nogo questioned her for a minute and then shook his head. “She does not
know anything about a body. She is very stupid. She does not understand
“Ask her about the statues of the saints. What has Harper done with
them? Where are they now? Has he removed them from the shrine?”
After another long exchange with the woman, Nogo shook his head. “No.
She says that the statues are still in the shrine. The white man has
packed them into boxes and the soldiers are guarding them.”
“Soldiers? What soldiers?”
“Soldiers of Mek Nimmur, the. shufta commander that I told you about. He
is still with Harper.”
“How many boxes are thereP In his impatience von Schiller went up to
where the woman sat and prodded her with the toe of his boot. “How many
statues are there?”
The woman waited with terror and shrank away from him. Von Schiller
recoiled from her at the same time, with an expression of disgust.
“Gott im HimmeW He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and patted his
mouth and nose with it. “She stinks like an animal. Ask her how many
“Not many,” Nogo translated, “perhaps five, not more than ten. She is
“What size? How big are they?”
When Nogo put the question to her, the w6man indicated the length of her
arm. Von Schiller’s disappointment registered clearly in his face.
“So few pieces, and so insignificant.” He turned away from the woman and
went to stare out of the south-facing window of the hut, down over the
escarpment rim into the wilderness of the gorge. “If what this creature
says is true, then Harper has not yet discovered the treasure of Mamose.
There should be more, much more.”
Nogo was talking rapidly to the woman again, and now he turned back to
von Schiller. “She says that one of Harper’s party has left the camp in
the gorge, and gone to Debra Maryam.”
Von Schiller spun away from the window and stared at him. “One of his
party? Who? Which one!’
“She is an Ethiopian woman. The concubine of Mek Nimmur. A woman she
calls Woizero Tessay. I know of her. She was married to the Russian
hunter, before she became Mek Nimmur’s whore.”
Von Schiller rushed across the room and seized the woman by the front of
her robe. He hauled her to her feet with such violence that the infant
was jerked from her grip and fell howling to the floor.
“Ask her where the woman is now,” he instructed Nogo.
The mother pulled free from his grip and grovelled on the floor, trying
to pick up and console her screaming infant, Nogo grabbed her and
slapped her face resoundingly to get her attention. She clasped her baby
to her breast and gabbled out a reply.
“She does not know,” Nogo admitted. “She thinks she is still at Debra
“Get that filthy bitch out of here!” Von Schiller jerked his head at the
woman and her child. Nogo dragged them from the hut.
“What else do you know of this woman of Mek Nimmur’s?” he asked in
milder tones when Nogo returned.
“She is from one of the noble families in Addis Ababa, a blood relative
of Ras Tafari Makonnen, the old Emperor Haile Selassie.”
“If she is Mek Nimmur’s woman, and has come directly from Harper’s camp,
then she will be able to ” answer the questions that this other creature
“That is true, Herr von Schiller. But she may not wish to tell us.”
“I want her,” von Schiller said. “Bring her here. Helm will speak to
-her. I am sure he will be able to make her AN, see reason.”
is an important person. er family has muc influence.” Nogo thought
about it for a moment. “But on the other hand, she has been consorting
with a notorious bandit. That is all the reason I need for bringing her
I will send a detachment of my men, under one of my most trusted
officers, to arrest her immediately.” He hesitated. “If the woman is
questioned severely, it would be as well that she were not allowed to
return to her friends in Addis. They could make trouble for all of us.
Even for you, Herr von Schiller.”
“What do you propose?” von, Schiller wanted to know.
“When she has answered your questions, there will have to be a little
“Do what is necessary,” von Schiller ordered. I will leave the details
to you, but make sure that if it is necessary to dispose of the woman it
is done property. I have had enough bungling.” As he spoke these words
he looked across at Nahoot Guddabi, who lowered his gaze and flushed
They had spent almost two full days at the shrine of Osiris in the long
gallery. No ancient worshipper had ever studied the texts upon those
walls more avidly than Nicholas and Royan, or examined the flamboyant
murals of the great god with more minute attention They took it in turn
to recite aloud the extracts from the stele of Tanus that Royan had
picked out and recorded in her notebooks, repeating them until they knew
each station by heart. While one read aloud, the other quo concentrated
his or her full attention upon the walls, trying to discover some
“‘My love is a flask of cold water in the desert. My love is a banner
unfurling in the breeze. My love is the first shout of the newborn
infant,”‘ Nic as rea Royan looked up at him from where she squatted
attentively before the shrine, and smiled. “At times Taita was really
rather cute, wasn’t he?” she said. “Such a romantic.”
“Concentrate, for heaven’s sake. This isn’t a poetry appreciation class.
We are doing serious business here.”
“Barbarian!” she muttered under her breath, but turned back to the wall
“Try this one again,” Nicholas ordered, and read out, “‘We he in the
vale of a thousand joinings, of infant to mother, of man to woman, of
friend to friend, of teacher to pupil, of sex to sex.”‘
“That’s the third time you have picked out that particular quotation
this morning. What is there about it that appeals to you so strongly?”
She did not look up at him, but the back of her neck turned a ruddier
shade of red.
Sorry! Thought you might find that one as romantic as the other,” he
mumbled. “Let’s try this one then. “I have suffered and loved. I have
withstood the wind and the storm.
The arrow pierced my flesh but did not harm me. I have eschewed the
false path that lies straight before me. I have taken the hidden
stairway to the seat of the gods.”‘
Royan rocked back on her heels and glanced down the long gallery.
“Something there perhaps. “The false path that lies straight before me.
The hidden stairway”?”
“We are straining a bit now. Snapping at gnats like a hungry trout.”
She stood up and pushed the tendrils of sweaty hair off her forehead.
“Oh, Nicky. It’s so discouraging. We don’t even know where to begin.”
“Courage, lassie.” He feigned the cheerfulness he did not feel. “We
begin at the beginning like your friend Taita said we must. Let me try
you with this one again.” He laced his hand over his heart like a
Victorian actor and emoted, “‘The vulture rises on mighty pinions to
greet the sun”-‘
She laughed softly at his clowning, and then her eyes wandered from his
face and passed over his shoulder.
Suddenly she started.
“The vulture!” she blurted, and pointed at the wall behind him.
He spun around and stared in the direction she was indicating.
There was the vulture, a magnificent image of the bird, the fierce eyes
glaring and the yellow beak hooked and spread wide, with each feather
ointed. Its wings were outlined in jewel-like colours. It stood as tall
as Nicholas, but its wing-spread covered half the wall. They stared at
it together, and then Royan lifted her eyes to the ceiliAg high above
where they stood. She touched his arm and motioned him to do the same.
“The sun!” she whispered. The golden sun disc of Ra was painted in the
highest portion of the roof. Its warmth seemed to illuminate the
shadows. Its rays spread out Mi every direction, but one of these beams
followed the curve of the wall and descended to envelop the vulture
image in its spreading luminosity.
“‘The vulture rises to greet the sun”,” she repeated. “Does Taita mean
He moved closer to the mural and examined it minutely, running his hands
over the wings and down its belly to the cruel curved talons. Beneath
the paint the plastered wall was smooth. There was no Projection or any
The head, Nicky. Look at the head of the bird!” She jumped up and tried
to reach it, but her fingers fell short and she turned to him with a
desperate edge to her voice.
“You do it – you are much taller than I am,” Only then did he see the
slight shadow down one side of the bird’s head where the floodlamp
caught it, and as he touched it he realized that the head was in relief,
standing slightly above the level of the surrounding wall. He ran his
fingers over the raised head and found that the beak was part of the
“Can you feel any joint in the plaster?” Royan demanded.
He shook his head. “No. It’s smooth. It all seems to be part of the main
“‘The vulture rises to greet the sun”,, she insisted. “Can’t you detect
any movement? Try pushing the head upwards towards the sun painting.”
He placed the heel of his hand under the bulge of the head and pushed
upwards. “Nothing!” he grunted.
“It’s been there for almost four thousand years.” She was hopping from
one foot to the other with frustration.
“Dammit, Nicky, if there is a moving part, it will be stiff.
Harder! Push harder!’
He shifted his feet to get well under it and placed both hands under the
projection of the head. Slowly he brought all his strength to bear. The
cords in his neck stood out and blood flooded his face, turning it a
deep, angry red.
“Harder!” she implored him, but at last he dropped his arms to his sides
and stood back.
“No.” His voice was hoarse and strained with the effort.
“It’s solid. Won’t budge.”
“Lift me up. Let me look.”
“With the greatest of pleasure. Any excuse to lay hannds on you.” He
stepped behind her and placed lascivious han both arms around her waist,
then lifted her until she was able to touch the bird’s head.
