The rain was an unusual event for the eastern flank of the Syrian mountains, more so as it fell steadily rather than the intermittent showers more common to the region at this time of year. Already, the stream snaking along the bottom of the shallow valley was swollen, the boulders in its bed grumbling to themselves as they were buffeted by rising waters.
Dr Danielle Hanser moved as quickly as she dared along the rain-slicked goat track that led up the side of the valley to the dark blot of the cave entrance set in the sandstone cliffs that towered above her. She held a hoodless plastic rain slicker above her, trying to keep the worst of the water from her hair and sweater. Her boots squelched in the mud and in the few minutes it had taken her to cross the stream from the camp site, her jeans had become sodden and uncomfortable.
Behind her plodded a Syrian soldier, his rifle slung over one shoulder. His duty called for him to accompany Dani wherever she went. He did not enjoy keeping company with the foreign woman but Dr Ahmed Bashir, Under Minister of the Syrian Department of National History had ordered it and so it must be. His orders did not prevent him from voicing a few choice expletives concerning the woman and her dubious ancestry, but he was careful to keep his voice low. It would be just like the foreign woman to understand what he said and report him to the Under Minister.
Dani heard the man swearing but put it from her mind. She had no idea what was upsetting him and cared less. Her attention was focused solely on the cave mouth and the chambers that lay within. The rain drove in from the west and as she approached the cliff face it started to offer some protection. The small flat area in front of the cave was relatively dry, a slight overhang protecting it from the occasional flurry or easing of the westerly wind. Dani stopped and shook out her rain slicker, looking left and right along the line of cliffs. She smiled as she remembered her reasons for coming here in the first place, reasons that had evaporated in the face of a much greater mystery.
Last year she had led a British University team to the Orontes Valley in Syria, following what she believed was the Neanderthal migration route through the Middle East. The cave in a small side valley looked like a good bet for archaeological remains. Instead they had found what looked like the tomb of an eighteenth dynasty princess, Beketaten, sister of the heretic King Akhenaten and the boy-king Tutankhamen. An Egyptian tomb had no business being in Syria, but this was no ordinary tomb. There was, so far, no body, no grave goods, and none of the usual wall inscriptions. Instead, the walls were packed with tiny hieroglyphs giving a first-hand account of the Amarnan kings from the point of view of this little-known princess.
None of the team was specialist Egyptologists but they had voted to keep quiet about their find and return this year to investigate further. They had found another chamber, the walls likewise covered in writing and they had spent several weeks following the on-going story. Then disaster had struck in the form of the Syrian authorities. A letter to one of the team members had been opened and the deception discovered. The Under Minister had threatened to shut down the dig and deport the team but had been persuaded to read the account for himself. Hints of a hidden king's treasure had piqued his interest and he had allowed the excavations to continue. Dani was sure his interest was purely mercenary and she could foresee problems arising in the future, but for now she was content to let things slide. The only disturbing factor was they had reached the end of the second chamber and there was no hint of the existence of a third.
Under Minister Bashir brought in Bosing equipment--basically a modified pile driver--to create sound waves and a sophisticated series of pens and graphs to record the echoes. In theory, any hidden spaces in the walls would be revealed. Whether it would have worked or not was not known as the first few thumps of the hammer brought pieces of the wall plaster down in fragments. Bashir was willing to continue but Daffyd Rhys-Williams, the senior archaeologist after Dani, had put his foot down and forbidden further testing. Surprisingly, Bashir had backed down and sent for alternative equipment. Dani was coming up to the chamber to see the preliminary results.
Dani turned and walked into the cave, followed by her escort. After about twenty paces she came to a large tent set to one side of the cave. The muffled roar of a small generator intruded on the senses and a string of lights and moving shadows on the walls of the tent told of activity within. She stepped through the tent flap and nodded at several Syrian technicians engaged in a variety of scientific pursuits at a large trestle table. They stopped and stared at Dani, watching her as she crossed the tent to the back wall. In the wall, a rough hole had been carved in what appeared to be sandstone but was in fact several courses of dressed stone topped by mud brick. Electrical cables snaked into the chamber that lay beyond and Dani could hear voices. She stepped over the stone lintel and into the first chamber.
Only low wattage filament lamps sufficient to light the way but not to dispel the shadows that hung in the corners lighted the chamber. Dani did not need to see the artwork on the walls as the images were locked in her memory, but she stopped and stared anyway. A great golden Aten, the disc of the sun that Pharaoh Akhenaten had worshipped, hung above her, covering the plastered ceiling. It dominated the chamber and the beams of painted light that ran down the walls from it ended in little hands as if the Sun God was blessing the figures on the chamber wall. There were several of these, the most notable being a portrait of princess Beketaten. Drawn in a lifelike pose totally unlike the stiff two-dimensional portraits usual in Egyptian murals, the young woman in question looked ready to step down from the plaster. What made the image even more startling was its uncanny resemblance to Dani herself. The others in the team had commented on it but Dani had deflected discussion, merely saying she had an Egyptian grandmother and the likeness was purely coincidental. She knew there was more to it than that.
The back wall of the first chamber revealed another mural. Nine strange figures representing the Ennead of Heliopolis, the Nine of Iunu stood in a semicircle facing the woman who knelt with her back to the chamber. These primal gods of ancient Egypt evidently were of great significance to princess Beketaten.
