Scarab - Horemheb [The Amarnan Kings Book 5]
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by Max Overton
Description: General Horemheb has taken control after the death of Ay and Nakhtmin, and forcing Scarab to marry him, ascends the throne of Egypt. The Two Kingdoms settle into an uneasy peace as Horemheb proceeds to stamp out all traces of the former kings. He also persecutes the Khabiru tribesmen who were reluctant to help him seize power. Scarab escapes into the desert, where she is content to wait until Egypt needs her. A holy man emerges from the desert, and demands that Horemheb release the Khabiru so they may worship his god. Scarab recognises the holy man and supports him in his efforts to free his people. The gods of Egypt and of the Khabiru are invoked and disaster sweeps down on the Two Kingdoms as the Khabiru flee with Scarab and the holy man. Horemheb and his army pursue them to the shores of the Great Sea, where a natural event or maybe the hand of God alters the course of Egyptian history.
eBook Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [698 KB]
Reading time: 456-639 min.
Syria -- 1960
Rain gave way to sullen overcast and after a protracted struggle the clouds reluctantly allowed the sun to break through onto the camp of the British Midland University dig in the little side valley of the Orontes River in southern Syria. The only people to take advantage of the break in the weather were half-a-dozen local workers and more than twenty soldiers of the Syrian Army. The swollen stream that ran through the valley ran muddy, but the cave that pierced the towering sandstone cliffs remained dry. Within it, a breached wall of mud-brick and dressed stone half-hid the chambers that lay beyond and the white-washed walls covered in paintings and finely drawn hieroglyphs. Discovered the previous year, one chamber had become three, and slowly the writing was translated to reveal an account of the Amarnan sun-kings of Egypt that was not written in the history books. Three days before, the principal translator, Dr Dani Hanser had retired to her tent in exhaustion, leaving the other members of the team to their own devices.
For two days they had frequented the main tent where they took their meals and spread out on the narrow trestle tables transcribing the tapes and the notes taken during Dani's steady vocal translation, but on the third day the tent was almost empty at breakfast. There was some desultory conversation as they ate some fairly ordinary toast and marmalade and drank their tea, until Marc looked at his watch.
"Where's Al?" he asked. "Has anyone seen him this morning?"
Daffyd shook his head, engrossed in a text book, and Doris said she had not seen anyone from his tent since the previous night.
"That's a point, Bob and Will aren't here either." Marc got up with a groan. "I'd better go find him."
"Have your breakfast," Daffyd instructed. "They'll turn up."
"Now I'm up, I'll have a look in his tent at least." Marc left and Daffyd watched him go, frowning slightly, before turning back to his book.
Angela came in and helped herself to a boiled egg and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Hi Dor, you were up early. Couldn't sleep?"
Doris swallowed her mouthful of toast. "The sun was shining when I woke up. I'm so tired of the rain I just had to get up and enjoy a few minutes of it."
"He's not there." Marc stood in the entrance to the tent, a puzzled look on his face. "None of them are, and their cots don't seem to have been slept in."
"They've probably just gone for a walk," Angela said.
"Or up to the cave," Doris added.
"Yeah, that's probably it." Marc looked out at the camp site. "There's Bashir. Maybe he's seen them." He let the tent flap fall behind him.
"Damn," Daffyd muttered. "Marc! Come back!" he called out.
"What?" Marc's reply was muffled. He poked his head in the door. "What?"
"Come in and sit down. I don't want you asking Bashir about Al and the others."
"Because they've gone."
"Gone? Gone where?"
"They decided to try and get out of Syria."
"Why?" Doris asked.
Angela looked scornful. "Use your head, Dor. We're prisoners of Bashir and his army buddies and we know too much. I think it's a damn good thing they've escaped. If I'd known they were going to try, I'd have gone with them."
"They haven't got a hope," Marc said gloomily. "If I'd known, I would have stopped them."
"You still can," Daffyd said. "Just tell Bashir. I'm sure his soldiers can round them up in no time."
"That's not what I want, and you know it. I just think it's stupid to get Bashir angry when...damn it, when our lives are in the balance. How is he going to react when he finds out?"