Quickly she explored it with her fingertips, and then she let out a
small cry of triumph.
“Nicky! You have started something. The paint is cracked all around the
outline of the head. I can feel it.
Lift me higher!
He grunted with the effort but raised her another foot off the floor.
“Yes, definitely!” she exclaimed. “Something has a hairline crack in the
wall above the moved. There is head, as well. You have a look!
He fetched one of the empty ammunition crates from the landing outside
the entrance and placed it below the vulture image. When he stepped up
on to it he was on a level with the vulture’s eye.
His expression changed. Quickly he groped in his pocket and brought out
his clasp knife, He opened the blade and probed carefully around the
outline of the head.
Tiny specks of dried paint and plaster filtered down as he worked.
It does look as though the head is a separate detached piece, “he
“Look on top of it, higher up the wall. There along the edge of the
sunbeam. Can’t you see a vertical crack in the plaster?”
“You are right, you know,” he admitted. “But if I try to open that crack
I am going to damage the mural. Do you want me to do that?”
She hesitated only a moment. “This tomb is going to be reflooded when
the river rises, so we are going to lose it again anyway. It’s worth the
risk. Do it, Nicky!’
life-blade into the fine He pressed the point of the kn crack and
twisted it gently. A slab of painted plaster the size of his s’read hand
fell out of the wall and splattered into the dust on the agate tiles of
He peered into the cavity that it had left in the wall.
“It looks like some kind of slot or groove in the wall,” he said. “I am
going to clear its full length.” Carefully he worked at the cavity he
had opened, and more loose plaster rained down.
Royan sneezed in the dust, but would not retreat, Particles of debris
lodged in her hair like confetti.
“Yes,” he said at last. “There is a vertical groove running up here.”
“Chip the plaster away from the crack around the vulture’s head,” she
ordered, and he wiped the blade against his trouser leg and attacked the
“It’s free,” he said at last. “It looks as though the head will travel
up the groove. Anyway, I am going to try it, Stand back and give me room
He placed the heels of both hands under the head of the vulture, and
heaved upwards against it. Royan bunched her hands into fists and
screwed up her face in sympathy with his effort.
There was a soft grating sound, and the head began to move jerkily up
the exposed groove in the wall. It reached the top of the slot and
Nicholas jumped down from the crate. They both stared expectantly at the
disembodied head, now disfigured by the chipped and damaged plaster.
After a long, breathless wait, Royan whispered dejecr edly, “Nothing It
hasn’t changed anything.”
“The rest of the quotation from the stele,” he reminded her. “There was
more to it than just the vulture and the sun.”
“You are right.” She looked around the rest of the wall eagerly. “‘The
jackal hops and rests Upon his tail.
She pointed with a trembling finger at the small, almost insignificant
figure of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the graveyards, on the wall
opposite the vulture that they had mutilated. Standing at the foot of
the huge, towering painting of Osiris, he was only a little larger in
size than the ringed and bejewelled big toe of the husband of Isis and
father of Horus.
Royan ran to the wall, and the moment she touched Anubis she felt that
his image too was raised. She flung all her strength against the tiny
figure, trying to twist it first one way and then the other.
“‘The jackal turns upon his tail”,” she panted as she wrestled with him.
“He must turn!’
“Here, let me do that.” Gently Nicholas pulled her away, and knelt
before the black-headed god image. Once again he used the blade of his
clasp knife to chip away the plaster and the thick layer of paint from
around the outline.
“It seems to be carved in some sort of hard wood and then it’s been
plastered over,” he told her, as he tested the construction of the
figure with the point of the blade.
When at last he had chipped it clear he tried to twist it in a clockwise
direction, and grunted with the effort.
“No! He gave up at last.
“They had no clock dials in ancient Egypt,” she reminded him agitatedly.
“The other way. Turn it the other way-$
When he tried to turn it counter-clockwise, there was another rasping,
gritty sound from behind the wall panel.
The tiny figure revolved slowly in his hands, until the black head
pointed down towards the yellow tiles.
They both stood well back from the wall, looking expectantly at it, but
after another long wait even Nicholas was disheartened.
“I don know what to expect, but whatever it is, it isn’t happening he
grunted with disgust.
“There is still the last part of the quotation,” Royan whispered. “‘The
river flows towards the earth. Beware, you violators of the sacred
plain, lest the urrath of all the gods descend upon you!”‘
“The river?” Nicholas asked. “As Sapper might say, I don’t see no
Royan did not even smile at the cockney accent.
Instead she searched the profusion of writing and images that covered
all the walls around them. Then she saw it.
“Hapi!” Her voice was shrill with excitement. “The god of the Nile! The
High up the wall, on a level with the head of the great god Osiris, the
god of the river looked down upon them.
Hapi was’a hermaphrodite, with the breasts of a woman and the genitals
of a man protruding from under the pendulous belly. The mouth in his
hippopotamus head gaped wide to display the great curved tusks that
lined his cavernous jaws.
Standing on a pile of ammunition boxes, Nicholas was able to reach the
Hapi image at the full stretch of his arms.
As he touched it he exulted, “This one is raised also.”
“‘The river flows towards the earth,”‘ she called up to him. “It must
move downwards. Try it, Nicky.”
“Give me a chance to clear the edges.” He used the point of the blade to
chip the outline of the god free, and then he probed the plaster beneath
it and found another vertical slot running towards the floor.
“Ready to give it a go now. He folded the knife and tucked it back into
his pocket. “Hold your breath and say a little prayer for me,” he
He settled both hands on the image of the god and began to pull steadily
downwards, Gradually he brought more pressure to bear upon it, until he
was hanging all his weight on it. Nothing moved.
“It’s not working, he grunted.
“Wait!” she ordered. “I am coming up.”
She scrambled up on to the boxes behind him and tight,, placed both
hands around his neck. “Hang she ordered.
“Every little bit helps, I suppose,” he agreed, as she lifted her feet
and hung her full weight on his shoulders.
“It’s moving!” he shouted. Suddenly the image of Hapi gave way under his
hands, and with a sharp grating sound travelled down to the bottom end
of the groove in the wall.
Nicholas lost his grip on the smoothly rounded shape as it came up hard
against the end of its slot. The stack of boxes under them toppled, and
both he and Royan dropped back to the floor of the gallery. She was
still hanging around his neck, and he lost his balance as she pulled him
over backwards. The two of them sprawled on the agate floor in an untidy
tangle of arms and legs. Nicholas scrambled to his feet and pulled her
up beside him.
“What has happened?” she gasped, looking up wildly at the damaged Hapi
figure and then around the walls of the gallery.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing has moved.”
“Perhaps there is another-‘ she began, but broke off at a sound from the
roof above them. They both stared upwards, startled and filled with
sudden trepidation. There was a ponderous movement from above the high
What is thatV Royan whispered. “There is something up there. It sounds
like a living thing.”
A giant was moving, coming awake after slumbering for thousands of
years, stretching and turning as he awoke.
‘is it-?” She could not finish the question. She had an image in her
mind of the great god himself stirring in a hidden chamber in the rock,
opening those baleful, slanted eyes, rising on one elbow to discover who
had disturbed him from his eternal sleep.
Then there was another sound, a creaking and rumbling as though the arm
of a mighty balance was swinging slowly across, as its equilibrium
altered. Softly at first, then louder, the movement gathered momentum,
like the beginning of a mountain avalanche. Then there was a report like
the shot of a cannon.
A crack appeared in the high ceiling, running the length of the gallery.
Dust smoked from the jagged opening, and then, slowly as a nightmare,
the roof began to sag down over where they stood. Both of them were
paralysed with superstitious horror, unable to tear their gaze from the
slow, inexorable collapse of the ceiling upon them. Then a chunk of
plaster struck Nicholas’s upturned face, slamming into his cheek,
tearing the skin and sending him staggering backwards against the wall.
The shock and pain aroused him at last.
“The warning!” he blurted. “Taitals warning. The wrath of the gods.” He
sprang to her side and grabbed her hand, “Run!” He pulled her after him.
“Taita has booby-trapped the roof!’
They raced back along the gallery towards the opening in the seated
entrance. Lumps of stone and plaster began to rain down and dust filled
the passageway, halfblinding them. The dull rumble overhead became a
rising roar as progressively the roof collapsed. They did not dare to
look back as the thunder of falling masonry swept towards them,
threatening to overtake and overwhelm them before they were able to
reach the entrance.
A jagged piece of rock as large as her head struck Royan a glancing blow
on her shoulder, and her legs sagged under her. She would have gone down
if he had not flung one arm around her and held her upright, dragging
her along the gallery. The dust obscured the passage ahead of them, so
that the square opening that offered their only chance of escape receded
in the choking fog.
