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

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Abdullah nodded gratefully. Faisal was the only one he...

The ce­ment had formed a crust, but had­n’t yet dried un­der­neath. It came away eas­ily when he at­tacked it with the point of the pick­axe, frag­ment­ed grey mush wash­ing down the cliff-​face. He made a hole large enough to reach his arm in­side and set his torch down at an an­gle to light his work, then hacked out more ce­ment. Light­ning lit up the wa­di all around. He braced him­self for the crack of thun­der, but just be­fore ck of ld efore cit start­ed he could have sworn he heard a dif­fer­ent noise, that of au­to­mat­ic gun­fire. He an­chored one hand in­side the tomb, leaned out and looked up to find out what the hell was go­ing on. But there was no one up top to an­swer his ques­tion.


It was pure luck that Khaled saw the man. He just hap­pened to be glanc­ing back when a light­ning bolt il­lu­mi­nat­ed the en­tire plateau, re­veal­ing him crouched some thir­ty paces away, mo­bile phone in his hand.

The knowl­edge of how he’d been tricked was both in­stan­ta­neous and com­plete. In­stead of fear, Khaled felt on­ly a great and vis­cer­al rage. He snatched Nasser’s AK-47, turned back to­wards the man. Dark­ness had fall­en once more, he could­n’t see a thing, but he sprayed the hori­zon all the same, hop­ing prov­idence was with him.

‘What is it, sir?’ asked Nass­er.


Light­ning shud­dered again, re­veal­ing the man crawl­ing on his bel­ly like the snake he was. ‘There!’ he yelled, fir­ing an­oth­er burst. ‘Get him.’


Knox fled across the hill­top as gun­fire skit­tered around him, the night il­lu­mi­nat­ed by muz­zle flash and a dis­tant strobe of light­ning. It went dark again and he flung him­self side­ways, tum­bling down a rift in the hill­top in­to a shal­low lake cre­at­ed by the del­uge. He tried to duck be­neath its sur­face as the three men ran up, but the wa­ter was­n’t deep enough.

‘Did we get him?’

‘He went down.’

‘Then where the hell is he?’

‘He must be here some­where.’ Torch­es probed the dark­ness, flur­ried across the wa­ter’s sur­face, heavy rain­drops glit­ter­ing gold­en in their light. ‘Who is he, any­way?’

‘He must have been in our truck.’

‘You think that po­lice­man knows? You think this was a trick?’

‘Of course it was a trick!’

‘Son of a dog. We’re done for.’

‘We’re not done for! We’re not done for! This one’s here on his own, is­n’t he? We just need to si­lence him. That’s all. Once he’s gone, no one will be able to find this place. They won’t be able to prove a thing.’

‘But we—’

A sharp crack; some­one had just been slapped. ‘Fol­low my or­ders, damn you. He’s here some­where. He must be.’ One of the men shone his torch around, the beam flash­ing again over where Knox was half-​hid­den in the wa­ter. But this time the beam stopped, came back, fixed on him. ‘There!’ he cried.

Knox pushed him­self to his feet, splashed up the side of the rift, then fled head­long. But now he was penned be­tween the rift lake and the clif­f’s edge. Gun­fire ripped the night be­hind him. He threw him­self down by the spike of rock, grabbed for the rope looped around it, slith­ered over the edge, slick wet fi­bres slip­ping through his grasp as he fell, wind buf­fet­ing him, spray­ing mist in­to his face. He fi­nal­ly gained some grip on the rope, his palms scorch­ing as he jud­dered to a halt, glanced down to see Ab­dul­lah stand­ing on a thin ledge be­low. He shout­ed some­thing te be­loen …hat Knox did­n’t catch, swung at his an­kles with a pick­axe. Knox danced away across the rock face, but his side­ways move­ment pulled the slip­knot loose from the spike of rock and sud­den­ly he was in freefall, plung­ing down the sheer cliff-​face to­wards the rocks be­neath.


Naguib was driv­ing al­most blind, his side­lights rather than head­lights on, on­ly the faint glow of the white­washed kerb­stones to show him the road, steep em­bank­ments stud­ded with rocks ei­ther side, eyes con­stant­ly play­ing tricks on him, blurs all over the place, his tyres bang­ing the sides, wrench­ing round the wheel.

