â€˜So seventy rods would make three hundred and fifty...
Ahead, the passage opened up into a chamber, the golden thread coming to an end at the base of the wall opposite. â€˜So how far do you reckon weâ€™ve come?â€™ she asked.
â€˜About three hundred and forty-nine, Iâ€™d guess.â€™
Khaled joined Faisal at the foot of the shaft, peered through into the new chamber and passageway. A manâ€™s body was floating face down in the water. He lifted his head by a hank of blooded hair to check. Stafford, the TV presenter. One down, three to go. He dropped him again, held his flashlight and the AK-47 at the ready as he waded through the chamber then along the passage. â€˜Well?â€™ he snapped at Faisal, who was holding back. â€˜Are you coming or not?â€™
â€˜Letâ€™s just get out of here,â€™ pleaded Faisal. â€˜Weâ€™ve still got time.â€™
â€˜And then what?â€™
â€˜What do you think? We vanish.â€™
Khaled hesitated. A new life somewhere no one knew him. Port Said. Aswan. ne kne SAswOr over the border into Sudan or Libya. It was easy enough buying a new identity if you had contacts and baksheesh. But a new identity was only the start. And the prospect of starting over in a new land with nothing to his name made his heart sink to his boots.
Leave now and heâ€™d be poor forever. He wasnâ€™t designed for poverty. He was designed for good things. And they were so close. At the very least, he had to see what lay at the end of this passage. â€˜Weâ€™re finishing this,â€™ he said. â€˜Trust me. No one will ever find out.â€™ He smiled encouragingly, then turned his back on Faisal and walked on, knowing that the man was weak, that heâ€™d buckle and follow.
And, sure enough, he did.
Knox laid Gaille down, brushed hair from her brow and cheek. The cut in her scalp was clotting, her complexion was perceptibly healthier, her breathing stronger. He stood up, took the torch from Lily, shone it around the new chamber, took it to the left-hand wall. It was coated with gypsum, and there were markings visible beneath the thick coats of dust. He took off his wet shirt, wiped it down, bringing a night-time scene to vivid life: people huddled in their beds as robbers roamed their houses, while outside lions prowled, snakes slithered, crocodiles lurked.
He went to the wall opposite, cleaned that too. A daytime scene. Akhenaten and Nefertiti handing out gold necklaces from a palace balcony while farmers went about their work, cattle grazed in the fields, ducks flew over the reeds and fish leapt in the lakes, all sporting in the beams of sunlight.
â€˜Itâ€™s The Hymn of the Aten,â€™ he murmured. â€˜Akhenatenâ€™s poem to his sun god.â€™ He illuminated the left-hand wall. â€˜Thatâ€™s the world by night,â€™ he said. â€˜Lions coming forth from their dens, snakes preparing to strike.â€™ He pointed right. â€˜And this is day. â€œCattle and sheep welcome in the dawn, birds take wing as you appear. Boats sail upon the waters, all paths open through you.â€�â€™
â€˜What good is that?â€™ said Lily, her voice cracking a little. â€˜We need to get out of here.â€™
The sunbeams converged towards the upper left-hand corner of the wall, Knox noticed. Yet they didnâ€™t meet. They hit the junction with the neighbouring wall before reaching their focal point, then promptly vanished. He turned the torch upon this wall, noticed something that had eluded him before. It wasnâ€™t a single flat surface, as heâ€™d first thought. There was a recessed V-shaped section in its centre, set perhaps half an inch behind the rest, and it was actually at the base of this V that the golden thread stopped.
He placed his hand upon it, colder, smoother and altogether more metallic than heâ€™d expected. He stepped back, illuminating the whole wall and the golden thread in the floor, and it reminded him of something. â€˜Itâ€™s like a wadi,â€™ he said, pointing out the valley-shaped V to her. â€˜You know, the one the sun rises over to make the sign of the Aten.â€™
â€˜Then whereâ€™s the sun?â€™
â€˜Exactly,â€™ nodded Knox. He went back to the wall, rapped his knuckles against it, listened carefully to the echo. He rapped again. Yes. No question about it. It was hollow.
Naguib, Tarek and the ghaffirs advancednd the V cautiously across the hilltop, taking turns to scurry from cover to cover, keeping low to avoid showing their silhouettes.
â€˜Stay back!â€™ cried a panicky voice from the darkness. â€˜Donâ€™t come any closer!â€™
Gunfire rattled to Naguibâ€™s left, muzzle fire leaving orange blurs dancing on his retinas. â€˜Stop!â€™ he cried. He turned to Tarek. â€˜He has information. We need him alive.â€™
Tarek shouted out the order. Silence fell.