“Keep going!” he yelled at her. “Almost there.” As he spoke, a thick
sheet of plaster came crashing down and smashed into the tripod stand of
the floodlamp. Instantly the gallery was plunged into utter darkness.
Completely unsighted, Nicholas’s first instinct was to come up short and
try to orientate himself. But all around him the rubble of the roof was
falling heavier and faster.
He knew that at any second the entire roof would come down on top of
them, burying and crushing them. Running on without a check, he dragged
Royan along behind him in the darkness. He reached the end wall at full
tilt, and the impact knocked the breath out of him. Now, through the
swirling dust cloud, he was just able to make out the rectangular
opening in the plaster wall in front of him, back-lit by the lamps on
the landing at the head of the staircase outside.
As he reeled backwards he seized Royan around the waist and lifted her
bodily off her feet. He hurled her through the opening and heard her cry
out as she fell heavily on the far side. Another piece of rubble struck
him on the back of his head and knocked him to his knees. He felt
himself teetering on the very brink of consciousness, mail but crawled
forward, groping frantically until he touched the jagged edge of the
opening. With this handhold he was able to drag himself over the sill,
just as the full weight of the roof came thundering down along the
Here on the upper landing of the staircase Royan was crouching on her
knees. She crawled towards him, guided once more by the lamplight.
“Are you all right?” she panted. A trickle of blood snaked down her
cheek from a wound in her scalp line. It cut a dark glistening runnel
through the caked white dust that powdered her face.
He did not answer, but dragged himself to his feet and pulled Royan up
beside him. “Can’t stay here,” he croaked, _1ro just as a thic ‘. lite
at St. ug mouth of the opening and swept over them, choking them and
dimming the floodlamps to a faint glimmer.
“Not safe.” He pulled her away from the opening. “The whole thing might
cave in.” His voice was rough, his throat closing with the dust.
He dragged her to the head of the steps and they staggered down
together, stumbling against each other, their feet sliding under them as
they came on to the algae.
slippery footing. Through the dust mist ahead of them loomed the broad
square figure of Sapper.
“What the ruddy hell is going on?” he bellowed with relief as he saw
“Give me a hand here,” Nicholas yelled back at him.
Sapper lifted Royan in his arms and together they ran back -down the
tunnel, only stopping to draw breath when they reached the causeway over
unburrit and glared like a mirror in the high mountain sunlight. The
public telephone should have been in its booth outside the front door.
However, the instrument had long since vanished – stolen, vandalized or,
more likely, removed by the military to prevent it being used by
Political dissidents and rebels.
Tessay had expected this, and hardly glanced into the booth before she
strode into the small room which was the main post office. It was filled
with a motley crowd of peasants and villagers, queuing to conduct their
leisurely business with the elderly postmaster, the only person behind
the barred counter. Some of the customers had spread their cloaks on the
floor and settled in for a long he post office in the village of Debra
Maryarri a small building in the dusty street behind was the church. Its
walls were of unplastered unpainted brick, and its galvanized iron roof
wait, chatting and smoking while their children romped and crawled
Most of the patient crowd recognized Tessay as soon as she entered the
room.”Even those who had waited most of the morning in the lines at the
counter greeted her respectfully and stood aside to allow her to go to
the, head of the queue. Despite two decades of African socialism, the
feudal instincts of the rural population were still strong.
Tessay was a noblewoman and she was entitled to this preference.
“Thank you, my friends.” She smiled at them and shook her head. “You are
kind, but I will wait my turn.”
They were embarrassed by her refusal, and when the old postmaster leaned
over his counter top and added his insistence to the others, one of the
older women seized Tessay’s arm and forcefully propelled her forward.
“Jesus and all the saints bless you, Woizero Tessay.” The postmaster
clapped his hands in respectful greeting.
“Welcome back to Debra Maryam. What is it that your ladyship desires?”
The entire clientele of the post office crowded around Tessay so as not
to miss a detail of her transaction.
“I want to make a telephone call to Addis,” she told the postmaster and
there was a hum of comment and discussion. This was unusual and
important business indeed.
“I will take you to the telephone exchange,” the postmaster told her
importantly, and donned his official blue cap for the occasion. He came
around the counter shouting and hectoring the other customers, pushing
them aside to make way for Lady Sun. Then “he ushered her through to the
back room of the building, where the telephone exchange occupied a
cubicle the size of a small lavatory.
Tessay, the postmaster and as many of the other customers who could find
standing room pushed their way into the tiny room. The exchange operator
was almost overcome by the honour being accorded him by the beautiful
Tessay, and he shouted into his headset like a sergeant major commanding
a flag party.
“Soon now!” he-beamed at Tessay. “Only small delay.
Then you speak to British Embassy in Addis.”
Tessay, who knew well what a small delay constituted, retired to the
front veranda of the post office and sent for food and flasks to be
brought from the village tej shop. She treated her escort of monks,
together with half the population of Debra Maryam, to a happy picnic
while she waited for her call to be patched through half a dozen
antiquated village exchanges to the capital. Thanks to the tei, spirits
were high amongst her entourage when finally, an hour later, the
postmaster rushed out tell her proudly that they had succeeded and that
her party was awaiting her on the line in the back room.
Tessay, the monks and fifty villagers followed the postmaster back into
the exchange and crowded, jabbering, into the cubicle. The overflow
backed up into the main post hall.
“Geoffrey Tennant speaking.” The upper’class English accent was tinny
with distance and static.
“Mr Tennant, this is Woizero Tessay.”
“I was expecting your call.” Geoffrey’s voice lightened as he realized
that he was talking to a pretty girl. “How are you, my dear?”
Tessay passed Nicholas’s message to him.
“Tell Nicky it’s as good as done,” Geoffrey acknowledged, and hung up.
“Now,” Tessay addressed the postmaster, want to place another call to
Addis – to the Egyptian Embassy.” There was a buzz of delight from her
audience when they realized that the entertainment was not yet over for
the day. Everybody repaired to the veranda for more tej and
The second call took even longer to connect, and it was after five
‘clock when Tessay was at last put in contact with the Egyptian cultural
attach. Had she not once met him at one of those ubiquitous cocktail
parties on the diplomatic circuit in Addis, and made a profound
impression on him then, he would probably not have accepted her call
“You are very lucky to have reached me so late,” he told her. “We
usually close at four-thirty, but there is a meeting of the Organization
of African Unity on at the moment and I am working late. Anyway, how may
I help you, Woizero Tessay?”
As soon as she told him the name and rank of the person in Cairo to whom
Royan’s message was addressed, his superior and condescending attitude
altered dramatically and he became effusive and eager to please. He
wrote down everything she said in detail, asking her to repeat and spell
the names of people and places. Finally he read his notes back to her
At the end of the long conversation, he dropped his voice to an intimate
level and told her. “I was greatly saddened to hear of your recent
bereavement, Lady Sun.
Colonel Brusilov was a man I held in high regard. Perhaps when you
return to Addis you would do me the honour of dining with me one
“How kind and thoughtful of you.” Tessay’s tones were honeyed. “I would
so much enjoy meeting your charming wife again.” She hung up while he
was still making confused noises of assent and denial.
By this time the sun was already setting behind the sky castles of
cumulonimbus, and there was the smell of rain in the air. It was too
late to start the journey back down the escarpment that evening, so
Tessay was relieved when the headman of Debra Maryam village sent one of
his teenage daughters to invite her to spend the night as a guest in his
The headman’s house was the finest in the village, not one of the
circular tukuls, but a square brick building with an iron roof. His wife
and daughters had prepared a banquet in Tessay’s honour, and all the
village notables, including the priests from the church, had been
invited. It was therefore after midnight before Tessay was able to
escape to the principal bedroom, which the headman and his wife had
vacated for her.
Just before Tessay fell asleep she heard the heavy raindrops rattling on
the corrugated iron roof over her head. It was a comforting sound, but
she thought briefly of the dam further downstream in the gorge, and
hoped that this shower was merely the harbinger and not the true onset
of the big rains.
When she started awake much later the rain had passed. Beyond her
uncurtained window the night was moonless and silent, except for the
howling of a pariahdog down in the village. She wondered what had woken
her, and was filled suddenly with a premonition of impending disaster, a
legacy from the Mengistu days, when any sound in the night might warn of
the arrival of the security police. So strong was this feeling that she
could not get to sleep again. Creeping quietly out of her bed, she began
dressing in the dark. She had decided to call her monks and start back
along the trail in the darkness. Only when she was at Mek Nimmur’s side
once again would she feel secure.
