Contents Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight The southern shore of Lake Mariut, ad 415



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There was a sump in front of the burial chamber, just like...

He climbed down the rope lad­der for one last look. But his torch lit noth­ing save their own de­tri­tus: emp­ty wa­ter bot­tles, dis­card­ed food wrap­pings, the stub of a can­dle, a book of match­es. Dis­ci­pline had been an ear­ly ca­su­al­ty of fail­ure. Six me­tres deep al­ready, and still they had­n’t reached the foot! Six me­tres! He shook his head at the ab­sur­di­ty of the an­cients. So much ef­fort! And so point­less too.

Af­ter all, who on earth need­ed a sump six me­tres deep?

I

Knox had drift­ed off in­to a restora­tive sleep in the Latin Ceme­ter­ies. He woke to foot­steps slap­ping the paving slabs out­side. For a mo­ment he feared he was bound to be dis­cov­ered, but the foot­steps passed by with­out chang­ing ca­dence. He wait­ed for si­lence, pushed him­self gri­mac­ing to his feet, his body stiff. He hob­bled out of the ceme­tery, bought a Mena­tel card from a gen­er­al store, then found a se­clud­ed phone-​kiosk from which to call Au­gustin.



‘Cedric, mon cher ami!’ boomed Au­gustin, the mo­ment he rec­og­nized Knox’s voice.

Knox picked up his cue at once, switched smooth­ly to French. ‘There are peo­ple with you?’

‘A fine of­fi­cer of the law. He speaks some En­glish but I think we’re okay in French. Hang on a sec­ond.’ Knox heard some mut­ter­ing, Au­gustin’s hand clamped over the mouth­piece. Then he came back on. ‘We’re fine,’ he said. ‘I just called his moth­er a fat sow. Not a flick­er.’

Knox laughed. ‘What are you do­ing with the po­lice?’

‘On our way to Borg.’ He gave a quick run­down of what he’d learned about the Texas So­ci­ety of Bib­li­cal Ar­chae­ol­ogy, their links to UMC, their ex­ca­va­tions in Cephal­lo­nia. Then Knox filled Au­gustin in on his mys­tery as­sailant, and how he’d made off with his lap­top.

‘Shit!’ ex­claimed Au­gustin. ‘I on­ly just bought the damned thing. But you’re okay, yes?’

‘I’m fine. But I need some­where to hide out. I thought maybe Kostas. Pick his brains while I’m there. But I can’t re­mem­ber his ad­dress.’

‘Sharia Muhar­ram Bey. Num­ber fifty-​five. Third floor. And tell him I want my copy of Lu­cretius back. Bas­tard’s had it for months now.’

‘Will do,’ said Knox.

II

This was the time to vis­it the desert, the late af­ter­noon sun coax­ing sharp con­trasts from the same cliffs that had ear­li­er seemed a flat monochrome, tint­ing the west­ern sky fruit-​bowl colours. Gaille cut out past the south­ern tip of the Amar­na cliffs then cir­cled north to the east­ern end of the Roy­al Wa­di. She point­ed away across the sands. ‘The desert road’s about five kilo­me­tres that way.’



‘And it runs all the way down to As­si­ut, right?’ asked Lily.

‘Yes.’ The car fer­ries would stop ’ ^run­ning af­ter dark; they need­ed to head south on this side of the Nile. She turned in­to the wa­di. There was no sealed road this end, just a rock-​strewn floor. Gaille nav­igat­ed it cau­tious­ly, while Stafford sat be­side her, his arms point­ed­ly fold­ed, sigh­ing ev­ery few sec­onds, un­til they reached an im­pass­able bar­ri­er of scree.

‘I thought you knew the way,’ he said.

‘You can walk from here. It’s straight ahead. On­ly a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres.’

‘Two kilo­me­tres!’

‘Then we’d bet­ter set off now, don’t you think?’ said Lily. ‘Un­less you don’t want this scene any more?’ Stafford threw her a caus­tic look, but got out and strode off down the wa­di. ‘That’s right,’ mut­tered Lily. ‘Don’t help car­ry the equip­ment.’

‘What a prick!’ said Gaille. ‘How do you put up with him?’

‘It’s just for a cou­ple more days,’ said Lily, get­ting out. She turned back to Gaille, still sit­ting there. ‘Aren’t you com­ing?’