â€˜Listen,â€™ called out Naguib. â€˜I am Inspector Naguib Hussein. You saw me earlier. We know whatâ€™s going on. We know everything. Youâ€™re surrounded. Lay down your weapon. Put your hands over your head and then stand up.â€™
â€˜Go away. Leave me alone.â€™
There was laughter at this, the idea was so ridiculous. â€˜You donâ€™t have to die,â€™ called out Naguib. â€˜You can surrender. A trial. A lawyer. Iâ€™ll tell the court you helped us in the end. Who knows how it will turn out? But otherwiseâ€¦ you donâ€™t stand a chance.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™ll kill me.â€™
â€˜Whoâ€™ll kill you?â€™
â€˜Captain Khaled, of course. Heâ€™s mad. He made us do it. We didnâ€™t want to. It was all his idea.â€™
â€˜Then help us stop him. The courts will have mercy on you. But right now put down your gun and surrender. You hear?â€™
â€˜You wonâ€™t shoot?â€™
â€˜You have my word.â€™
Something clattered on the rocks. The figure of a man rose in the darkness ahead, arms above his head. Within a moment, he was swarmed and pinned to the ground, Naguib kneeling beside him, asking about the others, where to find them.
Knox put his shoulder to the wall, tried to slide it to one side, lift it, press it down. Nothing worked. Down the passage, splashing noises were replaced by the scuff and patter of footsteps. By Knoxâ€™s best estimation, they had a minute at the most. And there was nowhere to hide, no way to spring an ambush. It was getting through this wall or nothing.
â€˜Look!â€™ said Lily. She steered the torch in his hand at the base of the wall. It was difficult to make out, dark against a black background, but there was an ankh-shaped hole there, the approximate size of a manâ€™s hand. He went a little numb. The ankh was the great Egyptian symbol of life. It had evolved from a hieroglyph for magical protection, though there was still furious debate over what that glyph had originally symbolized. A ceremonial knot, said some. Or perhaps a sandal. Others claimed that it had represented the sun rising over the horizon, or even the fusion of male and female genitalia, a kind of hermaphroditism all of its own. But looking at it right now, Knox couldnâ€™t help noticing how much it looked like a keyhole.
â€˜Hurry,â€™ said Lily. â€˜Theyâ€™re getting closer.â€™
Ancient Egyptians had invented mechanical locks at least...
Memories of a desert drive with his late friend Rick, veteran of the Australian special forces. Killing time discussing methods of picking locks, the tools you needed. He opened up his scissors, twisted and turned the two blades until heâ€™d wrenched them apart. Far too large and clumsy for a modern lock, but not for this. He pressed one blade against the cylinder, gently jiggled the tumblers with the other, listening intently as they clicked into place.
â€˜Quickly,â€™ begged Lily. â€˜Theyâ€™re getting closer.â€™
â€˜Please,â€™ he said. â€˜I need silence.â€™
The final tumbler slotted into place. He tried to twist the cylinder clockwise. It wouldnâ€™t shift. He went counter-clockwise instead. It gave reluctantly, protesting at being disturbed after so long. Thirty degrees, sixty, ninety. And then it stopped altogether, no matter how hard he strained.
â€˜Come on!â€™ wailed Lily.
He lay on his back, slammed the wall with both bare soles. Nothing. He kicked again, a third time, a fourth. Something clicked inside. A releasing latch perhaps. The floor began to tremble, shaking dust into the air. The tortured groan of metal on rock as counterweights went to work. The wall began rising with painful slowness, like the curtain of a theatre. Its metallic surface began to glow in the torchlight, a yellowish tint to it, brighter and brighter, too golden to be silver, too silver to be gold. Electrum, then, a naturally occurring alloy of the two, so highly prized by the Egyptians for its sunshine dazzle that theyâ€™d coated the capstones of pyramids with it. And then the disk of the Aten itself appeared, climbing slowly up the wall. The sun was rising over Amarna.
Knox shone the torch beneath the still-rising electrum curtain, illuminating the artefacts spilled across the floor behind, dulled by thick coats of sand and dust, yet still glowing brightly enough to give an idea of their material. Ivory, faÃ¯ence, alabaster, leopard skin, shells, semiprecious stones. And gold. Everywhere, the lustre of gold.