She had just pulled on her jodhpurs and was searching beneath the bed
for her sandals when she heard the sound of a truck engine in the
distance. She went to the window and listened. The air had been cooled
by the rain and she felt the chill on her naked arms and chest.
The truck sounded as though it was approaching the village from the
south, up the track that followed the river bank. It was coming fast,
and her sense of unease sharpened. The villagers had spoken to the
monks, and it was now common knowledge that she was Mek Nimmur’s woman.
Mek was a wanted man. Suddenly she felt very vulnerable and alone.
Quickly she pulled the woollen shamma over her head and thrust her feet
into her sandals. As she crept from the room she heard the headman
snoring in the front room where he and his wife had moved to make room
She turned down the short passage to the kitchen. The fir i I in the
hearth had burned down, but she could make out the shapes of the
sleeping monks on the mud floor. They lay With their shamnus pulled over
their heads, completer overed, like a row of bodies on mortuary
tables. She knelt beside the nearest of them and shook him, but
obviously he had enjoyed the tej at dinner because he was difficult to
The sound of the approaching truck was much louder and closer by now,
and she felt her uneasiness take on a tinge of panic. Realizing that in
an emergency the monks would probably be of little real help to her, she
stood up and groped her way quickly towards the back door.
The truck was right outside the front of the house now. The headlights
flashed across the front windows and were briefly reflected down the
passageway. Abruptly the engine roar sank to a burble as the driver
decelerated, and she heard the squeal of brakes and the crunch of tyres
in the gravel outside. Then there was shouting and the trampling of many
feet as men jumped down from the back of the stationary truck.
Tessay froze halfway across the small kitchen, her head cocked to
listen. Suddenly there was a loud banging on the flimsy front door, and
chillingly familiar shouts of, “Open up here! Central Intelligence! Open
the door! Nobody leave the house!’
Tessay ran for the back door, but in the darkness she tripped over a low
table covered with dirty dishes from the previous evening’s meal. She
fell heavily and the bowls -till and tei flasks crashed to the floor and
shattered. Instantly the men at the front door put their shoulders to
it, tearing it off its hinges. They burst into the house, shouting and
breaking furniture, torches flashing as they searched the front rooms.
There was a confused babble of alarm as the headman and his family
struggled awake, and then the sound of heavy blows with club and rifle
butt, followed by shrieks of pain and terror.
Tessay reached the back door and struggled to open it.
The sound of strange men rampaging through the house made her fingers
clumsy. She struggled with the lock. All the while she could hear other.
men outside running through the yard to surround the house completely.
At last she got the door open. It was dark and the area was unfamiliar
so she did not know in which direction to run, but she heard the river
close by in the night.
“If I can only reach the bank,” she thought, and started across the
As she did so the beam of an electric torch blinded her, and a coarse
voice bellowed, “There she is!’
Any doubt that she was the prey was instantly dispelled, and she fled
like a startled hare in the beam of the light. They bayed behind her
like a pack of hounds. She reached the bank of the river and spun off to
the right, downstream. A pistol cracked out behind her and she ducked as
a shot fluted past her head.
“Don’t shoot, you baboons!” a voice roared in commanding tones. “We want
her for questioning.”
In the torch beam her white shamnw flashed like the wings of a moth
flitting around the candle flame.
“Stop her!” shouted the officer behind her. “Don’t let her get away.”
But she was fleet as a gazelle, and her lightly sandalled feet flew
across the rough terrain while the heavily equipped soldiers blundered
along behind her. Her spirits soared as she realized that she was
pulling away from them.
The sound of the pursuit dwindled behind her and she had reached the
limit of the effective range of the torch beam when she ran into a fence
of rusty barbed wire. Three wire strands whipped across her lower body,
at the level of her knees, her hips and her diaphragm. The top strand
drove the breath from her lungs, and the barbs tore through the wool of
her clothing and into her flesh. They snagged her like a fish in the
mesh of a net, and she hung there struggling helplessly. Rough hands
seized her and dragged her off the wire, and she sobbed with despair and
with the pain of the sharp wire spurs tearing her skin. One of the
soldiers grabbed her wrist and twisted it up between her
shoulder-blades, laughing with sadistic relish when she cried out at the
The officer came up panting over the rough ground.
He was overweight, and even in the cold night air he was sweating
heavily. It greased his fat cheeks and glistened in the light of the
“Do not hurt her, you oaf,” he gasped. “She is not a criminal. She is a
high-bred lady. Bring her to the truck, but treat her with respect.”
With a man on each arm they marched her to the truck, holding her so
that her feet barely touched the rough ground, and then shoved her up
into the cab on to the seat beside the uniformed driver. The plump
officer climbed in heavily after her, and she found herself wedged
in’firinly between the two men. The soldiers scrambled up into the rear
of the truck, and the driver revved the engine and let out the clutch.
Tessay was sobbing softly, and the officer glanced sideways at her. She
saw in the reflection of the headlights that his expression was gentle
and sympathetic, completely at odds with his actions.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked softly, stifling her sobs. “What
have I done wrong?”
“I have been ordered to take you to Colonel Nogo, the district
commander, for questioning in connection with shufta activities in the
Gojam,” he told her, as they jolted and bounced down the rough track.
They were both silent for a while, and then the officer said quietly in
English, “The driver speaks only Amharic, I wanted to tell you that I
knew your father, Alto Zemen.
He was a good man. I am sorry for what is happening here tonight, but I
am only a lieutenant. I have to follow my orders.”
“I understand that it is not your choice, or your blame.”
“My name is Hammed. If I can, I will help you. For Alto Zemen’s sake.,
“Thank you, Lieutenant Hammed. I need friends now.”
while they waited for the dust of the cavein to settle, and for any
loose hanging rock to fall or stabilize, Nicholas dressed the minor
injuries that Ryan had sustained. The cut over her temple was not deep,
barely more than a scratch.
Nicholas saw that it did not require a stitch. He disinfected it and
covered it with a Band Aid. However, her shoulder, which the falling
rock had struck, was badly bruised. He massaged it with arnica cream.
His own bruises he treated less ceremoniously. Within an hour of the
cave-in he was ready to go back up the tunnel. He ordered Royan and
Sapper to remain on the causeway over the sink-hole while he returned to
the landing at the top of the stairs alone. He carried a bamboo pole and
a hand lamp connected to the Honda generator.
Nicholas proceeded with the utmost caution, probing the roof of the
tunnel for weakness as he went. When he reached the landing he saw at
once that the rock fall had smashed down what remained of the wkite
plaster door that had originally sealed the entrance to the tomb. The
ammunition crates, eight of which contained the statues JVI from the
shrines, had been knocked about and scattered, and some of them were
partially buried under the fallen rubble. He retrieved them and opened
each of the packed crates in turn to check the contents. With immense
relief he discovered that the stout metal containers had withstood the
rough treatment and there was no damage to the precious statues they
held. One at a time he carried them back down the tunnel as far as the
causeway and handed them into Sapper’s care.
When he returned to the landing outside the tomb, Royan insisted on
accompanying him. Even his lurid descriptions of the danger of a further
rock-fall could not dissuade her. Her dismay when she stood outside the
shattered gallery was overwhelming.
“It’s totally destroyed,” she whispered. “All those mar, vellous works
of art. I cannot believe that Taita wanted this to happen.”
“No,’Nicholas agreed ruefully. “His plan was to give us a big send-off
along the road past the seven pylons to the happy hunting grounds. And
he damned nigh succeeded.”
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to clear up this mess,” she said.
“What on earth are you talking about?” He turned on her in genuine
alarm. “We have saved the statues, and that’s all we can hope for. Now I
think it’s time to cut our losses and get out of here.”
“Get out of here? Are you crazy?” She rounded on him furiously. “Are you
out of your mind?”
“At least the statues will pay our costs,” he explained, and there might
even be something left over to divvy up between us, in accordance with
“You aren’t dreaming of giving up now, when we are so close?” Her voice
rose sharply with agitation.
“The gallery is destroyed-‘ he began in more reasonable tones, but she
stamped her foot with agitation and shouted him down.
“The tomb is still there. Dammit! Nicky, Taita would not have gone to
those lengths if it were not. We are getting too close now – that is why
he fired that warning shot across our bows. Don’t you see? We have him
really worried now. We can’t give up with the prize almost in sight.”
“Royan, be reasonable.”
“No! No! You be reasonable.” She refused to listen.
“You have to start clearing the gallery right away. I know the entrance
is open now. All we have to do is clear this mess, and I am certain that
we will find the true entrance to the tomb behind the rubble that Taita
deliberately dropped on us.”
I think that bang on your head has loosened a couple of nuts and bolts.”
He threw up his hands in resignation.
“But what’s the use arguing with a crazy woman? We will clear just
enough of the scree to prove to you that there is nothing more to
discover in there.”