Marring the picture was a gaping hole where the team had broken through into the next chamber. They had tried to do as little damage as possible and had photographed the wall before destroying a small part of it, but Dani still felt her heart wrench every time she saw the destruction of such beauty. She hesitated at the tunnel entrance, hearing muffled voices from the inner chamber. Bashir was one of the men waiting within and he had with him technicians to run the sonic spectroscope and interpret its findings. Dani dreaded what they would find.
No, that's not quite right, she thought. Part of me wants to find out, but I'm afraid of what will happen when we reach the end of the story.
The guard behind her said something incomprehensible but his gesture was self-explanatory. Dani nodded and ducked down, shuffling awkwardly into the short tunnel. The second chamber blazed with light, almost drowning out the packed hieroglyphs and murals in the dazzling glare. Dani shaded her eyes and looked across the chamber to the men standing around several pieces of equipment. One of them looked up as she started toward them.
"Ah, Dr Hanser. You're just in time. We're starting to get some results."
Dani nodded politely. "Minister Bashir. I understood you started running the spectroscope some hours ago. Has it taken this long to find the next chamber?"
"We haven't found it. It takes no little time to calibrate the machine. You must understand that this machine is still experimental and of course, I couldn't allow the Italian technicians into this site."
"Who are these men then?" Dani gestured at the men hovering over the machinery.
"These are Syrian army technicians seconded to the Ministry. They answer to me personally. You need have no fear our secret is compromised."
"There has been no more destruction of the inscriptions?"
"No. Please believe me, Dr Hanser, I regret the damage caused by the Bosing equipment."
"So you say, boyo. If I hadn't stopped you, you'd be doing it still." The speaker was a short, darkhaired Welshman with a hand-rolled cigarette hanging from his lips.
"You exaggerate, Dr Rhys-Williams," Bashir said. "It's entirely possible that the small section of the plaster that shattered was all that was going to fall anyway. It was unfortunate but the damage wasn't too severe. We have photographs of the section."
"If it wasn't severe, why did you stop?"
Bashir sighed. "I know you hold me in low regard, Dr Rhys-Williams, but I'm mindful of the importance of our discovery here. All precautions will be taken to ensure there is no damage."
"No further damage."
"I gather the sonic spectroscope also works by sending sound waves into the surrounding rock like the Bosing equipment," Dani said after a moment. "Are you sure it won't harm the inscriptions?"
"Quite sure," Bashir replied. "I'm assured that the spectroscope sends high intensity waves into the rock and the linear displacement of the rock surface when the waves are reflected back can be measured back in nanometres. The plaster will not even notice it."
"Nanometres?" Daffyd looked puzzled.
"Millionths of a metre," Dani explained. "Or thousandths of a millimetre. Can I see the readout?"
"Of course, but I doubt you can make sense of it. To me it's no more than a series of jagged lines." Bashir led Dani and Daffyd over to a table where three men were crowded round a drum of paper slowly unfurling as four pens traced uneven lines onto it.
Dani thought it looked similar to the machines seen in hospitals where heart rate and brain waves were measured. "How do you interpret it?" she asked.
One of the technicians looked up when she spoke, and after getting a nod from the Minister, pointed to the graph. "It takes much practice, miss. We send sound waves into the rock at between five and two thousand hertz. Typically, we try for two levels, shallow and deep, by angling the directional microphones. This line here records the input. This line..." he pointed to the one just below the input, "...is the shallow return and the next one the deep return. As you can see, they are fairly similar. This means that the rock density is uniform and there are no hidden cavities."
"And the fourth line?" Daffyd asked. "It's just flat."
"The fourth line is our control. It is sent out perpendicular to the rock face and will not return unless it strikes a reflecting surface or open air. Until then, it shows nothing."
"And what have you seen?"
The technician gestured at the wall. "Just here, nothing at all, but a few metres back..." He pulled the moving paper tape out of a bin at the end of the table and flicked through it quickly. "Here it is. See the difference between the second and third lines? That happened..." He marched back along the wall, measuring his paces, "...right here." The technician slapped the plaster wall with one hand. Daffyd winced at the technician's cavalier treatment of the priceless inscription.
"So there's a chamber there?"
"Unlikely. Do you see how there is such a small offset between the peaks of the first and second lines? That shows it is probably just a crack or fissure in the rock a few centimetres wide. There was no reflection at all on the fourth line."
"And there should be?"
"If there is a chamber, yes. Of course, it would be hard to distinguish between a man-made chamber and a natural cavity of any great size."
"Hmm, well, I'd better let you get on with it." Dani stood back with Daffyd and Bashir and watched as the technicians slowly moved the apparatus around the room.
"This will take some time," Bashir said. "Shall we adjourn to the camp for a cup of coffee while we wait?"
"No thanks. It's cold and wet out there and I'd rather just look at the murals again." Dani walked over to the back wall and stared up at the huge picture of two young men fighting before the walled city of Thebes. Cartouches identified them as the kings Smenkhkare and Tutankhamen and the figures standing in support of the fighters as the woman called Scarab and the old Vizier, or Tjaty, Ay.
Under Minister Bashir joined her and contemplated the scene for several minutes before speaking. "It's magnificent. I had not appreciated the artistry until I looked at a few books with the normal tomb paintings of the time. This is almost photographic by comparison."
"You can see some value to this enterprise beyond mere money then?" Daffyd sneered. "I thought you were just after the king's treasury."
"I'm not a complete Philistine, Dr Rhys-Williams. The treasure is tempting, if only because it may represent the only other undisturbed tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh besides King Tut's. However, I'm not blind to the enormous archaeological value of this find."
"So what will you do if we find out where Smenkhkare's tomb is?" Dani asked. "Will you notify the proper Egyptian authorities?"