They had to have fall­en way be­hind by now. Too far be­hind. He mut­tered a prayer and switched his Lada’s head­lights on full, stamped his foot down on the ac­cel­er­ator. It proved his un­do­ing. A sud­den squall lift­ed up the light car and threw it side­ways, aqua­plan­ing them over the kerb­stones and then crunch­ing in­to a boul­der, the sick­en­ing noise of crum­pled met­al, seat belts snap­ping tight against their chests. He and Tarek glanced at each oth­er. No time to waste in re­crim­ina­tion or re­gret. They jumped out, ran over to the truck that had pulled up along­side, help­ing hands haul­ing them up in­to the back; drenched, bedrag­gled, feel­ing rather ridicu­lous as they found places to sit, and the truck pulled away again.

‘Nice driv­ing,’ mut­tered some­one, earn­ing him­self a laugh. But then an­oth­er buf­fet of wind al­most sent the truck over the edge, and the laugh­ter prompt­ly died.


Knox hur­tled down the cliff-​face past Ab­dul­lah to­wards the wa­di floor. But he was still grip­ping the rope tight­ly in both hands, and its oth­er end was looped through Ab­dul­lah’s belt, so that the mo­men­tum of Knox’s fall trans­ferred in­stant­ly to him. Knox slammed against the cliff, grabbed rock, let go of the rope. But Ab­dul­lah was­n’t so for­tu­nate. His knees buck­led, his right foot slipped from the wet nar­row ledge, his hand was ripped free from its hold in­side the tomb. He tum­bled shriek­ing past Knox, claw­ing the sky, and slapped the rocks be­neath with a sick­en­ing thump. Then on­ly si­lence.

A cas­cade of stones clat­tered by. Knox looked up to see Khaled on the cliff edge, point­ing down his torch and aim­ing his pis­tol, squeez­ing off four rounds that pinged and whined off the rocks. Knox scram­bled up to the ledge where Ab­dul­lah had been, gain­ing the pro­tec­tion of a slight over­hang. There was a gap­ing hole in the rock, he saw, big enough for him to squeeze through. He tum­bled through to the oth­er side. A torch was ly­ing on the ground. He picked it up and shone it around a cham­ber, an­kle deep in wa­ter. He splashed over to a pas­sage lead­ing off and then down. ‘Gaille!’ he shout­ed. ‘Gaille!’

A cry ahead. A wom­an’s cry: high-​pitched, short, ter­ri­fied. Not Gaille, though. Lily, the oth­er hostage. And pan­ic rather than re­lief in her voice. He raised his pace, run­ning head­long, al­most did­n’t see the shaft in time, stopped tee­ter­ing on its wa­ter­fall brim, re­gained his bal­ance, shone down his torch, picked out Lily fif­teen or twen­ty feet be­low, cling­ing to the wall, sur­round­ed by a flot­sam of crushed wa­ter bot­tles and wood­en planks, keep­ing Gaille’s head above the wa­ter with the crook of her el­bow, but cry­ing out in pain and ex­er­tion.

‘Hold on!’ cried Knox.

‘I can’t. I can’t.’

He looked around for some way to get down to her and then back up again. Any way. He saw an iron peg ham­mered in­to the floor, but there was noth­ing to tie to it. And Ab­dul­lah had tak­en the rope down with him d takeghth him don his plunge.

‘Help!’ cried Lily. ‘Help!’ A spout of rain­wa­ter fell on her open mouth, catch­ing in her throat, mak­ing her choke and splut­ter, flail­ing around in the wa­ter, let­ting go of Gaille, who prompt­ly slipped be­neath the sur­face.

‘Gaille!’ yelled Knox. ‘Gaille!’

Lily splashed over to the wall, clawed on­to it with both hands. ‘I’m sor­ry,’ she wept. ‘I’m sor­ry.’

Knox had no time to think. No time at all. He gripped his torch tight, yelled out in fear, and leapt feet-​first in­to the shaft.


Khaled stared down in­to the dark­ness as Nass­er and Faisal ran up to join him at the clif­f’s edge.

‘What hap­pened?’ asked Faisal. ‘Where’s Ab­dul­lah?’

‘He fell,’ said Khaled. He turned to his two men....