"I imagine, as you say, he'll be extremely angry and may very well be tempted to shut us up and close down the site," Daffyd said, rolling himself another one of his perpetual cigarettes. "Then he'll start to think just what that means."
Marc stared at the smiling Welshman. "Alright, I'll bite. Just what does that mean?"
"It means that with Al, Bob and Will at large, he cannot do away with the rest of us. That was always the danger. Bashir believes there is a fabulous treasure buried somewhere in Egypt and he hopes the Scarab account will lead him to it. When the account in these chambers ends, we all meet with an unfortunate accident and he goes off to look for his treasure. With Al et al at large, he can't do that."
"Where have they gone?"
Daffyd shrugged. "How would I know?"
"Well, you knew they were gone, so I thought you might."
"If I don't know, I can't be forced to tell."
Marc considered this for a few minutes. "Bashir's going to hit the roof when he finds out."
Daffyd nodded and stubbed out the butt of his cigarette. "It is important we give them as much time as possible to get away, so behave normally and act dumb."
"Are you saying we normally act dumb?" Doris asked indignantly.
"Your dumbness will be purely an act, Doris Smith," Daffyd said, suppressing a smile. "To mislead Bashir." He started rolling another cigarette.
"Mislead Bashir about what?"
Everyone looked at the tent entrance where a slightly-built woman stood.
"Dani," Marc said with a warm smile. "Good to see you. How are you feeling?"
"Come in and take a pew, old girl," Daffyd said, expelling a cloud of pungent cigarette smoke. "How about a cuppa?"
"Less of the 'old girl' if you don't mind, though I do feel a bit ragged still. A cup of tea would be nice." Dr Danielle Hanser sat down opposite Daffyd while Angela hurried to pour her a cup of tea. "What's this about misleading Bashir?"
"Well, it's..." Doris started.
"Nothing at all," Daffyd cut in. "That's to say, nothing more than usual. Just our standard obfuscation."
"Our what? Oh, yes, that's right..." Doris lapsed into silence.
"Where is everyone?" Dani asked. "I suppose we'll be back in the chambers later today, so we need to go over our notes. Ah, thanks Angela." She sipped her tea.
"We've been working on the transcribing, Dani," Marc said. "We're pretty much up to date. We just have to decide how much, if any, we are going to keep secret."
"I'm not going to try hiding things as I translate," Dani said. "It's all I can do to wrap my head around those phrases. Ancient Egyptian writing is supposed to be formal and staid, not lively and personal like these inscriptions."
"Sure it is, Dor," Angela agreed, "But it must be a real bitch to translate as you read it. Are you really ready to start again, Dani?"
"I think so." Dani smiled. "I'm eager to see what happens."
"What about the other agenda?" Marc asked. "Do we transcribe exactly what we hear or do we try and hide any description of the treasure chamber or tomb? You know Bashir's going to go down to Egypt and loot it as soon as he's sure of its location."
"Feed him false information and he might go down and look for it anyway. Either way, we're screwed," Angela said gloomily.
"Angie! Language!" Doris said, shocked.
"Exactly as Angela says," Marc said. "So do we hide it or not?"
"Hide what, Dr Andrews?"
Marc whirled and stared at the man in the doorway. "Jesus, I wish you wouldn't sneak around like that. You damn near gave me a heart attack."
Ahmed Bashir, Under Minister of the Syrian Ministry of National History, eased into the tent. "I ask again, Dr Andrews, what is it you want to hide from me?"
Marc flushed red beneath his bushy beard. "Nothing. We were just talking."
"I'm well aware of that. What were you talking about?" He stared at the small group of archaeologists, waiting for one of them to say something. "Is it to do with trying to hide the location of the king's treasure by obscuring the description?" He saw the stricken look on Doris' face and nodded. "I see that it is. Admit it Dr Hanser; Dr Andrews; Dr Rhys-Williams."
Dani looked at her colleagues and then back to the Minister. "You must understand that we are not happy with your desire to rush off and plunder this treasure if it still exists. We are scientists and these things should be left to science."