"My dear, Syria and Egypt are joint members of the United Arab Republic. Rest assured the proper authorities will be informed."
Daffyd snorted but refrained from other comment.
Bashir was silent for another few minutes before asking, "Are those cliffs in the background real, Dr Hanser?"
"You mean do they actually exist or are they just background filler?" Dani studied the uneven line behind the city. "I'd say real. We know the Valley of the Kings lies on the western bank of the Nile, which would put it about there..." She pointed at a gap in the painted cliffs. "Why do you ask? Is it important?"
"I remember the description of where Smenkhkare's tomb is supposed to be," Bashir said quietly. "A notch in the cliffs and a line of vegetation running from the river to the foot of the cliffs."
"So?" Daffyd busied himself rolling another cigarette. "It's a pretty vague description and a lot can change in three thousand years."
Bashir pointed. "There, south of the city. A notch in the cliff line and a streak of green below it. Could it be that the artist has included the site in his painting?"
"Why would he do that?" Daffyd asked. "Do you think he wants it found? It's much more likely you're reading something into a few marks because you want it to be there."
"Possibly, Dr Rhys-Williams, but there was also a description in the text. If the writer and painter did not want it found, why did they describe it?"
"If this is a tomb, the inscriptions are not meant for us," Dani said quietly. "The only ones that would read this are the owner of the tomb, presumably Scarab or her ka, and the gods."
"And perhaps it is misleading, just in case tomb robbers broke in," Daffyd added.
"Another problem with that being the site is that this picture is accurate in every other regard but Scarab's description of the burial site was a few days south of Thebes, not within sight of its walls."
Bashir frowned. "Then we are forced to wait on the discovery of a more detailed description." He wheeled and snapped at the technicians, "What is taking so long? It must be here, the inscription is incomplete."
"Yes, Minister. We have completed a circuit of the chamber...there is nothing here."
"There must be. You've made a mistake. Do it again."
"We have not made a mistake," the head technician said stiffly. "You are welcome to examine the readouts yourself...sir."
Bashir swore colourfully and turned away, but Daffyd moved to examine the scroll of paper. "I don't pretend to understand this," he said with a smile, "But I can see a lot of lines on this section. What do they mean?"
"That's behind the picture of the fighting men, sir. It looks like a zone of shattered rock. It extends from just a few centimetres behind the plaster to as deep as we can see. There's more on that side too, but not as extensive." The technician indicated one of the side walls.
"This may sound like a silly question," Daffyd went on, "But you are sure the equipment is working properly?"
"Yes sir. See here..." The technician pulled more of the scroll out of the bin and tapped a section where the difference between the second and third lines was quite pronounced. "This is the wall where we came through. What you're seeing is the first chamber."
Daffyd nodded. "And the last side?"
"The fourth line shows a discontinuity about twenty to thirty metres away."
"Discontinuity?" Dani asked.
"I imagine it's the cliff face, miss. It's in that direction."
"So that's that. No chamber?"
"Sorry miss. Not here. I'd bet on it."
Bashir glowered from the far side of the chamber. "We're left with the vague description of the tomb and a painting that may or may not be accurate. I suppose it will have to do. I shall go down there and continue this investigation."
"You'll notify the authorities in Egypt?" Dani asked.
"And we'll be coming with you?"
"I think not. You've been most useful, Dr Hanser, but I have a full translation now and you won't be needed further."
"Are we to remain here at the dig or will you send us home?"
Bashir hesitated as if thinking through the possibilities. "You will be detained in Damascus until I return. We'll discuss your future then."
"You've given up already then, boyo?" Daffyd said with a grin. "Just when I've found the next chamber."
"What?" Bashir stared at the small Welshman. "Are you mad? How can you have found it?"
Daffyd gestured at the paper scroll. "This tells me exactly where it is."
The technician frowned. "That's impossible. I know how to interpret the data and there's definitely no chamber shown."
Daffyd's grin grew broader. "That only shows me where it is not. I know where it is--below us."
Dani rapidly crossed the chamber floor and confronted Daffyd, her back to Bashir. "What the hell are you doing?" she said in a fierce whisper. "You're giving him the third chamber."
"It's there isn't it, Dani? You know, don't you?"
"What are you saying?" Bashir asked sharply. "Speak up."
"I don't know what...yes, it's there," Dani whispered. "But why are you telling him? He wants to plunder it."
"I'm saving our lives, lass," Daffyd replied quietly.
Bashir walked toward them, scowling.
"It's alright, Minister," Daffyd said affably. "I was just checking my idea with Dr Hanser before I committed myself."
"What were you saying? You know where the next chamber is?"
"I believe so. It's beneath us."
Bashir stared at the floor and stamped his foot tentatively. "Beneath us? Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be without looking. Think about tombs in Egypt, they all trend downward into the ground. The only exceptions are cliff tombs. Now you could think of this as being a cliff tomb, but there is a difference. Look at what the sonic spectroscope has found--crushed and shattered rock ahead and to our left, the cliff face to our right and the first chamber behind us. Where else could the builders go?"
"What about up?" the head technician suggested. "There is a hundred metres of rock above us."
"That would run counter to every other tomb excavation. Besides, it's far easier to dig down."
"What do you say, Dr Hanser?" Bashir asked. "Do you agree with Dr Rhys-Williams?"
"I...yes, I suppose I do."
"I'm told you have a knack for finding things. Where would you look?"
Dani looked uncomfortable but pointed to the back of the chamber, just short of the wall mural.
"Thank you, Dr Hanser." He turned to the head technician. "Mahmoud, sound out the floor in that area. Find me the entrance."