‘But I—’

‘Do you want to get out of this or not?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then do as you’re told,’ spat Khaled. ‘Fetch me that rope.’

‘Yes, sir.’


Knox burst through the sur­face of the wa­ter, plunged on through, draw­ing his feet up as he went, strik­ing the floor of the shaft hard, bang­ing and scrap­ing his feet, an­kles and back­side, his head slap­ping the wall, rough sur­faces scour­ing his calf and arm, wind punched from his lungs, suck­ing in wa­ter. He kicked in­stinc­tive­ly for the sur­face, coughed and splut­tered it out, breathed grate­ful­ly in, ori­ent­ed him­self, point­ed around his torch. ‘Gaille?’ he asked.

Lily shook her head wretched­ly, all her en­er­gy need­ed to cling to the wall.

Knox swam around, feel­ing out for her. It was­n’t easy with the rain­wa­ter cas­cad­ing down. He kicked be­neath the sur­face. The shaft was­n’t large, yet he could­n’t find her. An­oth­er breath, an­oth­er dive, his hands out­stretched, fin­gers brush­ing some­thing soft. He grabbed at it but it elud­ed him. He went af­ter it and then he had it, a shirt, an arm, his hand closed around a wrist, kick­ing for the sur­face, lungs burn­ing for air, pulling Gaille af­ter him, an arm around her as she re­flex­ive­ly coughed out wa­ter, gasped air.

He found a hand­hold on the wall on which to an­chor him­self, car­ry­ing Gaille slumped un­con­scious up­on his shoul­der. He shone his torch around this drown­ing prison, Lily fight­ing hys­te­ria be­side him, and the ques­tion formed unan­swer­able in his mind: Now what?


Nass­er was wheez­ing hard by the time he brought the rope back up to Khaled and Faisal at the top of the cliff.

‘Ab­dul­lah?’ asked Faisal.

‘No,’ said Nass­er.

Faisal looked sick­ened. ‘It’s over,’ he said. ‘We’re fin­ished.’

‘What are you talk­ing about?’

‘What do you think I’m talk­ing about? Ab­dul­lah’s dead. How are we go­ing to ex­plain this?’

‘We say we got wor­ried af­ter that po­lice­man vis­it­ed with his sto­ry about mys­te­ri­ous for­eign­er voic­es,’ scowled Khaled. ‘We say we de­cid­ed to go out search­ing for them our­selves. Ab­dul­lah slipped and fell. A tragedy, but not our fault. It’s that po­lice­man’s fault for feed­ing us false in­for­ma­tion.’

‘No one will be­lieve that.’

‘You lis­ten to me, you sniv­el­ling lit­tle cow­ard,’ shout­ed Khaled. ‘We see this through. We see this through to­geth­er. You un­der­stand?’


‘Yes, what?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘That’s bet­ter.’ Khaled glared back and forth be­tween Faisal and Nass­er, then looped the rope around the rock once more, think­ing about how to make best use of his lim­it­ed re­sources. No way could he trust Faisal up here alone; he’d run like the cow­ard he was the first chance he got. ‘Nass­er, you stay here. Guard our backs. Faisal, you come down with me.’

‘But I—’

Khaled pressed the muz­zle of his Walther against Faisal’s cheek. ‘You do ex­act­ly as you’re damned well or­dered,’ he yelled. ‘Am I clear?’

‘Yes, sir.’


‘Oth­ers are com­ing,’ gasped Lily, cling­ing to the wall. ‘Please tell me oth­ers are com­ing.’

‘Yes,’ Knox as­sured her. ‘Oth­ers are com­ing.’

‘Then where are they?’

‘They’ll be here as quick as they can,’ he promised. ‘There’s one hell of a storm go­ing on.’

‘You’re Knox, aren’t you? Daniel Knox?’ She nod­ded at Gaille. ‘She said you’d come for us. She said you’d save us.’ But then she looked around, re­al­ized he was in no po­si­tion to save any­one, had to fight back the tears.

‘It’s okay,’ he as­sured her. ‘It’s go­ing to be okay. You’ve done re­al­ly well.’ He shone his torch around again, to change the at­mo­sphere as much as any­thing, pick­ing out the wood­en planks and emp­ty wa­ter bot­tles float­ing in the wa­ter, the sheer walls, the rim a good fif­teen feet above their heads. He felt his pock­ets. He still had the scis­sors from the car. But even if he could gouge holds in the lime­stone, the shaft would have been far too high for him to climb out on his own, let alone with Gaille and Lily to wor­ry about.