"My dear Dr Hanser, how you misunderstand me. I admit to a keen desire to see this treasure found, as I'm sure you do too, if you would be honest, but I desire only that the United Arab Republic keeps this treasure for itself. For too long, foreign nations, especially Britain, Dr Hanser, has plundered Egypt of its treasures. Yes, I want to find Smenkhkare's treasury and tomb, but only so it can be safeguarded for future generations in the nation where it lies hidden."
"Very commendable," Daffyd said dryly. "So why have you not brought in some international experts to examine this account. The Egyptian authorities should be notified too."
"These things will happen," Bashir assured them. "I am waiting only until we can verify the accuracy of this account. Then the proper authorities will conduct a formal search for the tomb in Egypt."
"If you are so selfless, Minister, why are we being kept prisoner here and threats made against us?" Marc asked.
"You are not prisoners, but I must insist you remain on site until the work is complete. You want to see what the account says, don't you?"
"Why shouldn't we leave if you have nothing to hide?"
"I am quite sure none of you would behave unprofessionally, but all it takes is an injudicious word and suddenly there are swarms of avaricious people seeking a king's treasure in Egypt. None of us want that, so until I can arrange a proper press conference to announce our findings, nobody will have a chance to talk to anyone else."
"We wouldn't say anything," Angela said.
"Miss Devereux, one of your number already has. If you remember, Mr Robert Burrows mentioned your find to his brother. Luckily, we have managed to contain that mistake, but we may not be so lucky next time." Bashir looked around the tent. "Where is Mr Burrows, by the way?"
Marc shrugged. "In his tent, I suppose."
"Please go and get him, Dr Andrews. Also, the other members of your team. They should all be reassured."
"I'm sure that is not necessary," Dani said. "Let them sleep. We can tell them later."
"Sleep? At this hour?" Bashir stared at the archaeologists and noted that none of them met his eyes. He turned abruptly and strode to the tent flap, calling out to an army officer.
"Captain al-Azem, search the camp. Bring me any foreigner you find."
Bashir went back into the tent. "Will my men find them?" he asked. Nobody said anything. A few minutes passed and the captain entered.
"No sign of the other foreigners, Minister."
"Thank you, captain. Please have your men on standby." Bashir waited until the captain had left before speaking to the others. "Where are they?"
"Gone," Daffyd said. He opened his tin of tobacco and started rolling himself another cigarette.
"Gone where?" Daffyd shrugged. "Why did you not stop them?" Bashir asked.
"You hadn't explained so nicely why we had nothing to fear. If they thought they'd be safer away from here, who could blame them?"
"Captain al-Azem will find them," Bashir said. "They will soon be back in custody...protective custody."
"Not a hope," Daffyd said with a smile. He lit up and puffed blue smoke in a rush upwards. "They'll be in Damascus by now and they have their passports."
"Thank you, Dr Rhys-Williams." Bashir turned on his heel and strode out.
"Why the hell did you tell him that, Daffyd?" Marc said angrily. "Damascus airport is only a phone call away and they'll stop the flights until they find them."
"What makes you think they are in Damascus?"
"You just said...where are they then?"
"Hopefully, over the border into Israel by now, or close to it. Damascus is the logical choice, but also the easiest to close off. Not a word now," Daffyd added as they heard Bashir returning.
Bashir smiled as he entered the tent again. "Good. Things will soon be back to normal. In the meantime, while we are waiting for our misguided friends, I think we had better continue with the translation. Are you rested enough, Dr Hanser?"
Dani nodded. "Let me get another cup of tea first."
"I will have a thermos of tea brought up to the chamber. Now, if the rest of you..." he gestured toward the entrance.
"It's my turn to stay back," Doris said. "That is, if we are keeping to the same schedule as before."
"I am feeling magnanimous," Bashir said. "You may all attend this session. Besides, I think I want the rest of you where I can keep an eye on you."