The curtain was now high enough for Lily to squeeze beneath. â€˜Come on, then,â€™ she said, reaching back for the torch. Knox grabbed Gailleâ€™s arms, dragged her after him beneath the curtain into the crowded chamber, a narrow aisle wending between high stacks of artefacts. He picked her up, his mind swimming, trying to take everything in. Bronze candlesticks, an ebony staff, a model sailboat, a copper snake, a wooden headrest, an ankh of green jade. Two life-sized black-and-gold sentries on eternal guard, lapis lazuli eyes staring belligerently in challenge. Lily hurried by, taking the fading torchlight with her. The artefacts grew more regal. An embossed gold chariot rested upon its yoke-pole next to a double throne. A golden statue in a niche. An ornate couch with a single wooden oar fallen against it. Bowls of rubies and emeralds. He bumped against Lily; she stepped to one side and pointed the torch so that he could see for himself what had made her stop. A flight of electrum-covered steps on which stood two massive gold sarcophagi. He looked at them in quiet awe, aware the world would never be quite the same again. Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Adam and Eve.
But there was no time to dwell upon the discovery. Torchlight behind; a burst of automatic gunfire. Knox dived in search of cover, trying to heave Gaille over a gold couch, but he slipped and Gaille fell from his arms. He reached back from ^ for her just as Khaled arrived, torch clamped beneath his armpit, firing from his hip, forcing Knox to retreat into the darkness, abandoning Gaille to his mercy.
Khaled approached slowly, the Aladdinâ€™s cave of treasures blooming and fading as he turned this way and that, Knox searching desperately among the ornaments, gemstones and furniture for something he could wield. It went dark again as Khaled turned away. Eighteenth Dynasty grave-goods were ritual in nature, Knox knew, designed to equip the pharaoh for the trials of the afterlife. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon had found a composite bow in Tutankhamunâ€™s tomb. Theyâ€™d found a dagger of hardened gold. What heâ€™d give for that!
He reached out blindly, trying not to make any noise. His hand lighted on a statuette of some kind. He took hold of it, but it was made of worm-eaten wood, too light for his purpose. He set it back down, continued his exploration. His fingertips brushed something colder and heavier. His spirits soared as he realized what it was: a mace, the kind that pharaohs had used to smite their enemies. His lips tightened almost into a smile. That was more like it.
Once Nasser had started to talk, he wouldnâ€™t stop. He wanted to tell Naguib everything, blaming it all on Khaled.
â€˜The path?â€™ cried Naguib. â€˜Whereâ€™s this damned path?â€™
Nasser pointed it out to him. Naguib hurried off, shining his torch over the edge; his heart leapt into his throat at the fall that awaited any misstep. But he held his nerve and his footing too, made it at last along the precarious slick limestone to the ledge and the mouth and inside, then ran headlong down the passage to the rim of the shaft. Automatic gunfire echoed from below, sounding a great distance away.
A rope was slung around a metal peg in the floor. He grabbed it, lowered himself over the edge. Another burst of gunfire. At least it wasnâ€™t over yet; he still had time. A hole in the wall, chest-deep water, wading through it as fast as he could, his gun held out ahead, yelling exhortation to keep himself going even though he half expected at every moment to encounter a blaze of gunfire from ahead; sick with fear, wondering how Yasmine and Husniyah would take the news if anything should happen, yet not letting it slow him either, for heâ€™d given Knox his word, and this was his nature, and heâ€™d rather have his loved ones grieve for him than be ashamed.
Khaled advanced slowly into the treasure chamber, artefacts glowing as his torch ran over them, before dying back down to a reddish smoulder. He couldnâ€™t believe his eyes. More gold than heâ€™d ever dreamed of; and heâ€™d dreamed a lot. Heâ€™d be the wealthiest man in Egypt with all this, the wealthiest in all the world. Houses, yachts, planes, women, power: everything heâ€™d ever coveted, that heâ€™d always believed his due. But how to make it his? How to get out of here and make it his?