He ad­just­ed Gaille in his arms. Her head lolled back, re­veal­ing an ug­ly gash in her scalp leak­ing wa­tery blood. ‘What hap­pened?’ he asked.

‘Those planks were across the top,’ sobbed Lily. ‘They must have come crash­ing down. I was un­der­wa­ter, try­ing to dig through the wall.’

‘Dig through the wall?’

Lily nod­ded vig­or­ous­ly, her hope rekin­dling. ‘We found some ta­latat down there. We got one out, hop­ing we could give the wa­ter some­where to drain off to. But then ev­ery­thing came crash­ing down. Stafford was… he was…’

Knox nod­ded. He need­ed to check this out. ‘Can you hold Gaille a minute?’ he asked.

‘I can’t,’ wailed Lily. ‘I’m sor­ry. I can’t. I just can’t.’

‘Please. Just for a lit­tle while. You’ve got to try.’

She looked unhappy, but nodded all the same. He passed...

He packed his lungs with air, dived for the foot of the shaft, felt blind­ly along the rocky de­bris un­til he found the hole where the brick had been. He at­tacked the soft­ened plas­ter with the scis­sors, hack­ing it free. His lungs be­gan to protest. He kicked for the sur­face, filled his lungs once more, re­turned back down, aware how lit­tle time he had should Khaled and his men come in af­ter him.


Khaled de­scend­ed the rope first. He’d planned to wait on the ledge for Faisal, but cu­rios­ity got the bet­ter of him. He shone his torch in­side the en­trance cham­ber to check for an am­bush, then ad­vanced war­ily along the pas­sage, per­verse­ly ex­cit­ed by the sit­ua­tion.

Nois­es ahead. He froze, crouched, aimed his Walther. But it was on­ly wa­ter splash­ing in­to the shaft. With luck, it would have saved him a job. He con­tin­ued his ad­vance, catch­ing an­oth­er noise now, al­most in har­mo­ny with the first, a wom­an sob­bing. He tip­toed to the rim of the shaft, peered down.

Gaille was stretched out on a wood­en plank just a lit­tle above the ris­ing wa­ter lev­el, her head in Lily’s lap. No sign of Stafford, nor of their mys­te­ri­ous pur­suer. But then the wa­ter boiled and he ap­peared, gasp­ing for air.

Khaled put his Walther qui­et­ly away. Hand­guns weren’t de­signed for jobs like this. Be­sides, he’d al­ways been cu­ri­ous about what a grenade could do in a live sit­ua­tion. He plucked one from his belt, pulled the pin with his teeth, then lobbed it in­to the shaft.


Move­ment caught Knox’s eye. He looked up to see Khaled toss the grenade down the cen­tre of the shaft, froze for a mo­ment as he watched its lethal arc. Lily saw it too, screamed and closed her eyes, brac­ing her body against mu­ti­la­tion and death. Her shriek shocked Knox in­to ac­tion. He dived to­wards the grenade, arms out­stretched, some fu­tile no­tion in his mind of try­ing to throw it back up, im­pos­si­ble though he knew it to be.

It slapped the heel of his right palm, heav­ier than he’d an­tic­ipat­ed, like a ball of lead, throw­ing up a splash as it bounced from his hand. He reached af­ter it, fum­bling it with his fin­ger­tips, fi­nal­ly grab­bing it, but al­ready deep un­der­wa­ter, no time to think, on­ly to kick deep­er and thrust it in­to the ta­latat hole, then turn and kick for the sur­face, hope the lime­stone would pro­tect him from—

The ex­plo­sion ripped through the wa­ter, his world spin­ning crazi­ly, bell-​tow­ers clang­ing in his heabell-​t Fd, arms flap­ping use­less­ly, mind scram­bled, swal­low­ing wa­ter, un­sure which way was up. His head struck rock, scraped along it. He sta­bi­lized him­self, kicked up­wards, broached the sur­face, cough­ing and hack­ing for air, splash­ing around with Lily, the plank dis­lodged by the blast. And then some­thing sud­den­ly gave way. The wa­ter all gushed out, leav­ing him, Lily, Gaille and the planks strand­ed be­wil­dered on the shaft floor.