‘I’d bet­ter stay with the Dis­cov­ery. Just in case.’

‘Sure. I bet this place is just crawl­ing with car thieves.’ She tipped her head on­to one side. ‘Please. I can’t take him alone.’

‘Fine,’ said Gaille, just about man­ag­ing a smile. She climbed out of the Dis­cov­ery and locked it be­hind her.

III


Au­gustin was grow­ing bored on the drive out to Borg. Fa­rooq was hard­ly the world’s great­est con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. A few blunt ques­tions about Omar and Knox that Au­gustin had man­aged to de­flect eas­ily enough, then a slump in­to al­most com­plete si­lence. He got out his cigarettes, of­fered them across.

‘Thanks,’ grunt­ed Fa­rooq, tak­ing one.

Au­gustin lit his own, passed his lighter to Fa­rooq, then low­ered his win­dow, cup­ping a hand to catch the pass­ing air. A white pick-​up was com­ing to­wards them, sun­light re­flect­ing off its dusty wind­screen in such a way that it was on­ly when they were pass­ing that he saw the driv­er and his pas­sen­ger, a young wom­an with long fair hair, whose eye Au­gustin caught for the briefest of mo­ments.

They took a sharp right a kilo­me­tre fur­ther on, head­ed down a long lane, then turned left over an earth­en bridge across an ir­ri­ga­tion chan­nel, pulling up to speak to a se­cu­ri­ty guard. They’d just missed Grif­fin, ap­par­ent­ly. That must have been him with the blonde in the pick-​up. But Pe­ter­son was on site. The guard sent them in to wait by the of­fice. They’d on­ly been there a minute when Pe­ter­son ar­rived. ‘De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Fa­rooq,’ he said. ‘An un­ex­pect­ed plea­sure. What can we do for you?’

‘Just one or two de­tails to clear up. You know Doc­tor Au­gustin Pas­cal?’

‘By rep­uta­tion,’ said Pe­ter­son.

‘He’s of­fered to help me. Ex­plain ar­chae­olog­ical terms, that kind of thing.’

‘How good of him.’

Fa­rooq nod­ded, took out his mo­bile. ‘If you gen­tle­men will ex­cuse me. I need to check in.’

Au­gustin and Pe­ter­son locked gazes as Fa­rooq walked off, siz­ing each oth­er up, nei­ther back­ing down. It was a good minute be­fore Fa­rooq came back to join them, look­ing rather pleased with him­self. ‘Well,’ he said, rub­bing his hands vig­or­ous­ly. ‘Per­haps we could get start­ed.’er­ha cart

‘On what, ex­act­ly?’ asked Pe­ter­son.

‘I’d like to speak to your peo­ple. Find out what they saw.’

‘Of course,’ said Pe­ter­son. ‘Fol­low me.’

‘Thank you,’ nod­ded Fa­rooq, as they set off across the bro­ken ground. ‘You told me last night that Knox and Taw­fiq vis­it­ed you yes­ter­day af­ter noon. That’s right, is­n’t it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Did they say why?’

‘Per­haps you should ask Knox.’

‘We will,’ promised Fa­rooq. ‘The mo­ment we find him.’

‘You’ve lost him?’ frowned Pe­ter­son. ‘How could you have lost him? The man was half dead.’

‘Nev­er you mind,’ scowled Fa­rooq. ‘And I’d like to hear your ver­sion any­way.’



‘He’d seen some kind of artefact in Alexandria. A jar...

‘And then they left?’

‘Yes. We thought no more about it un­til we had an in­trud­er. In fact, not even then. We had no idea it was them. We just as­sumed it was some pet­ty thief.’

‘I un­der­stood this was a train­ing ex­ca­va­tion,’ mur­mured Au­gustin. ‘Are you find­ing things of val­ue here?’

‘Not of in­trin­sic val­ue, no. But the lo­cals don’t know that. So there’s al­ways a dan­ger they’ll tres­pass and con­tam­inate our da­ta. Sure­ly you ap­pre­ci­ate that, Doc­tor Pas­cal?’

‘So you chased them off.’