Dani cleared her throat. "What's going to happen to us, Minister?"
Bashir smiled. "You're going to help me excavate this tomb and translate the inscriptions. After that, we'll see. One thing at a time." He walked across to join the technicians at the table.
As the technicians positioned the sonic spectroscope for the first scan, Dani drew Daffyd aside. "You think he means us harm?" she whispered.
"Use your head Dani. Bashir knows of the whereabouts of millions of pounds worth of gold, but it belongs to the Egyptian government, not him. We're the only people aware of his intended larceny. What would you do in his place?"
"But kill us? Someone would find out. The university knows where we are."
"We disappear into a Damascus jail on spying charges. If we survive, it'll be years before we get out--if we don't face a firing squad. Or easier still, they shove us into the back of the cave and dynamite the entrance. 'So sorry, the cliff collapsed on the whole British expedition and wiped them out.' Who'd know the truth?"
"Jesus, Daffyd. What do we do?"
"Smile, do what he wants, control the hotheads on our team--Marc and Al--and hope that something turns up. At the moment, all that's keeping us alive is Bashir's hope that Scarab describes where Smenkhkare's tomb is in more detail, or hints at her own treasury."
"We have it, Minister," Mahmoud called out. "It's where she said." As they gathered round the paper scrolling beneath the pens, he excitedly pointed out the results. "This is a shaft, roughly square in section."
"Are you sure?" Bashir asked. "It looks like the results you got for the shattered rock."
"Indeed it does, Minister, but it is limited to a square only two metres across. I would guess the shaft is filled with rubble."
"Can you tell how deep it is?"
"Not exactly," Mahmoud said cautiously. "Between ten and twenty metres."
"Excellent work Mahmoud. Pinpoint the edges of the shaft as closely as you can. We shall start the excavations immediately."
Bashir waited until a team of labourers under the direction of Mahmoud started to lift the first bucket-loads of rubble from the shaft and carry it back toward the cave entrance. Dani was shocked at the thought that the rubble was being dumped unceremoniously and persuaded Bashir to at least order it to be laid out on tarpaulins within the cave for later inspection.
"If this tomb was sealed and later broken into, the broken seals may have been thrown into the shaft. There could be anything in there--artefacts even. We have to examine it carefully."
The Under Minister agreed and decided this would be something useful the rest of the team could be doing while Dani was deciphering the hieroglyphs sure to be present in the new chamber.
The excavation continued through into the evening and Dani turned in early, knowing that she would be extremely busy for days or weeks to come. She woke the next morning to find that the rain had stopped in the night and a weak sun was struggling out from behind the clouds. She dressed and walked across to the community tent for coffee and a bite to eat. The air inside was tense and several people looked around as she walked in.
"Thank God. I thought we were going to have to rouse you by banging saucepans outside your tent."
"Thanks for the sweet thought, Marc." Dani grinned and moved toward the table with the coffee pot. "Good morning to the rest of you too. I hope you slept well."
"Bugger all," Al growled. "Not after they reached the bottom of the shaft."
"Yes," Doris, a mousy-haired young woman, agreed. "I've been too excited to sleep. Haven't I, Ang?"
Angela, the well-developed blonde sipping a cup of coffee beside Doris, nodded her head but said nothing.
Dani stopped abruptly and turned, her eyes wide. "They reached the bottom? What did they find?"
"A sealed door," Bob said.
"And a chamber behind it," Will added.
A look of anguish crossed Dani's face. "They didn't just smash through it, did they? Why didn't somebody wake me? That's a disaster. Who knows what damage...?"
"Easy, lass," Daffyd said. "Nobody's done anything...yet."
"Yeah. Our beloved Minister wanted to bash through but we persuaded him to wait for you."
"So where is he? Why are we delaying? For God's sake, he could be breaking it down as we speak."
"Easy, Dani," Marc said. "He was here a few minutes ago and he said he'd be back soon."
"As indeed I am." Bashir spoke from the tent entrance. He held up a camera. "I wanted a couple of pictures of the historic moment."
"You haven't tampered with the seals at all?" Dani asked.
"Not at all, Dr Hanser. I give you my word you'll be the first one through that door. Now, shall we all go and see what is waiting for us?"
"All of us?" Al asked. "What's changed that you want us all there instead of the usual one or two?"
Bashir smiled faintly. "I just thought you might all like to see what we have found. You're all part of the team, after all. If you'd rather just wait here until we return..."
"No way." Al leapt to his feet and pushed past Bashir.
The others followed more sedately, but within twenty minutes the whole team had assembled in the second chamber. Bashir sent all the guards away but allowed his secretary Nazim and the head technician Mahmoud to remain. The shaft sunk into the rock floor of the chamber was brilliantly lit from below, throwing a beam upward in the dust-filled air. A securely bolted wooden ladder poked above the lip of the shaft.
Angela looked over the lip and shuddered. "That's a long way down."
"Seventeen metres, to be precise," Mahmoud remarked, regarding Angela with interest. "I would be happy to assist you in making the descent."
"That won't be necessary," Doris cut in. "I'll be helping her."
"The space at the bottom of the shaft is limited," Minister Bashir said. "Until the chamber is open we will limit it to Dr Hanser, Dr Rhys-Williams, Dr Marc Andrews, Nazim, and myself."
"Why Nazim, for God's sake?" Will asked.
"Because there are inscriptions down that that will need to be translated and Nazim is my secretary. Also, because I say so. If you aren't happy with my dispositions you're at liberty to return to the camp." Bashir turned away without waiting for a response and lowered himself over the edge of the shaft.