He looked up. Khaled was star­ing down in dis­may, fum­bling for his hand­gun, muz­zle flash­ing, bul­lets ric­ochet­ing wild­ly. Lily re­cov­ered first, throw­ing her­self through the gap­ing hole that the grenade had ripped in the wall in­to a new cham­ber, half filled with wa­ter. Knox scooped up Gaille and tum­bled af­ter, bump­ing in­to some­thing bulky and soft: Stafford’s body, float­ing face down. He glanced at Lily, her torch mak­ing eerie pat­terns in the rip­pling wa­ter. She shook her head and turned away, not able to talk about it.

A nar­row dark arched pas­sage led off the cham­ber. Lily said some­thing he could­n’t catch, his ears still ring­ing from the blast. But her mean­ing was clear enough. He nod­ded for her to lead the way, then ad­just­ed Gaille in his arms and set off af­ter her.


Khaled reload­ed his Walther as he stared down at the hole in the side of the shaft. What the hell had they found down there? Foot­steps be­hind. Faisal was hur­ry­ing up, drawn by the blast, the shots. ‘Look!’ said Khaled, point­ing down. ‘I told you we just had to keep dig­ging.’

Faisal stared in­cred­ulous­ly at him. ‘You’re wor­ried about that now?’

‘We need to get down there. We need to fin­ish this. Go get the rope.’

‘Rope? What rope?’

‘The one we climbed down on, id­iot. Get Nass­er to throw it down to you.’

‘But we need it to get back out.’

‘We’ll use the path. The rain has to stop some­time, does­n’t it?’


He smacked Faisal across the cheek with the bar­rel of his Walther. ‘That was­n’t a re­quest. It was an or­der. Now car­ry it out.’ He watched Faisal stalk away, fret­ted for him to re­turn with the rope, then an­chored the slip­knot around the iron peg, tossed the rest down in­to the shaft. He was about to go first when he re­al­ized what a per­fect spot it would make for an am­bush, so he took Faisal’s AK-47 from him. ‘You go,’ he said. ‘I’ll cov­er you.’

‘Un­armed?’ snort­ed Faisal.

‘Here,’ scowled Khaled, giv­ing him his Walther. ‘Take this, then.’

‘Why can’t we just—’

‘Don’t you want to see what’s down there?’

‘Yes, but—’

‘We’re go­ing to be rich,’ in­sist­ed Khaled. ‘The three of us will have more mon­ey than you’ve ev­er dreamed of. Just do as you’re told.’

Faisal looked sullen as a mule, but he tucked the Walther in­to his waist­band, grabbed hold of the rope, tugged it to make sure it was se­cure, then low­ered him­self over the edge, climbed with­out in­ci­dent down to the foot.

Khaled al­lowed him­self a lit­tle smile. The three of us in­deed! First Ab­dul­lah, then Faisal. What a trag­ic night for his unit it looked like be­ing.


Gaille’s head lolled against Knox’s shoul­der as he picked his way care­ful­ly over treach­er­ous sub­merged rub­ble, Lily out in front, her torch play­ing shad­ow-​the­atre on the walls. The cor­ri­dor sloped gen­tly up­wards so that soon the wa­ter was on­ly calf-​deep, mak­ing progress eas­ier, but forc­ing Knox to con­cen­trate hard­er on his foot­ing. Maybe that was why Lily no­ticed the mu­rals first. ‘What are they?’ she asked, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the gyp­sum-​cov­ered wall with her torch.

He went closer to examine them. Faded paintings of stunted...

‘Well?’ asked Lily.

Knox shook his head. He’d nev­er seen any­thing like it be­fore. At least, trees and oth­er veg­eta­tion were com­mon enough in An­cient Egyp­tian art, but on­ly as part of greater scenes, typ­ical­ly filled with peo­ple, live­stock, wa­ter, birds. Nev­er just one tree end­less­ly re­peat­ed like this. Or was it just one tree? Those to his right looked dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent from those to his left. The Egyp­tians had been metic­ulous about such things. But this was scarce­ly the mo­ment for de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tion. They con­tin­ued on, emerged from the wa­ter al­to­geth­er, were able to see that the pas­sage was­n’t sloped but rather was cut with long, shal­low steps that had been turned in­to a gen­tle ramp by the thick cov­er­ing of sand, rub­ble and dirt.