‘It was just as I told you last night, De­tec­tive In­spec­tor. Noth­ing has changed.’ They reached the ceme­tery, dusty young ex­ca­va­tors ex­hum­ing two graves. ‘You want to speak to my team,’ he said, spread­ing his hands. ‘Well, here they are.’

I

Gaille’s thighs were burn­ing by the time they’d walked along the wa­di and climbed the hill­side close to the Roy­al Tomb. They all fell silent with­out be­ing told, aware that they’d have a ter­ri­ble time ex­plain­ing their pres­ence should they meet any­one. But the door of the Roy­al Tomb was em­phat­ical­ly closed, and the road de­sert­ed. Gaille grinned at Lily in un­spo­ken re­lief.



‘We’re on­ly just in time,’ said Stafford, nod­ding at the sun, low on the west­ern hori­zon.

‘Then you’d bet­ter get start­ed,’ sug­gest­ed Gaille.

‘If you’ll get out of my eye-​line.’

She turned and walked off, not trust­ing her­self to speak. But it was­n’t easy to get away. To her left was a deep cleft in the hill­top, as though one of Egyp­t’s gods had at­tacked it with an axe. And to her right was the clif­f’s edge it­self, and a ver­tig­inous drop down to the wa­di floor. But at least that way was out of Stafford’s line of sight, so she inched as close to it as she dared, saw to her sur­prise what looked like a ledge a few feet be­low, a boot-​print clear­ly vis­ible in the dust.

She went a lit­tle fur­ther along the edge, fit­tl found a way down on­to it. Lily and Stafford were still set­ting up. They’d be a few min­utes yet. Her toes tin­gled as she start­ed out, but her cu­rios­ity proved stronger than her fear of heights, so she steeled her­self and pressed on.

II

Kostas al­ways took his own good time an­swer­ing his front door, blam­ing ei­ther his fail­ing hear­ing or his fail­ing legs. He took it as a priv­ilege of age to make peo­ple wait. But even­tu­al­ly he ar­rived, pat­ting down his wreath of tan­gled, snowy hair, pro­duc­ing a pair of half-​moon spec­ta­cles from his jack­et pock­et, then peer­ing over the top of them. ‘My dear Knox!’ he ex­claimed. ‘What a de­light­ful sur­prise.’ But then he blinked and took half a pace back. ‘My! You have been in the wars.’



‘That bad, is it?’ gri­maced Knox. ‘I could­n’t use your bath­room, could I?’

‘Of course. Of course. Come in.’ Kostas shuf­fled along his ob­sta­cle course of a hall­way, us­ing his cane as a white stick to help him nav­igate be­tween the dusty high stacks of aca­dem­ic tomes and pack­ing chests of ex­ot­ic arte­facts, mak­ing the place feel more like a bric-​a-​brac store than a home. His walls were just as clut­tered, a col­lage of as­tral charts, lurid oc­cult posters, his own wa­ter­colours of herbs and oth­er medic­inal plants, framed fron­tispieces of ar­cane works and yel­lowed press clip­pings of him­self in the news.

Knox ex­am­ined him­self in the wash­basin mir­ror. A sight in­deed: dried blood on his scalp and fore­head, his face hag­gard, his hair pre­ma­ture­ly aged with dust. He lath­ered up some soap, cleaned him­self as best he could. A line of Greek text across the top of the mir­ror made him smile: NIΨONANOMH­MATAMH­MO­NANOΨIN. One of the ear­li­est known palin­dromes: Wash your in­iq­ui­ties not just your face. He dried him­self with a hand-​tow­el, turn­ing it an ug­ly brown, then went back out.

‘Well?’ asked Kostas im­pa­tient­ly. ‘What brings you here in such a state?’

Knox hes­itat­ed. It was­n’t that easy to ex­plain. ‘I don’t sup­pose you’re on the In­ter­net, are you?’ he asked.

‘Sad­ly, yes,’ said Kostas, lead­ing Knox through to his li­brary, where sub­dued light­ing glowed on the bur­nished leather of in­nu­mer­able old books. He opened his bu­reau to re­veal a slim­line lap­top with­in. ‘One can’t do any­thing with­out them these days.’