â€˜Guard my back,â€™ he ordered Faisal. â€˜No one comes through. Understand?â€™
â€˜But we can stillâ€”â€™
He thrust his face into Faisalâ€™s, jammed the muzzle of the AK-47 into his belly. â€˜That was an order,â€™ he yelled. â€˜Are you going to obey it?â€™
He turned face front again, searching the golden nooks and crannies with his torch. The woman Gaille was lying on the floor. At first he assumed her dead, but there we assu ctheas little sign of blood or trauma. He stooped, checked her throat, found a flutter of pulse. Still alive. Maybe he could use her. He stood up, aimed down at her face. â€˜Come out,â€™ he shouted, his voice ringing around the chamber. â€˜Iâ€™ll shoot her if you donâ€™t. I mean it. Come out.â€™
Nothing happened. Not so dumb. He considered executing his threat, but decided against it. Killing her would only show the others for sure what fate awaited them, encourage them to fight all the harder. He advanced further, jagging his torch sharply this way and that, hoping to catch them by surprise. An intake of breath to his left, he turned towards it, his torch lighting up Lily cowering behind her forearms in the narrow gap between a throne and a painted wooden chest. She gave a soft whimper when she realized heâ€™d seen her, began to shriek and carried on shrieking. He slammed the butt of his AK-47 into her forehead, if only to shut her up. Her temple smacked against the chest, she slumped unconscious at his feet. With two women now captive, the dynamic had changed. He could shoot one simply to show he was in earnest, then threaten the other to force the man to reveal himself. He aimed down at Gaille once more. â€˜Youâ€™ve got five seconds,â€™ he said. â€˜Four. Three. Twâ€”â€™
A blur in the reflection of one of the golden sarcophagi;...
Noise way back down the passage. A man yelling out and splashing through water. He recognized his voice too. That damned policeman Naguib! And heâ€™d be here in a minute, no doubt bringing others with him. Hatred twisted Khaledâ€™s heart like a towel being wrung dry. Heâ€™d only wanted to make a half-decent life for himself. What had he done to these damned people, that they insisted on ruining it?
The man groaned and turned onto his side. Khaledâ€™s left arm was still too numb to use, but he didnâ€™t need it to fire the AK-47. He aimed down, was about to pull the trigger when he had a better idea. He turned the gun on Gaille instead, wanting the man to watch these two women die, to know that all his efforts had been in vain. He felt a gloating sensation in his belly as his finger tightened on the trigger. The loudness of the shot in the confined space took him by surprise. The way it echoed, the orange glow of muzzle flash reflected in all this fabulous gold. The AK-47 dropped from his grasp, clattered to the ground. He was surprised to find himself falling then lying on his side, saliva leaking from his mouth, the salty taste of it. The second shot punctured high on his ribcage, kicking him onto his back. He looked up to see Faisal standing above him, Faisal of all people, pointing his own beloved Walther down at his chest, a look of perfect calmness on his face.
He tried to ask the question, but for some reason his mouth wasnâ€™t working any more. He had to ask it with his eyes instead.
â€˜She gave me chocolate,â€™ answered Faisal. â€˜What did you ever give me?â€™ Then he raised the muzzle to Khaledâ€™s face and pulled the trigger a third and final time.
It was the worst part of Knoxâ€™s day, arriving at the hospital without knowing w the h fhether Gailleâ€™s night had gone well or badly. His heart began to pound as he pushed through the double doors into reception, his mouth drying unpleasantly. But a nurse leaning against the counter saw him and nodded genially. â€˜Sheâ€™s awake,â€™ he said.
â€˜Just after you left last night.â€™
â€˜What?â€™ he protested. â€˜Why didnâ€™t someone call me?â€™
The nurse gave a â€˜not-my-businessâ€™ kind of shrug. Knox had to hide his exasperation. There were times when Egypt drove him crazy. But then relief took over; he was too glad to be indignant. He took the steps three at a time as he hurried up to the second floor, bumped into a doctor coming out of her room.
â€˜How is she?â€™
â€˜Sheâ€™s fine,â€™ he smiled. â€˜Sheâ€™s going to be just fine. Sheâ€™s been asking for you.â€™
He went inside, half expecting to find her sitting up in bed, smiling brightly, bruises healed, bandages removed. It wasnâ€™t like that, of course. Her black-ringed eyes slid to the side to see whoâ€™d just entered, she managed a smile. He showed her the flowers and fruit heâ€™d bought, made space for them on the windowsill. Then he kissed her forehead and sat down. â€˜You look terrific,â€™ he told her.
â€˜They told me what you did,â€™ she slurred. â€˜I canâ€™t believe it.â€™
â€˜Nor should you,â€™ he agreed. â€˜I paid them a fortune.â€™
A little laugh; a wince of pain. â€˜Thanks,â€™ she said.