“The dust is going to be our big problem.” Sapper eyed the blocked
gallery entrance when they told him what they intended. “As soon as we
touch that rubble there is going to be clouds of it – more than our
little blower fan can handle.”
“Right,” Nicholas agreed briskly. “We will have to wet it all down. Two
lines of men back down the tunnel to the sinkholes One chain passing up
water buckets, and the other chain passing back the rubble from the
“It’s going to take a lot of work.” Sapper sucked his bottom lip
“You signed on to be tough,’Nicholas reminded him.
“No time to start whinging now.”
The monks, still convinced that they were engaged on the Lord’s work,
accepted this new task cheerfully. They sang as they passed the chunks
of broken plaster and -rock in one direction and the clay pots of water
from the sinkhole in the other. Nicholas worked at the rock-fall with
the gang of Buffaloes, led by Hansith. It was hard, messy and dangerous
work, for each piece of rubble had to be doused with water before it
could be levered out of the pack and passed down the chain. The
staircase was soon running with muddy water and the steps were
treacherous underfoot. The fallen rock was loose and unstable, and there
was always the danger of a secondary collapse.
So many men working in the confined spaces of the gallery and tunnel
taxed the ability of the little blower fan to recirculate the air, and
it was hot and oppressive. The men stripped to loincloths and their
bodies glistened with sweat. The rubble passed back down the tunnel was
dumped into the sinkholes Even that large volume of material made no
difference to the level of the black waters. It was simply swallowed up
into the depths without trace.
Nicholas found the crowded workings so humid and claustrophobic that at
the change of the first shift he had to escape into the open air, if
only for a few minutes. Even the dark and forbidding chasm of Taita’s
pool was a relief after the close confines of the underground workings.
Mek Nimmur was waiting for him when he climbed out over the wall of the
coffer dam on to the ledge beside the pool.
“Nicholas!” Mek’s handsome dark face was grave. “Has Tessay returned
from Debra Maryam yet? She should have been back yesterday.”
“I have not seen her, Mek. I thought she’was with you.” Mek shook his
head. “I wanted to make certain that she had not returned without my men
seeing her, before I send a patrol up the trail to search for her.”
“I am sorry, Mek. I did not anticipate any danger in sending her up the
escarpment.” Nicholas felt a stab of guilt.
“If I had thought there was any danger, I would not have allowed her to
go,” Mek agreed. “I have sent men to search for her.”
But Tessay’s absence was another worry for Nicholas.
It I urked at the edge of his mind during the days that followed, as the
clearing of the long funeral gallery proceeded too slowly for his
Royan spent as much time at the face as Nicholas did, and both of them
were as filthy with mud and dirt as the Buffaloes who were labouring
there beside them. She mourned over each fragment of the shattered
Before they were carried away to be thrown into the sinkhole, she tried
to retrieve those on which significant portions of the paintings were
still intact. There was one jagged piece of plaster on which the lovely
head of Isis was still in one piece, and another on which the entire
figure of Thoth, the god of writing, was preserved. However, most of the
paintings were destroyed beyond any hope of ever restoring them, and
sadly they were consigned to the pit.
There was no sense of time in the long gallery, and they could not tell
night from day. It was always a surprise to leave the precincts of the
tomb and find that the stars were shining in the narrow strip of sky
that showed above Taita’s pool, or to find the bright African sun
burning hotly down out of the cloudless blue. They ate and slept only
when their bodies demanded it, not according to the passage of the
Re’entering the tomb after a few hours’ sleep in their shelters beside
the pool, they were crossing the causeway over the sink-hole when a wild
cry reverberated down the shaft ahead of them. Immediately there was a
hullabaloo of query and answer, and excited shouts from the men working
in the upper levels of the tunnel.
“Hansith has found something,” Royan cried. “Dammit, Nicky, I knew we
should have stayed-‘ She began to run, and he hurried after her.
They came out on the landing in front of the gallery to find it crowded
with chattering, gesticulating, half-naked workmen. Nicholas forced his
way through them with Royan on his heels. They realized that Hansith had
cleared the gallery as far as where the shrine of Osiris had once stood.
The roof above them was jagged and broken, and lying amongst the rubbish
on the ruined agate tiles of the floor Nicholas made out the remains of
the mechanism which Taita had placed in the roof, and which they had
brought crashing down when they had activated the device.
The main part of this was an enormous stone wheel, resembling a mill
wheel and weighing many tons. Nicholas stopped to give it a cursory
“When you read River God, you realize that Taita had an obsession with
the wheel,” he told Royan. “Chariot wheels, water wheels, and now this
must have been the balance wheel of his booby-trap. VA-ten we moved the
levers, we toppled the wedges that held this monstrosity in place. Once
it started rolling, it tumbled all the drop-stones that he had stacked
above the ceiling of the gallery.” He glanced up at the shattered roof.
“Not now, Nicky!” Royan was hopping with impatience. “Time for your
lectures later. Taita’s deathtrap is not what has excited Hansith. He
has found something else. Come on!’
They pushed their way through the pack of workmen until they reached
Hansith’s tall figure.
“What is it?” Nicholas shouted over the heads of the others. “What have
you found, Hansith?”
“Here, effendi,” Hansith shouted back. “Come quickly.”
They pushed their way to the face, and stopped beside the monk at the
end of the blocked gallery.
“There!” Hansith pointed proudly.
Nicholas went down on one knee in the shattered remains of the shrine.
Small pieces of the painted plaster still adhered to the fractured rock
wall. Hansith pulled a slab out of the collapsed face, and pointed into
the space it had left. Nicholas peered into it and felt his pulse begin
to race. There was an opening in the side of the gallery, Even at first
glance he realized that it was the mouth of another tunnel leading off
at right-angles from the long gallery. It had been concealed behind the
plaster-covered image of the great god.
As he stared into it with awe, he felt Royan’s hand on his arrn and her
warrii breath on his cheek. “This is it, Nicky. The entrance to the true
tomb of Mamose. This gallery was a bluff. Taita’s red herring. This is
the veritable tomb.”
“Hansith!” Nicholas called to him in a voice that was hoarse with
emotion. “Get your men to clear this doorway.”
As the workmen moved the rocks Nicholas and Royan hovered close behind
them, so that they were able to watch the shape of the doorway as it was
fully revealed. It proved to be a dark rectangle, of the same dimensions
as the tunnel leading up from the sink-hole, three metres wide by two
high. The lintel and the door jambs were of beautifully cut and dressed
stone, and when Nicholas shone his lamp into the opening he saw a flight
of stone steps rising before him.
They moved the cables and the lights into the gallery and arranged them
at the entrance to this new doorway, but when Nicholas set foot on the
first step he found Royan at his side.
“I am coming with you, she told him firmly.
“It’s probably booby-trapped,” he warned her. “Taita is lying in wait
for you around the first bend.”
“Don’t try that. It just won’t work, mister! I am coming.”
They went slowly up the steep steps, pausing on each one to survey the
walls and the way ahead. Twenty steps from the bottom they reached
another landing. A pair of doorways led off it, one on either side.
However, the staircase continued climbing directly ahead of them.
Which way?”Nicholas asked.
“Keep going up,” Royan urged him. “We can explore these side passages
Cautiously, they continued climbing. After twenty more steps they came
out on an identical landing, with a doorway on each side and the
stairway in front of them.
“Keep going up,” Royan ordered, without waiting for him to answer,
Twenty more steps and there was another landing with the familiar
openings on either side and the stairway straight ahead.
“This isn’t making sense,” Nicholas protested, but she prodded him in we
should keep going on upwards,” she told him, and he did not protest
further. They passed another landing and then yet another, each of them
the exact image of those that they had passed lower down.
“At last!” Nicholas exclaimed when they came out at ay on each the top
of the staircase,,with the expected door.
“This is as far side but now a blank wall in front of them. as it goes.”
she asked. “How man
“How many landings are there? altogetherr
“Eight he answered.
“Eight,” she agreed. “Isn’t that a familiar number
nowr lamplight. “You He turned to stare down at her in the mean-‘
“I mean the eight shrines in the long gallery, these the bao board.”
eight landings, and the eight cups of They stood silent and undecided on
the top landing looked about them.
an Okay,” he said at last, “if you are so damned clever, tell me which
way to go now.”
she recited. “Let’s try the
t’hand doorway.” righ and passage only a short They followed ri t
distance before they were confronted by a Tjunction – a blank wall with
identical twin passageways on each side.
“Take the right one again,” she counselled, and they followed- it. But
when they came to the next T junction Nicholas stopped and faced her.