Knox logged on, went to his hot­mail ac­count. But, to his dis­may, Gaille’s email had van­ished. That bloody man in his mo­tor­cy­cle hel­met must have delet­ed the pho­tographs. He closed down the brows­er. ‘Looks like I’ll just have to tell you,’ he said. ‘But please bear with me if ev­ery­thing’s not en­tire­ly clear. I took a bit of a bang on the head.’

‘I no­ticed.’

‘It seems I stum­bled across some kind of an­tiq­ui­ty out near Borg last night. It’s be­ing ex­ca­vat­ed by some bib­li­cal ar­chae­ol­ogists, and it seems it might have some con­nec­tion with the Ther­apeu­tae. I took some pho­tographs. There was a stat­uette of Har­pocrates. Six sev­ered mum­mi­fied ears. A mo­sa­ic of a fig­ure in­side a sev­en-​point­ed star that re­mind­ed Au­gustin of a pic­ture of Baphomet by some French guy whose name I can’t re­mem­ber.’

‘Eliphas Lévi,’ nod­ded Kostas. ‘I know the one.’

‘And there was a mu­ral of Diony­sus. An­oth­er of Pri­apus. That’s about it.’

‘What a fas­ci­nat­ing list,’ gloat­ed Kostas, his eyes wa­ter­ing with plea­sure. ‘You re­al­ize of course that the Ther­re­al k thapeu­tae lived out near Borg?’

‘Yes.’

‘And Har­pocrates. The Ro­mans wor­shipped him as the god of si­lence, you know, be­cause the Egyp­tians de­pict­ed him hold­ing a fin­ger to his lips. But in fact that had noth­ing to do with hush.’

‘No,’ agreed Knox. It was one of the ways that the Egyp­tians had in­di­cat­ed youth, like the curled fore­lock on a prince’s fore­head.

‘His name is ac­tu­al­ly a cor­rup­tion of the Egyp­tian Har-​pa-​khared. Ho­rus the Child. Ho­rus be­ing the fal­con-​head­ed god who fused with the sun god Ra to be­come Ra-​Ho­rak­thy, ris­ing each morn­ing in the east.’

‘I am an Egyp­tol­ogist,’ ob­served Knox.

‘Of course you are, my dear boy. Of course you are. That’s why you’ll al­ready be aware of the con­nec­tion be­tween him and Baphomet.’

‘What con­nec­tion?’

‘Aleis­ter Crow­ley’s re­li­gion of Thele­ma, of course. Crow­ley picked up where Eliphas Lévi left off, as you no doubt know. He iden­ti­fied Baphomet as Har­pocrates, though to be fair that was most­ly due to his ex­traor­di­nary ig­no­rance. On the oth­er hand, now that I think of it, Har­pocrates was as­so­ci­at­ed with a par­tic­ular – and quite fas­ci­nat­ing – group of Alexan­dri­an Gnos­tics.’

‘Which group?’

‘A cup of tea first, I think,’ said Kostas, lick­ing his lips. ‘Yes. Tea and cake.’

III

Khaled climbed back up the rope lad­der, then con­tem­plat­ed a fi­nal vis­it to the buri­al cham­ber. Cross­ing the sump was­n’t a com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence. The on­ly ac­cess was on a makeshift bridge of two planks, each just a few cen­time­tres longer than the shaft was wide, and which bowed un­com­fort­ably when you stepped up­on them.



It had­n’t mat­tered when they’d first brought them in, for the sump had still been near­ly full of rub­ble, so the fall would on­ly have been a cou­ple of me­tres. But now, even with a torch, you could scarce­ly see the foot. Some­times he had night­mares about tum­bling in­to that great hun­gry dark­ness. Yet he had­n’t want­ed to be the first to sug­gest they get longer planks. And none of his men had ei­ther.

He ne­go­ti­at­ed the cross­ing safe­ly, how­ev­er, en­tered the buri­al cham­ber, high heaps of rub­ble ob­scur­ing much of the walls, com­plet­ed and plas­tered but not yet dec­orat­ed, pre­sum­ably be­cause the tomb had­n’t been—

He froze sud­den­ly. A voice. A man’s voice. Com­ing from above. He lis­tened in­tent­ly. But now there was on­ly si­lence. He re­laxed, smil­ing at his fool­ish­ness, his heart slow­ing back down. These an­cient tombs! They’d play tricks on your imag­ina­tion. They’d make you feel—

The voice again. No ques­tion this time. He rec­og­nized it too. That damned TV man. He must have come back! He looked in hor­ror up at the ceil­ing, un­nerved by how close he sound­ed. Maybe he was close. There was a cleft in the hill­top above them. And the first time he’d come here, it had been an­kle-​deep in storm wa­ter. So there had to be a fault in the rock. He hur­ried back across the planks, up the pas­sage to the en­trance. Faisal and Nass­er had heard the voic­es too; they’d turned off their lamps, were squat­ting there by the mouth, sack­cloth cur­tain glow­ing rus­set against the set­ting sun.