Some­thing glint­ed on the floor where Lily had stepped. He swept it with his foot to re­veal a metal­lic strip run­ning down the cen­tre of the pas­sage. ‘Over here,’ he said. ‘Let’s have some light.’

Lily shone down her torch. ‘Je­sus!’ she mut­tered. ‘Is that… gold?’

‘Looks like it.’

‘What is this place?’

A mem­ory sprang then to Knox’s mind: Kostas de­scrib­ing the link be­tween Har­pocrates and Akhen­at­en, the Lux­or Tem­ple on which were de­pict­ed wise men com­ing from the east to cel­ebrate his birth, and the gifts they brought with them. These trees on the walls, not trees at all, but shrubs. Specif­ical­ly, frank­in­cense and myrrh. And sud­den­ly it all start­ed to make a kind of sense to him, this Ex­odus quest he’d so un­wit­ting­ly start­ed out on.

‘What is it?’ asked Lily, read­ing it on his face. ‘Do you know where we are, or some­thing?’

‘I think I do,’ said Knox slow­ly. ‘I think we’re in the Cave of Trea­sures.’


The storm was fi­nal­ly rain­ing it­self out as the truck ar­rived at the end of the Roy­al Wa­di road and parked next to Khaled’s truck. Naguib jumped down. The place was still awash with wa­ter; all around them was the sound of it trick­ling and splash­ing down the hill­sides.

Tarek tapped his arm, point­ed up at the cliff-​top. ‘See that?’

Naguib squint­ed. The cloud-​cov­er was just be­gin­ning to dis­perse, and one or two stars were peek­ing through, enough to show the sil­hou­ette of the wa­di cliffs. He shook his head. ‘See what?’

‘A man. He ducked down. He’s hop­ing we haven’t seen him.’

‘Can h="2em Ny­ou get us up there?’

Tarek nod­ded. He led them close to the base of the cliff to avoid mak­ing easy tar­gets of them­selves, then east along the wa­di. It was Mah­moud who made the gris­ly dis­cov­ery of one of Khaled’s men ly­ing spread-​ea­gled on the wet rocks. Naguib knelt down. A sin­gle glance was all it took to know it was too late for this one. They climbed the side of the wa­di, the light grow­ing stronger all the time. ‘Spread out,’ mur­mured Tarek as they reached the top.

‘And if we meet any­one?’ mut­tered a voice.

‘Or­der them to sur­ren­der,’ said Naguib.

‘And if they won’t?’

‘You’ve got a gun, haven’t you?’ said Tarek.


‘The Cave of Trea­sures?’ asked Lily.

‘A fa­mous place in Jew­ish leg­end,’ Knox told her. ‘A cave in a desert be­side a great riv­er. Adam and Eve were sent there af­ter be­ing ex­pelled from the Gar­den of Eden. But that was on­ly the start of it. There’s a whole lit­er­ature on it, not least be­cause many of the He­brew pa­tri­archs were sup­pos­ed­ly buried in­side. Adam and Eve them­selves. Abel, af­ter be­ing mur­dered by Cain. Noah. Abra­ham. Ja­cob. Joseph. Some even say Moses.’

‘Pret­ty big damned cave.’

Knox nod­ded. ‘Jew­ish ar­chae­ol­ogists have been hunt­ing it for cen­turies. Quite some­thing to find the tombs of all those Bible leg­ends.’

‘So what would it be do­ing in Egypt? Should­n’t it be in Is­rael?’

Noise be­hind them. Some­one had start­ed wad­ing through wa­ter. The pas­sage ahead showed no sign of end­ing, though it curved sin­uous­ly this way and that, lim­it­ing their hori­zons. ‘You’ve got to un­der­stand,’ he told her, ‘that the Bible is­n’t his­tor­ical. It’s a col­lec­tion of folk-​tales de­signed to con­vince the Jews that they’d brought their Baby­lo­ni­an ex­ile and the de­struc­tion of the Tem­ple up­on them­selves. That’s why so many of the sto­ries fol­low the same ba­sic moral path.’

‘Man makes covenant with God,’ mur­mured Lily. ‘Man breaks covenant. God pun­ish­es man.’