“You know what is happening here, don’t your he demanded. “This is
another one of Taita’s tricks. He has led us into a maze. If it were not
for the cable, we would be lost already.”
With a bemused expression she looked back the way they had come, and
then down the unexplored passages to their right and left.
“When he built this, Taita could not have anticipated the age of
electricity. He expected any grave robber to be -quipped the same way he
was. Imagine being caught in here without the electric cable to follow
back the way we have come,” Nicholas said softly. “Imagine having only
an oil lamp for light. Imagine what would happen to you when the oil
burnt out and you were lost in here in the utter darkness.”
Royan shivered and gripped his arm.
whispered. “It’s scaring!” she “Taita is beginning to play rough,’
Nicholas said softly.
“I was developing rather a soft spot for the old boy. But now I am
beginning to change my mind.”
She shuddered again. “Let’s go back,” she whispered, “We should never
have rushed in here like this. We must go back and work it out
carefully. We are unprepared. I have the feeling that we are in danger –
I mean real danger, the same as we were in the long gallery.”
As they started back through the twists and turns, picking up the
electric cable as they retreated down the stone passageways, the
temptation to break into a run became stronger with each step. Royan
hung tightly to Nicholas’s arm. It seemed to both of them that some
intelligent and malignant presence lurked behind them in the darkness,
following them, watching them. and biding its time.
The army truck carrying Tessay drove back through the village of Debra
Maryam, and then turned off on to the track that followed the Dandera
river downstream towards the escarpment of the Abbay gorge.
“This is not the way to army headquarters, Tessay told Lieutenant
Hammed, and he shifted awkwardly on the seat beside her.
“Colonel Nogo is not at his headquarters. I have orders to take you to
“There is only one other place in this direction,” she said. “The base
camp of the foreign prospecting company, Pegasus.”
“Colonel Nogo is using that as a forward base in his campaign against
the shufta in the valley,” he explained. “I have orders to take you to
Neither of them spoke again during the long, bumpy ride over the rough
track. It was almost noon when at last they reached the edge of the
escarpment and turned off on to the fork that brought them at last to
the Pegasus campThe camouflage’clad guards at the gate saluted when they
arrived. The truck drove through the gates, recognized and parked in
front of one of the long Quonset huts within the compound.
“Please wait here.” Hammed got down and went into the hut, but was gone
for only a few minutes.
“Please come with me, Lady Sun.” He looked “awkward and embarrassed, and
could not meet her eyes as he helped her down from the cab. He led her
to the door of the hut, and stood aside to let her enter first.
She looked around the sparsely furnished room, and realized that it must
be the company’s administration centre. A conference table ran almost
the full length of the room, and there were filing cabinets and two
desks set against the side walls. A map of the area and a few technical
charts were the only decorations on the bare walls. Two men sat at the
table, and she recognized both of them immediately.
Colonel Nogo looked up at her, and his eyes were cold behind his
metal-framed spectacles. As always, his long, thin body was immaculately
uniformed; but his head was bare. His maroon beret lay on the table in
front of him.
Jake Helm leaned back in his chair with his arms folded.
At first glance his short-cropped hair made him look like a boy. Only
when she looked closer did she see how his skin was weathered, and
notice the crows’ feet at the corners of his eyes. He wore an
open-necked shirt and blue jeans that were bleached almost white. His
belt buckle was of ornate Indian silver, the shape of a wild mustang’s
The sleeves of his cotton shirt were rolled high around his lumpy
biceps. He chewed upon the dead butt of a cheap Dutch cheroot, and the
smell of the strong tobacco was rank and offensive.
“Very well, lieutenant,” Nogo dismissed Hammed in Amharic. “Wait
outside. I will call you when I need you.” Once Hammed had left the
room, Tessay demanded, “Why have I been arrested, Colonel Nogo?”
Neither man acknowledged the question. They both regarded her
expressionlessly “I demand to know the reason for this high’handed
treatment,” she persisted.
“You have been consorting with a band of notorious terrorists,” said
Nogo softly. “Your actions have made you one of them, a shufta.”
“That is not true.”
“You have trespassed in a mineral concession in the Abbay valley,” said
Helm. “And you and your accomplices have begun mining operations in the
area which belongs to this company.”
“There are no mining operations,” she protested.
“We have other information. We have evidence that you have built a dam
across the Dandera river-‘
“That is nothing to do with me.”
“So you do not deny that there is a dam?”
“It is nothing to do with me,” she repeated. “I am not a member of any
terrorist group, and I have not taken part in any mining operations.”
They were both silent again. Nogo made an entry in the notebook in front
of him. Helm stood up and sauntered across to the window behind her
right shoulder. The silence drew out until she could bear it no longer.
Even though she knew it was part of the campaign of nerves they were
waging against her, she had to break it.
“I have travelled most of the night in an army truck,” she said. “I am
tired, and I need to go to a lavatory.”
“If what you need to do is urgent you can do it where you are standing.
Neither Mr Helm nor I will be offended.” Nogo ditered in a surprisingly
girlish manner, but did not look up from his book.
She looked over her shoulder at the door, but Helm crossed to it and
turned the key in the lock, slipping the key into his pocket. She knew
she must show no weakness in front of these two, and, though she was
tired and afraid and her bladder ached, she feigned an air of confidence
and assurance and crossed to the nearest chair. She pulled it from the
table and sat down in it easily.
Nogo looked up at her and frowned. He had not expected her to react this
“You know the shufta bandit Mck Nimmur the accused abruptly.
“No,” she said coldly. “I know the patriot and democratic leader Mek
Nimmur. He is no shufta.”
“You are his concubine, his whore. Of course, you will say this.”
She looked away from him with disdain, and his voice rose shrilly.
“Where is Mek Nimmur? How many men does he have with him?” Her composure
was beginning to rattle him.”
She ignored the question, and Nogo scowled at her furiously. “If you do
not cooperate with us, I will have to use stronger methods to make you
answer my questions,” he warned.
She turned in her chair and stared out of the window.
In the long silence that followed, Jake Helm crossed the room and went
to the door behind Nogo that led through to the rooms at the rebir of
the hut. He disappeared through it, and closed it behind him. The walls
of the hut were thin, and Tessay made out the murmur of voices from the
room beyond. The cadence and inflection were neither English nor
Amharic. They were using a foreign language in there. She guessed that
Helmw’as receiving instructions from a superior, who did not want her to
be able to recognize him at some later date.
After a few minutes Helm re-emerged and closed the door behind him
without locking it. He nodded to Nogo, who at once stood up. They both
came across to stand in front of Tessay.
I think that it will be better for all of us if we finish this business
as quickly as possible,” said Helm softly. “Then you can go to the
bathroom, and I can go to my breakfast.” She raised her chin and stared
at him defiantly, but did not answer him.
“Colonel Nogo, has tried to be reasonable. He is bound by certain
niceties of his official position. Fortunately I do not have the same
restraints. I am going to ask you the same questions that he did, but
this time you will answer them.”
He took the dead cheroot from his mouth and examined the tip. Then he
threw the butt into a corner of the room and took a flat tin from his
hip pocket. From it he selected a fresh cheroot, long and black, and lit
it carefully, holding the match to it until it was drawing evenly. Then,
amid a cloud of pungent tobacco smoke, he waved the match to extinction
and asked, “,Ihere is Mek Nimmur?”
She shrugged and looked away, out of the side window of the hut.
Abruptly, without signalling the blow in any way, he hit her open-handed
across her face. It was a savage blow, delivered with a force that
snapped her head around, Then, before she could recover, he swung back
again and slammed his knuckles across her jawline. Her head was thrown
back violently in the opposite direction and she was knocked flying from
Nogo stooped over her and seized her arms, twisting them up behind her
back. He lifted her back into the seat and stood behind her. He held her
in such a surprisingly powerful grip that she could feel the skin of her
upper arms bruising beneath his fingers.
“I have no more time to waste,” Helm said quietly, taking the burning
cheroot from his lips to inspect the glowing tip. “Let us start again,
Where is Mek Nimmur?” Tessay’s left eardrum felt as if it had burst with
the ferocity of those blows. Her hearing buzzed and sang. Her teeth had
been driven halfway through the flesh of her cheek, and her mouth filled
slowly with her own blood.
“Where is Mek Nimmur?” Helm repeated, leaning his face closer to hers.
“What are your friends doing with the dam in the Dandera river?”
She gathered the blood and saliva in her mouth, and suddenly and
explosively spat it into his face.
He recoiled violently and wiped the bloody mess from his eyes with the
palm of his hand.
Hold herV he said to Nogo, and seized the front of her blouse. With one
heave he ripped it open down to her waist, and Nogo giggled and leaned
forward over her shoulder to look at her breasts. He giggled again as
Helm took one of them in his hand and squeezed out the nipple between
his finger and thumb. It was the dark purple colour of a ripe mulberry.