Ten minutes later, the five of them were at the bottom, looking at a bricked-up doorway.
Dani took over immediately. She ran her fingers gently over a series of plaster seals. "These are odd. They aren't the usual seals you'd expect of a high priest or the warden of tombs. They seem to be just the names of gods--Atum, Geb, Auset..."
"The Nine of Iunu. Scarab's gods," Marc commented.
Dani nodded and knelt to look at the lower ones. "Yes, they're all here...hello, what's this? This is different."
"What is it?"
"It's a regular priestly seal--Amun--but there is some more writing...there's a cartouche."
"Royal then," Daffyd mused. "Is it Scarab's own cartouche, Dani?"
"No...it says 'The justice of Re is...is powerful; chosen of Re; Re has made him...fashioned him; beloved of Amun'."
"Nice sentiments," Marc grumbled, "But does it help us at all?"
Dani rocked back on her heels and looked up at Daffyd. "They are names. Did you recognise any of them?"
Daffyd frowned as he lit up another of his hand-rolled cigarettes. "Re has fashioned him. We'd translate that as Re-messe--Ramses. Are we talking about Scarab's one-time consort Paramessu? He went on to become Ramses the First, didn't he?"
"What are you saying?" Bashir asked. "Is this the tomb of Ramses the First?"
"No, that's in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt," Dani said. "Besides, the full name of this king is Usermaatre Setepenre Ramses Meryamun--Ramses the Great."
"Shit," Marc breathed.
"What's going on down there?" Will called down the shaft. "What have you found?"
"The seal of Ramses the Great," Marc shouted back.
"It also says 'In the fifth year'," Dani added.
"That can't be right. Scarab would be over seventy years old. They didn't live that long way back then."
"Ramses did," Daffyd observed. "He lived into his nineties."
"What would Ramses be doing up in Syria anyway."
"The Battle of Kadesh was in his fifth regnal year, I believe," Dani said. She looked at the bricked up door. "We may find out more when we get inside. Can we get the seals off without damaging them?"
Three of the seals crumbled into dust as they chipped them away from the underlying plaster, including the one belonging to Ramses the Great. Bashir had photographed them all before they started but they still felt pangs of guilt at the way they were breaking into the chamber.
Daffyd expressed everyone's thoughts except Bashir's and possibly Nazim's when he said, "I feel more like a tomb robber than a scientist."
"Nonsense," Bashir retorted. "We are all acting under the auspices of the National History Ministry."
Tools were lowered down the shaft and Marc and Daffyd added muscle, extracting bricks and blocks of stone and sending them up the shaft in a rope cradle. Bashir wanted the whole doorway removed but Dani refused to let the destruction continue once a hole had been formed large enough to step through. She took a flashlight and shone it into the hole.
"What do you see, Dr Hanser?"
"Nothing much yet. There's too much dust in the air...hang on, I can see a bit of one wall. Pictures and writing."
"Any grave goods--furniture, offerings, shrines?" Marc asked.
"No. the chamber appears to be empty."
"So we still don't know whether this is a tomb."
Mahmoud lowered electrical cables and lights down to them and Dani carried them into the third chamber. Minister Bashir followed, with the others on his heels. They stopped and stared at the walls as the lights revealed ranks of tightly packed hieroglyphs interspersed with dozens of small pictures. Most of the paintings were of people, either singly or in groups, both Egyptian and foreign, but few of them bore any identification marks. An exception was a painting of a woman on the back wall. Head and shoulders only, the right side of the woman's face was hidden by a gold mask similar to the funeral mask of a dead king. Her right eye was a coloured stone, a polished gem, positively glowing golden brown. A cartouche below it identified the woman as Neferkheperu Khnumt-Atum Kheper, the throne name of Scarab.
Daffyd stared at the half-masked woman for several minutes before raising a note pad and obscuring the masked side of the face. "It's you, Dani," he said with a grin. "That means it must be Scarab." His smile faded as he lowered the pad again. "What damage must have been done by Ay's torturers to warrant such a cover up?"
"I wish you wouldn't keep saying it's me," Dani complained. "There's a vague resemblance, I admit, but nothing more."
"Yes, let us not get carried away by romanticism," Bashir agreed. "Dr Hanser, would you please scan the writing and determine where the account starts? Dr Rhys-Williams, please make yourself useful arranging the lights to best advantage. Dr Andrews, be so good as to organise chairs and tables to be lowered down to us. We will also need some basic supplies and writing materials, cameras, film...anything else you can think of." He drew a deep breath and coughed loudly. "Fresh air. Get Mahmoud to organise an air pump from the outside. Nazim, are you getting all this down? I want a full record of this event."
Everyone busied themselves and gradually a research station grew in the third chamber. The other members of the team, under Mahmoud's direction, brought chairs and tables up from the camp and organised an urn of coffee and mugs. The air pump was the most difficult task, but the technicians cobbled together something that would suffice until a proper pump could be brought in. These things were lowered into the shaft and the men and women followed, excitement battling with the sombre awe of being so far underground in a chamber that had remained closed for three thousand years or more. Once in the chamber they scattered, exclaiming over the pictures or chattering excitedly.
After a few minutes, Bashir tapped a teaspoon on a mug to attract everyone's attention. "Please take your seats and we will begin. Dr Hanser, you have found the start of the narrative?" Dani nodded. "Nazim, is the tape recorder set up? Notebooks ready? Thank you. Dr Hanser, if you would be so good as to start the translation..."