‘The TV peo­ple,’ whis­pered Faisal.

Khaled nod­ded. ‘They’ll film and tn­odd kilmhen they’ll go.’

‘What if they see our truck?’

The oth­er side of the sack­cloth, a shoe slith­ered on shale. Khaled went cold. Faisal snig­gered with nerves, clenched his jaw in both hands to stop him­self, his eyes blink­ing ma­ni­acal­ly. Khaled qui­et­ly un­but­toned his hol­ster and drew his Walther. He aimed at the mouth of the tomb. A sud­den sharp vi­sion of home, child­hood, the way his moth­er had boast­ed of him, all those pho­tographs of him in uni­form on her walls. An­oth­er scuff on the ledge. A mut­ter of sur­prise and then the sack­cloth draw­ing back and the wom­an Gaille stand­ing there, sil­hou­et­ted against the sun­set.



How quickly a life can turn, thought Khaled bleakly, as...

But this time it was Gaille who re­act­ed first. She span on her heel, shout­ing warn­ings as she fled.

I

Knox took the tray back through to the li­brary, set it down on the low cof­fee ta­ble. He was­n’t ex­act­ly in the mood for a tea par­ty, but Kostas ev­ident­ly was, so he tried to mas­ter his aches and jit­ters. He was at least safe here, af­ter all. He poured them each a cup of aro­mat­ic pale tea from the sil­ver pot, cut two thin slices of moist choco­late cake. ‘You were telling me about Har­pocrates and the Gnos­tics,’ he prompt­ed, pass­ing Kostas his plate.



‘Yes,’ agreed Kostas. He nib­bled the end of his cake, washed it down with a deco­rous sip of tea. ‘You see, there was a group of Gnos­tics ac­tu­al­ly called the Har­pocra­tians. At least, they may have been called that, though it’s hard to be cat­egor­ical. They’re on­ly re­ferred to once or twice in the sources, you see. And there was an­oth­er, much bet­ter-​known group of Gnos­tics called the Car­pocra­tians, found­ed by an Alexan­dri­an by the name of Car­pocrates. So it seems fea­si­ble, per­haps even prob­able, that these two were one and the same.’

‘A spelling mis­take?’

‘It’s pos­si­ble, of course. But our sources were the kind of peo­ple to know the dif­fer­ence. So my sus­pi­cion has al­ways been that these Car­pocra­tians might have been re­put­ed to wor­ship Har­pocrates as well as Christ. That the names were there­fore in­ter­change­able, if you like.’

‘Is that plau­si­ble?’

‘Oh, yes,’ nod­ded Kostas vig­or­ous­ly. ‘You have to re­al­ize that Gnos­tics weren’t Chris­tian in the mod­ern sense. In fact, even group­ing them to­geth­er as Gnos­tics is re­al­ly to miss the point, be­cause it im­plies they had a sin­gle way of think­ing, where­as in fact each of the sects had its own dis­tinct views, drawn eclectin di ncal­ly from Egyp­tian, Jew­ish, Greek and oth­er tra­di­tions. But the great pi­oneers of Gnos­ti­cism, peo­ple like Valenti­nus, Basilides and Car­pocrates, did have cer­tain things in com­mon. For ex­am­ple, they did­n’t be­lieve Je­sus to be the Son of God. Come to that, they did­n’t be­lieve that the Jew­ish God was ac­tu­al­ly the Supreme Be­ing at all, but mere­ly a demi­urge, a vi­cious sec­ond-​tier cre­ation who mis­took him­self for the re­al thing. How else, af­ter all, could one ex­plain all the hor­rors of this world?’

‘So who was the Supreme Be­ing?’