â€˜It was nothing,â€™ he assured her, covering her hand with his. â€˜Now close your eyes and get some rest.â€™
â€˜Tell me first.â€™
â€˜Tell you what?â€™
He nodded, sat back, composed his thoughts. So much had been happening, it was hard to know where to start. â€˜Lily sends her love,â€™ he said. Sheâ€™d flown back home with Staffordâ€™s body, but there was no need to go into that just yet. â€˜And weâ€™ve been on TV a fair bit.â€™ A contender for understatement of the year, that. It had been pandemonium since that night, everyone wanting to take credit for the discovery of Akhenatenâ€™s tomb, while simultaneously distancing themselves from the mayhem that had surrounded it. Knox had been happy to let them fight between themselves. All heâ€™d cared about was getting Gaille to the nearest decent hospital. The fear had been eating at him ever since, that heâ€™d got to her too late; a fear so intense it had forced him to acknowledge to himself how much deeper his feelings for her ran than ordinary friendship.
But once heâ€™d seen her â€“ and Lily too â€“ safely into the hands of competent and motivated doctors, heâ€™d done his best to answer the questions the police and the SCA had thrown at him. Heâ€™d told them about the Therapeutae and the Carpocratians, their Borg el-Arab site, the figure in the mosaic and the Greek letters that spelled out Akhenatenâ€™s name. Heâ€™d told them his theories about the Exodus and, when the tiredness had got too much for him, heâ€™d foolishly shared his wilder ideas about Amarna and the Garden of Eden.
Heâ€™d woken, the following morning, to a media firestorm. The tomb of Akhenaten and Nefertiti was by itself quite enough to draw all the worldâ€™s major networks; but someone had leaked his theories too, and that had taken the story to another level. Reputable journalists were excitably reportinnalist kepog as fact that Akhenaten and Nefertiti had been Adam and Eve, for how else could details of their last resting place have been described so precisely in the Book of the Cave of Treasures. And they were claiming that the riddle of the Exodus was conclusively solved too: that the Jews had been Amarnaâ€™s monotheists forced to flee Egypt by Akhenatenâ€™s reactionary successors.
But the backlash had started at once, historians mocking the putative link between Amarna and Eden, claiming that the Book of the Cave of Treasures had been written two millennia after Akhenaten, making any connection purely coincidental. And religious scholars had weighed in too, ridiculing the notion that Adam, Abraham, Joseph and the other patriarchs had all been Akhenaten, pointing out the Creation and Flood accounts predated Amarna, insisting that Genesis wasnâ€™t a concertina simply to be squeezed that way.
But it was Yusuf Abbas, secretary general of the Supreme...
As for the Reverend Ernest Peterson, one night in custody had done for him. According to Naguib, heâ€™d not so much confessed to his crimes as boasted about them, bragging of his sacred mission to find the face of Christ and bring the world to the light. Heâ€™d admitted responsibility for Omarâ€™s death, and told how heâ€™d tried to kill Knox again and again. How heâ€™d gladly do it all over. A Soldier of the Lord, he called himself. A Soldier of the Lord who was about to spend the rest of his life in an Egyptian gaol. Knox wasnâ€™t a vindictive man, but there were times he had to laugh.
Augustin had visited the afternoon before. He hadnâ€™t...
Gailleâ€™s eyes had closed. He watched her for a while, thinking sheâ€™d fallen asleep. But then she suddenly opened them again and reached out a hand. â€˜Donâ€™t leave me,â€™ she said.
She closed her eyes again. She looked at peace. She looked...
Let them bid.
He pulled a paperback from his pocket and settled down to...
The theory that Moses and the Exodus might somehow be connected to the reign of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten has been around for decaenaten ndes, most famously advocated by Sigmund Freud in his work Moses and Monotheism. But the possible link between Akhenatenâ€™s capital city at Amarna and the Essene settlement of Qumran is a more recent development, stirringly advocated by the British metallurgist Robert Feather in his book â€˜The Copper Scroll Decodedâ€™, a fascinating read for all fans of Egyptian history.
Many people helped me with this book, both in Egypt and in England, and Iâ€™m very grateful to them all. But I would particularly like to thank my agent Luigi Bonomi and my editor Wayne Brookes for their unfailing support, insight, enthusiasm and advice, without which writing would be a much harder job than it already is.
THE EXODUS QUEST
Will Adams has tried his hand at a multitude of careers over the years. Most recently, he worked for a London-based firm of communications consultants before giving it up to pursue his lifelong dream of writing fiction. His first novel, The Alexander Cipher, is about a modern-day quest to find the lost tomb of Alexander the Great. A top-twenty UK bestseller, it has been translated into thirteen languages. The Exodus Quest is his second novel.
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The Alexander Cipher
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names,...
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