He held her like that, pinching her flesh with his nails until the skin
tore and a droplet of blood welled up and trickled over his thumb. Then
with his other hand he took the burning cheroot from his lips and blew
on the top until it glowed hotly.
“Where is Mek Nimmur?” he asked, and lowered the cheroot towards her
breast. “WHAt are they doing in the Dandera river?
She stared down in horror as he brought the burning cheroot closer, and
tried to wriggle away from him. But Nogo held her firmly from behind.
She screamed once, on an agonized drawn-out note, as the glowing coal
touched, the tip of her nipple and the delicate skin began to blister.
inter,” said Royan, spreading the enlargement of the fourth face of the
stele from Tanus’s tomb under the bright glare of the floodlamp. “This
is the side that contains Taita’s notations, which I am postulating are
those of the bao board. I don’t understand all of them, but by a process
of elimination I have determined that the first symbol denotes one of
the four sides, or as he terms them the castles of the board., She
showed him the pages of her notebook on which she had made her
“See here, the seated baboon is the north castle, the bee is the south,
the bird is the west and the scorpion the east.” She pointed out to him
the same symbols on the photograph of the stele. “Then the second and
third figures are numbers – I believe that they designate the file and
the cup. With these we can follow the moves of his imaginary red stones.
The reds are the highest-ranking colours on the board.”
“What about the verses between each set of notations?” Nicholas asked.
“Such as this one here, about the north wind and the storm?”
“I am not sure about those. Probably merely smoke, screens, if I know
Taita. He is never one to make life too easy for us. Perhaps they do
have significance, but we can only hope to unravel them as we work
through the moves of our stones.”
Nicholas studied her figures a while, then grinned ruefully. “Just think
how remote was the possibility that anybody would ever be able to
decipher the clues he left behind. The first requirement is that the
searcher must have access to both chronicles, the seventh scroll and the
stele of Tanus, before he had any chance of understanding the key to the
She laughed – a throaty, well’satisfied sound. “Yes, he must have
believed that he was perfectly safe. Well, we will see now, MasteTTaita.
We will see just how clever you really were.” Then, sober and
businesslike once more, she looked up the stone staircase that led to
“Now we have to see if my figures and theories fit into the hard stones
and walls of Taita’s architecture. But where do we start?”
“At the beginning,” Nicholas suggested, “the god plays the first coup.
That’s what Taita told us. If we start here in the shrine of Osiris, at
the foot of the staircase, then perhaps that will give us the alignment
of his imaginary bao board.”
“I had the same idea,” she agreed immediately. “Let’s postulate that
this is the north castle of Taita board. Then we work the protocol of
the four bulls from here.”
It was slow and painstaking work, trying to work their way into the mind
of the ancient scribe by probing the labyrinth of passages and tunnels
that he had built four thousand years previously. This time they moved
into the maze with more circumspection. Nicholas had filled his pockets
with lumps of dried white river clay, and he used these like a
schoolmaster’s stick of chalk to write on the stone walls at each branch
and fork of the tunnels, setting out the notations from the winter face
of the, stele and marking a signpost to enable them not only to find
their way through the maze but to relate it to the model that Royan was
drawing up in her notebook.
They found that their first assumption that the shrine of Osiris was the
north castle of the board seemed to be correct, and they happily
believed that with this as the key it would be a simple matter to follow
the moves of play to their conclusion. But these hopes were soon dashed
as they realized that Taita was not thinking in the simple two
dimensions of the conventional board. He had added the third dimension
to the equation.
The stairway leading up from the shrine of Osiris was not the only link
between the eight landings. Each of the passages leading off from it was
subtly angled either upwards or downwards. As they followed the twists
and turns of one of these tunnels they did not detect the fact that they
were changing levels. Then suddenly they reemerged on to the central
staircase, but on a landing higher than the one they had entered from.
They stood there and stared at each other in horrified disbelief.
Royan spoke first. “I didn’t even have the feeling that we were
ascending,” she whispered. “The whole thing is infinitely more complex
than I first assumed.”
“It must be constructed like one of those nuclear models of some
complicated carbon atom,’Nicholas agreed with awe. “It interlinks on all
eight planes. Quite frankly, it’s terrifying.”
“Now I have some- inkling what those extraneous symbols signify,” Royan
muttered. “They set out the levels.
I We are going to have to rethink the entire concept.
“Three’dimensional bao, played to enig What chance have we got against
him?” Nicholas shook his head ruefully. “What we really need is a
without good reason. The wasn’t Puffing his own virtues old hooligan
really was a mathematical genius.” He shone the lamp back down the
tunnel from which they had come.
“Even when you know it’s there you cannot actually see the fall in the
floor level. He designed and built it without even a slide rule or a
spirit level in his back pocket. This maze is an extraordinary piece of
“You can form Your fan club later,” she suggested. “But right now let’s
start grinding those numbers again.”
I am going to move the lights and the desks up here, on to this central
landing of the staircase.”Nicholas agreed, I think we should work from
the centre of the board. It may help us to visualize it. Right now he
has got me thoroughly confused.”
The only sound in the room was the soft on the sobbing of the
woman who lay curled Milan floor in a puddle of her own blood and urine.
Tuma Nogo sat at the long conference table and lit a he looked
cigarette. His hands trembled slightly, and gh the sickened, He was a
soldier, and he had lived through Mengistu terror. He was a hard man and
accustomed to violence and cruelty, but he was shaken with what he had
just witnessed. He knew now why von Schiller placed such The man was
reliance on Helm Across the room Jake Helm was washing his hands in
tediously and then dabbed the small basin. He dried them fas at the
stains on his clothing with the towel as he came back and stood over
“I don’t think there is anything else she can tell us,” he said calmly.
“I don’t think she held anything back.”
Nogo glanced down at the woman, and saw the livid burns that spotted her
chest and her cheeks like the running ulcerations of some dreadful
smallpox. Her eyes were closed, and her lashes were frizzled away. She
had held out well. It was only when Helm had touched her eyelids with
the burning cheroot that she had at last capitulated, and gabbled out
the answers to his questions.
Nogo felt queasy, but he was relieved that it had not been necessary to
hold her lids open, as Helm had ordered, and to watch as he quenched the
flame of the cheroot against her weeping eyeballs.
“Watch her,” Helm ordered, as he rolled down his sleeves. “She is a
tough one. Don’t take any chances with her.”
Helm walked past him, and went to the door in the far end of the hut. He
left the door open, and Nogo could hear their voices, but they were
speaking in German so he could not understand what they were saying. He
understood now why von Schiller had chosen not to be present during the
questioning. He obviously knew how Helm worked.
Helm came back into the room, and nodded at Nogo.
“Very well. We are finished with her. You know what to do., Nogo stood
up nervously and placed his hand on the webbing holster at his side.
“Here?”he asked. “No!”
“Don’t be a bloody fool,” Helm snapped. “Take her away. Far away. Then
get somebody in here to clean up this mess.” Helm turned on his heel and
went back into the rear room.
Nogo roused himself and then went to the door of the hut. He walked wide
of where Tessay lay, so as not to soil his canvas paratrooper boots.
“Lieutenant Hammed!the called through the door.
t Hammed and Nogo lifted Tessay to her feet. Neither them spoke and
they were subdued, almost chastened, as torn and bloodied clothing.
they helped her into her yes from her naked body and the Hammed averted
his ed her glossy amber skin.
burns and other injuries that marre He draped the shamnw over her
shoulders, and led her towards the door, When she stumbled he caught her
before her with a hand under her elbow.
she fell and supported truck, and she moved He led her down the steps to
the sat in the passenger seat slowly, like a very old woman. She her
with her burned and swollen face in Nogo summoned Hammed with a jerk of
his head, and led him aside. He spoke quietly to him, and Hammed’s
listened to his orders. At expression became stricken as he one point he
started to protest, but Nogo snarled at him savagely and he chewed his
lower lip in silence.
“Remember!” Nogo repeated. “Well away from any of the villages. Make
certain that there are no witnesses.
Report back to me immediately.”
Hammed straightened his shoulders and saluted before up into the seat
he marched back to the truck and climbed the driver a curt order and
they beside Tessay. He gav drove out of the camp, following the track
back towards Debra Maryam. sed and in such pain that she had Tessay was
so confu s, she lurched lost all sense of time. Only half-consciou ugh
icularly ro about in the seat when the truck hit a part ead rolled
loosely on her stretch of the track, and her shoulders. Her face was so
swollen that it required an effort and when she did she thought to force
her eyelids apart, that her vision was failing and that she was going
sun, had set and darkness had Then she realized that the in the hut with
fallen. She must have spent the whole day Helm.