‘Ah! Now there’s a ques­tion!’ His eyes were wa­ter­ing freely, his skin flush­ing. Like many soli­tary peo­ple, Kostas tend­ed to be­come over-​stim­ulat­ed in com­pa­ny. ‘The Gnos­tics held that it was in­ca­pable of de­scrip­tion, in­ca­pable of even be­ing con­tem­plat­ed, ex­cept per­haps in math­emat­ical terms, and on­ly then by the ex­cep­tion­al­ly en­light­ened. A very Ein­steini­an God, if you like. And that’s where Christ came in, be­cause Gnos­tics saw him, along with Pla­to and Aris­to­tle and oth­ers, as gift­ed but es­sen­tial­ly or­di­nary men who’d nursed their di­vine sparks suf­fi­cient­ly to have glimpsed this truth. But I’m get­ting away from the point, which is the sim­ilar­ities be­tween Har­pocrates and Christ.’

‘Such as?’

‘Oh my dear Daniel! Where to start? Lux­or Tem­ple, per­haps. The na­tiv­ity re­liefs. A new­born pharaoh de­pict­ed as Har­pocrates. Noth­ing sur­pris­ing about that, of course. Pharaohs were the phys­ical in­car­na­tions of Ho­rus, so in­fant pharaohs were by def­ini­tion Ho­rus-​the-​child or Har­pocrates. But the de­tails of this par­tic­ular tableau are cu­ri­ous. A mor­tal wom­an im­preg­nat­ed by a holy spir­it while still a vir­gin. An an­nun­ci­ation by Thoth, the Egyp­tian equiv­alent of the archangel Gabriel. A star lead­ing three wise men from the east, bear­ing gifts.’

‘You’re kid­ding me.’

‘I thought you’d en­joy that,’ smiled Kostas. ‘In fact, the wise men crop up all the time in di­vine na­tiv­ity sto­ries, es­pe­cial­ly among sun-​wor­ship­pers. An as­tro­nom­ical al­le­go­ry, of course, like so many re­li­gious con­ceits. The three stars of Ori­on’s belt point to­wards Sir­ius, the key to the an­cient Egyp­tian so­lar cal­en­dar and for pre­dict­ing the an­nu­al in­un­da­tion. Gold, frank­in­cense and myrrh of­ten crop up too. Man’s very first pos­ses­sions, you know, giv­en by God to con­sole Adam and Eve af­ter their ex­pul­sion from Eden. Sev­en­ty rods of gold, if my mem­ory serves.’

‘Rods?’ frowned Knox. A rod was a unit of dis­tance, not of weight.

‘Ac­cord­ing to The Book of Adam and Eve,’ nod­ded Kostas. ‘Or was it The Book of the Cave of Trea­sures?’ He sighed wist­ful­ly. ‘My mem­ory, you know.’

‘I don’t think it was The Cave of Trea­sures,’ said Knox, who’d wast­ed count­less glo­ri­ous sum­mer af­ter­noons in a for­lorn ef­fort to mas­ter Syr­iac by study­ing that par­tic­ular text, about a cave in which Adam, Abra­ham, Noah, Moses and most of the oth­er lead­ing Jew­ish pa­tri­archs had sup­pos­ed­ly been buried. ‘Any­thing else?’

‘There are some startling par­al­lels be­tween Ho­rus’s moth­er Isis and Mary the moth­er of Christ, of course. You must be aware of those. And Har­pocrates was be­lieved to have been born on a moun­tain, the hi­ero­glyph for which was the same as that for a manger. An­cient Egyp­tians used to cel­ebrate his birth by parad­ing a manger through their streets. Eas­ier than car­ry­ing a moun­tain.’

‘Ah.’

Kostas nod­ded. ‘The Gospel of Matthew claims that the Holy Fam­ily fled to Egypt when Je­sus amil sen was a child to avoid the Mas­sacre of the In­no­cents. Ac­cord­ing to Saint Ed­ward the Mar­tyr, they got as far south as Her­mopo­lis, city of Thoth. Which brings us neat­ly full cir­cle, for Her­mopo­lis was di­rect­ly across the Nile from the city found­ed by this pharaoh I men­tioned, the one in those Lux­or re­liefs.’

‘You mean Amar­na?’ asked Knox. ‘The pharaoh was Akhen­at­en?’