They all trooped up to the cave accompanied by several guards whom Bashir positioned outside the chamber entrance with strict instructions to pass no-one in or out without written permission from him. The generator was started up and electric light flooded the chambers and the air pump started freshening the air. Bashir led the way and they passed into the interior of the tomb, but when they reached the vertical shaft connecting the second and third chambers, Bashir noticed Dani was missing. They went back to find her.
They found Dani in the first chamber, staring at the large painting on the back wall. The scene showed a young woman with her back to the viewer confronted by the nine gods of Iunu. Dani held something in her right hand and they could hear her murmuring indistinctly as they drew close.
"Dr Hanser," Bashir said. "Are you ready to start work?"
Dani turned and stared at them, frowning. After a few moments her expression cleared and she nodded. "Yes, sorry, of course."
"What is that in your hand, Dr Hanser?"
"This?" She looked down at a gleaming object in her hand. "Nothing."
Bashir leaned forward to examine the object briefly and then turned away. "Come, it is time to start work." He stooped and shuffled into the connecting passage.
"Did you see that?" Marc whispered. "The one bit of treasure we really have found, and he can't see it."
"What? The golden scarab?" Angela asked. "But we can see it, plain as day."
"Yeah, but somehow, he can't."
"It was a gift to Scarab from Atum the creator," Dani said. "I guess he doesn't want Bashir to see it."
"Er, these are the mythical gods of Egypt we're talking about," Marc objected. He looked around at the electric lighting and the deep shadows. "Perhaps it's just the lighting in here."
"You believe what you want," Daffyd replied. "If Dr Hanser says it comes from Atum, that's good enough for me."
"Yes, but it was a gift to Scarab," Angela said. "Not to Dani."
"Well, she does look like Scarab," Doris said. "Look at her likeness in the painting."
Marc laughed. "Are the gods that easily fooled?"
Dani shook her head. "No. The tie is of blood."
"You're related? How?"
"Through Seti?" Angela exclaimed. "Are you descended from the pharaohs?"
"My grandmother was Egyptian," Dani said. "She always claimed she had an ancestress called Scarab." She shook her head. "I never really believed her."
"Are you coming, or do I have to send soldiers to fetch you?" Bashir's voice floated out of the tunnel from the next chamber.
One by one, they ducked down and moved through into the second chamber. Bashir was waiting for them at the top of the vertical shaft that led down to the third chamber. When the Minister saw them, he nodded and preceded them down a wooden ladder bolted to the rock wall of the shaft. At the bottom, a sealed brick doorway had been pierced and cables carrying electric power and hoses conveying air from a compressor in the main cave, snaked through into the chamber.
Bashir stood midway down the chamber, impatiently waiting until every man and woman of the British team was in place. "This is the place, Dr Hanser." He pointed at the tiny columns of hieroglyphs. "Please start your translation."
Dani looked around the chamber slowly before nodding. "Alright then." She turned to examine the wall. "Where was I...let's see..." He finger traced the columns of delicately-drawn symbols.
"We entered the ancient city of Ineb Hedj in force, marching the whole Heru legion through the narrow streets to the palace. The other legions..."
"You were a bit beyond there, Dani," Marc said. He consulted a notebook. "Somewhere around her having lost the golden scarab and her companions would need to search for..."
"Yes, I have it...right here." Dani licked her lips and knelt by the relevant column. "It says...Twenty days have passed since Ay's death and in another fifty there will be a new king crowned in Waset. If I am to avoid the fate Horemheb has in store for me, I must escape with my companions. However, we are so closely guarded I cannot see that happening - unless the gods return their gifts to me. I lost the golden scarab of Atum between Taanach and Gubla and as I cannot think how it could return to me here, I must perforce search for it there. Rather, I must have others search in my place. The next time my companions are allowed into the city, I shall have Abrim and Gershon escape. I can give them gold and jewels to speed their journey north. I only hope that they can find Atum's golden scarab and return with it before I am made Horemheb's Queen. I once took pride in being the 'Chosen One of the Gods' but I can see now that the gods choose many men and women to do their bidding and I am but one of them. I will school myself in patience and wait the unfolding of their will. If I do not have the golden scarab then perhaps their attention is elsewhere..."