"Before she starts, Minister, I think we should lay down some ground rules," Daffyd interrupted. "This translation business puts a lot of strain on Dani. She should be allowed to stop for a rest whenever she wants and take a real break every hour or two. She's not a bloody machine."
"Well said Daffyd," Al growled. "You tell him."
Bashir shot a look of distaste at the younger man but addressed himself to the Welshman. "I am mindful of the strain to our good Dr Hanser. I propose that she has a break for a drink every half hour... or more often if she needs it... and a meal break of an hour every two hours unless she wants to carry on. In fact, we will rotate everyone at that point and go back to our usual shift arrangement." This last point was met with groans of disappointment.
Dani nodded. "Alright, you remember where we were? Scarab had survived the desert..."
"With the help of the Iunu gods," Doris chipped in.
"Just so. A caravan of traders took her north to the city of Zarw and the Khabiru people--her mother's people. News of the deaths of the kings had traveled fast and Scarab found herself a fugitive. Well, let me read what she says..."
** * * *
"I arrived in the city of Zarw a month after the Gods delivered me from the desert and the clutches of my uncle Ay. I had thought to find Paramessu and my son Set but my planning had not progressed much beyond that. I think that in the back of my mind was the idea that my past life as a royal princess and sister of kings was over and I would be free to be an ordinary army wife and mother. Ay believed me dead and I could not imagine anyone in my mother's city of Zarw would apprise him of the truth. From what I knew of the public dispositions of Nebkheperure Tutankhamen, Tjaty Horemheb would no doubt grasp the throne in his iron hand and I looked to him to rule Kemet with due regard to Ma'at. The Gods had raised me to the kingship after Djeserkheperu Smenkhkare, but I lacked an army to back my claim. I did not want the throne anyway; I just wanted my son whom I had not seen for nearly six years. I also wanted the man whose wife I had once nearly become--but would he want a maimed woman? I was content to leave the Two Lands in the capable hands of Horemheb.
Very well, I will admit it. I was naïve to imagine that Ay, having once had a taste of power, would give it up on the eastern side of the tomb. I was misled by Horemheb's apparent control of the army. In fact, by the time I reached Zarw, Ay had all but secured the throne for himself..."
The old man waited with an outward appearance of studied calm in the antechamber of the king's suite in the palace of Western Waset. He forced down his growing impatience, knowing that a false step could still spell ruin. Within the king's chamber itself, he could hear the soft tones of the queen speaking almost conversationally to the king. She praised him and outlined her problem before pausing as if to listen to the king's reply. The old man found himself straining forward, listening. A prickle of superstitious dread brushed his sweat-dampened skin at the thought that the king might answer. He reminded himself that the king's body lay in the natron bath in the Royal House of the Dead, not in his bedroom with the queen.
The queen spoke again, a soft murmur followed by another pause, then a grief-stroked question, semi-audible. Time passed, silence now pervading the luxurious apartments. Through the open window, bird song, the distant lowing of cattle and the subdued murmurings of the palace staff were all that disturbed the peace. The old man shifted uncomfortably, wondering whether he should sit down and rest his aching joints but was concerned that he might appear weak if the queen came out and found him resting. He scuffed his feet irritably on the sand-gritted floor instead, earning a hooded glance of disapproval from the armed guards at the bedroom door. A slight movement by one wall caught his eye and he gestured to the servant standing there.
"Fetch a broom," the old man said. "This room is a disgrace."
The servant hesitated, glancing at the open doorway before bowing to the old man. He left the room, reappearing a few moments later with a bundle of dried rushes. The man proceeded to sweep the area of floor around the old man, brushing sand grains and dust to the edge of the room. He bowed again and resumed his stance by the wall.
The old man glared at the servant but decided not to pursue the matter further. Instead, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing his heart to stop racing. He ambled over to the window and, resting his hands on the broad sill, stared out at the palace gardens. The panorama of bushes, paved paths, ponds and fruit trees scarcely registered as he turned his mind once more to the coming interview with the queen.
So much hangs on so few words. He reviewed his carefully thought out and rehearsed arguments. At worst, I do not need the queen, but how much easier if she is amenable to my proposal...
Someone in the shadows of the antechamber cleared his throat, interrupting the old man's thoughts. "My Lord Ay, the Queen will see you now."
The old man turned slowly, fighting the flutter in his chest. Lord Ay, he calls me. Not Tjaty. He recognised the Overseer of the King's Bedchamber. Ay straightened and walked through the doorway into the King's Bedchamber, ignoring the supercilious sneer on the Overseer's face.
Inside, the curtains were drawn against the noonday sun, the heavy linen casting hot, still shadows rather than cool shade. Ay felt sweat break out on his forehead and he cursed inwardly, knowing it would present a semblance of fear to the queen at a time when a show of strength was needed. He looked around the room, his gaze sliding over the ubiquitous servants, dismissing them, and found the queen.
How fragile she looks. For a moment, he contemplated calling her 'beloved granddaughter', but her pose--rigid and taut--shouted a warning to him. "Your majesty," Ay murmured instead, bowing deeply.
"Lord Ay," the queen responded, her voice as tight as her slim body. "You requested an audience? Please keep it short; I have much to attend to." Her gaze flicked sideways and Ay saw a life-size representation of the young King Nebkheperure standing in an alcove.
"Queen Ankhesenamen, it grieves me to disturb you at such a time, but affairs of state pay little attention to the passing of men...or gods."
"What is it you want, Lord Ay?"
"It is not what I want, but what Kemet needs."