‘In­deed,’ agreed Kostas, al­low­ing him­self a lit­tle chuck­le. ‘Just think of it! The New Tes­ta­ment ac­counts of Christ’s Na­tiv­ity bor­rowed from the birth of a heretic Egyp­tian pharaoh. Not some­thing the Church has sought to pub­li­cize, for some rea­son or oth­er.’ He held out his cup. ‘You could­n’t pour me some more tea, could you?’

II

‘Come back!’ yelled Khaled, hur­ry­ing af­ter Gaille, al­most los­ing his foot­ing in his haste. ‘Come back!’ he shout­ed again. But Gaille did noth­ing of the sort. A flash of move­ment and colour above, a cas­cade of grit and peb­bles. Khaled glanced up to see Lily bring­ing her cam­era to bear. Khaled felt sick. He had to stop them get­ting away, con­tact­ing the out­side world. He scram­bled reck­less­ly along the path, feet slip­ping on the lime­stone, cling­ing on des­per­ate­ly with one hand, try­ing to hol­ster his Walther with his oth­er. Faisal came up be­hind and hauled him back to safe­ty, but valu­able sec­onds had been wast­ed, al­low­ing Gaille to get fur­ther ahead.



He reached the top to see her flee­ing hel­ter-​skel­ter af­ter her com­pan­ions, Stafford way out in front, Lily flail­ing in­el­egant­ly with the cam­era on her shoul­der. Khaled put in a burst, clos­ing the gap a lit­tle, but not enough. They ran down the hill­side in­to the wa­di, clam­bered east over the scree to­wards the desert. Khaled could­n’t sus­tain his pace. He slowed, came to a halt. ‘Wait!’ he pant­ed, hands on his knees, his leg mus­cles fib­ril­lat­ing wild­ly. They slowed and turned, if on­ly to catch their breath. ‘Let’s talk,’ he shout­ed, hold­ing up his hands and smil­ing in an ef­fort to con­vince them he was no threat. ‘We can sort this out.’ But even he could hear the false­ness in his voice.

They be­gan to hur­ry again. He scowled, drew his Walther, fired a sin­gle shot in­to the air. It made them run all the faster. Nass­er and Faisal came up along­side him, wheez­ing for air. They set off again, legs heavy with ex­er­tion. The Dis­cov­ery came in­to view ahead. Lily looked around to check on their pur­suit and prompt­ly stum­bled on a stone. Her cam­era went fly­ing and hit the rocks hard, shat­ter­ing in­to com­po­nent pieces. Stafford reached the Dis­cov­ery. He tried the door but it was locked. ‘The keys,’ he yelled at Gaille, who was haul­ing Lily back to her feet. ‘Throw me the bloody keys.’

Khaled heaved for breath. His shirt had tugged free from his belt, he felt ob­scure­ly fu­ri­ous at the in­dig­ni­ty. He fired an­oth­er shot but the wom­en did­n’t even break their stride. He put in a last burst, giv­ing ev­ery­thing to the chase. Gaille took out her keys, pressed the re­mote. The cor­ner lights on the Dis­cov­ery flashed or­ange. Stafford opened the driv­er door and climbed in. They were go­ing to get away. Khaled stopped, aimed as best he could, squeezed off three rounds. Met­al pinged. The driv­er-​side win­dow dis­in­te­grat­ed and fell out. The two wom­en stopped dead, as though they be­lieved Khaled some kind of marks­man who could pick them off at will. They raised their arms and turned to face him.

He walked to­wards them, his hand against his side, heav­ing for breath, try­ing not to let it show, want­ing to ap­pear in con­trol. Beads of sweat dripped down his fore­head and trick­led chill­ily down his flanks. Faisal and Nass­er came up be­hind, but he kept his eyes firm­ly on the fo kep son reign­ers, the sag of their shoul­ders, their shiny faces and bedrag­gled hair, their dread-​filled eyes, that poignant dash of hope. He scowled, hard­en­ing his heart to­wards them. These weren’t peo­ple. They were prob­lems. Prob­lems to be solved. Prob­lems to be elim­inat­ed. He drew to with­in a few paces, won­der­ing which one to take out first.

The one with the car keys. Gaille.