‘Ex­act­ly,’ said Knox. He set Gaille down a mo­ment, giv­ing his arms a rest, flex­ing his fin­gers. ‘One ex­pla­na­tion is that the per­son or peo­ple who put the Bible to­geth­er ac­tive­ly looked for sto­ries that fit­ted this pat­tern. But there’s an­oth­er pos­si­bil­ity. Take Adam and Eve. The first man and wom­an, right? Yet even the Bible tac­it­ly ad­mits there were oth­er hu­mans around.’ He picked Gaille up again, con­tin­ued walk­ing. ‘Cain was brand­ed for killing Abel, for ex­am­ple, so that oth­ers would know not to harm him. Which oth­ers? He mar­ried and had a son called Henoch who found­ed a city, which you can’t ex­act­ly do if you’re alone in the world. So maybe Adam and Eve weren’t the first hu­mans in a bi­olog­ical sense, on­ly in a spir­itu­al sense. That’s to say, maybe they were the first to un­der­stand the true na­ture of God.’

‘Akhen­at­en and Ne­fer­ti­ti?’ said Lily scep­ti­cal­ly.

‘Think about it,’ said Knox. ‘Here you are, liv­ing in Amar­na. It’s your par­adise, your Eden, your Promised Land. You’re cer­tain noth­ing can go wrong, be­cause this is the home on earth of the One True God, and you’re un­der His pro­tec­tion. But some­thing does go wrong. You’re ex­pelled, forced to flee in the night, then to leave Egypt al­to­geth­er. How is this pos­si­ble? Sure­ly the on­ly ex­pla­na­tion is Surel Stio that you made your God an­gry for some rea­son, that you failed him in some man­ner. You vow nev­er to let that hap­pen again. You re­new your covenant. And in re­turn God gives you a new Amar­na, a new Eden, a new Promised Land. But not in Egypt this time. In Canaan.

‘Decades pass. Cen­turies. The peo­ple of the Ex­odus splin­ter in­to dif­fer­ent set­tle­ments, dif­fer­ent tribes, each with their own iden­ti­ty, though still with that com­mon bond of flight from Egypt. They pass their sto­ries down from fa­ther to son, time af­ter time af­ter time, so that they grad­ual­ly blur with nar­ra­tive in­ven­tion and blend with lo­cal folk­lore un­til, hun­dreds of years lat­er, they’re not on­ly un­rec­og­niz­able from what re­al­ly hap­pened, but from the folk-​his­to­ries of their neigh­bours too, even though they’re de­scrib­ing the same events.

‘Then the Baby­lo­ni­ans ar­rive. They de­feat the Is­raelites in bat­tle, de­stroy their tem­ple, take them in­to ex­ile. They be­come in­tro­spec­tive, won­der­ing once more how such a calami­ty could have over­tak­en God’s cho­sen peo­ple. They look to their her­itage for an­swers, gath­er­ing all these dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions to­geth­er and weav­ing them to­geth­er with their favourite Mesopotami­an and Canaan­ite myths to cre­ate a sin­gle nar­ra­tive about Adam and Eve, Abra­ham and Moses, all those jour­neys back and forth be­tween Egypt to Canaan, all those Edens and Promised Lands and New Jerusalems. But in fact these sto­ries aren’t about nu­mer­ous pa­tri­archs and ages and places at all. They’re about one pa­tri­arch, one age, one place. They’re about Akhen­at­en and Amar­na.’

‘It can’t be,’ mut­tered Lily weak­ly.

‘Did you know that Akhen­at­en so­licit­ed gifts of ex­ot­ic an­imals from his broth­er kings? He kept them here. The whole Amar­na plain would have flood­ed dur­ing the an­nu­al in­un­da­tion of the Nile. All those an­imals would have had to be load­ed on­to rafts. Re­mind you of any Bible sto­ry at all?’

‘It can’t be.’

‘When Adam and Eve were in the Cave of Trea­sures, God gave them the very first pos­ses­sions ev­er owned by man: gold, frank­in­cense and myrrh. We even know how much gold they got. Sev­en­ty rods of it. Which is re­al­ly odd, be­cause a rod’s not a unit of weight, but of length. About five me­tres, as it hap­pens. Much the same as each of these steps.’

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