"Do not prevaricate, Lord Ay. Speak clearly or go away."
So we come to it without the ceremony. "Queen Ankhesenamen, Kemet needs a strong leader in these troubled times. There are few men who have the requisite experience of governance and..."
"Kemet needs no man," Ankhesenamen replied coldly. "I will rule in place of my husband the king."
Ay almost smiled. "Indeed, your Majesty? That is not the Kemetu way. While your husband Nebkheperure was alive, you ruled with him, but only a king can rule the Two Lands alone. If you wish to remain on the throne of Kemet you must take a husband."
The queen's eyebrows rose. "You dare speak to me of what I must do? I am your queen. My husband is not yet buried and already you plot to take power for yourself. Beware, Lord Ay. I am not a woman to be mocked or threatened."
"My lady, such was not my intention. If my words have caused offence, I ask your pardon. All I seek to do is make sure Kemet is strong enough to face our enemies."
"What enemies? King Nebkheperure vanquished the Hittites and the southern rebels."
Ay shrugged. "My lady, if you do not know Kemet's enemies it is because you have not attended the Council. The men who govern Kemet are aware of these enemies."
"I repeat: what enemies?"
"The Hittites, my lady. Contrary to popular opinion, King Nebkheperure did not conquer them. He only destroyed one of their armies. The Kingdom of Shubbiluliuma is untouched and gathering together allies to strike a blow at what they perceive to be a defenceless land. They will take advantage of the death of our king."
Ankhesenamen's eyes flickered toward the statue of her husband. "We have the army," she murmured.
"Some of the army, my lady," Ay corrected. "The rebels under the pretender managed to inflict severe wounds on us before they were routed."
"It will be enough for Horemheb. He was always Kemet's foremost general."
"Horemheb is not here. He has disappeared into the wilds of Nubia, chasing the rebels. He may not return in time. That is why I say you must take a husband--a man strong enough and experienced enough to defend the Two Lands."
Ankhesenamen stared at the old man, her grandfather, for several minutes. "I can rule alone," she repeated.
Ay heard the hint of uncertainty in his granddaughter's voice and attacked again, sowing doubt. "Perhaps you could at that, my lady. You were always the favourite of the Heretic."
"Do not call him that," Ankhesenamen snapped. "He was your king and my father, even if he carried things to extremes."
"Your pardon, my lady. I meant only that being your father's daughter, some ability must flow in your veins. Perhaps you, like King Waenre Akhenaten, will have the wisdom to choose good counsellors."
"You mean yourself?"
"Can you think of anyone in the Kingdoms with more experience?"
"Horemheb is Tjaty of the North. Tuti... my husband planned to make him Tjaty of all Kemet."
Ay stiffened, fighting down his fury at this revelation. "Horemheb is an able general," he said slowly. "But he's just a fighting man. He doesn't have the strength to be Tjaty in troubled times."
"And you do, grandfather?"
Ay smiled inwardly at the admission of relationship. "You know I do. I all but ruled Kemet through the reigns of Waenre, Djeserkheperu and Nebkheperure--don't deny it, my lady, for I mean no disrespect. Each king saw the strength and wisdom in me and used me as a tool to govern our beloved Land. If the kings and I didn't see eye to eye at all times this was due to a lack of experience on their part, not to a lack of loyalty or ability on mine."
"There is a measure of truth in what you say," Ankhesenamen admitted. The queen sighed and her composure slipped. "I miss you, Tuti," she whispered. She turned and faced the statue of the boy-king in the alcove, holding out her arms in supplication but the wooden arms of the statue did not reach out to her. After a long time she sighed again and turned back to face her grandfather. "You want to be Tjaty of all Kemet again?"
"No, my lady."
Surprise made the queen look like a young girl. "You don't? Then why are you here?"
Ay was silent for a while and then said in a low voice, "Send the servants out."
"There is no need. They are my body servants."
"Even so," Ay insisted. "Some things no servant should hear."
"It is not proper that I should be unattended."
Ay chuckled. "I'm an old man and family besides. What hurt can come to you? Be assured, my lady, I mean you no harm."
Ankhesenamen nodded and signed the servants to leave. She seated herself on the edge of the bed and waited for her grandfather to speak.
Ay paced for a few moments, gathering his arguments. "I ask your indulgence for a few moments, my lady. I must first speak of your ancestors..."
"Is a history lesson really so important, grandfather?"
"Yes, so pay attention. You come from an illustrious family that includes Menkheperre the conqueror and your own grandfather Nebmaetre, possibly the greatest king these Two Lands have ever seen. They are a family strong in kings...until your father."
"I am aware of this, grandfather. I had only sisters. What is your point?"
"Your father had only daughters, Djeserkheperu had no children, and our last king..."
"...Nebkheperure had but two still-born daughters."
The queen locked her gaze with her grandfather. "The king had three daughters."
"I'm your grandfather, Ankhesenamen; I know the truth of it. You slept with your own father and the first dead girl was his."
The queen shrugged. "So?"
"So the seed of Nebmaetre has run dry. It's time to look further afield for the royal bull."
"I find this matter distasteful. My husband is not yet buried and already you seek to place a successor in my bed."
"I regret the need for haste but you know as well as I that you are the last of your great family. You must marry again and bear a son."
"And I am allowed no choice in my future husband?"
"Of course you have a choice, Ankhesenamen--as long as you make the right one. After all, your husband will become king of Kemet. We must choose wisely."
"I see. You will choose my husband for me, is that it?"
"Who better? You will agree that I am experienced in governing Kemet and am a member of the royal family."