He was rais­ing his gun to kill her when a mo­bile phone be­gan to ring.

III

Knox poured more tea for Kostas and him­self, watched his sug­ar dis­solve in the whirlpool of his stir­ring. ‘What about the Ther­apeu­tae?’ he asked. ‘Did they have any links to these Car­pocra­tians?’



Kostas pulled a face. ‘I’ve heard it claimed that Car­pocrates was a devo­tee of the teach­ings of a Tal­mu­dic fig­ure called Je­hoshua Ben Pan­ther. A fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter. You may have heard of him, be­cause he’s been con­flat­ed with Christ by some, but he was most prob­ably an Es­sene lead­er.’

‘Link­ing him to the Ther­apeu­tae.’

‘Quite,’ nod­ded Kostas. ‘And their doc­trines mesh too, though ad­mit­ted­ly with one ma­jor dis­crep­an­cy. The Ther­apeu­tae were fa­mous­ly chaste, you see, where­as the Car­pocra­tians were no­to­ri­ous for li­cen­tious­ness and or­gies. But al­most ev­ery­thing we know about the Car­pocra­tians was writ­ten by their en­emies, so it’s quite pos­si­ble that that was noth­ing but ma­li­cious pro­pa­gan­da. And if you dis­count it, the two groups prove a re­mark­able fit.’

‘In what way?’

‘In ev­ery way. Long ini­ti­ations. Wa­ter bap­tisms. The re­jec­tion of ma­te­ri­al­ism. Car­pocrates is cred­it­ed with the phrase “Prop­er­ty is Theftâ€�, you know. Both ab­horred slav­ery. Both be­lieved in some kind of af­ter­life or rein­car­na­tion. Both ac­cord­ed un­usu­al re­spect and pow­er to wom­en. One of Car­pocrates’ most cel­ebrat­ed fol­low­ers, Mar­cel­li­na, even be­came quite a fig­ure in Rome. They both had very Hel­lenic el­ements, and shared a great deal with Pytha-​gore­anism. Both in­clud­ed traces of sun-​wor­ship. Both stud­ied an­gels and demons. Both be­lieved in and prac­tised mag­ic. Both prized num­bers and sym­bols. And both were hideous­ly per­se­cut­ed too. Maybe that’s why they both lived out­side Alexan­dria. And, now that I think about it, the Car­pocra­tians ap­peared around AD one hun­dred and twen­ty, around the same time we lose track of the Ther­apeu­tae.’

‘You’re sug­gest­ing the Ther­apeu­tae be­came the Car­pocra­tians?’

‘It’s not in­con­ceiv­able, I sup­pose. But all I’m re­al­ly say­ing is that it’s quite pos­si­ble they over­lapped in some way. Bear in mind that this whole re­gion was fer­vid with philo­soph­ical and re­li­gious en­er­gy back then – ev­ery­one bor­row­ing, shar­ing, ar­gu­ing. Re­li­gions had­n’t yet set in the way they have to­day. Places that were sa­cred to one were holy to oth­ers too. Many ear­ly church­es were built on old pa­gan tem­ples, you know. Even the Vat­ican. So per­haps they lived to­geth­er for a while, or per­haps the Car­pocra­tians took over this an­tiq­ui­ty of yours af­ter the Ther­apeu­tae moved on.’

Knox nod­ded. It seemed plau­si­ble enough, though plau­si­bil­ity was a very dif­fer­ent beast from truth. ‘What else do we know about the Car­pocra­tians?’

‘Found­ed in Alexan­dria, like I say, but they flour­ished else­where too. In Rome, as I men­tioned. And I be­lieve they al­so had a tem­ple in …’ He pushed him­self to his feet, went over to his shelves, plucked down a vol­ume, leafed through it, then put it back, shak­ing his head.

‘Come on, Kostas. Just tell me.’

‘Pa­tience, young man. Pa­tience.’ He pulled out a weighty church en­cy­clopae­dia from his shelves, heft­ed it over to the cor­ner ta­ble, licked his thumb and fore­fin­ger to turn the thin leaves un­til he found the page. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘They had a tem­ple on one of the Greek is­lands.’

Knox frowned as he re­called his re­cent phone call with Au­gustin. ‘Not Cephal­lo­nia, I don’t sup­pose?’


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