She felt a mild lift of relief that the burns on her eyelids had not
done more damage. At least she was still
form able to see. She peered out through the windscreen, and found
that in the headlights the road was unfamiliar.
“Where are you taking me?” she mumbled. “This is not the way back to the
Lieutenant Hammed sat slumped beside her in the seat and would not
answer. She relapsed into a daze of pain and exhaustion.
She was jerked awake when the truck braked abruptly and the driver
switched off the ignition. Rude hands dragged her out of the cab and
into the glare of the headlights. Her hands were jerked behind her back
and her wrists were bound together with a raw-hide thong.
“You are hurting me,” she whimpered. “You are cutting my wrists.” She
had used up the last of her strength and courage. She felt beaten and
pathetic, with no fight left in her.
One of the soldiers yanked on her bound wrists and shoved her off the
road. Two others followed, each carrying trenching tools. There was
enough of a moon for her to see a grove of eucalyptus trees about a
hundred metres from the side of the road, and they led her there. They
pushed her down at the base of one of the trees and the man who had tied
her wrists stood over her, holding his rifle casually aimed down at her
and smoking a cigarette with his free hand. The others stacked their
rifles and began digging.
They seemed to take no interest in her at all, but were discussing the
All Africa Soccer Championships that were being held in Lusaka, and the
Ethiopian team’s chances of reachin the finals.
It was only after a while that it began to sink into Tessay’s befuddled
mind that they were digging a grave for her. The saliva in her injured
mouth dried up and she looked around desperately for Lieutenant Hammed.
But he had stayed with the truck.
“Please,” she whispered to her guard, but before she could say more he
kicked her painfully in the belly. -iftu vvurta 3 ivium i- utar vyo
“Keep quied’ he used the derogatory term of address only applied to an
animal or a person of the lowest order, and as she lay doubled up on the
ground she realized the futility of appealing to them. A feeling of
weakness anded her and she found herself weeping resignation overwhelm
softly and hopelessly in the darkness.
er swollen lids, \&Then she looked up again through oonlight for her to
see that the grave there was sufficient was now so deep that the two
men still digging in it were out of her line of sight. Spadefuls of dirt
flew over the lip of the hole and splattered on to the growing pile. Her
and sauntered over to the guard left her side for a momen edge of the
hole. He looked down in it and then grunted.
“Good. That is deep enough, Call the lieutenant.” The two soldiers
scrambled up out of the grave, then off into gathered up their tools and
weapons and traipsed the darkness of the grove. Chatting amicably
amongst wards where the truck was themselves they headed back to parked,
leaving Tessay and her guard.
the cold and with terror, She lay there shivering with puffed while her
guard squatted at the lip of her grave and her on his cigarette. She
thought that if she could get ton for feet she could kick him into the
hole and make a ru ut when she tried to sit up her it, back through the
trees. movements were stiff and slow, and she he no feeling in her
hands or feet. She tried to force herself to move, but at that moment
she heard Lieutenant Hammed coming from the truck and she slumped back
in despair, rch. He flashed it Hammed was carrying an electric to down
into the grave.
“Good,” he said loudly. “That is deep eno He switched off the torch and
said to the man guarding Go back and wait at the truck. When her, “No
come back with the others to help me you hear the shots, fill the hole.”
over his shoulder and disap The guard slung his rifle JI peared amongst
the trees. Hammed waited until the man was well out of earshot, then he
came to Tessay and hoisted her to her feet. He pushed her to the edge of
the grave, and then she felt him fumbling with her clothing. She tried
to lash out at him, but her arms were still bound behind her.
“I want your shanitna.” He pulled the white woollen cloak off over her
shoulders, and then went with it to the edge of the grave, He jumped
down into the hole and she heard him scuffling about in the bottom.
His voice came back to her, speaking softly. “They must see something
here. A body-‘
He climbed back beside her, puffing with the exertion, and stepped
behind her. She felt the touch of cold metal on the inside of her
wrists, and then he was sawing at the leather thong. She felt her bonds
fall away, and she gasped at the pain as the blood poured back into her
“What are you doing?” she whispered in confusion. She looked down into
the grave and saw the pale shamnia arranged to look like a human body.
“Are you going-‘
“Please don’t talk,” he instructed her softly, as he took her by the
shoulder and led her back amongst the trees.
“Lie here.” He pushed her down and made her lie flat, with her face to
the ground. He began piling dead leaves and fallen branches over her.
“Stay here! Do not try to run. Don’t. move or speak until we are gone.”
He flashed the torch briefly over the mound of dead branches to make
certain she was covered, then he left her and hurried back to the
graveside, unbuckling the flap of his pistol holster as he went. Two
spaced pistol shots cracked out in the night, so loud and unexpectedly
that she jumped and her heart raced wildly.
Then she heard Hammed shout, “Come, you men.
Let’s get this thing finished.”
They trooped back into the grove, and she heard the sound of their
spades and the thump of earth clods falling into the grave.
nant,” a voice
“I cannot see what I am doing, lieute complained. “Where is your
“You dorA need a light to fill a hole,” Hammed snarled.
“Get on with your work. Tramp that loose soil down. I don’t want anybody
stumbling on this place.”
She lay quietly, trying to stop the wild tremors that shook her body. At
last the sound of the shovels let up, and she heard Hammed’s voice
“That will do. Make certain you leave nothing here.
Back to the truck!’
Their footsteps and their voices died away. At a distance she heard the
truck engine whirl and fire. The headlights shone through the trees as
the truck backed and filled, turning in the direction from which they
sound of the engine had died away Long after thee pile of dead
completely, she continued to lie under the tree shaking with the cold
and weeping branches. She was St. elief.
silently with exhaustion and pain and softly and off herself and Then
slowly she pushed he branched it to pull crawled to the trunk of the
nearest tree. She, used and then stood there, swaying weakly herself up
to her feet, in the darkness. elmed her. “I have it was only then that
guilt overwh betrayed Mek,” she thought sickeningly. “I have told everyI
must get back to thing to his enemies. I must warn him him and warn
treetrunk and She pushed herself away from the ds the track.
blundered back through the darkness towar he only means of ascertaining
if they had solved Taita’s codes correctly was to play out BE&
the moves he had listed. They went very through the tunnels of the maze,
stepping out the carefully moves that he had noted and marking then-‘ on
the walls in white chalk figures.
There were eighteen moves set out on the winter face of the stele. Using
Royan’s first interpretation of the symbols, they were able to advance
through twelve of theseL. Then they found themselves at a dead end,
confronted by a blank stone wall and unable to make the next move.
“Damnation!” Nicholas kicked the wall, and when this had no effect he
hurled the chunk of white chalk at it. “I wish I could get my hands on
that old devil. Castration would be the least of his worries.”
“Sorry.” Royan scraped the hair back out of her eyes.
thought I had it right. It must be the figures in the second column. We
will have to invert them.”
“We will have to start again,’Nicholas groaned.
“Right at the very beginning,” she agreed.
“How do we know when we have finally got it right?
he wanted to know.
“If by following the clues we art ive at one of the winning
combinations, a bao equivalent of checkmate, on precisely the eighteenth
move. There will be no logical move after that, and we can assume we
have worked through it correctly.”
“And what will we find if we ever reach that position?”
“I will tell you when we get there.” She smiled at him sweetly. “Cheer
up, Nicky. It’s only just starting to hurt.”
Royan inverted the values of the second and third numbers of Taita’s
notations, taking the first as the cup value and the second as the file
value. This time they completed only five moves before they were stymied
and could proceed no further.
“Perhaps out assumption about the third symbol being the change of level
is incorrect?” Nicholas suggested. “Let’s start again and give that the
“Nicky, do you realize just how many possible combinations there are,
given the three variables?” She was at last starting to waver. “Taita
has assumed an intimate knowledge of the game. We have only the
sketchiest notions of how it was played. It’s like a grand master trying
to explain to a novice the intricacies of the King’s Indian Defence.”
olas embroidered the simile. “At this
“In Russian!” Nich rate we are getting nowhere in a hurry. There must be
some other way of approaching it. Let’s go over the epigrams Taita stuck
in between the notations again.
“All right. I’ll read and you listen.” She hunched over her notes. “The
trouble is that a subtle variation of the translation might change the
sense. Taita loved puns, and effect. One wrong twist a pun can rely on
a single word fo or slant to a word and we have lost it.”
“Try anyway,” Nicholas encouraged her. “Remember that even Taita had
never played bao in three dimensions be at the very before. if he left
a clue it would have le of beginning of the stele. Concentrate on the