"You are my grandfather," the queen agreed, "But you have no royal blood."
"There are two ways a man might become king--be born to it, or marry a royal princess."
"And you would choose the latter for this candidate of yours? Well, who is he? What is his family and what are his qualifications?"
"He is not royal born but his relatives are royal, and his qualifications are of the best. He is a skilled administrator and he is second to none in experience."
Ankhesenamen frowned. "My family has no male relative... and I thought you said you were the most experienced..."
Ay smiled and bowed to his queen.
"You?" The young woman stared at her elderly grandfather. "You?"
"It's logical, isn't it?"
"No it isn't. It's disgusting."
Ay's smile remained on his face but his gaze hardened. "Come, that is the woman speaking, not the queen. Kemet needs a king and the only way it can get one is through your marriage to a suitable man. I'm your only male blood relative."
"Then I must, as you say, look further afield. One of the nobles..."
"I don't know...Ramose perhaps..."
Ay laughed. "Kemet would be derided by the nations. The man has the wit of a turtle."
"...or even Amentep..."
"...a fool. Ankhesenamen, be realistic. Don't you think I have considered other options thoroughly? No doubt you could find a younger son or two of nobility who would warm your bed and pleasure your belly, but is that your prime consideration? What of the good of Kemet? Don't you want our lands to achieve Ma'at after these many years of disturbance? Put aside your womanly desires and show me you're a queen of Kemet."
"You're an unacceptable alternative," Ankhesenamen said crisply. "I would sooner bed a slave."
"What is so objectionable?" Ay asked mildly.
The young queen snorted and turned away. She pulled a curtain aside and let a great shaft of hot sunlight cut a swathe through the darkness of the room. "You're my grandfather. Isn't that enough?" She stood and looked out of the window, her eyes squinting against the brightness.
Ay followed the young woman over to the window. "You married your father and had a child by him. Then you married your uncle and had two more. Are you telling me you have suddenly decided that bedding your kin is distasteful?"
Ankhesenamen turned her head away, apparently studying the monotonous actions of a gardener hoeing a flowerbed. "That was different. I was very young then and the king commanded it. I had no choice in the matter."
"I seem to remember a young girl positively panting to climb into King Nebkheperure's bed."
Ankhesenamen flushed. "I loved him...I love him."
"Well, that's finished and you must choose again. I'm family, dear child. You could not do better."
She shook her head. "No. I will not."
"Why not? Being a relative is not a good enough reason. Why, even the gods do it--brother beds sister, father mounts daughter, mother opens to son. Do you think yourself better than the gods?"
Ankhesenamen said nothing, still staring out of the window at the palace gardens. A gust of hot air blew in, carrying with it the acrid smell of desert dust.
"What is your objection?" Ay probed again.
"I'm a young woman still, with firm loins. I'm capable of bearing sons. I don't want an old man, smelly and wrinkled, in my bed."
Ay's lips twitched with contempt. "As long as you were discreet, you could take any man to bed for all I care. I do not lust after you."
"You would not bed me?"
"Of course I would bed you. I know my duty well enough, and if I did not I would not be king legitimately. The people would expect it of a Bull of Heru. But you can be assured we would have separate suites thereafter. The only times you would need to be with me are on state occasions."
"I would have my own servants? Picked by me, not you?"
"And I could see whom I chose, when I chose?"
"As I said, as long as you were discreet."
"And if I conceived? Had a son?"
"Let us deal with that when it happens."
Ankhesenamen turned to face her grandfather. She scanned his face, trying to see into his soul. "The palace can be a dangerous place. Would my son survive?"
"Who knows? That is in the hands of the gods. If you mean, would I harm him? No. You know as well as I that there's always a place for a royal child." Ay smiled wryly. "Your grandfather Nebmaetre had many sons by palace women who found places as scribes, officials and overseers."
"Would my son succeed as king?"
"My son Nakhtmin will be king after me. If he is childless...well, we will see. A male must inherit the throne and he would be my great-grandson."
"Nakhtmin? You would make him Crown Prince? He is not your son--not royal blood. He's the son of Djetmaktef."
"He was," Ay corrected. "Now he's my son. I adopted him according to the forms. He will inherit everything I have."
"But he's a commoner by birth. Who will he marry to give him legitimacy?"
"He will not need to. He is legally my son. He will be king because he's the son of a king."
"If you are king."
Ay looked up sharply. "If? What have we been talking about, Ankhesenamen? You will marry me, be queen beside me, and live a life of luxury doing whatever you please."
Ay's brow furrowed and he glared at his granddaughter. "You don't have a choice. I am the only possibility as your husband and future king. Only I can draw the Two Lands together in harmony. You will marry me."
"I will not."
Ay laughed. "King Nebkheperure died ten days ago and lies in his bath of natron. In another sixty days he is laid in his tomb. Three days later, I will marry you in sight of the populace of Waset, and immediately be crowned king. You cannot prevent it."
"I am the Queen. I do not have to do anything you say."
"You were the Queen while your husband was alive. Now you are just a young, inexperienced woman out of your depth in these troubled times."
Ankhesenamen paled and, despite the heat of the room, shivered. "I...I will have you arrested."
"You can try, but the Amun legion is under my control. No one will obey you."
"My husband should have destroyed you as soon as we arrived in Waset."
Ay grinned broadly. "But he did not, so I am still Tjaty and, in the eyes of everyone in the city, the logical heir to the Double Throne."
"Horemheb will not allow you to do this."
"Horemheb is not here and is unlikely to return before my coronation. He is loyal and will not contest me once I am king."